- Free University Entrepreneurship Training. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University is the national leader in veterans entrepreneurship training. IVMF organizes the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), a free training program for post-9/11 veterans with a service-connected disability. This program is offered by a consortium of great universities including Cornell, Syracuse, Florida State, UCLA, Texas A&M, Purdue, UConn, LSU, Saint Joseph’s, and the University of Missouri. EBV consists of an online, instructor-led 30-day curriculum, followed by a 9-day in-residence session at the university. Participants also receive follow-up support and mentoring after the program. EBV has produced over 1,300 graduates in 10 years serving veterans. IVMF also has separate entrepreneurship training programs for veterans’ families (called EBV-F) and one specifically for women veterans (V-Wise). I’ve been privileged to speak at a couple of these events and was impressed with the quality of the students and mentors. Air Force veteran, Derek Ketelsen, who attended the EBV at Cornell University, described it this way: “EBV is a priceless experience for vetrepreneurs. I received Ivy League instruction from Cornell professors, learned a great deal about entrepreneurship, and most importantly the program helped me develop my business concept.” EBV runs programs from March through November each year. Seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. All costs are covered for qualified participants.
- Free 3-Day Technology Entrepreneurship Training. For aspiring technology entrepreneurs, Patriot Boot Camp (PBC) is a shorter, more condensed alternative. Since starting in 2012, PBC has held 9 programs in 7 cities and trained over 550 veterans, active-duty members, and spouses. PBC historically hosts 2-3 events per year, including two intensive 3-day entrepreneurship bootcamps and an alumni conference. I spoke and mentored at PBC’s 2015 event at Goldman Sachs in NYC. The energy at a PBC event is palpable. PBC is a non-profit organization, run by Charlotte Creech, an alumna of PBC’s inaugural program in 2012. “Many active duty military members, veterans, and their spouses have an interest in tech entrepreneurship but often lack the community support and network needed to effectively guide them to the right resources,” Charlotte said. PBC fills this gap. The results of the graduates are impressive. Charlotte told me that PBC graduates include successful exits via acquisition, 8 accepted to Techstars accelerator programs, 2 accepted to Y-Combinator, and 2 graduates appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank TV show, including a $1.5M offer from Mark Cuban . A 2016 sample of 55 graduates found they are generating a combined $9.5M in annual revenue and employing 1,175 individuals. This year, PBC is holding a bootcamp in San Antonio in February, another bootcamp in Denver in the fall, and an alumni event. Attendance at PBC is encouraged if you’re considering a tech startup. PBC is free to veterans, active-duty members, and spouses.
- Free Online “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” Course. Bunker in a Box is brought to you by the great team at Bunker Labs. Bunker in a Box is a short and simple online mini-course in veterans entrepreneurship. Lessons are divided into 14 “missions” and include topics such as confidence to be an entrepreneur, thinking like an entrepreneur, testing hypotheses, and working on a venture as a team, plus many more. Each lesson has a short video from the Bunker team, as well as relevant third-party articles, interviews, podcasts and presentations from prominent entrepreneurs and experts, such as the Kauffman Foundation’s superb “SketchBooks.” The material draws on a diverse variety of resources, includes a helpful discussion section, and tracks your progress at each step. Bunker in a Box is a short, simple introduction to entrepreneurship. Bunker CEO Todd Conner said, “When I was on active duty with 6 or 12 months left before I separated, I was wondering what I wanted to do with my future. The Bunker in a Box is a first-stop for exploring entrepreneurship .” Bunker in a Box is free to sign-up and use. Bunker Labs is a non-profit organization and hosts other great events at their network of 14 different locations around the country. Check out their annual “Muster” events, pitch contests, and their current “Bunker Builds America Tour.”
- Free Veteran Business Grant Money. The StreetShares Foundation gives away $10,000 in veteran business grants to veteran or military spouse entrepreneurs each month. The Foundation is a non-profit associated with the military social lending platform, StreetShares. The application is easy and straightforward. To qualify, applicants first engage with the Foundation’s educational content. Qualified applicants submit a short description and video. Foundation staff then select 5-10 finalists each month, based on five criteria: business idea, product-market fit, team and company history, use of award funds and potential impact, and influence of the business on the military and veterans community. Winners are selected from among the finalists by public vote. The foundation receives thousands of votes each month for the best veteran-owned small businesses. First, second, and third-place awards of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 are awarded. Applications may be submitted at any time, and awards are based on the applications received during the previous calendar month. [Disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors of StreetShares Foundation and the co-founder/CEO of StreetShares, Inc.]
- Free 7-week “Mini Entrepreneurship MBA.” VetToCEO, a Georgia-based non-profit, offers a free 7-week online program called “Entrepreneurship for Transitioning Warriors.” Lesson content is divided into 7 modules; each module is two-hours in length. One module is offered each week. Taken together, the modules include all the “nuts and bolts” you need to start your business: business entity selection, marketing training, how to pitch, finance, growth management, logistics, exit strategies, and more. Courses are offered online and in-person by veteran entrepreneurs for veteran entrepreneurs. Lessons are recorded for later viewing in case you miss one. A full course outline can be found here. Veterans can join the program at any time through a simple registration process in a rolling enrollment model. Enrollment is free for veterans and transitioning military members. The course has specific target outcomes such as a complete business “canvas,” financial statements and projections, and a profile on GUST—a startup investment platform—which the veteran can use to connect with investors.
- Free Government Resources: SBA. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a great point of access to the vast ecosystem that has emerged in recent years to support veteran business owners. SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) is focused on empowering veteran and military entrepreneurs from transition to small business success and offers veterans, service members and their families free business counseling and training programs, access to capital, and business development opportunities through government contracts. If you’re looking to start, purchase, or grow a business, your local Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) is a good resource for training, counseling and mentoring, and resource referrals. VBOCs also provide transition assistance programs via Boots to Business part of the military’s formal Transition Assistance Program, offered on military installations around the world. Boots to Business assists service members, military spouses and veterans identify business opportunities, draft their business plans, and launch their enterprises. Other programs supported by OVBD are geared specifically for women veterans, service-disabled veterans, and veterans interested in federal procurement.
- Free Government Resources: VA. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hosts the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP) housing resources on starting, financing, and growing a business, in addition to government contracting opportunities, and links to resources at the state and local level as well. Local resources are tailored based on zip code. The VA site content is focused on government contracting. Veteran-owned businesses may be eligible for set-asides or sole-source treatment in federal procurement, and a large number of veteran entrepreneurs choose to compete for government contracts at the federal and state level. The VA entrepreneurship resources include a tool to explore government contracting and special information on how to obtain government certification as a Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) or Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) to qualify for government contracts.
Bonus: Keep an eye on current legislation. The Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act (VET Act), originally proposed in 2015, would allow the SBA to conduct a 3-year pilot program for up to 250 veterans to use their GI Bill benefits to start a business. The Act had widespread support from veterans’ groups, but did not receive a full Congressional vote before year’s end. The new Congress will need to get this legislation across the goal line.
By Mark L. Rockefeller, A Forbes contributor. Mark is CEO of StreetShares and an Iraq War veteran.