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9:06 AM Mon, Dec. 10th

Resources help transition veterans into entrepreneurs

Question: I'm a retired veteran, but am certainly not ready for the rest home. I would like to open my own small business using the skills I acquired during my military career, but I'm not certain how best to proceed. Can SCORE offer some guidelines?

Answer: Like many others, you've served in the Armed Forces and have gained valuable skills, training, and personal growth. Fortunately, the opportunities don't need to end once you've returned to civilian life. There are several programs available to help veterans transition to new roles as owners of their own small businesses.

For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration has teamed with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, and other resource partners to create Boots to Business (boots2business.org). This program provides transitioning service members the knowledge, tools and resources they need to evaluate available opportunities and become successful entrepreneurs.

Launched in 2012, Boots to Business aims to make the nuts and bolts of starting and growing a business easier and more accessible to the 250,000 service members from all branches of the military that transition each year.

For veteran entrepreneurs looking for financing, the SBA's Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative offers loans of up to $500,000 to start or grow a small business through a nationwide network of participating lenders. Patriot Express loans feature the SBA's lowest business loan interest rates - generally 2.25 percent to 4.75 percent over prime depending upon the loan's size and maturity - as well as an expedited approval turnaround time. The loan can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory, or business-occupied real-estate purchases.

To help veteran-owned businesses connect with public- and private-sector customers for their products and services, there's the Department of Veterans Affairs' www.vetbiz.gov. This site also includes a database listing businesses more than 51-percent owned by veterans or service-connected disabled veterans - a valuable tool for promoting your new business to potential federal and private-sector customers.

And don't forget the Veteran Fast Launch Initiative (www.score.org/vetsfastlaunch). This collaboration of SCORE and the Wal-Mart Foundation provides veterans and active duty military members (plus spouses and immediate family members) with free or significantly discounted business start-up resources such as software and business services (provided by major corporate partners); scholarships to attend SCORE small business start-up workshops; Web-based workshops, tools, templates, and white papers; and, of course, access to SCORE's mentoring program.

There are many successful veteran small business owners. Larry Curell, a Service Disabled Veteran Small Business Owner, worked with his SCORE mentors to get his business, Better Deal Printing (www.BetterDealPrinting.com), launched and to complete the multiple steps required to have the Disable Veteran Business designation (SDVOSB). He started his printing business in 2001 with $800 and a broken laser printer in a spare bedroom. Today, Curell currently employs seven people and is in the process of finalizing the paperwork to move Better Deal Printing from a single entity business to a national franchise. "My goal," said Curell, "is to bring in 100 to 150 veterans as franchise owners over the next three to five years." As a veteran Curell has contact with other veterans. "I've recommended SCORE to several (vets)," stated Curell, "and SCORE is helping a fellow veteran get his business started now."

Regardless of your time in service, whether a veteran or career retired military, there are excellent opportunities and organizations to guide you in your quest to start and operate your own small business.

Get your business enterprise off the ground today by signing up for your own free SCORE mentor. Go to http://northernarizona.score.org/localworkshops. Questions? Call 778-7438 or email scoreoffice@scorenaz.org.