As the rate of military service members transitioning into the work force continues to exceed the employment rate for veterans each year, the U.S. Small Business Administration has launched a training program to encourage entrepreneurship on military bases, ultimately creating jobs and driving economic growth.
The Boots to Business program is currently piloting with about 20,000 transitioning Marines on four military bases in Virginia, North Carolina and California, but will expand nationwide to all transitioning service members — including those stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst — beginning Oct. 1.
According to Edward Haddock, the veterans business development officer for the Small Business Administration's New Jersey district office, the administration already offers business resources to veterans who have been out of service for extended periods of time through the New Jersey Veterans Business Outreach Center, the New Jersey Small Business Development Center and its other partners. For the past eight months, the Newark office has held Operation Vet-Start, a series of workshops aimed at connecting veterans to franchise opportunities and other resources for starting a business in the state, Haddock said.
However, the national Boots to Business program will only target those preparing to leave the military, providing on-base classroom training courses on entrepreneurship, as well as an eight-week online course offered by Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families that will lead to the creation of a business plan.
"When we see veterans having difficulty coping with traditional work settings, we see we need alternatives for them. Entrepreneurship is that alternative that's most viable for them," Haddock said. "We look at making sure veterans have all of the necessary resources possible for facilitating out of the military, and this program offering educational assistance is going to be a great addition to what they have available. We're getting veterans at a point early enough, so when they do transition, they have everything they need to be successful."
According to spokesman Harry Menta, SBA's New Jersey office has approved 33 loans for a total of $16.4 million for veteran-owned small businesses since January, and he anticipates the new program will increase the administration's outreach and training efforts and grow loan financing to launch more businesses.
"The more education you can give the veteran community beforehand, the more it's gonna help them make their decision whether entrepreneurship is for them," Menta said.
Haddock said as transitioning service members in the state receive entrepreneurial training to start a company through Boots to Business, SBA's New Jersey Office of Veterans Business Development will launch a program in the fall to connect veteran-owned small businesses to federal contracting agencies and prime contractors, helping those firms obtain procurement opportunities while making it easier for contractors to meet set-aside requirements.
"Providing the Boots to Business program is an opportunity for veterans to come together with other like-minded veterans, giving them the camaraderie that the military provides," Haddock said. "And now that's being extended to business services, leading to building up relationships for contracting opportunities."