Business 101: Black Entrepreneurs helping Veteran Owned Businesses through Development Initiative
Meta J. Mereday
Much has already been written about the plight of Black entrepreneurs and the major issues that have kept them from achieving significant benchmarks.
These issues have included lack of diversity in contracting and financing opportunities. It is hard to be in the business comfort zone where people “do business with people who look like them” when the majority of those in decision making positions do not look like Black entrepreneurs.
There have been some inroads, but the challenges continue to remain. However, the lack of diversity in the upper echelons is not the major problem for veteran entrepreneurs. The lack of inclusion and access to information for growth are their major problems.
Government and private programs for veterans interested in entrepreneurship focus on minimal resource supports that have generated a majority of sole proprietor businesses – over 80 percent - that are ill equipped to expand despite the availability of funding and resources.
Community advocates and experts in other underserved business environments, particularly those involving Black entrepreneurs, are well aware of what needs to be done to build up veteran entrepreneurs. Black entrepreneurs are directing their expertise towards helping veteran owned businesses who represent the new frontier in business development and community empowerment.
According to the Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners, there were 2.4 million non-farm Veteran Owned Businesses (VOBs) in 2007. These VOBs accounted for nine percent of all non-farm businesses, five percent of the total employment and 4.1 percent of total receipts for U.S. businesses. Of this total, close to two million of these VOBs are classified as non-employer businesses without paid employees that generated $93.9 billion in receipts, accounted for 80 percent of the total number of VOBs.
The report adds that the average receipt for these VOBs was $47,900. There are numerous press releases that highlight the programs and services that are geared towards veterans facing critical issues such as homelessness, post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury et al.
VA programs that provide retraining and GI Bill supports still have a long way to go to fully address the entrepreneurial component for VOBs, and most states that are just finalizing programs for women and minority entrepreneurs are not even close to addressing veteran business programs.
Black entrepreneurs, who are well aware of being left out of the loop, are coming together to provide a more comprehensive program to bring all veteran entrepreneurs into the loop. Many are veterans themselves who found out early that there was little advantage to using the title in the business arena.
“The camaraderie among veterans is unmatched and the opportunity to help veterans to grow their businesses and appreciate their contributions to us in a way that gives long term stability for them and their families is the best thank you that I can think of,” states Stephen Bailey, President of Bailey Contracting Services, a United States Air Force veteran. “I know what it feels like to come back and not have a support system. It is my turn to keep that from happening to someone else.”
Bailey is a part of a team of Black entrepreneurs and community advocates who are putting together an initiative that takes the veteran entrepreneur experience beyond the nonproductive listing, occasional workshop and clumping factor.
"The current veteran programs are a good start and provide the basic start-up information. The real disconnect is that millions of veteran businesses are already up and running with sales, but the skill sets needed to sustain the business are lacking. We think it is a shame that the majority of our states don't have yearlong programs specifically geared for veterans with mentoring, coaching and partnering components,” notes Guy Madison, Principal, GM Consulting and Business Trainer. “It seems veterans went to the front lines for us as a country and we put them on the back burner when it comes to long term business support and employer capabilities."
Bailey and Madison are part of a business development alliance that is focused on taking the well trained veteran who is in business to the next level on the entrepreneurial food chain. This initiative is designed to incorporate existing services within the public and private sectors that are separately addressing veteran’s issues and putting the focus back onto the veteran.
“Coming from a diverse business development perspective, we already know all the buzz words and training programs that keep VOBs at a certain level and dependent,” notes Bailey, “VEDI – Veterans Entrepreneurial Development Initiative - will engage and empower the VOB and take them from just being on a list, to being in front of the key representatives that match their business model. We will give veteran entrepreneurs the full range of resource supports from the training and information sharing to step up their business operations to marketing and contract negotiations to close deals that will help them to increase their sales receipts and hire other veterans.”
According to the team leaders, TheVEDI concept will also function as the advocate to increase the number of state-based programs geared towards veteran owned business development, outreach and inclusion in state contracts. This initiative will also work as a liaison for the private sector to reduce the greater number of misrepresentations with non-veterans accessing set asides for VOBs.
Black entrepreneurs with a long history of breaking through to create growth models and new directions for their own survival and expansion are reaching back to help those who stepped up to protect us all.