Veterans: Are You Aware of the SBA’s “Boots to Business” Program?

boots to business

The U.S. Small Business Administration has expanded its pilot “Boots to Business” Program. The program is designed to help active duty veterans and retiring military members pursue entrepreneurship as they transfer to civilian life.

The program is seen as one way to combat the high unemployment rate seen among returning veterans as compared to the rest of the population. Last year, the veteran unemployment rate was at 9 percent. That was down from the previous year by nearly a full percent, according to Reuters. Still, that 9 percent is 1.6 percent higher than 2013’s unemployment rate among civilians.

SBA ran a pilot “Boots to Business” program in 2012 through the U.S. Marine Corps. The program was limited to three Marine bases located in Quantico, Va., Cherry Point, N.C. and Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif. Watch the video to learn more:

With the success of that program, the SBA recently announced a $3 million contract with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. That money will allow the school to expand “Boots to Business” on a nationwide scale. The deal is for three years with the option of two additional years after that.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the SBA believe that military veterans are ideal candidates for small business ownership. In fact, veterans already have a track record of small business success, says J. Michael Haynie, the Institute’s executive director. In a release announcing the new contract, Haynie explained:

“Veteran-owned businesses represent nearly 2.5 million of all U.S. small businesses, employ more than 5.7 million Americans and contribute close to $1.7 trillion to the nation’s GDP.”

Every year, about a quarter-million members of the military transition to civilian life, according to the SBA. An estimated $1 million will be transitioning from military life over the next few years, the White House claimed in a recent announcement. During this time these veterans will need to decide whether to enter the workforce or start a business.

According to the SBA, the “Boots to Business” program begins with a video introducing the program. It’s shown to all active duty military members as they begin their transition back to civilian life.

Those with more interest will then take a 2-day, classroom-based course. The course is an introduction to small business ownership. The classes are followed up with an eight week online course teaching the basics of the business plan and tips for starting a business.

In a statement announcing the agreement with Syracuse University, New York Sen. Charles Schumer explained:

“Veterans are leaders, innovators and doers, and the ‘Boots-to-Business’ program provides the guidance to tap into those attributes.”

According to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, military veterans are twice as likely to want to start a small business and have it succeed as a civilian.

Image: SBA


Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is the Assistant Editor for Small Business Trends and the Head of Content Partnerships. A journalist with 20 years of experience in traditional and online media, Joshua got his start in the rough and tumble newspaper business of Pennsylvania's coal region. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and was a beat reporter covering daily news. He eventually founded his own local newspaper, the Pottsville Free Press, covering his hometown. Joshua supervises the day-to-day operations of Small Business Trends' busy editorial department including the editorial calendar and outgoing assignments.

15 Reactions
  1. Here is yet another program from the SBA for Veterans from a non-Veteran organization. Syracuse University is a distinguished university with great faculty, but it takes a Vet to talk to and assist Vets. The SBA/VA makes it so hard for us Vet business owners to get certified as Vet owned businesses, Disabled Vet owned businesses. The process should be streamlined to me having served 20 years of honorable service, having a valid DD 2-A (ID card) and copies of our disability as certified by the VA, then we should receive immediate certification.

    • Everything about the government needs to be streamlined. As a plain vanilla SMB owner the government does so many things to make my life harder and all that paperwork keeps me from growing my business.

    • Byron, our entire senior team are veterans, as are most of our program managers, and many of our staff, and our director is both a veteran, former Air Force Academy faculty member, and a professor of entrepreneurship with his degree (PhD) in business strategy and entrepreneurship. Check out the Institute at As regards certification by VA, we don’t have anything to do with that process, but we do share information on it with our entrepreneurship programs. While I generally agree that veterans are best position to serve other veterans, the non-veterans on our team are also very focused on serving veterans well, in a culturally competent manner, and to meet all of their needs. Thanks!

      • I think the question is still relevant – why are academics (veteran or non-veteran) assumed to be the right avenue for helping veterans start businesses? There are a plethora of business advisors in the private sector with proven track records of helping business owners start and grow businesses. It’s all they do and they do it really well. Would we give $3 million to business advisors to have them help some academics put together a school? (Might be a good idea, but it would never happen.)

  2. I think that this is a great program as it will encourage veterans to the field of entrepreneurship. But I guess it still needs to be more sensitive to the Veteran’s needs as stated by Byron here.

  3. Well its really a great initiative towards building a strong base for veterans, who can be future entrepreneur, if they are properly nurtured.

  4. Full disclosure – I’m a minority owner in a woman-owned, disabled-veteran business (I’m the disabled veteran part). This program is not something the SBA should be offering. 98% of businesses have 0-19 employees – 28 million. Where is the concern and focused attention for that 98% which have been left behind? The last time I looked, this was the SMALL Business Administration, not the purview of special interests.

    The 98% need loans in the $50,000 to $150,000 range. In 2008, the average SBA loan was $180,000 and 24% of them were under $100,000 (Terry Sutherland, SBA Press Office). Today, the average loan is a bloated $485,000 and only 9% of them are under $100,000, and that number continues to decline.

    How did this happen? Because Karen Mills led the largest expansion of the definition of “small” in the 61 year history of the SBA. This allowed the banks to make significantly fewer loans to a few, very large corporations – 500+ employees and $30+ million in revenue – not small businesses by anyone’s measure except the SBA. This allowed the SBA to tout that they loaned $30 billion last year, but never once did they parse the numbers to show that it all went to much larger businesses.

