Returning Veterans Face Challenges as Entrepreneurs

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By Gary Sojka

Veterans returning home often need support and encouragement to reorient to civilian life. Many of the skills and life habits developed while in military service have a variety of applications in the work force. There are numerous programs and initiatives aimed at helping returning veterans find employment. But what of those veterans more suited to an entrepreneurial undertaking than to a salaried job? As the American economy becomes increasingly entrepreneurial, how can returning veterans be best assimilated into this growing work trend?

In addition to skills and life experience gleaned from a tour of duty, returning veterans can generally qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This program makes it possible for veterans to acquire new skills and job experiences or refine already-existing job skills. A reasonable GI Bill stipend allows time for the veteran to complete an apprenticeship or internship and gain on-the-job experience.

Additionally, there are numerous programs to help veterans obtain mortgage loans, personal loans and insurance coverage. However, veterans inclined to start up on their own and pursue an entrepreneurial path may have real difficulty getting seed money or a startup loan to launch their enterprise. Because they have spent the recent past in the military they may not have built the sort of resume that lending agencies often require before taking a chance on a new entrepreneurial venture.

As the nation seeks ways to help those to whom we all owe so much, serious thought and effort needs to be devoted to finding ways to evaluate veterans and the experiences they have gained while in the service, with the intent of assisting aspiring, qualified entrepreneurs to gain the seminal funding they will need. Putting properly oriented, inclined and suited returning veterans to work as entrepreneurs could pay significant dividends to the vets, their families and the economy.

Entrepreneurial Downtowns


By Cliff Melberger

Small to mid-size towns across the country are facing difficulties keeping their business spaces occupied. Big box stores, discounters, franchise restaurants, and large retail chains have, in many places, driven out smaller, local enterprises. That is not the case with Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Although Lewisburg is surrounded by a plethora of large and small retail malls and has just endured the dislocation caused by the construction of a new mall on the edge of the traditional business district, it has managed to avoid the appearance of a blighted ghost town. There is turnover in the business district to be sure, but new enterprises soon move into any available space created by move outs or failures. Lewisburg is a “two institution town” hosting the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary and Bucknell University. It has an active “Downtown Partnership” program that brings the various business entities in the downtown area together to work on special programs and to build downtown foot traffic.

However, Lewisburg’s resilience and relative success in maintaining a traditional downtown business district depends in large part on its “friendliness” to entrepreneurial operations and locally-generated start-ups. According to statistics made available by the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, there are 104 commercial properties in the district. Among those spaces, only 11 can be considered to be chain outlets or franchises or owned by an outside, off-site entity.

There are over 93 business operating in the district that are owner-operator organizations or entrepreneurial facilities still owned by the person or family that started them. The success of this small town in maintaining a vital and attractive downtown business district may depend in part on the foot traffic generated by its close proximity to a university campus of approximately 3,000 students and roughly 500 faculty and staff. However, that situation is optimized by the predominance of small, nimble business ventures that can adapt relatively quickly to emerging opportunities or respond to challenges brought about by changes in the surrounding environment.

The situation in downtown Lewisburg is sufficiently attractive to those planning a start-up that any vacant spaces that do appear seem to be quickly snapped up by other entrepreneurs anxious to try their hand at making their way in this vital and interesting business environment.

The situation in Lewisburg may prove to be a useful approach for other small to medium-sized towns that have seen business flee to malls or convert to corporate or chain outlets that may have more difficulty adapting to the microenvironments they encounter in a small town where conditions for business may be more volatile than in larger cities with populations large enough to provide a buffering effect to rapid changes in the business environment.

With Risk Come Unseen Rewards


By Gary Sojka

“There’s no reward without risk.” Many people are hesitant to start their entrepreneurial journey because of this intimidating phrase. However, a recent study indicates that a more appropriate version of this phrase might be, “With risk come unseen rewards.

While statistically 80% of first-year businesses do go under, entrepreneurs receive other long-term benefits, including comparable lifetime earnings and an increased skill set. I can speak to the validity of these concepts based on personal experience with a family friend.  My friend, even though she did not fail in her entrepreneurial initiatives, had become physically and emotionally drained after running two very competitive businesses for almost two decades.

She found that when she chose to sell out, she had a plethora of job offers because her business and management skills had been on public display for a long time.  She took a job working for someone else and that reduced both her physical and emotional stress, and after counting all benefits and perks actually paid her better than her own businesses.  However, it must be noted that she was able to land on her feet this way because of her entrepreneurial experience.  The job market was aware that she had practical business acumen, was well organized, ambitious, a good manager of other people, and that she was a very energetic and enthusiastic hard worker.

A fear of the unknown should never prohibit you from pursuing your dreams.