According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey, veteran-owned businesses make up about 5.7% of all businesses in the United States, accounting for more than 4 million jobs, and contributing about $191.6 billion in annual payroll.
As a former member of the armed services, starting a small business provides a meaningful way to build on your talents, interests, and leadership skills as you reenter civilian life. It also provides an opportunity to work closely with a team to tackle challenges, while establishing a new sense of service to your community.
While the idea of launching a startup may seem daunting — particularly when it comes to funding — there are several programs available that help give veterans a competitive edge over other entrepreneurs.
Chief among these is the Veterans First Contracting Program, through which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awards set-aside contracts to Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSB) or Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB).
To qualify as a VOSB or SDVOSB, businesses must:
- Be a small business according to the Small Business Association’s (SBA’s) size standards.
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more veterans or service-disabled veterans. (Service-disabled veterans must have a service-connected disability as determined by VA or the Department of Defense (DoD)).
- Have one or more veterans or service-disabled veterans working full time at the primary business location, managing day-to-day operations, holding the highest officer positions, and receiving the highest compensation in your company.
- Be properly licensed with the federal and state government.
- Have no federal debts or obligations outstanding.
Becoming a certified SDVOSB or VOSB can unlock a range of benefits for new businesses. Here are a few ways these certifications can help get your startup off the ground:
Perfect your business plan. Understanding what types of VA contracts are currently in demand can help you develop new business ideas and refine the market need your startup will fulfill. By identifying a steady source of contract revenue, you’ll be better positioned to make the case for your business when it comes to getting loans or securing other investors. Be sure to review existing contracting opportunities to pinpoint which of your skills or business ideas will best align with these needs.
Access exclusive resources. Members of the SDVOSB and VOSB programs gain access to the SBA’s Office of Veteran Business Development’s resources, including business training, counseling, financial assistance, and loan opportunities. Taking advantage of these resources will give you the skills and connections to grow your business over time.
Improve your reach. As a certified VOSB or SDVOSB, your business will qualify for participation in veteran-exclusive tradeshows and other networking opportunities that can help to extend your market reach. You’ll also be authorized to include the VOSB or SDVOSB logo on any marketing materials, giving you an edge with potential customers in both the public and private sector. Since studies show that 70% of Americans prefer to do business with a veteran-owned organization and 15% of Fortune 1000 companies have goals to include veteran-owned businesses in their supply chains, this small logo can make a big impact.
Increase revenue. Veterans Affairs places the highest priority for open market contracts on SDVOSBs, followed by VOSBs. The federal government aims to award at least 3% of all federal contracting dollars to SDVOSBs each year, equating to billions of dollars available exclusively to businesses like yours. In addition to VA contracts, you can also continue to bid on contract awards under other socio-economic programs you may qualify for.
The first step to begin taking advantage of these benefits is to have your startup certified as a VOSB or SDVOSB through VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE). The verification process includes four distinct stages: intake, assessment, federal review, and finally, decision.
While it is possible to complete this process independently, having an expert to guide you through the requirements can simplify and accelerate your path to certification. There are a variety of verification assistance services and educational resources available through VA as well as through other small business consulting agencies.
Leaning on the support of these resources will not only leave you with more time to focus on running your business, but also improve your chances of first-round approval. The sooner you successfully complete the certification process, the faster you’ll be able to grow your startup into a thriving VOSB or SDVOSB.