Business Beat - As Veterans Become Entrepreneurs, SBA Looks to Lend a Hand
Senior Airman Drew Forster joined the military as a way to pay for college. He returned from active duty in 2014 and says his time in the Air Force taught him skills he still uses today, like resilience, working under pressure — and something a little unexpected.
“I actually got into woodworking (when) I was stationed in Wasawe, Japan,” Forster said.
Forster owns and operates a furniture business. He harvests wood and then makes and sells furniture from it.
“I kind of like being able to do things my own way and not have such a thumb over what I have to do,” Forster said.
Skills Forster learned from the Air Force help him with his business, but Forster says he needs more help with marketing and advertising.
“I’m a very new business,” Forster said. “And I’ve figured out how to make my product. But I’ve had difficulty getting rid of it.”
In September, Forster drove two and a half hours from Milan, Mo., to Columbia for Boots to Business Reboot. It’s an entrepreneurship training program for veterans who have already transitioned off military bases. The training is part of a national initiative from the U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA, a federal agency that helps small businesses.
Jamie Wood, director of policy engagement for the SBA, says one in 10 businesses in the U.S. are owned by veterans, and they have a substantial impact on the economy.
“These businesses generate about $1.14 trillion in receipts,” Wood said. “And as far as the amount of people that they employ, it’s up to 5 million or more Americans.”
The SBA started Boots to Business Reboot in 2014 to extend entrepreneurship training to veterans who had already returned home.
Alan Rohlfing is an outreach consultant at the Veterans Business Resource Center in St. Louis, and he spoke at the Boots to Business Reboot event in Columbia. He says the program offers classes about topics including opportunity recognition, market research and economics.
“Those are skills that typically aren’t taught in military service,” Rohlfing said. “So connecting with folks in these other resource partner organizations can help folks educate themselves.”
Forster says he always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he had a smooth transition into civilian life.
“I suppose there’s a number of people who could have a rougher transition that what I had,” Forster said. “I was pretty fortunate. I was still fairly young. And I still had a direction of where I wanted to go.”