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Thursday, Dec 06 2012 11:00 PM

KELLY BEARDEN: Entrepreneurial success can be battle for veterans

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    Kelly Bearden

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Fewer and fewer American military veterans are starting or operating businesses today.

A recent study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that the nation's veteran entrepreneurship rate is dropping. In 1996, veterans represented 12.3 percent of all new entrepreneurs. By last year, the number had dropped to 6 percent.

Why does this matter?

Because the U.S. has nearly 2.5 million new veterans who served in the post-9/11 era. They are transitioning from their military service to civilian careers at a time when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting that the unemployment rate for veterans hovers around 10 percent -- well above the national unemployment rate of just under 8 percent.

Following the nation's past wars, a large percentage of returning veterans chose to start and grow new businesses. They engaged in self-employment and entrepreneurship at rates higher than the general U.S. population. These veterans became the employers and mentors to the veterans who followed in their path -- serving their country and then entering civilian life.

But as the veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars are retiring, and fewer new veterans are starting up companies, the mentors and veteran-employers are disappearing. As a result, our returning heroes and our communities are losing out.

"What's troubling about the waning numbers of veteran-owned startups is that younger veterans now have less support from within their own community of veterans as they consider their own entrepreneurial ventures: fewer networking opportunities, mentors and funders among the older generations of vets," explained Dane Stangler, director of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation.

Military service gives veterans unique attributes that make them ideal entrepreneurs: drive, self-sufficiency, ability to handle dynamic and uncertain conditions, management skills, teamwork, and combat-tested adaptation and innovation. But to transition these attributes from military service to succeeding in the civilian business world often requires the understanding and helping hand of a "mentor" who made that same transition and understands the challenges.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, is starting a national entrepreneurship training program for veterans to help supply much needed mentoring and help veterans utilize the skills they developed in the military to start new businesses.

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, from 7:45 a.m. to noon, a Veterans Business and Career Fair will be held in the Dezember Leadership Center at Cal State Bakersfield. Veterans will be given the opportunity to meet face-to-face with potential employers, veteran-owned business owners and organizations that provide veteran support.

The event's goal is to provide information about career opportunities and veteran's services, as well as advise veterans who wish to start up their own businesses.

Representatives from the Kern County Fire Department as well corporate recruiters will be on hand to talk with veterans. Business workshops also will be conducted to help advise those who want to start up their own businesses.

We owe it to our veterans to show our gratitude for their service and sacrifice. We owe it ourselves to channel their skills into civilian endeavors that will benefit our communities.

I read a Nov. 26 story from The Dallas Morning News about a young Marine veteran who started up a very successful marketing company in Dallas. Andrew Nguyen was not satisfied with just making a success of his own business. He wanted his buddies to succeed, too.

Nguyen founded a Dallas nonprofit organization called Honor Courage Commitment, a name he picked based on the core values of the Marines. His organization connects veterans with mentors and provides business training. Honor, courage and commitment also make veterans ideal entrepreneurs, Nguyen told The Morning News, explaining there is a direct correlation between military leadership and entrepreneurship.

"The discipline instilled in veterans helps position them into becoming successful business owners," he said.

The Veterans' Business and Career Fair at Cal State Bakersfield is part of a nationwide effort to promote startup activity among veterans who recently left the military and face a high civilian unemployment rate. Call 861-7951 for more information, or go to www.csub.edu/sbdc.

Kelly Bearden is the director of the Small Business Development Center at CSUB. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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