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In Case You Missed It: Shaheen in Military Times Calls for More Support of Veteran Small Businesses

Highlights Success of Veteran-owned New Hampshire Brewery

In case you missed it, on Friday an op-ed from U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) was published by the Military Times calling for passage of legislation to support veterans starting small businesses. 

“Nearly seven in 10 veterans say finding a job is their biggest challenge after leaving the military. One big answer to this challenge is to provide generous support — including credit, counseling and technical assistance — to tens of thousands of veterans who aspire to start their own businesses.”

Read the full op-ed here: Boosting Veterans in Small Business

Commentary: Boosting veterans in small business

By Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Special to Military Times

The battlefields of Iraq are a world away from Merrimack, New Hampshire, and its new microbrewery, Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. But for this company’s owners, the can-do attitude they lived by as combat officers has contributed powerfully to their success as entrepreneurs.

Several months ago, I visited Mike Frizzelle and Carl Soderberg — as well as Jake Felton, a fellow Army veteran and the business’s first employee — at the microbrewery they opened last year. It was inspiring to see how this band of brothers has made a successful transition to brothers in business. I ended the visit newly resolved, as senior Democrat on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, to advance ambitious new legislation to support and encourage other veterans who want to start a small business.

One of my bills, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act — supported by the American Legion and other prominent veteran service organizations — was signed into law by President Obama this summer.

Able Ebenezer was able to benefit from the Small Business Administration’s temporary waiver of thousands of dollars in fees on Patriot Express loan guarantees for veteran-owned businesses. The new law makes permanent this fee waiver for veterans. And it does much more, including stepping up SBA’s outreach to female veteran entrepreneurs. Currently, women operate only 4 percent of all veteran-owned small businesses, compared to 30 percent of nonveteran-owned small businesses.

Nearly seven in 10 veterans say finding a job is their biggest challenge after leaving the military. One big answer to this challenge is to provide generous support — including credit, counseling and technical assistance — to tens of thousands of veterans who aspire to start their own businesses.

The good news is that veterans are uniquely equipped to thrive as small-business owners. Studies show a strong link between the qualities inculcated during military service — discipline, leadership, focus on mission, small-group teamwork, initiative — and the qualities essential to building a successful business. Not surprisingly, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than nonveterans. And more than 3.6 million veterans own small businesses.

This is a good start, but we must do better. I recently introduced legislation to fully authorize the four critical SBA programs to support veterans in all aspects of starting and expanding a small business:

  • The Boots to Business program targets active-duty members preparing to transition to civilian life. It's offered free at more than 165 military installations worldwide. Participants begin with an intensive two-day entrepreneurship course, followed by eight weeks of online study.  Last year, nearly 26,000 service members and spouses/partners participated in B2B.
  • The Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship program expressly addresses the needs of women starting small businesses. It includes a 15-day online course, a three-day conference and ongoing support.  
  • The Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities provides training in entrepreneurship and management to post-9/11 veterans with disabilities. Offered at eight universities, EBV includes training and support over 14 months for service-disabled veterans. Since the program started in 2008, about 70 percent of participants have gone on to start their own business, and 92 percent of graduates who launched a venture are still in business.
  • The SBA’s 15 Veterans Business Outreach Centers provide entrepreneurial development assistance such as business training, support, mentoring and referrals for veterans who already own or are considering starting a small business. In 2014, VBOC counselors provided counseling services to more than 78,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Starting and operating a successful small business is often a family affair, so all four of these SBA programs are open not only to active-duty members and veterans but also to spouses and partners.

There is strong, bipartisan support in the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee for fully reauthorizing these vital SBA programs. Indeed, in a Congress too often divided along partisan lines, support for veterans is one priority that consistently brings us together.

The brave men and women of our armed forces never fail our nation in battle, and our nation must not fail them when they return home and transition to civilian life.

Like the former Army officers at Able Ebenezer Brewing Co., thousands of veterans dream of creating their own small businesses, and perhaps hiring fellow veterans. Congress should have no higher priority than to help our veterans realize this dream and, as they do, to build a stronger economy for all Americans.

Jeanne Shaheen is the senior senator from New Hampshire and the senior Democrat on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.