As veterans return from their tours of duty, we don’t always hear about the next chapter of their lives. For an increasing number of veterans, that chapter takes an interesting turn as they follow an entrepreneurial path. Their numbers are growing and they may well have what it takes to succeed: according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, military experience is an even stronger predictor of self-employment than graduate level education.
Maybe the best example of a veteran turned entrepreneur is Fred Smith. Smith earned his undergraduate degree at Yale, where he wrote a term paper on the deficiencies of the passenger route systems used by most airfreight shippers. He spent time as a platoon leader and a forward air controller in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he had the opportunity to observe the military’s logistics system. Using his background and his military experience, he launched Federal Express, now known as FedEx, the first and largest overnight express delivery company in the world. Forty-three years later, Smith is still the company’s chairman and CEO.
What makes veterans such good entrepreneurs? Military service men and women are disciplined, organized problem solvers who are passionate about what they do and willing to seek advice. A number of them also possess strong leadership skills.
We recently held a StartUp Studio program specifically for veterans and in the first class, asked participants to list skills possessed by entrepreneurs. Later we covered the word “entrepreneurs” and replaced it with “military” and discussed how many of the characteristics were the same. These included the ability to receive and process a lot of information, make difficult decisions and carry out projects from formation to implementation. Seeing this, it’s no wonder the last U.S. Census found that 2.45 million businesses were majority owned by veterans, or that veteran-owned firms represented 9 percent of all firms. Florida had the third highest number of veteran-owned firms, behind California and Texas.
Tampa Bay Innovation Center is doing its part to help veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs, offering the StartUp Studio program to entrepreneurs in the idea stage. The two StartUp Studio courses allow entrepreneurs to determine if their idea is a good business idea and then identify their next steps. Supported by a grant from Enterprise Florida, Inc. and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, we can waive program fees for qualifying veteran entrepreneurs in Tampa Bay (limited number available). We invite veterans to give us a call and we’ll see how we can help turn a business idea into reality.
Danielle Weitlauf is Business Partnership Director of Tampa Bay Innovation Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.