According to 2016 figures, military veterans make up about 2% of the US’s agricultural workforce and its been that way since 2007. Military Times reported in 2016 that the USDA is actively seeking ways to send ex-military service members toward agriculture.
Just this week William Ashton, former security director at Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters, has been appointed the USDA military veterans agricultural liaison by secretary Sonny Perdue. “Many veterans come from rural communities,” Perdue told reporters on Wednesday. “We want them to return to these areas and support them.”
Tech is also a natural destination for veterans who receive tech training through their service, with mounting evidence that veterans can provide tech companies with a competitive advantage in the ever fiercer competition for Silicon Valley talent. Combine that with a notoriously entrepreneurial inclination —a 2011 report from the US Small Business Administration found that, “veterans are at least 45 percent more likely than those with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed” — and agtech starts to look like a natural destination for US military veterans.
Not only is Saturday Veterans Day in the United States, but this entire week is US National Veterans Small Business Week. So we compiled a list of six funds, grants, loans, and programs providing funding to veterans in farming and tech.
Vet-Tech is a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley that connects military veteran entrepreneurs with a network of investors from accelerators and VCs. The organization claims that participating startups have raised $10 million. Among Vet-Tech’s portfolio companies is Revolution Agriculture, a greenhouse farming company and member of the New Mexico University agtech accelerator AgSprint’s 2017 cohort.
Hivers and Strivers is a group of angel investors focused on providing early-stage funding to startups founded by graduates of the US military academies.
The group invests $250,000-$1 million per round and its most recent investment is in True Made Foods, a healthy condiments company based in Alexandria, VA founded by former Navy helicopter pilot Abraham Kamarck.
Former and current military service members, as well as those in the National Guard with existing agricultural businesses, are eligible for Farmer Veteran Coalition Fellowship Fund grants through an application process that opens once or twice per year. The fund pays vendors for essential purchases that will spur the business’s growth rather than directly paying farmers.
The Farm Credit Network is made up of 84 credit associations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico which provide loans to farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives and other agribusinesses, rural homebuyers and infrastructure providers throughout rural America. Many local Farm Credit offices have programs specifically aimed at veterans from preferential lending terms, fee relief and other opportunities listed here.
Military Veterans receive expressed preference in many of the USDA’s lending programs including microloans and lending programs that promote organic farming and land conservation. This resource guide from the Farm Veteran Coalition explains each loan program and how it serves veterans, where applicable.
It should also be noted that universities or organizations looking to serve veteran farmers can apply to receive funding through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program.
Streetshares is a veteran-run investment fund that provides loans of up to $100,000 and lines of credit to small businesses that do social good. Though the company does not solely cater to veterans, it strongly markets to veteran-run businesses. StreetShares Participates in the Patriot Express Loan Program, administered by the US Small Business Administration, in which veteran entrepreneurs are matched with appropriate lenders in two days.
StreetShares also runs an annual contest where veteran-owned businesses enter a crowdsourced vote to win prizes of $2,000, $3,000 and $5,000. Cofounder Mark Rockefeller said that “One organization has produced more business owners than any other single institution in the nation:” the United States Military.
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