Veterans from western Iowa gathered at Western Iowa Technical Community College in Sioux City Monday to talk about the challenges in starting or growing a small business and the resources they can use after reentering civilian society.
Todd Rausch, the small business development director at Western Iowa Tech’s Small Business Development Center, said prospective business owners are supposed to know a lot of things they don’t realize before they launch their business: Their product, service, target market, how much money they can put down, whether or not they need to apply for a loan and their tax obligations.
“That’s why we exist,” Rausch said. “It’s not common knowledge.”
Rausch himself is a veteran and says about 15 percent of his clients each year are veterans who come looking for help.
“There’s a lot of things in the business world you’re not trained to find out until you find out. Like ‘oh I didn’t know that’ and I think that's a huge challenge for vets because we don’t like to admit we don’t know things. We just like to solve problems,” Rausch said. “I mean we’re fixers, right? That’s what we do.”
In the Army, he said, “there’s a right way, the wrong way and the Army way to do things. And that doesn’t work in the civilian world.”
The regimented Army life means veterans have to deal with a learning curve if they take on leadership roles in a more fluid society, Rausch said. The Army’s great support system is hard to find in civilian life, which is why Rausch’s office works to connect veteran business owners with each other – to create a support system.
The group of about 20 veterans and several panelists from veteran-related organizations talked about issues like being a service disabled veteran, how to get access to capital and networking with other businesses.
Frank Wellenstein is an Army veteran who recently moved back to Sioux City. He is trying to grow his network for his consulting business, Wave Stone.
Wellenstein served in the Army from 1987 to 1994, including the Gulf War.
“When I was in it, I did not appreciate it. I thought that this is not for me. I’m going to have a problem conforming because I’m a bit of a wild horse,” Wellenstein told Iowa Public Radio after the discussion. “And they ‘broke the bronco’, if you will.”
Known as a troublemaker at Briar Cliff University, he said the Army taught him maturity, discipline and hard work.
When he returned home, he took a job working in the financial advisory business in Omaha, and he fulfilled a dream of launching a small business, a consulting firm called Wavestone.
University of Nebraska’s business development center worked with him to put together a business plan and understand the financial assets of applying for a small business loan.
“The first couple of years just surviving financially without a big client base or any guarantees along the way – there was a lot of risk, a lot of angst until the third or fourth year,” Wellenstein said.
Now that he’s back in Sioux City, he faces new challenges in an old territory: Growing his client base. He said the forum was helpful in introducing him to other veterans who run businesses who could be great contacts in the future.
Rausch said networking is one of the biggest resources veterans can use: Knowing other veterans who can share the mistakes they made and what they learned in the process of launching a small business.