THE BLOG
11/20/2016 10:48 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2017

Business Ownership for Veterans

On Veteran's Day, we honor those that give to their country and write about those who continue to give as business owners or want to be their own boss.

First the good news: Economic recovery and veteran hiring programs have worked to decrease the veteran unemployment rate to such a degree that it is lower than that for the general public.

However, when you peel back the layers, the picture isn't as rosy. Younger veterans and women veterans have higher unemployment rates than other populations, mirroring their position in the general population. Substance-abuse and mental-health issues also remain challenges to veteran employment. According to the RAND Center, 18.5% of the Gulf War I and II veterans suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The labor force participation rate for veterans is about 10 percentage points lower than that of the general population. California, the home to the largest veteran population in the country with 1.8 million veterans, has a higher unemployment rate for veterans than for the public.

What can be done to increase the number of veterans in the labor force as well as provide jobs for veterans? Answer: Self-employment is a growing labor market trend and well-suited to veterans.

Micro-business and self-employment offers veterans, and especially women veterans and veterans with disabilities, increased opportunities to maximize their strengths and skills, to achieve their financial and career goals, and to customize their employment to accommodate their challenges. Self employment creates a job for the business owner and must be recognized as a job creation strategy.
Veterans have discipline, confidence, skills, structure and focus - all necessary components of entrepreneurship.

Take the example of Vonita Murray. She went to college, received a BA in photography with a minor in business, served in the 1st Gulf War and went to work. She spent over ten years in some form of Administrative/Office Management before becoming a CAD Technician. She was working at an architecture firm, when she was laid off in 2009.

"I have always been an active outdoors-loving woman and having to spend 8+ hours a day in front of a computer was making me miserable."

So she returned to what she loves. She grew up in Colorado on a three-acre lot with had a huge garden and lots of animals around like chickens, turkeys, and a horse. She has a green thumb, loves being outside and has never been afraid of hard work. In January of 2011, she leased four acres of land on which she grew a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers. That farming endeavor grew into Thrive Acres, a 6 acre sustainable aquaponics farm in Elverta, CA.

She didn't do it alone. She had help from business assistance programs and received a $35,000 low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two of the crucial elements to any small business is business assistance and small amounts of capital. Businesses that receive assistance have an 80 percent success rate as compared with the 50 percent to 80 percent mortality rate for small businesses overall. Receiving a microloan can increase a business's chance of surviving by over 50%.

In 2010, CAMEO launched a pilot project to to link veterans with community based entrepreneurship training programs. Our members served disabled veterans with programs ranging from farming to procurement assistance. The results exceed our original expectations: 98 veterans were trained and mentored; 46 started or grew businesses; 62 jobs were created; 4 loans totaling $400,000 were made; and 14 businesses registered as qualified suppliers with corporations or government.

Then we developed the Women Veteran Entrepreneurs Network - (WOVEN) - program. We served over 200 women veterans and military spouses in 2014 and 2015 who wanted to start and grow their businesses. In 2016, we expanded that program to three locations in Southern California with community based training programs. In Los Angeles, RISE Financial Pathways in South Los Angeles was the first to offer entrepreneur training specifically for women veterans. The start-up ideas ranged from urban farming to a corporate wellness program to janitorial services for churches. Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Center offers veterans classes, individual mentoring and new peer groups of support.

Veteran entrepreneurs need what all entrepreneurs need to succeed - coaching, capital and connections to markets. In addition, they need to be reached by people who understand their experiences and the issues of transitioning back to civilian life - people like the staff of The Jonas Project and the Farmer Veteran Coalition. CAMEO is honored to be supporting women veterans through dedicated organizations working in their communities.