While only 6 percent of the U.S. population are military veterans, they own 13.5 percent of all small businesses. There are 3 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S., so many that they have their own magazine — “Vetrepreneur.”
Go Daddy owner Bob Parsons was a Marine and Nike owner Phil Knight is an Army veteran, and Delaware has its own vetrepreneurs.
Mary Johnson, owner of Chick-fil-A in North Dover, is a West Point grad. Dan Ramirez, owner of Papa John’s in South Dover and Rehoboth, is an Air Force veteran. Eli Valenzuela, owner of First State Manufacturing in Milford, is an Army veteran. The list goes on.
Many use their military experience to spot a problem and start a business to solve it. Valenzuela repairs the upholstery in C5s and Ospreys.
A new crop of budding entrepreneurs attended a free two-day course at Dover Air Force Base last week.
• Sgt. First Class Keith Benson, leaving the service after 26 years, plans to open bars around military bases.
• Becky Eaton, a military spouse, already runs a cake-making business in Wyoming.
Two attendees wanted to open personal training businesses. One wanted to turn her family’s apple orchard into a winery. Another owns an alpaca farm but wants to open a logistics business. They all attended Operation Boots to Business, the Small Business Administration that helps separating military segue from the service to their own startups.
Jim Provo, the SBA’s veteran business development officer, told them he himself had started a business the day he left the Navy.
“How many of you have ever said, ‘I don’t get paid what I’m worth?’ he asked. “As long as you work for someone else, that will always be true.”
“As an employee, you have no equity,” Provo said. “As a business owner, you have equity. Some people look at a business as a paycheck. No. Look at it as a business you can sell.”
Eyes lit up when Provo said businesses sell for two to three times the annual profit, even in the current economic climate.
The two-day course explains everything from exploring markets to applying for money. It includes tips from local business owners like self-employment coach Bob Koch and Buffalo Wild Wings owner Bobby Pancake.
Provo told the young entrepreneurs their military discipline and habits would serve them well in business.
Sgt. First Class Benson thinks he’s already followed Provo’s advice to look for a need and fill it. He said when the military phased out enlisted clubs at many bases, he saw an opening for business that provides a safe place for military enlisted people to party.
Benson hopes bases will provide shuttles to get partiers safely back to base, but, if they don’t, he’ll provide cab service. ♦