What You Need to Know About the SBA’s Boots to Business Program

Many people in the military think about starting a business once they leave the service. The Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business Program is one tool that can help you find your path.

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Small business owners come from every walk of life. Some people stumble upon a great idea that turns into something more, while others run the small business that’s been in their family for generations.

A growing group of small business owners is military veterans. According to information gathered from the last census, the U.S. Census Bureau found over 2.5 million businesses majority-owned by veterans. These businesses employed over 5 million people and generated over $1 trillion in sales.

With tens of thousands of veterans leaving the military each year, many are looking for guidance, training, and funding to help them create and grow their businesses. One place to look is the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Here’s what you need to know about how the SBA can help veterans.

What is the SBA Boots to Business program?

The SBA runs a variety of programs that provide tools for small business owners and entrepreneurs to help grow and fund their businesses. These range from SBA loans to mentorship programs and grant opportunities.

Sometimes, the SBA partners with other governmental agencies and organizations to offer more specific training and services. To help support veterans and encourage entrepreneurship, the SBA teamed up with the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop the Boots to Business Program (also referred to as the Boots 2 Business or B2B program).

It’s run in conjunction with the DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP helps service members, including those in the National Guard and Reserve, and their spouses transition from the military back to civilian life. As this transition process begins, service members are introduced to the various programs and opportunities available to them.

An image of the partnering agencies the DoD works with as part of the TAP program.

Here are the agencies the DoD partners with through its TAP program to help veterans transition into civilian life. Source: dodtap.mil.

Eric Miller, Managing Director & Founder of Marsh Creek Social Works, recently retired after 20 years of service in the U.S. Army. As part of his transition back to civilian life, he participated in the B2B program in the Fall of 2019 and explained part of the transitioning process.

“In some of the very first steps of the process, these programs are introduced and explained to all transitioning members,” he says. “So even if you've never heard of B2B, you will certainly learn about the program when you begin your transition, and you will have the opportunity to take the two-day B2B program.”

SBA Boots to Business program options

The B2B program encompasses a few different paths.

Introduction to Entrepreneurship

This is a two-day workshop that gives a basic overview of business fundamentals and business ownership. Essentially, it’s a 101-style course on how to get started as a business owner.

An image showing the different topics covered in the B2B two-day workshop, including market research and legal considerations.

Some of the topics covered in the two-day B2B workshop include market research and legal considerations. Source: sba.gov.

Foundations of Entrepreneurship

Graduates of the Boots to Business workshop can enroll in a more advanced eight-week online course run by accredited colleges and universities through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.

The coursework here combines online learning with professors as well as independent learning. For example, attendees might learn the basics of writing grant proposals or how to develop a business plan.

Additional add-on coursework

Once you complete the B2B workshop, you can also take various optional add-on courses. These topics range from business fundamentals to market research.

Miller highlighted the Introduction to Franchising course as one pathway to success. “There are, in fact, some franchises that draw most of their franchisees from the pool of transitioning service members,” he says.

For veterans who have been out of the service for a while, didn’t take the B2B program, or live far away from any military installations, there’s also the Reboot program. The Boots to Business Reboot (B2BR) offers various in-person classes and training on business fundamentals during one- to two-day off-base workshop sessions.

As of late 2019, over 100,000 service members have participated in the SBA B2B program since it began in 2013.

What to expect from the SBA Boots to Business workshop

As you’re starting the transition process, you might be interested in the B2B workshop. Here’s what you should expect before you start.

It’s a good basic overview

Something to keep in mind is you aren’t going to learn everything you need to know about successfully running a business from a two-day workshop session.

However, if you are interested in learning more about starting a business, the workshop, coupled with the other courses, can give you a solid overview of basic business fundamentals. From there, you can determine if it’s the right path for you.

You’ll get access to a lot of other resources

Beyond giving you the basics of starting a business, the B2B and B2BR programs offer a deep dive into other programs available for veterans.

Miller highlighted these resources as a positive part of the program. “For me, the most beneficial part of the program was learning about the myriad resources, additional training, and opportunities available to veterans stepping into the business world — and having all of those in one place.”

You’ll gain access to mentorship opportunities

Something the SBA, not only the B2B program, offers is access to a wide network of mentors through its Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). There are over 60 of these centers across the country.

“It was during the B2B training that I learned of the SBDCs and was able to connect to the George Mason University (GMU) SBDC for one-on-one mentorship regarding business structures,” Miller says. “And I'll note that I am a GMU adjunct professor and was not aware of the SBDC!”

How to qualify for SBA financing

The B2B program doesn’t offer any direct financing. However, the SBA has several programs in place to help you get a loan for your business if you need one, including a few geared toward veteran-owned businesses.

If you’re considering applying for an SBA loan, here’s how to make sure you give yourself the best chance to secure funding.

1. Know the minimum numbers to qualify

The SBA provides funding through lenders, including banks and credit unions. Before you begin your application process, contact your local lenders and find out what you need to secure a loan. Many will have minimum numbers for credit scores, years in business, and revenue.

2. Check your financial health

When it comes to getting any sort of loan, your creditworthiness is a significant factor. So, know your numbers. That way, if you need to raise your credit score, for example, you can devote time to focusing on that.

3. Get your documents in order

It shouldn’t come as a big shock, but SBA loans often require a lot of paperwork. Before you apply, make sure you have your financial documents organized and ready to go.

4. Create your business plan

Most SBA loans require you to submit a business plan and do an in-person interview as part of the application process. Because of that, your business plan is an integral part of your application. Review it to make sure it’s solid.

5. Apply

After you’ve gone through everything above, this step should be self-explanatory. After you apply, your lender will let you know if you’ve been approved and the next steps.

Take advantage of available programs

As a veteran, you and your family have dedicated time and energy to service. Regardless of how long you’ve spent in the military, from a few years to decades, there are programs and opportunities available to you that will help you get on the right path as you move back into civilian life.

Once you begin the process of transitioning out of the service, consider the options available. There are all sorts of people and programs ready to assist as you start to build and grow your own business.

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