Opinion

Unleashing The Entrepreneurial Potential Of Veterans

Sen. Jerry Moran U.S. Senator, Kansas

From our nation’s earliest days, entrepreneurs have been the driving force behind U.S. economic growth and they remain so today. These individuals start businesses, improve our lives through innovation, and – in the process – create countless jobs for Americans.

Data from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City shows that companies less than five years old account for nearly all net new job creation in the United States. And since 1977, new businesses have created an average of 3 million jobs each year.

These days, startup companies are forming in communities all across our country – not just in the areas traditionally known as high-tech hubs, like Silicon Valley and Austin. The internet and technological advancement have enabled high-tech firms to take root in areas like Omaha, Boulder and Kansas City, and significant job growth is emerging in the same regions.

Wednesday, August 19, is Startup Day Across America – a day dedicated to raising awareness about the innovation, entrepreneurial activity and job creation happening right in our backyards. It’s also a great opportunity to educate folks about the changing face of entrepreneurship in America.

As veterans in Kansas and across the country separate from the military and transition into civilian life, they have the opportunity to forge a new path. After serving our nation, more and more veterans dream of continuing their service by giving back to their communities as small business owners and entrepreneurs. According to the Kauffman Foundation, nearly one in 10 U.S. small businesses are owned by veterans, and nearly 25 percent of all post-9/11 veterans aspire to be small business owners. We owe it to these American heroes to help provide opportunities for them to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

American veterans are eligible for a range of benefits under the G.I. Bill, including continuing education. Currently, only one-half of eligible veterans use their G.I. Bill benefit to pursue higher education or specialized training, and fewer complete a program of study. Higher education is essential for many, but some have a different calling. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense spent more than $1.4 billion on unemployment for former military personnel in fiscal year 2013.

Because more and more veterans dream of owning a business rather than returning to the classroom, it’s common sense to give them a choice when it comes to how they can use their earned G.I. Bill benefits. That is why U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and I introduced the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015 (VET Act), S. 1870 – bipartisan legislation that would empower veterans to access resources through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and their G.I. Bill benefit in order to become entrepreneurs, create jobs for Americans, and generate growth in our economy.

The VET Actproposes an innovative 3-year pilot program – overseen by SBA – that would enable up to 250 veterans to utilize some their G.I. Bill benefit to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise. To make certain veterans have the highest chances of success, grants would be provided in installments after successful completion of an SBA-approved entrepreneurial training program as well as the development of an extensive and SBA-approved business plan.

According to a recent survey conducted by national veteran startup incubator The Bunker, an overwhelming 90 percent of the veterans surveyed would like to use their G.I. Bill benefit to start a small business. And, nearly 95 percent would complete an entrepreneurial training program in order to do so.

The VET Act is gaining momentum in Congress, and was recently passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. As Sean McIntosh, former Navy SEAL and executive director of The Bunker, put it, the VET Act “would be a game changer. Areas like Kansas City that provide a longer runway and better cost of living would see a huge influx of veterans… It would be easier for Midwest cities to capture the talent that’s needed.”

In addition to The Bunker and the Kauffman Foundation, it’s no wonder the VET Act is supported by a wide-array of veterans groups, including 1 Vet at a Time, the American Legion, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans2Commerce, the Military Business Owners Association, Veteran and Military Business Owners Association and Association of Defense Communities.

Startup Day Across America, today, is a reminder that thinking outside the box when it comes to job creation is exactly what America needs to keep our economy strong – and the VET Act does just that. New businesses succeed when those with good ideas are willing to work hard to reach their goals, and no group has a stronger work ethic than our nation’s veterans. It is time to empower those who have sacrificed so much for our country to use the benefits they earned to unleash their entrepreneurial potential and achieve their dreams.