By: Kim Folsom
This is Part 2 of a two-part article on veterans and entrepreneurship. Last time we took a look at the state of entrepreneurialism for veterans in the U.S. and discussed some of the problems with financing. Now we’ll cover networking, mentorship, and more.
We talk with a lot of veteran entrepreneurs here at Founders First, and we hear similar stories. Access to capital can be a challenge. And so can access to networks and mentors. We covered capital in Part 1 of this article, so let’s dive into the others now.
Limited or no networks
After financing, establishing useful networks that will help them understand, build, and grow their business is the next vexing problem veteran entrepreneurs face. That includes business partnerships, government contacts, avenues into customer bases, and connections to the kinds of relationships that can help foster a business.
When veterans return from active duty, their social networks back home may have diminished. Or they may have moved to a new city seeking more opportunity and not know anyone. It’s hard to start from scratch.
Lack of mentorship
With the chain of command in the military, mentorship relationships come naturally. But when you’re no longer on active duty and starting a business, trying to find a mentor can seem as difficult as standing on a corner shouting, “Help! Can anyone help me start a business?!” Someone may respond, but we don’t recommend you take their advice!
Finding people who have been there, done that, and are willing to share their expertise with you can be a daunting task. Just because you are self-driven enough to start your own business doesn’t mean you want to do it alone — or that you know what to do. You may not even know what questions to ask.
An accelerator can help
Fortunately, there are solutions for veteran entrepreneurs looking for networking and mentorship that go beyond shouting aimlessly on that street corner. Accelerators can deliver all three of the needs veteran entrepreneurs talk about: networking, mentorship, and sometimes even financing.
An accelerator is a fixed-term educational program that is cohort-based (meaning you work collaboratively with other teams) and designed to help you learn by doing at a fast pace. We’ve written about accelerators in the past, and you can learn more here.
To use a military metaphor, you can’t take the hill without some business understanding to help you reach the top. An accelerator can help you understand operations, finance, marketing, sales, and more. It’s an educational environment that gives you real-world, practical experience — without risking your own livelihood.
But more than that, an accelerator can help you establish relationships. You’ll develop mentors, who may be in your corner for life. And you’ll also develop a network of business peers, who could open doors or just be there as a sounding board so you don’t feel alone in your entrepreneurial endeavors.
Here at Founders First, we offer accelerator programs for veterans and other under-served founders to help them get a leg up on their businesses and excel in their industries. We also offer revenue-based financing for select participants.
Our Challenge, Bootcamp, and FastPath programs are great places for veterans to improve their entrepreneurial skills and networks. But we’re not the only ones to offer help for veteran business owners.
More help for veterans
Last year, Forbes.com aggregated a number of great resources for entrepreneurial-minded veterans. Here are a few of our favorites:
Boots to Business
Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the SBA. It offers things like an introduction to entrepreneurship and a B2B revenue readiness course.
Reboot classes give veterans an overview of business fundamentals and the skills needed to evaluate business ideas.
VETRN trains veterans on how to grow their own small businesses. Veterans accepted into its program get a mentor on day one.
VetFran offers financial incentives, education, and support for veterans interested in franchise ownership.
Bunker Labs is a national network of veteran entrepreneurs dedicated to helping other veterans start and grow businesses.
You can see the complete list of resources at Forbes.com here.
Veterans, there are a lot of resources out there to help you increase the numbers of successful entrepreneurs in your ranks! Just remember, as Mark Sanders stressed during our veteran-business-owners webinar, you have to have meaningful work, earn a living, and enjoy a healthy work-life balance. You can do it! You just have to make it a priority.
Kim Folsom is the founder and CEO of Founders First Capital Partners, which has helped accelerate the success of hundreds of small, service-based, business-to-business companies since 2015. Visit our website to learn more.