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Op-Ed: SBA program introduces returning veterans to entrepreneurship

Author Jorge Silva-Puras is SBA regional administrator, overseeing agency operations in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each year, 250,000 service members make the transition from military service to civilian life. Here in Puerto Rico, more than 100,000 veterans call this area home. One of the greatest responsibilities our nation has is to honor and support these men and women.  The Obama Administration is committed to providing a seamless transition from active duty to civilian life, and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is committed to doing its part.

Veterans already over-index in entrepreneurship. In fact, 9 percent of all U.S. firms are veteran-owned. More than 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses employ more than 5.8 million individuals. About one quarter of veterans say they are interested in starting or buying their own business. So, we know that providing greater access and opportunity to these veteran-owned small businesses will help them grow and create jobs.

There are numerous SBA programs already in place specifically designed to support our veterans. Financing opportunities exist for veterans who are establishing or expanding their small business, including microloans and Patriot Express loans. Last year, we approved more than 4,300 loans to veterans totaling $1.5 billion.

In Puerto Rico, nearly $1 million in loans went to veterans in fiscal year 2011, and so far this year we have approved more than $2 million. Thousands of military reservists and veterans have received entrepreneurship training and business counseling through SBA-affiliated partnerships. Within the last two years, SBA worked with contracting officers to deliver the highest-ever percentage of federal contracts to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses, totaling $10.4 billion.

But we can do more. That’s why the SBA launched “Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup” to help transitioning service members and veterans become entrepreneurs and create jobs.

“Operation Boots to Business” will build on SBA’s role as a leader in entrepreneurship training. SBA will help connect veterans with its resource partner network – Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), SCORE, and Veterans Business Opportunity Centers (VBOCs) – for support throughout the life-cycle of their new businesses.

Through its ongoing collaboration with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), SBA also will provide comprehensive training materials specifically geared toward transitioning service members.

The pilot program is currently underway with the Marine Corps at four locations– Quantico, VA; Cherry Point, NC; Camp Pendleton, CA; and Twenty-Nine Palms, CA.  By next year we plan to expand to all branches of the military. The initiative includes three phases of instruction: a short introductory video on entrepreneurship; an in-person classroom training on entrepreneurship; and an in-depth, online, eight-week entrepreneurship course that leads to the creation of a business plan.

Veterans are natural entrepreneurs, already possessing the experience and leadership skills to start businesses and create jobs. “Boots to Business” is an opportunity to help our local veterans channel these skills and ultimately help create an economy built to last.

For more information on the “Boots to Business” training program, and on how to take part as a transitioning service member, please visit http://www.sba.gov/bootstobusiness.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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