Matt Sherwood, executive director of VetBizCentral, speaks during a small business panel at Post 64 in Indianapolis on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Photo by Andy Proffet

Seminar for veteran small business owners 'invaluable'

Jeffrey Pettigrew just started his business this year. Your Home Maintenance provides HVAC, plumbing and landscaping service in the Indianapolis area.

So attending Tuesday’s National Veterans Small Business Week (NVSBW) Seminar at Kenneth N. Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis was “invaluable” for Pettigrew, one of a dozen veteran small business owners attending the event.

“There’s a lot of paperwork to go through, getting certified here and there, so the resources (at this event) are invaluable,” said Pettigrew, a member of Tillman Harpole Post 249.

NVSBW is sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and grew out of the agency’s annual Small Business Week in May. NVSBW is held the week before Veterans Day with events nationwide.

At Post 64, attendees heard about the SBA’s loan programs; the Procurement Technical Assistance Program, which helps small businesses compete for local, state and federal government contracts; VetBizCentral, one of 20 Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) nationwide intended to help form and expand veteran-owned businesses; and SCORE, an SBA resource partner which provides mentoring, workshops, peer roundtables and online resources for small business owners.

Peter Smith, lender relations specialist with the SBA Indiana District, emphasized that the SBA’s primary role is to guarantee loans made by financial institutions, only offering direct loans in the event of a local or national disaster.

He discussed eligibility for SBA loans, which is based on the size and type of business, the borrower’s qualifications and character, and what the loan will be used for; criteria for evaluating the borrower, including the presence of a feasible business plan; where to apply for an SBA loan, through commercial lenders at financial institutions; the advantages of SBA loans, including longer maturities; and how to apply for a loan.

Nate Lofton, procurement specialist for the Indiana PTAC Central Region — and like Pettigrew, a member of Post 249 — discussed steps to successful government contracting and obtaining the certifications necessary to work with the government.

It’s not just the government looking to contract with small business owners, though.

“Corporate America really wants to do business with the veteran business community,” said Matt Sherwood, executive director of VetBizCentral. “Across the whole country, corporations are looking to engage veteran businesses into their supply chains.”

And corporations often look for different certifications than the ones approved by the government, Sherwood noted.

“They want to ensure that who they’re providing that opportunity to is a legitimate veteran or service-disabled veteran-owned small business,” he said. “… My suggestion is ask your customers/clients what certifications they accept. Some don’t want anything to do with the federal certification based on liability factors. … What we’re seeing now is things are kind of moving toward third-party certification. It’s not for everybody … it is a fee-based certification.”

Bill Petrovic, chapter chair of SCORE Indianapolis, encouraged the attendees to use as many resources as possible.

“Everybody’s got their specialty. For people looking for help, guidance, I suggest you go as many places as you can, especially if it’s free, and see what’s the best fit, where you feel comfortable,” he said.