Are you a veteran transitioning back to civilian life and interested in starting a business? Or perhaps you’re a former service member who already has a company and is seeking capital to expand. Whatever the case, multiple organizations, including the U.S. government, award small business grants for veterans.
Unlike business loans offered for veterans, grants don’t have to be paid back. If you qualify, this makes them an attractive option to finance your business. Many grant programs have strict guidelines for who is eligible and how you can use the funding. But if you obtain one, it could change the future of your small business.
Related: Small Business Grants
1. Warrior Rising
The vision of the nonprofit group Warrior Rising is to help veterans establish small businesses through education and mentorship. The organization also provides grants for veterans who want to start a business. Funding can be used to cover the initial costs of business equipment, licensing, marketing and other common startup expenses.
Warrior Rising’s business creation process has several phases, taking you from an entrepreneur with a great idea to an educated small business owner with a fully funded startup.
To be considered, you’ll need to fill out an application and validate your information through a meeting over the phone. Then you’ll take part in a more in-depth interview to assess your candidacy for the program.
You’ll either join the Warrior Academy — a self-paced instruction course to help you learn about entrepreneurship — or you’ll work with a mentor to refine your business plan and create a solid, executable launchpad for your business.
Apart from a grant to start your business, Warrior Rising offers continued help accessing additional funding. The organization uses its exposure and network of veteran-focused philanthropists to raise money via crowdfunding. Donations can also be made as small business loans or investments, giving you opportunities to receive funding in exchange for either monthly repayments or stock in your company.
2. Center for Women Entrepreneurs
Grant funds may be used to purchase machinery, equipment or technology; acquire new inventory or raw materials; purchase and install fixtures or display units; make property improvements; execute marketing campaigns; or conduct other business-related activities aligned with the purpose of the program. Grants can’t be used for wages, salaries or sales tax, however.
This year, 10 grants in the amount of $5,000 each were awarded. Stay tuned for next year’s submission deadlines.
3. Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur Lab
Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur Lab (MVE-Lab) is a Grand Valley State University program. It connects veterans and military spouses with free entrepreneurship training, mentoring and networking opportunities.
Participants meet in a cohort weekly over the span of 3 months, during which they work on a business launch and get feedback on their business strategy. The program concludes with a pitch showcase, which awards at least $25,000 in prize money.
Since MVE-Lab launched in 2018, 92 participants have completed the program.
4. Street Shares Foundation
Founded by 2 veterans, StreetShares Foundation provides small business grants to U.S. veteran entrepreneurs.
To qualify for the StreetShares Foundation Veteran Small Business Award, you must be a veteran or reserve/transitioning active member of the U.S. military. In addition, military spouses, children or other immediate family members of a service member who died while on active duty are also eligible. To apply, you’ll need to submit an application and video pitch about your business.
The video you produce must be no longer than 2 minutes and include the following:
- Personal story
- Your business’s impact on the military community
- Business idea and potential for success
- What customer need or market you’re looking to fill
- Team and business history (if applicable)
- How you’ll use the funding and how it can impact the community
The program is set up like a contest. If accepted, you’ll need to receive enough public votes to be in the group of 8-15 finalists. If you’re selected as a finalist, you’ll compete at their Military Influencers’ Conference to win 1 of 3 veteran-owned small business grants awarded by StreetShares.
The grant prizes are as follows:
- First place: $15,000
- Second place: $6,000
- Third place: $4,000
5. Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans can compete for set-aside contracts through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization’s Vets First Verification program. To qualify for participation, businesses must first undergo a verification process, which includes an intake, assessment, a federal review and decision.
The Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization also offers a Veteran Entrepreneur Portal, where users access tools for starting or growing a business, finding financing and learning more about how to do business with the federal government.
6. Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program
At least 3% of contracting dollars at the federal level are granted to disabled veteran small business owners annually. These set-aside contract opportunities, which are also offered through the Veterans First program, are limited, however.
To be eligible, the business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by a service-disabled veteran. Also, at least 1 service-disabled veteran must manage daily operations and be responsible for business decision-making.
