What Can You do As A Veteran Owned Small Business?
There is abundant help for military veterans who want to start and grow a business. Information is power, and most of it is available online. One of your first online stops should be the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
The portal links to generic information of concern to all businesses, such as financing, growth, and federal contracting opportunities for military veterans. This information is available from other sources. But the veteran will return to this portal again and again for veteran-specific business information and assistance.
Although the information is linked from the V.A. website, most of the actual assistance resides in other government agencies or in private organizations. The primary source of assistance is the Small Business Administration. You can access their websites directly, if you wish, but the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal will help you focus on the right SBA sites in the beginning.
The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) can match you with a volunteer in your niche to coach you through all the steps, beginning with a sound business plan that will convince lenders and investors that your idea will work.
The VA’s Direct Access Program (DAP) registers veterans for networking events that link them with government procurement officers, and with large corporations that need subcontractors.
The largest contractors are required by law to subcontract a certain percentage of their work out to smaller companies. Each of these large contractors has a small business liaison who is responsible to keep subcontractors like you informed of future opportunities. They are required to publish a subcontracting plan, which you can use for planning and goal-setting purposes. Each government agency, too, has a small business liaison whose role is outreach to smaller companies, and to advocate for them within the agency’s procurement unit.
Each agency has published goals to buy from a certain percentage of veteran-owned small businesses, and a separate percentage of service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. These are called “set-asides.” Prime contractors are keen to meet their own set-aside subcontracting goals.
Although set-asides are not a guarantee of business for the veteran’s company, they do present a real opportunity. Any veteran entrepreneur who hopes to tackle the government procurement market must master the ins and outs of set-asides.
As in the open market, there is a large learning curve in government procurement. But there is a lot of help available, too. Most major cities have a federal Contracting Opportunities Center, also known as a Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). These offer free one-on-one counseling, brief inexpensive training workshops and an alert system for contract opportunities.
Although several private firms have flooded the market with government contract opportunity lists, the free one available from PTAC is superior, and it’s free. It is a great first option for military veterans starting up. PTAC counseling and services are of the highest quality. There is a more comprehensive mentoring opportunity at the Small Business Administration, the 8(a) Mentor-Protégé Business Development program, but that is reserved for established companies with SBA-approved business plans. Beginner entrepreneurs should start with SCORE and PTAC, but plan on applying to the SBA’s 8(a) Mentor-Protégé program in two years.