The Veterans Small Business Workshop during the 99th American Legion National Convention at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nev

Veteran entrepreneurs learn secrets to cracking the business code

The American Legion’s National Veterans Employment and Education (VE&E) Commission, in collaboration with the Veterans Business Outreach Center and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), hosted a small business summit Aug. 22 for veteran entrepreneurs to participate in learning sessions and network with national and local resource partners.

The summit, held in conjunction with the Legion’s 99th National Convention in Reno, Nev., featured appearances by American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, political dignitaries, government officials and industry leaders. Veteran entrepreneurs and seasoned small business owners were offered several industry-specific learning sessions:

• Boots to Business: Reboot (designed for start-up and entrepreneurs in operation for less than two years);

• Cybersecurity for a small business;

• Government contracting;

• Supplier diversity;

• Five habits of profitability;

• Access to capital;

• How to qualify for a vet first; and

• Construction procurement bid opportunities.

During the morning session, participants introduced themselves before hearing remarks from honorary guest speakers including Raymond Milano, SBA’s deputy associate administrator for the Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD); and Thomas Leney, executive director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Small and Veteran Business Programs.

“When you think about small business, it’s not just a big thing on the employees, on the building, (or) on the infrastructure,” said Milano, who has worked with veterans over the last 10 years. “It’s one person making things happen, exploring their passion and creating that revenue. Self-employment is important.”

Since its founding in 1953, SBA has grown significantly in terms of total assistance provided and its array of programs have been tailored to encourage small enterprises in all areas. SBA's programs now include:

• financial and federal contract procurement assistance;

• management assistance; and

• specialized outreach to women, minorities and armed forces veterans.

SBA’s website noted that OVBD is devoted exclusively to promoting veteran entrepreneurship and facilitates the use of all SBA programs by veterans, service-disabled veterans, reservists, active-duty servicemembers, transitioning servicemembers and their dependents or survivors. These programs not only feature customized curriculums, in-person classes and online courses to give veterans the training to succeed, but also offer the fundamentals of business ownership, SBA resources, and small business experts.

Milano mentioned the Veterans Business Outreach Program, which is an OVBD initiative that oversees Veterans Business Outreach Centers across the country. He said this small business program features a number of success stories and offers business plan workshops, concept assessments, mentorship and training for eligible veterans.

“If you took all the SBA grantees and resource partners, they have over 1,400 locations and over 12,000 business advisors across the country. That’s a pretty big impact,” Milano said. “They’re there to work for you. You just need to reach out to them and ask them to be a part of your team.”

The theme of the small business summit was “Cracking the Code," wherein veterans learned best practices for preparing, supporting and igniting their entrepreneurial spirit.

For Robert Vermillion, chief executive officer of RMV Technology, he said one of the keys to cracking the code is networking, cultivating relationships with stakeholders, and maintaining a high level of integrity.

“As a fellow veteran, where I spend my time and energy is with veteran-owned businesses,” said Leney. “I think it is that important. You’ve got a great opportunity now, especially with the Rule of Two.”

The VA Rule of Two, according to VA’s website, is the process prescribed in 38 U.S.C. 8127(d) which applies to all competitive procurements that VA is attempting to award. It is VA’s policy that, to the maximum extent practicable, contracting officers shall award contracts on the basis of competition restricted to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans.

Competition will be restricted to service-disabled veteran-owned small business and veteran-owned small businesses, where these entities are determined verified and capable, and the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation of receiving offers at fair and reasonable prices that offer best value to the Government.

“For fiscal year 2017, there was (about) $8 billion worth of contracts written. Almost $3 billion of that went to veteran-owned businesses,” Leney said. “We do have outreach events every now and then. I would encourage you to try and take advantage of them as much as you can because at these meetings, you’ll have the procurement decision makers or somebody that you can connect with and talk to, who is writing contracts and fulfilling requirements.”

During one of the learning sessions, Kirk McLaren, CEO of Foresight CFO, spoke about the five habits of profitability:

• Develop one driver per month for growth plan clarity (financial performance; growth potential; customer, employee and supplier dependence; positive cash flow; recurring revenue; uniqueness; customer satisfaction; owner’s trap)

• Have and use the financial statements

• Build a rolling 12-month budget profit model

• Achieve positive cash flow

• Beat peer benchmarks/get annual valuation (to determine what it takes to be in the top percentile of one’s industry)

“Entrepreneurship is a team sport,” said Milano. “We can’t do it by ourselves.”