7. State and Federal Government Grants for Veterans
State governments across the U.S. have set aside funds specifically for military veterans seeking capital to start or run a small business. To apply, interested veterans should contact their state’s financial aid agency.
Additionally, through the federal grant database, you can find a complete list of all government awards that could get your business the funding it needs. This could include disabled veteran business grants and other specific types of financing for veterans.
Each grant will have its own set of guidelines and restrictions, so you’ll have to do your research to find the perfect match. In general, government grants require a clear and well-written proposal. You’ll want to make sure you have the time and resources to put forth your best application when seeking federal funding.
Small Business Tip:
Before applying for grants through the federal government, register with the System for Award Management (SAM) website and apply for a DUNS number. After that, you can create your account on the Grants.gov site and begin your search for small business grants for veterans.
Though not a grant provider, you can easily search through GrantWatch’s database for more than 28,500 funding opportunities. Membership is required to apply through the site, with costs including $18 for a weekly membership, $45 for a monthly option, $90 for a quarterly subscription and $199 for an annual plan. Cancellations are allowed at any time.
You can try searching for grants for disabled veterans to start a business and other veteran small business funding opportunities. Additionally, you can search by specific keywords and filter options by state and recipient type, including individual, nonprofits and small businesses, as well as by deadline.
Related: SBA Loans for Veterans
Additional Business Resources for Veterans
In addition to VA small business grants for veterans and contracting opportunities, state-specific funding programs and federal grants for disabled veterans, here are additional resources you can turn to for business support, education and financing assistance.
Veteran Readiness and Employment
Offered through the VA, the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) – Self-Employment Track is designed to help you on your entrepreneurial journey. The program provides business-minded veterans with assistance developing a business concept and plan, training in operations, marketing and finance and more.
To be eligible, you’ll first need to apply for VR&E benefits. Candidates chosen for the program will be invited to attend an in-person orientation session near them.
Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans
Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans was founded over a decade ago at Syracuse University, which serves as the program’s present-day host university. However, to date, chapters are offered at Texas A&M, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Connecticut, Louisiana State University, Florida State University, Saint Joseph’s University and the University of Missouri.
The program, including travel and lodging, is free to eligible post-9/11 veterans who were honorably discharged. The experience is broken into 3 phases, including a 30-day instructor-led online program, a 9-day residency at a participating university and 12 months of ongoing business support.
Boots to Business
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers this free education program for transitioning service members and their spouses. There is a 2-day in-person introductory course followed by supplementary online courses offered in partnership with Mississippi State University. Participants learn the skills needed to start a business, develop a business plan, get access to startup capital, obtain technical support and more.
Veteran Business Outreach Center
The Veterans Business Outreach Center program is another SBA initiative, with more than 20 participating locations. Veterans and military spouses are eligible for business training and counseling services through workshops and mentorship opportunities. Participants can also benefit from referrals to community partners and small business lenders.
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship
Commonly referred to as V-WISE, this program offers training to honorably discharged women veterans, active women service members and female military spouses and partners. The program combines online and in-person training as well as ongoing support for a year. Topics of study include business planning, marketing, business law, social media, economics, financing and more.
To date, there are more than 3,000 program graduates, 65% of whom have successfully started or expanded their businesses.
A $75 registration fee is required and covers educational materials, 2 nights of lodging during residency and most meals.
Growing Your Veteran-Owned Business
According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 337,000 veteran-owned businesses in the U.S. with a collective annual payroll of $177.7 billion, just one operating expense small business owners face. If you do the math, that breaks down evenly across the board to more than $527,000 per business in employee pay alone. Needless to say, if you’re a veteran entrepreneur, the costs to run a business can add up quickly.
Regardless of which small business grant for veterans you apply for, whether a startup program for former service members, a disabled veteran small business grant or another type of funding option, you’ll be taking a huge step toward realizing your entrepreneurial dreams.
That said, while grants can provide much-needed capital at no expense and help keep future revenues in your pocket, they can be restrictive and competitive. If you have trouble obtaining a grant, you can still find accessible funding for your business. Fast Capital 360 offers multiple avenues of funding for veteran small business owners.
At Fast Capital 360, we thank you for your service and stand ready to support your financing needs.