Amid Battered US Economy, Veterans Turn to Start-ups
Unemployment for war vets was 11.1 percent
Veterans owned 2.4 million businesses in 2007
Shaun So served two years in Afghanistan and Pakistan in Army counterintelligence. Like thousands of other American troops returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was faced with a new battle — finding a job.
With this month's completion of the U.S. military pullout of Iraq in mind, lawmakers have made veterans’ employment a priority by creating new job-training tools, and new tax credits for companies that hire veterans. But many returning members of the military are taking matters into their own hands, starting their own businesses.
A recent survey by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacyfound that veterans are 45 percent more likely than those without active-duty military experience to be self-employed. One-quarter said they are interested in starting or buying their own business.
“There’s a higher tolerance for failure coming from the military,” So says. “We’ve been told ‘no’ a lot of times, and still had to press on. Part of the job of being an entrepreneur is being able to take a no.”
The SBA study suggests that a key reason for veterans’ interest in starting a business is the high level of unemployment. The unemployment rate for those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan was 11.1 percent in November, well above the 8.6 percent national average, according to theBureau of Labor Statistics. For veterans under age 25, it is 22 percent — 5.3 points higher than for all Americans ages 16 to 24.
So, 31, decided to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to enroll in a master’s program in entrepreneurship at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College in 2009 while continuing various Army missions stateside.
He also took random jobs in New York, including working as a bartender and bike courier. One day after work, he met his wife, Anna, an actress, who was carrying a suitcase for her job. That image inspired him to start a niche business that picks up, stores and delivers people’s luggage.