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From Military Skills to Veteran Entrepreneur Success
by Matt Louis
November 9, 2023
disabled veteran entrepreneur

When leaving today’s military, service members face the daunting yet exciting challenge of deciding which career field is best for them. If you’re pondering this decision for the first time, it is important to know you have many options. Among those possibilities is a career as an entrepreneur, either through starting a business, buying a business or investing in a franchise.

Entrepreneurship is a good fit for some veterans. According to a National Institutes of Health study, veterans are nearly twice as likely to be self-employed compared to non-veterans. It may inspire you to know that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates veteran-owned businesses generate $1 trillion in annual revenue. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, your military skills might be advantageous.

Top Military Traits for Veteran Entrepreneurs

In my current position at Purepost, a veteran-owned company that helps match competencies gained via military experience with careers in the private sector, I help former service members successfully transition into the business world. To help them understand how they can rapidly assimilate and thrive in business cultures outside of the military, I created a chart that reflects how various dimensions of those cultures compare (below is an excerpt). 

Military-Civilian-Table graphic

The cultural experience of today’s military service members helps support their entrepreneurial aspirations, which tend to be mirrored by smaller civilian organizations. Typical strengths veterans leverage from their military experience include taking on hard work, experience in leadership roles, and demonstrating skills such as innovation, risk-taking, flexibility, resilience, grit, adaptation to new environments, team building, mutual support and self-efficacy.

Veterans can certainly thrive in a larger civilian organization. However, a surprising number of cultural dimensions from the military mimic those of entrepreneurial organizations, which means working in a small business or becoming a veteran entrepreneur could be a good career transition.

Leaning on Your Leadership Experience

In smaller, more entrepreneurial organizations, you’ll rely on the leadership skills you developed in the military. You may have developed plans or missions for teams. You may have played a key role in communications. Even if you were not a high-ranking officer, you learned valuable leadership skills within the scope of your position. Do not underestimate yourself.  You acquired management, operational and organizational skills needed to succeed in a similar environment—a small business. You already know how to organize responsibilities, structure tasks and motivate individuals.

Using Your Resilience to Thrive in Change

In the military, you were taught to adapt and overcome whatever challenges you encountered to ultimately enable your success. Dealing with change and managing chaos will be a daily experience in your entrepreneurial organization, especially if your business innovates a new, better, or different product or service. While your challenges will no longer consist of enemy combatants, resolving those issues will be no less important.

Beyond the purely administrative challenges to get your business up and running, you’ll quickly need to tackle such tasks as raising funds, buying or building your product or service, finding and managing suppliers and customers, and paying your people (SCORE has resources to help veteran entrepreneurs).

The larger your team, the more helping hands you’ll have to share in the work, but also the more significant the administrative burden of effectively managing human resources tasks, including:

  • Regulatory compliance
  • Compensation and benefits management
  • Goal setting
  • Performance reviews
  • Health and safety protocols

Though the number of tasks you must complete may seem daunting, your military background will give you the confidence to work through such issues.

Exploring Your Entrepreneurial Aspirations

While the entrepreneurial journey has challenges, it can be very satisfying for veteran entrepreneurs. The 2022 National Survey of Military-Affiliated Entrepreneurs found that 80 percent of veteran business owners consider themselves successful, and 72 percent said they can financially support themselves and their families with their business income.

Many years ago, I transitioned from the military to the private sector. I spent several years at a few large organizations, gaining real-world experience, and then pivoted to a long career in consulting. Ultimately, I decided to tap into my passion to support fellow veterans by joining a small business, Purepost, as its president. In taking this position, my energy and personal fulfillment have never been higher. If you’re inspired to start, acquire or join a small business, your military experiences, like mine, could serve you well.

About the author
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Matt Louis
Matt Louis is one of the nation’s leading experts in career transition for veterans and public service professionals. He coaches individuals on their transition efforts and advises employers on hiring programs designed to successfully assimilate these valuable talent pools.
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