Opening a community barbershop, founding a wine and accessories store, expanding from an online roasting and bean company to a coffee shop retailer. After serving in the military, some veterans choose to pursue a different challenge: entrepreneurship.
Regardless of the type of enterprise, veterans who are launching, scaling, or simply maintaining small businesses could be eligible for a small business grant. Grants can help support and foster a successful livelihood for those who have served active-duty military service for the US. Additionally, veteran-owned businesses can use grant funds to hire other veterans and provide support services to the veteran community. These grant opportunities are often extended to spouses, partners, and widowed spouses of veterans.
As of 2018, approximately two million businesses employing more than 5 million people in the US are owned by veterans, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Small business grants for veterans can be especially beneficial when starting or sustaining a business.
Table of Contents
What is a small business grant?
Small business grants are set sums of money that a variety of givers—including government, corporations, and nonprofits—award as funding opportunities for a specific demographic or need. These are not considered small business loans or forgivable loans and do not have to be paid back.
Grants are typically awarded to qualified applicants who are launching a new business or growing an established one. However, there might be rules or requirements on how the grant money may be used by each recipient. Grants sometimes are awarded for a specific purpose, such as for investing in technology or funding entrepreneurial programs, like classes or training initiatives. In some cases, grants are awarded to groups that typically experience high barriers to access to capital, like Black-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and businesses that experienced a hardship like a natural disaster or pandemic.
What is a veteran-owned business?
A veteran-owned business is one where a founder, or one of the co-founders, is a veteran. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, to be eligible as a veteran-owned small business, one veteran must own at least 51% of the company, make key decisions, and actively run daily operations. To qualify as a veteran, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- Served on active duty with the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard and did not receive a dishonorable discharge.
- Served as a reservist or member of the National Guard and was called to federal active duty or are disabled from a disease or injury that started or worsened in the line of duty or while in training.
Veteran entrepreneurs aren’t required to have certifications as veteran-owned businesses operate and serve customers wishing to support their business. However, some federal government contracts, for example, may require certification to verify veteran-owned status. Veterans can register as a veteran-owned small business (VOSM) or a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) to bid on certain government contracts that give preference to veterans.
Types of grants available for veteran-owned small businesses
There are different entities that fund and distribute small business grants. Here are four examples of the types of grants available to small businesses, including veteran-owned business:
The federal government issues grants through agencies such as the Small Business Administration (SBA), which then distributes funding to various nonprofit organizations and institutions, typically not directly to entrepreneurs. One exception is the STEM-oriented Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, which issues grants to small businesses. A small business can apply for an SBIR grant directly, while an STTR grant can only be issued to a small business when it partners with a nonprofit. You can also access resources through the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal.
State and local grants
States and local governments award grant money to veteran business owners directly or through nonprofits, institutions, and organizations that disburse funds to qualified applicants. Finding these funding opportunities requires researching your specific state, municipality, county, or city. Contact agencies such as the local or state commerce department, or your local veterans business outreach center.
Private grant funding comes from private foundations, individuals, or corporations, and usually goes directly to veteran-owned small business grant recipients. It can be more challenging to find private grants online, as companies might not sufficiently promote their grants or know how to make them more visible online and in Google searches. Resources including community-based foundations and Candid can help in your search.
Public-private partnership grants
Government entities and private donors often collaborate to set up a grant program, or endowment, designed to award grants to eligible veteran entrepreneurs. Check state grant resources for potential grant funding opportunities.
8 small business grants for veterans
- Second Service Foundation Military Entrepreneur Challenge
- Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant
- US Commerce Dream Big Awards
- Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab (MVE-Lab)
- NASE Growth Grants
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
- Warrior Rising Vetrepreneur
A number of small business grants are available specifically to veteran-owned businesses. Some are awarded in a lump sum with no strings attached, while others specify use of funds, such as for business training. Examples of these grants include:
1. Second Service Foundation Military Entrepreneur Challenge
The nonprofit Second Service Foundation (formerly known as the StreetShares Foundation) financially supports veteran entrepreneurship through its Military Entrepreneur Challenge pitch competition. Veteran-owned small businesses compete for capital ranging from $2,500 to $15,000.
Eligibility requirements include: being a veteran, reserve, or service member transitioning from active duty; owning a business with social impact; and being in financial need. Potential applicants can sign up for the mailing list for the competition announcement, then fill out the application, which includes a video component.
There are thousands of ongoing funding opportunities listed on Grants.gov. To find funding grants specifically for veteran-owned small businesses, search by keyword (“veteran”), instrument type (“grant”), and eligibility (“small business”). Each grant has a different deadline and application instructions.
3. Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant
The Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grants, organized by Texas Woman’s University, are $5,000 grants geared to women veterans living in Texas who are launching—or currently have—a business. Priority is given to veterans, but the grant is open to all women living in Texas. Follow their social media and check their website regularly for updates on when grants open.
4. US Commerce Dream Big Awards
The Dream Big Awards are given by the US Chamber of Commerce and present $25,000 to small businesses across eight categories—one being a veteran-owned business. Prior eligibility requirements include having less than 250 employees or gross revenue under $20 million. The annual prizes are awarded in the fall. You can add your email to the chamber’s mailing list to be alerted when the application portal opens for the year.
5. Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab (MVE-Lab)
The Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab (MVE-Lab) at Grand Valley State University offers a three-month accelerator program for veterans and military spouses. Participants discuss business ideas, learn about startups through in-person classes, and participate in mentorship conversations. The program culminates with a pitch contest and $25,000 prize for the winner.
6. NASE Growth Grants
Veteran members of the National Association for the Self-Employed can apply for NASE grants of up to $4,000 for business development. The small business grants are awarded quarterly to entrepreneurs. There are specific membership criteria to be eligible; applicants must submit a business plan and show a business need for funding.
7. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
The annual FedEx Small Business Grant Contest will award one veteran small business owner, chosen from 10 grand prize winners of $30,000 each, $20,000 from USAA Small Business Insurance. Applicants must have—or set up—a FedEx account and shipping need, be a US-based business, have less than 100 employees, and submit a two-minute video pitching the business with the application.
8. Warrior Rising Vetrepreneur
The nonprofit Warrior Rising supports veteran entrepreneurs, called “vetrepreneurs,” through startup, or launch, grants. Veteran applicants start the process by applying online and undergoing a rigorous intake process before being considered for startup funding. Warrior Rising also offers classes, an active entrepreneur community, mentorship, coaching, and an accelerator for those who want to lead a successful business and advance their careers to CEO.
8 Tips for applying for small business grants as a veteran
- Collect and organize documents
- Understand your eligibility
- Create a schedule
- Follow the instructions and consider who will review the application
- Include a solid business plan
- Provide financial projections
- Communicate the unique value proposition of your business
Applying for grants takes time, organization, and commitment. Here are several tips for veteran small business owners to keep in mind when starting the application process for this type of capital:
1. Collect and organize documents
Collecting documents such as business tax returns, business plans, and any required licenses or permits upfront can save time and prevent future anxiety. Applications are typically completed online, so scan paper records to digital files. Compile all relevant digital records and back up on an external hard drive or the Cloud. This will help you stay organized and lessen the chance of missing documents hours before a deadline. Plus, being organized helps save time when applying for future grants.
2. Understand your eligibility
Check eligibility requirements to make sure your status (veteran, disabled veteran, or spouse, partner, or widow/widower of a veteran) and other requirements satisfy the grant’s criteria before filling out the application. This helps streamline the application process and reduces the possibility of disqualification for not being eligible. For example, a business might have to be located in a particular county or state, employ a certain number of people, have a minimum or maximum gross revenue, or have social impact on the community.
3. Create a schedule
Create a schedule of grant deadlines. It takes time to fill out applications and gather the paperwork, so mark your calendar a month (as well as two weeks) before the deadline. Set aside time to work on the applications, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. Reach out to your business network and choose accountability partners that can help keep you on task—and schedule—with regular check-ins about your progress. If you plan incremental steps, it will be easier to reach your goal.
4. Follow instructions and consider who will review the application
Entrepreneurs can be disruptors by nature, but it’s best to follow the rules when it comes to grant applications. Give straightforward answers to application questions and don’t provide more information than requested. The person reviewing your application likely has to sift through many, so if yours is too challenging to read or decipher, you may be overlooked or disqualified.
5. Include a solid business plan
Writing a business plan can help clarify your thoughts about your future business. It helps you figure out the best business structure, target customer, marketing strategies and revenue stream. If already in operation and applying for a grant, the business plan can show grantors how your business will grow—and the money and resources needed to achieve that goal. This is information the grantor will want when evaluating your grant application.
6. Provide financial projections
When applying for grants, providing financial projections helps paint a clearer picture of your financial expectations. It can help grant reviewers assess how well you know your industry and your current or future business—and whether you are a promising business to fund. This step can significantly impact eligibility since some grant opportunities require target revenue to receive veteran small business grants.
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7. Communicate the unique value proposition of your business
Entrepreneurs start businesses to solve a particular problem or fill a void, offering a service or product that might help make lives easier. Value proposition is a way to describe how your small business will—or is—providing value to a community in clear, concise language. Grants for veterans often emphasize social impact, so don’t be afraid to promote your community efforts, whether it’s charitable giving or providing jobs through mission-based manufacturing.
Check your application for typos, spelling, or grammatical errors. Read it aloud for clarity. Take a break, then review again with fresh eyes. Also, ask a friend, family member, or someone within your business community that you trust to double-check and proofread your application to ensure it’s error-free, grammatically correct, and concise.
Small business grants for veterans FAQ
I was dishonorably discharged. Can I apply for a small business grant for veterans?
Most likely no, but you can try and apply for a discharge upgrade or learn more about the review process.
What types of expenses can I use a small business grant for?
Some grants are lump sums with no strings attached, while others have specific rules about how money can be used, such as for payroll or buying equipment. If you need to spend grant money in a specific way, check the grant rules before applying.
Can I apply for more than one small business grant?
Yes. There are many small business grants besides those designated for veterans, such as for woman-owned or Black-owned businesses. After applying for one grant, it can be easier to apply for others by tweaking and editing the application.
How can I keep up to date with small business grants for veterans?
Besides Google searches, you can network, virtually or in-person, if possible, with colleagues, fellow veterans, and entrepreneurs who are plugged into the startup ecosystem. Signing up for newsletters could be beneficial, as well as following relevant organizations like Second Service Foundation or Warrior Rising on social media. Resources and information about small business grants can be found through various platforms like Small Business Development Centers, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), and the SBA’s Veteran Business Outreach Centers.