10 reasons veterans succeed as entrepreneurs

Did you know that there are 22 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 10 percent of whom are women?

veterans' memorialOf these men and women, 10 percent are small business owners who collectively own 2.4 million small businesses, employ nearly six million Americans and generate $1.5 trillion in receipts, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Many veterans have already proven military acumen converts easily to outstanding business leadership — think Nike, FedEx and GoDaddy, all created by veterans.

Census’ Survey of Business Owners doesn’t keep detailed statistics about U.S. business owners’ backgrounds (it does by gender, ethnicity, race, veteran status, geography, industry and so forth), but we find it unlikely any other professional group has met with such stunning business success.


Theories abound as to why veterans are more likely to start and run a business than the general population, including a greater commitment toward setting and achieving goals, perseverance and a willingness to take on challenges. Here are our top 10 reasons veterans make such superb entrepreneurs.

  1. They have an unswerving yet flexible focus. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have learned the importance of focus to accomplish the mission at hand the hard way. Many have encountered problems that need to be solved immediately, and done so instinctively. They have the ability to act on the fly, read a situation swiftly and adjust accordingly. One of the earliest reports from Operation Enduring Freedom, for example, was that U.S. special forces in Afghanistan coordinated airstrikes from their laptops — on horseback. They employed 21st century technology and good old-fashioned ingenuity to get the job done.
  2. They’re trained leaders. Veterans have had to perform under more pressure than most people experience in a lifetime, displaying bravery in the most daunting situations. These experiences naturally yield results if a veteran has been in a position of leadership. People around them sought out their guidance and direction and implicitly trusted their judgment. That’s a confidence booster, and the very definition of leadership.
  3. They learn from the ground up. Quickly. Veterans have been placed in impossible situations again and again and expected to perform miracles. (The Seabees [U.S. naval construction battalions] and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others, adopted the motto “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”) To perform these miracles, they have had to think very, very far outside the box, react to swiftly changing circumstances then act with expedience and precision. Not doing so could mean life or death.
  4. They have a great work ethic. Entrepreneurs work very long, hard hours, especially in the startup phase. That takes an extraordinary work effort, where good enough just doesn’t cut it. Good enough isn’t good enough in combat and many other military situations, either. Veterans have the mental and physical fortitude and the discipline required to survive the long days.
  5. They have a high risk tolerance. Starting a business is undeniably risky. To be blunt, the failure rate is high. Veterans already have the skillset to both mitigate and face risk head-on, having created and executed well thought-out operating strategies. Veterans have been conditioned to take risks at a level most of us will never face.
  6. They’re not lone wolves. Lone, rogue military personnel are the stuff of legend. And that’s exactly what they are. Fiction. Veterans know how to work effectively in teams. The vital importance of teamwork was drilled into them from day one, and never leaves. In the military, you learn to trust the person by your side to help get it done so everyone can go home.
  7. They know how to assess opportunities. Key to any successful business is recognizing the difference between an opportunity and an idea. An opportunity is an idea made flesh, one anchored in a product or service that can create or add value. An idea is the classic aha! or light bulb moment — inspirational enough, sure, but only valuable if the brainstorm can become an opportunity and lead to success. Most veterans have had to turn a problem into an opportunity, often against formidable odds.
  8. People respect and want to buy from veterans. One survey of more than 500 Americans revealed that 95 percent say they trust and are grateful to veterans. Witness the spontaneous standing ovations veteran receive when introduced at major league ballparks. And 70 percent say they are more likely to buy from a veteran-owned business than from a business not owned by a veteran. See our story on Bullseye International.Silhouette of soldier soluting
  9. Corporations and the federal government are increasing their reliance on veteran-owned suppliers. The National Veteran Owned Business Association recently released a list of the 25 most veteran-friendly firms. It’s a virtual who’s who of the country’s top corporations. Each year, more corporations set goals within their supplier diversity programs to increase their use of veteran-owned, women-owned and minority-owned businesses. And in June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Veterans Administration must consider bids from small businesses owned or controlled by veterans first. See our story on Bullseye.
  10. Franchises want veterans. Numerous franchises offer discounts, sometimes significant, on franchising fees or offer lending programs for veterans. Why do franchises seek out veterans? They believe, rightly, that military trained leaders make excellent business owners. And franchisees must follow rules, some quite strict. Almost without exception, veterans know how to follow rules. And make their own when need be, too.

Are you a veteran who wants to establish a business, but don’t where to start? Try these 11 organizations.