Starting any business is an uphill battle. Starting a business based around STEM fields—Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics—is even tougher. But starting a STEM-related business as a female veteran? Now you’ve really got your work cut out for you!
Studies have shown the various systemic reasons why boys and men were historically more engaged in STEM areas, but this disparity is slowly being corrected. And the military is a great agent of balance, offering equal opportunities for technical training and work experience to all genders. Meanwhile female military members also have full access to tuition benefits while in service, and usually to GI Bill benefits later, thus paving the way for a broad range of higher learning goals in the academic realm of STEM sciences.
Between technical training, job experience and college education, female veterans are increasingly entering into entrepreneurial endeavors with STEM businesses of their own! So how do you start a STEM business as a female veteran? What obstacles await and how can they be tackled?
Obviously funding is probably the number one hurdle for any startup, but the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) noticed that women still have a harder time obtaining sufficient capital. They often end up using their own funds, more than their male counterparts who statistically rely on external financing to a greater extent. Women vets, don’t let this happen to you!
Let’s talk about grants. These, of course, are hard to obtain but getting “free money” is usually worth the effort. Popular federal grant sources include the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), which helps small STEM businesses working on R&D with commercial potential; and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR), which is sort of a cousin to the SBIR but requires collaboration with an approved research institution.
Agencies which participate in the above two programs include:
- National Science Foundation
- The National Institutes of Health
- Department of Energy
- Department of Defense
But wait—there’s more!
The Environmental Protection Agency loves to grant money to those advancing green and sustainable tech.
Homeland Security will give funds to a wide range of businesses working on border security, maritime security and a whole slew of related tech!
The Department of Education is also big funder for breakthroughs related to STEM research.
The list goes on and on, and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance is the best place to comb through the resources out there waiting to give you some cash. Ironically, banks are more willing to extend a business loan if the owner can show they’ve already secured ample funding elsewhere. So you might want to seek a bank loan after exhausting all your other options.
Funding Options Specific for Women and Veterans
The above grants are available to anyone, but there’s also a range of grants just for women and for military vets. A few of these include:
- Eileen Fisher Program
- Zions Bank Smart Women Grants
- Walmart Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative
- The Amber Grant
- Huggies MomInspired
- American Association of University Women Career Development Grant
- Women’s Business Centers
- InnovateHER Women Business Challenge
- Open Meadows Foundation
- The Halstead Grant
- Idea Cafe Grant
- Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Program
- Small Business Administration Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Act of 2015
- StreetShares Commander’s Call Veteran Business Award
Apart from paying for it all, female veterans may have less support structure and possibly fewer high-caliber network connections. Small Business Economics discovered this issue, which can have serious ramifications on the success of a new business in its fragile infancy.
Support systems and connections can only be acquired by getting out there and advocating for yourself, showcasing your experience and accomplishments, and what you’ve got to offer the world. Attend conferences and events, register as a presenter, build a workshop. Learn what others are up to and don’t be shy about introducing yourself, asking questions and building bridges. Get out there and draw attention to yourself!
And we’re not just referring to major league meetups. Think small, too. Get involved with local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce, conduct outreach to applicable departments in local schools and universities. You never know where there’s a potential ally, looking for someone like you to partner up with. Universities are like grant-writing factories, so you may buddy up with some faculty members who can help you draft a grant proposal.
And if you don’t find enough local connections, the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program is filled with women service members and military spouses waiting to support your efforts! The program features free training in entrepreneurship and small business management. We also recommend reading up on what the most power women in tech are doing, for inspiration and insights. What one woman can do, another can do!