A few years after they finished their tours in Iraq and got out of the military, Brandy and Daniel Prettyman started thinking about starting a new chapter in their lives.
The Army veterans - who met when they were assigned to the same base and later married - were working as consultants for a government contractor. But going into business seemed like a good idea, if they could figure out how to get started.
After some searching on the Internet, the Papillion couple stumbled upon VetFran, a program run by the International Franchise Association that provides business training and financial incentives to veterans looking to start a franchise. A few months later, the Prettymans were launching their franchise of a landscaping company called the Grounds Guys. VetFran paid for a quarter of the buy-in fee to get the business started.
The program is one of a growing number of efforts aimed at getting veterans into business. Offered by public and private groups, the programs offer loans, help with business plans and budgeting and provide training on landing government contracts.
In Nebraska, demand for all of those services has been high in recent years, said Traci Miller, the program coordinator for the Veterans Assistance and Service Program at the Nebraska Business Development Center. The state is home to about 150,000 veterans, 300 businesses registered as veteran-owned and an additional 100 businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.
Miller said those business owners have a big presence, especially when it comes to landing government contracts. Between November 2006 and May 2012, Nebraska's veteran-owned businesses did almost $80 million in government business. That helped create or retain about 2,250 jobs.
"They definitely know what they're doing in business, that's for sure," Miller said.
Many get their start with programs like those offered at the business development center, which is part of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Those offerings are all free.
Some get help securing loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which can help speed up loan processing and back up to $500,000 in loans. Between October 1, 2010, and June 1, 2012, the SBA approved 67 loans totaling $20.5 million for Nebraska veterans.
The VetFran effort, which has the backing of several franchise companies from around the country, is aiming to get 75,000 veterans and their spouses into business. The program has been around since the Gulf War, but it was relaunched in November. Since then, 7,000 veterans have signed up.
Prettyman said veterans are often a good fit for business because they understand the importance of schedules, organization and hard work.
"That's really a big part of how my military experience has been able to help: in interacting with different types of people, anyone from vendors to customers to general people on the street," she said. "It's how you present yourself, the bearing you have when you're a veteran."
Contact the writer:
>> The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Nebraska Business Development Center will host a free seminar on developing a business and landing federal contracts available to veterans from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 15 at Offutt Air Force Base's Capehart Theater near Bellevue. To sign up, call 402-221-7211.
>> The Nebraska Business Development Center hosts a forum for veterans in business on the first Friday of every month. This week's meeting will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the UNO Alumni Center, 6705 Dodge St. For more information, call Traci Miller at 402-554-4085 or email email@example.com.
>> The National Veteran-Owned Business Association has a searchable online directory: www.buyveteran.com.