Veterans Make Great Entrepreneurs. Here's Why They Need More Support
By Elizabeth Gore Entrepreneur-in-residence
I asked an entrepreneur what the best advice he has ever heard was, and he started his answer with, "It came from a man who lost his arm and leg flying home from Vietnam." You know that person that answered was a veteran first and an entrepreneur second. On this Veterans Day, there is much to learn from our brave men and women in the armed forces, and we must think about how to support them in their business pursuits.
My dad, Michael McKee, is an entrepreneur in Houston. He is the CEO Career Partners International. He has helped thousands of people go through career transitions during his life. He has built and sold companies many times. But when you ask him what is his proudest achievement, other than us kids, he says it was when he was handpicked under Henry Kissinger to bring the POWs home in the U.S. at the end of the Vietnam War.
My dad is an Air Force veteran, having served from 1969 to 1976. He was a Staff Sergeant leading medical air evacuations in Vietnam as a flight medic. He trained in Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, and ultimately ended up at Scott Air Force Base. Dad flew home the wounded on C-141 planes through Japan and the Philippines, and then across the U.S. in C9A Nightingales.
There are currently 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in America, representing 9.1 percent of all U.S. businesses. That is a healthy $1 trillion in receipts, employing nearly 6 million Americans. California (252,377) and Texas (213,590) have the highest number of veteran-owned businesses. New York and Georgia also rank high on the list.
Post World War II, 47.9 percent of veterans went on to open businesses. I asked my dad why he thought this was the case, and what skills he gained in the Air Force to help him run a business. He thought for a moment and said first and foremost that the military gave him the confidence to lead. Serving instilled a sense of management and entrepreneurism because he had so much responsibility.
Today, veterans are highly trained in leadership, technical skills, and problem solving--all the critical skills needed to be an entrepreneur. However, since 9/11 only 4.5 percent of veterans have opened a business. Why is that? One reason might be that this century's version of the G.I. Bill does not provide access to low-interest loans to start a business. The G.I. Bill of World War II did--certainly something we should consider in Congress. We also need to ensure there are strong programs specifically for veterans who are ready to start companies. A few programs that I have engaged with this year;
- Alice, a machine learning-based small business adviser on which I am a board member, has created bundles of business services that are based on a veteran's stage of growth, location, and industry to connect them to all local resources.
- Dell Technologies has partnered with Bunker Labs, a nonprofit focused on bringing success opportunities to military, veteran, and military spouse entrepreneurs. Check out this video of the CEO Circle program, which paired eight CEOs from later-stage, Bunker Labs companies with Dell executives to identify opportunities for additional growth.
- The Kauffman Foundation partnered with National Association of Veteran Serving Associations (NAVSO) to ensure there are strong entrepreneur programs in individual communities.
My dad's answer to my opening question on the best advice he ever received stemmed from when he was flying a young man home who had lost his arm, leg, and bladder function. He asked him as they quietly flew over the ocean, what he was thinking. He said that he has to hold on to the opportunities in front of him, a new life at home. My dad says he always thinks of this and the new opportunities ahead of him in his business and his life. Thank you to all who have served in our Armed Forces!