Veterans are, by and large, an entrepreneurial group. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans, and veteran-owned businesses employ 5.8 million individuals.
But starting a business can be expensive. Of course, the actual cost depends on your business model, but one study cited by the Minority Business Development Agency puts the average cost at just over $30,000.
If you don’t have that kind of money just lying around, there are several veteran business grants and programs designed to help you enter the world of entrepreneurship.
The top 8 grants for veteran small business owners
The first step to getting a grant for your new or growing business is to find the right one for you and your business needs. Here are some of the best grant programs and business funding programs available to veterans — we’ll explore each in more detail later in the article.
- StreetShares Foundation
- Warrior Rising
- Hivers and Strivers Angel Fund
- Nav’s Small Business Grant
- Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Initiative
- Boots to Business
- Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program
- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program
Street Shares Foundation
StreetShares Foundation’s Military Entrepreneur Challenge is designed to boost military veterans and military spouses who want to start or grow their businesses. The challenge has three award levels: $15,000, $6,000, and $4,000. Winners may also receive pro-bono legal services and scholarships for professional development courses.
To be eligible for the competition, you must:
- Be a veteran, reserve, or transitioning service member of any of the U.S. Armed Forces, a spouse of a military member or the child of a military member or immediate family member of a military member who died on active duty
- Be a U.S. resident and at least 21 years old
- Own at least 51% of the business or, if applying on behalf of a nonprofit organization, the organization’s senior executive director or equivalent
To apply for the challenge, you must fill out an application form and submit it along with a video explaining your business idea, its social impact on the military community, and how you plan to use the award.
The StreetShares Foundation then selects up to 15 veteran business owner finalists to be featured on the website for a public vote. The three veteran entrepreneurs with the most votes get to pitch their business at a live event.
Warrior Rising is a nonprofit organization founded by military veterans that helps veteran entrepreneurs with grant opportunities, loans, introductions to investors, and relationships with bankers.
Veterans, spouses, widow(er)s of vets, and their immediate family members can apply for the program by filling out an online application. After you apply, a member of the Warrior Rising staff will reach out to schedule an intake call and send you onboarding documents to complete. They may also ask you to submit a business plan and other information.
While the organization does provide startup and launch grants, its priority is to ensure applicants have a robust business plan or model. So even if you don’t get a grant award, they may provide training, mentoring, and other resources to help you succeed in business.
Hivers and Strivers Angel Fund
If you’re looking for investment capital rather than a grant, the Hivers and Strivers Angel Investment Group invests exclusively in companies led by military veterans and graduates of the U.S. Military Academies. They will invest in early rounds of startup creation with check sizes between $250,000 to $500,000. They may also appoint key board members and advisors and provide counsel and other expertise.
Your business must be beyond the concept stage and not reliant on government contracts to qualify for investment.
The group requires all entrepreneurs to apply for funding via Gust.
Nav’s Small Business Grant
While not exclusively for veterans, the Nav Small Business Grant program offers $10,000 and $5,000 awards each quarter to small business owners looking to take their business to the next level.
To apply, you must sign up for a free Nav account and fill out an online application to provide your name, contact information, and how you plan to spend the money if you win. After you submit your application, you’ll receive a unique voting link to share on your business’s Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn profiles.
In your social media post, include the hashtag #navsmallbusinessgrant and explain:
What your business does
A challenge your business has overcome in the past and a challenge you continue to struggle with
How the grant funds will help you overcome your challenge and how you plan to use the grant money
Share your unique voting link and encourage followers and customers to vote for your business
Nav will schedule a call with five finalists from the 200 businesses with the most votes and ask them to share more about their business and why they should win.
Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Initiative (SBIR/STTR) programs
The SBIR/STTR programs are federally-funded programs intended to help small businesses conduct research and development for technological innovations.
Twelve federal agencies participate in the programs:
- Small Business Administration
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Commerce
- Department of Defense
- Department of Education
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Homeland Security
- Department of Transportation
- Environmental Protection Agency
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- National Science Foundation
Each agency funds different sectors and technology areas, so your first step should be to visit SBIR.gov and review the technology topic areas that agencies are interested in right now. Then, if you find one that matches your business idea, click the link to review the official solicitation and download the applicable forms and rules.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately find a funding opportunity that matches your interests. New topics are published at SBIR.gov/funding, so check back from time to time.
To be eligible, your business must be located in the U.S. and have no more than 500 employees.
Boots to Business
Boots to Business is a free entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the SBA for veterans and their spouses. It consists of a two-day, in-person course providing an introductory understanding of business ownership, followed by an optional online course that covers identifying and understanding your target market, developing and refining your business model, and drafting a business plan.
While Boots to Business doesn’t offer grants, many state small business grants are available exclusively to people who have completed the Boots to Business training.
The SBA also offers several resources through its Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) to help transitioning service members, National Guard, and Reserve members start or grow their own businesses.
Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program
The nonprofit community development organization LiftFund sponsors the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training (WVET) Program. WVET offers in-person and online small business training and consulting for women veterans starting or operating small businesses in the State of Texas.
LiftFund also provides small business loans ranging from $500 to $500,000 for small business owners in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The lender offers discounted interest rates for veterans and their spouses.
The loan program is intended to provide funding for:
- Commercial real estate purchases
- Leasehold improvements
- Working capital
To apply for a loan, you need to complete an online application. Be prepared to share your business goals and needs, monthly household and business budget, credit history, and two references as part of the application process. The organization’s website has several tools and resources to help you prepare your business financials or projections, create a business plan, estimate startup expenses, and more.
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program
Each year, the federal government’s goal is to award at least 3% of all federal contracting dollars to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. To compete for those dollars, your business must be verified by the Vets First Verification Program as a veteran-owned business.
To qualify, your business must:
- Be a small business according to the SBA’s size standards. If you’re not sure if your business qualifies, check out the SBA’s handy size standards tool
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more service-disabled vets
- Have one or more service-disabled vets managing day-to-day operations and making long-term business decisions
The verification process is complex, so be prepared. It requires visiting several different websites to set up accounts, provide information about you and your business, and upload the required documentation.
Create a System for Awards Management (SAM) registration at https://www.sam.gov/SAM/.
Create a Vendor Information Page (VIP) account at https://vetbiz.va.gov/vip/, log into VIP and select “Apply for Verification.”
Upload required documents into the VIP profile.
If you need help with verification, contact a local Verification Assistance Counselor: https://www.va.gov/osdbu/verification/assistance/counselors.asp.
Submit your completed online application to the Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE).
The documents you need to provide with your application include:
- Business license
- Prior-year tax return
- Payroll distribution ledger or W-2s for the previous year
- Copies of leases or service agreements
- Operating agreement for your business
- Copies of any franchise agreements, joint venture agreements, mentorship agreements, or partnership agreements that apply to your business
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a Sourcebook with more details about the required documentation and offers Verification Program Webinars and Town Halls to help you through the process.
Once your business is verified, you can display the Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) on your marketing materials, website, and business cards. You can also represent your business as an SDVOSB and apply for federal contract set-aside funds at SAM.gov.
How Bench can help
Applying for a small business grant isn’t easy. Most of these programs require a lengthy application, business plan, and financial statements. And many grants require ongoing reporting to prove that you’re using the funds for their intended purpose.
Bookkeeping can help put your business in the best situation to streamline the application process, get a clear picture of your revenues and expenses, and prepare you for an audit.
That’s where Bench can help. We provide up-to-date books and reliable financial statements to help you create your business budget and prove that you’ve used your grant money appropriately. Ready to get started? Here’s how Bench works.