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Helping veterans launch their own businesses

By Marty Minchin
Correspondent

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Veterans are uniquely prepared for entrepreneurial business endeavors.

“First of all, they are motivated and driven,” said Michael Schoeneck, program manager for the Syracuse, N.Y.-based national Boot to Business program. The program reaches veterans through agencies such as North Carolina’s Small Business Center Network.

“Their military experience really prepares them to be adaptable to any situation, which is very fitting for entrepreneurship.”

And the skills veterans possess translate well into business ownership: from experience in working within an organizational structure to being resilient.

Here are tips from other local, state and national organizations that advise veterans looking to start businesses:

Have a safety fund: Military service people are used to a steady paycheck and health insurance. “When you start your own business, you lose all of that,” said Cindi Basenspiler, executive director of Charlotte Bridge Home, which provides resources and support for veterans. “If you haven’t set up an efficient and effective safety net, you could very quickly get into trouble.”

Seek career counseling: Counseling and vocational assessments also can help veterans determine if entrepreneurship is a good fit. Many veterans have succeeded at many jobs in the military and may not know what they’re suited for.

“When you get out (of the service) … many people want to match their lost job in the military,” Basenspiler said. Counseling can be a critical step to choosing a successful career path after service.

Think through the commitment: Opening a business requires long hours and hard work.

“Talk it through with your spouse if you are married,” Schoeneck said. “Be upfront with yourself. (Startups such as Google and FedEx) are successful now, but it took them 20 or 30 years to get there. There are time commitments and it’s going to be hard.”

Choose your support well: Choosing the right organizations to work with can be daunting. A Google search will pull up pages of organizations that claim to help veterans.

“It’s hard to vet which ones are best,” said Blake Bourne, director of community initiatives for Charlotte Bridge Home.

The organization suggests reputable groups to work with, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Packard Place, an incubator for startups and innovative organizations in Charlotte.

Schoeneck said that many programs are scams. “They aim just to get G.I. Bill or benefit money,” he said.

Find a mentor: Many program offer connections to business mentors, and people are especially willing to help veterans, Schoeneck said. Local and regional offices of the Small Business Administration and other veterans’ services can help.

“You don’t need to go into it alone,” Schoeneck said. “There are resources out there to help you, but it may take a little work to find them.”

Need advice? Do you need expert advice on a small-business issue? If so, let us know. Reach us at shoptalk@charlotteobserver.com.
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