New Mexico is seeing a rise in veteran-owned businesses, thanks in part to a national program guiding service members into new roles as entrepreneurs.
As service members exit the military, they’re often looking for what to do next. Boots to Business helps them with things like how to get a small business loan, learn computer skills and other things they need to get started.
“The business community for veterans is growing drastically here in New Mexico,” said Richard Coffel, Director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center in Albuquerque.
Boots to Business is the solution to keep up with the growth. Locally, it’s a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration and New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services, guiding transitioning and former service members.
“The program was originally designed for the transitioning service member. It’s given at each base and each base sets up a schedule for when they want to do it. For example here in New Mexico, we do it on a quarterly basis,” said Coffel. “When they first started the program, it was for the transitioning member. They realized those who are already out, don’t have access to the base. That’s when we created the Boots to Business Reboot, which is the exact same training, but we do it on a civilian site, so those that are already out can attend.”
According to the local Veterans Business Outreach Center, the number of veteran entrepreneurs has increased in recent years.
“Today, with the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, we’re seeing a tremendous increase in wanting to start their own businesses,” said Coffel. “And that’s also sparked the Vietnam veterans who are now at a point in their lives.”
Air Force veteran Chris Sweetin knew business was a no-brainer after the military.
“It’s not new to me,” said Sweetin. “My dad has his own business, so I grew up around, my uncles, they have their own businesses, so it’s been in my family blood to basically have your own business.”
Going through two rounds of Boots to Business, Sweetin owns a number of security-based businesses in Albuquerque. Years later, he can still turn to the program for help.
“Anytime I had an issue, I could call over here and talk to with Rich and figure out if he didn’t know the answer, he knew where to go for me to get it,” said Sweetin. “It’s amazing how many resources the veterans can get to help with their business.”
With the resources available, there’s no limit to veteran-owned businesses in the state.
“Even now, I’m shooting for a contract that’s worth $2 million a year for 10 years and before I really dove into it, I called over here and talked to these guys here and said, ‘Help,’ and they were there for me,” said Sweetin.
“A lot of people start out really small, but if they’re really good they can grow really big,” said Coffel. “We can help them determine, ‘Is this the industry I really want to go into?’ It’s a risk to start your own business. As I tell combat vets, I’m a Vietnam vet and starting my first business probably scared me more than combat did because it’s a different type of risk.”
The Veterans Business Outreach Center also offers one-on-one counseling with clients and does research to help them decide if it’s the right industry for them.