    Does the SBA, and it’s new Administrator, Contreras-Sweet, represent all small business owners, or just special interests? If she wants to help the 98% with 0-19 business owners, she will lead a repeal of the expansion of the definition of small (it is continuing under her administration), and will focus on ALL businesses with 0-19 employees. That is her special interest group. Let’s see if she’ll step up to protect them.

    And as an aside, how absurd is it to give $3million to a bunch of academics to help people start businesses?

  5. Our users are becoming so disenfranchised with anything that has to do with the government being involved in any way, shape or form that this whole program may be counter-productive. This is a trend that has really taken hold during this administration like never seen before.

    Current SBO complain constantly about the difficulty of growing their businesses with a government climate of too much involvement and complexity on one hand and a total lack of business understanding on the other.

    Seems to us the time is right for some major changes that help to really encourage small business growth (true small businesses, not larger facsimiles) and this represents a tremendous opportunity to fundamentally shift the way that small businesses are started and assisted during their growth phases.

  6. Chuck, thanks for the ongoing discussion. The reason is because the privately funded social venture we started at Syracuse, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities in 2006/2007 was wildly successful in teaching and training entrepreneurship, with high rates of business startups, and expanded to 8 world-class university business schools. Those schools all have faculty trained in entrepreneurship, expert business owners who have succeeded, veterans in both categories, and draw from each other and outside veteran business owners to offer these training programs. The businesses started by our graduates have excellent business metrics, including hiring other veterans, selling businesses, starting new businesses and more. So, when we competed for the grant, we had a strong record of achievement for veteran business owners across multiple programs not funded by government.

    Byron’s comment was about veterans assisting other veterans, and I was responding that we are veterans assisting veterans. So, different questions, both relevant, and both answered. Thanks!

    • James,

      I followed the link you gave Byron – – it appears to be an employment site. If there is something about starting a business there (the emphasis of this article), it seems to be buried in some internal URLs – I dug around for 15 minutes and could only come up with things to help vets get jobs. This employment site looks like a GREAT program, but doesn’t seem to be something that should be funded by the SBA. BTW – did you win the grant based on this work getting Vets into employment, or with a record of getting vets to start successful businesses?

      However, I did Google “Boots to Business” and found a website for it. The meat of the program appears to be the well-worn 8-week “how to create a business plan” process that has been taught for 50 years with no impact. If anything shows this program should not be run by academics, it is the emphasis of the program – a business plan.

      Not a single Fortune 500 was started with a business plan – not one. I’m pretty sure that extends to the Fortune 5000, but I haven’t finished that study yet. And in talking with thousands of small business owners around the world, app. 3-6% of them did a business plan to start their business if they didn’t need a loan. Of those many hundreds, not a single one of them say their business plans were helpful guides – they instead became shelf-help material to help their shelf look good (like shelf-help books). Bill Hewllet (HP) said ” we didn’t have a business plan. We were opportunists.” They made the dumbest things before someone from the outside told them to make the audio oscillator – their first money making product. The same hacking around to find something that worked made Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and a thousand other companies successful. None of them started with a business plan and all of them were opportunists trying to find their way without a map. Business plans are a huge distraction to the realities of starting a business.

      In the trenches, what I have experienced in 35 years of business is that what makes people successful has nothing to do with a business plan and everything to do with vision (very different than a business plan), mindset, fundamental principles, and most importantly, the combination of speed of execution and bull-dogged determination to not quit. That eight weeks could be used so much more effectively than to distract people with a planning process that has no impact on success. They could leave with a great framework of principles, practical tools, guiding beliefs and utter clarity about where they are headed – things you’ll never get from a business plan.

      Sorry – but any program that puts the worn-out business plan process at the core of its curriculum communicates right out of the gate that it is not based on what happens in the trenches, but in the ivory tower. As military men, we should know this approach is distracting from the real job of preparation.

      “No battle plan survives its first encounter with the enemy.” Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke

      • You are making some very valid points. I actually attended the Boots to Business course upon leaving the military and although I learned some much needed information, I agree that focusing on the actually business plan itself was a bit outdated. The course basically took 8 weeks to write up a business plan in which you had guidance on how to do so. I have a degree in Business Administration, Organizational Management and Supply Chain so sitting in the class I really didn’t feel that I learned anything other than how to write a business plan in which I learned in college. I don’t think the program is a total waste but I feel that money could have been given to the Veterans who are trying to secure the loans.

  7. Thank you very much for the great responses to this post. All of them, truly. Everyone makes very valid cases for their points. We’ll be sure to do some more investigating on this topic in the future. If you’d like to share your success or fail stories with veteran-owned businesses, please reach me through this site. Thanks again!

  8. I’m interested in finding out more information on the Boots to business program. I’ve been retired since 2007, working in Afghanistan ever since. I would like to learn more about starting a business and the options available to me to achieve that. Thanks

  9. Why can I find any basic info on this. The website says qualified veterans may attend classes well how do you know if your qualified. Do you really have to sit through an 8 week class to find out how far from your EAS you can apply or if there is a minimum credit score. Depending on the answers to a few small questionso the classes could be a waste of time

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