10 awesome small business grants and resources – free for veterans
Members of the military gain special skills while they serve. Many veterans want to transfer these skills into businesses of their own after they leave the military. If you’re a veteran looking to start a business – or trying to grow one you already have – here are some grants, funding opportunities, and other resources that can help.
1. The Military Entrepreneur Challenge
The Military Entrepreneur Challenge is open to veterans, reservists, or transitioning active-duty members of any of the US Armed forces, spouses of military members, and Gold Star family members. Those who apply must own at least 51% of the business.
To enter, you’ll need to complete an application and make a video pitch. Applicants will be interviewed by a panel of judges at an in-person coaching event. The top three applicants will pitch live at the event and the audience will vote to select the winners of the first ($15,000), second ($6,000), and third ($4,000) prizes.
Businesses will be evaluated on their social impact on the military community, your personal story and the potential of your idea, the customer need you are fulfilling, your team and company history, and the potential impact of the award.
The 2022 grants were awarded in October but watch the website to learn how to enter for 2023.
2. The Dream Big Award
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big awards provides a $25,000 cash grant to one small business. The winner of each Business Achievement Award category receives a one-year paid membership to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recognition at the award ceremony, and a featured mention in an article on the U.S. Chamber’s CO- website.
The Business Achievement Award categories are:
- Veteran-Owned Business
- Emerging Business
- Green/Sustainable Business
- Woman-Owned Business
- Minority-Owned Business
- Young /Entrepreneur Business
- LGBTQ-Owned Business
- Community Support and Leadership Award
The 2022 Dream Big award winners were announced in October. Sign up for the newsletter to learn when applications open for the 2023 awards.
While not specific to veterans, Grants.gov is a comprehensive listing of Federal grant opportunities that should be on every business owner’s radar. In addition to Federal grants, the site is a gold mine of information on how to successfully apply for a grant, how to avoid getting scammed, and more.
4. Hivers and Strivers
Hivers and Strivers is an angel investing firm that invests only in companies led by veterans of all five military branches. The team is actively involved, serving as Board Members and Advisors, providing counsel, and opening doors. The company will typically invest $250,000 to $1,000,000 in a single round of financing, but if larger amounts are needed, they will try to arrange deals with other investment groups in their network. The goal of Hivers and Strivers is to support veteran entrepreneurs and to facilitate an exit strategy that leads to a 10x return on the initial investment.
Mentorship, coaching, education, and networking
5. Veterans Business Outreach Center
The Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) program provides training, counseling, and referral services to transitioning service members, National Guard and Reserve members, veterans, and military spouses who want to start or grow a small business. There are 22 VBOCs throughout the country. VBOC will help you develop a business plan, and then analyze it to increase the probability of success. The centers also offer training, counseling, and mentorship tailored to veterans.
6. Boots to Business
Boots To Business: Introduction to Entrepreneurship, a collaboration between the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). It is a two-day training class for transitioning active military and military spouses. Those who complete the course have access to additional resources through the SBA.
7. The Second Service Foundation
The Second Service Foundation (formerly the StreetShares Foundation) inspires, educates, and supports the military entrepreneurial community. The Foundation’s programs provide mentors, coaching and networking events, educational content, and access to capital. It also sponsors the Military Entrepreneur Challenge.
8. Warrior Rising
Warrior Rising helps veterans repurpose the skills they learned in the military, helping veterans become ‘vetrepreneur.’ The Veterans Business Accelerator Program helps veterans who want to start their own business, buy a franchise, or buy an existing business. The program covers marketing, defining your mission, execution, logistics, resources and networking, funding, and more. The program is free, and the next cohort begins in 2023. You can sign up on the website to be notified when the next program will begin.
9. Veteran Readiness and Employment
Veteran Readiness and Employment provides assistance to service members and veterans who have a service-related disability and barrier to employment. Offered through the Veterans Administration, VR&E has a self-employment track for disabled veterans who want to start a business. If you qualify, VR&E can help you develop a business plan, analyze your business concept, provide training in operations, marketing, and financing, and guide you to resources that will help you implement your business plan.
Other resources and support
10. Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan
Businesses may be eligible for a loan of up to $2 million if an essential employee who is a military reservist is called to active duty. The amount is limited to the actual economic injury due to the reservist called up, and whether the business has business interruption insurance and/or sufficient funds to operate. Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loans are administered by the SBA.
Starting a business can be a great way to use the skills learned through military service. Taking advantage of the resources available to veterans can help get that business off the ground.