Written by Mike Haynie, IVMF Executive Director & Founder
Along with a group of committed and talented educators from across the country, I have spent the past five years working to empower America’s veterans through business ownership. The social and moral ‘case’ for this work is clear and intuitive. There is no segment of our society more deserving of the opportunity to live the American Dream of business ownership, than those men and women who strapped on the uniform of the United States and pledged to defend that dream. But this weekend I had the opportunity to witness firsthand an important dimension of the ‘business case’ that supports veteran business ownership, when I attended the Veteran Administration’s “National Veteran’s Small Business Conference” in New Orleans, Louisiana.
More than 4000 veterans gathered in New Orleans to attend training sessions, network, and learn about opportunities to conduct business with the federal government. However for me the insight didn’t necessarily come from what I heard in the classrooms. Instead it was what I heard in the hallways and coffee shops – as I talked to these veterans about their business aims and aspirations – that had me excited. For sure, they all had big dreams. But more than that I was struck by how many of these veterans were launching and creating ventures that leveraged the knowledge and skills they learned through military service, into commercial ventures. For example, one young Marine Corps veteran told me about how his ‘green technology’ company – a firm that designs solar energy systems for farms and rural communities – leverages what he learned when he was exposed to a similar effort undertaken by USAID throughout rural Afghanistan. Another former soldier told me how he learned about ‘entrepreneurship’ when his platoon was assigned to develop a system to distribute electricity throughout an Iraqi village, from a newly installed gas-powered generator. As I heard similar stories from these veterans, it occurred to me that veteran-business ownership represents a mechanism to ‘pay back’ the American taxpayer for our investments overseas. It’s a form of knowledge spillover that economists describe happening in places like Silicon Valley – where in this case our veterans become the conduit of skills, knowledge, and innovation gained through our engagement overseas. Those innovations and skills are now being leveraged here at home, to create jobs and economic opportunity for all Americans.
It’s not a secret that small business represents the engine that powers the American economy. There is an opportunity for politicians, policy-makers, and industry leaders to tap into the potential of our veterans in the small business arena, which so far remains largely untapped and under-appreciated. The ‘business case’ to expand entrepreneurship training and access to business capital for the veterans is one that would ultimately benefit all Americans.