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Monday, 23 January 2012 11:06

Helping vets build businesses

Written by  Rod Kackley
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Returning military veterans have always been faced with the dual challenges of returning to civilian life and finding a job when they arrive home from serving in America’s wars.

Thousands of ex-military people are facing those challenges again as U.S. military action ends in Iraq. Like many of their civilian counterparts, some are deciding to start businesses and create their own jobs rather than trying to find one.

“We are seeing more veterans partly because of the weaker employment picture and partly because a lot of agencies are recognizing entrepreneurship as a different path for them,” said Michigan Small Business Technology and Development Center Senior Business Consultant Harry Blecker, who oversees that organization’s work with ex-military men and women.

One of those agencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has created the Center for Veterans Enterprise to not only help vets start their first business, but also to assist them in running the business after it is launched. More information is available at vetbiz.gov, a federal government portal for veteran-owned businesses.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is another of those agencies, issuing a task force report last year that included a recommendation to “improve and expand counseling and training services” for veterans. The report’s authors also called on the White House and Congress to convince more banks to lend to veterans trying to start their own businesses, along with opening micro-lending programs and surety bond programs for them.

Money is critical to any new business. But Blecker told MiBiz that most of the returning veterans he has counseled envision opening businesses that are not capital-intensive.

“Nobody is talking about needing $3 million to get started,” he said, adding that most of the ideas are service-industry oriented.

It is common wisdom that the responsibility, accountability and discipline that is drilled into the military gives those entrepreneurs a head start. Blecker is a believer, agreeing that the military teaches lessons that can put veterans ahead of civilians.

“Many of them have a better understanding of process and procedure,” Blecker said. “They also seem much more willing to accept advice, coming from that military culture.”

Blecker’s best advice to ex-military entrepreneurs is pretty much what he would tell anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur. Mission number one: Find a mentor, a champion or an advocate.

“You will find other small business people who are willing to lend a hand to help veterans move to the next stage,” he said. “There is help out there. All you have to do is ask.”

Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner and Little Caesars Pizza founder Mike Ilitch, an ex-U.S. Marine, is a business owner on the other end of that scale who is more than willing to help returning vets. He is offering more than advice. Ilitch is offering a business opportunity.

The Little Caesars Veterans Program includes a $5,000 reduction in the franchise fee for a veteran’s first store, and a $5,000 credit on the initial equipment order.

“Of course, we at the MI-SBTDC fall into that mentor base with a network of 100 people, a lot of feet on the street, and it is all free,” said Blecker.

Read 1673 times Last modified on Monday, 13 August 2012 12:53

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