Social Enterprises for Entrepreneurial Veterans in UK and US

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May 13, 2014; Bdaily

X-Forces describes itself as a social enterprise created to help former British soldiers set up businesses. Until recently operating only in London, X-Forces is opening up a program in the UK’s northeast in Newcastle.

This article in Bdaily says that X-Forces “is the UK’s only provider of complete business support for the military community.” With partners such as Barclay’s, CISCO, and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, X-Forces is a force for helping veterans. Its expansion into Newcastle has been supported by the Byker Community Trust and the Armed Forces & Veterans Estates as well as a Conservative party candidate up for election in the area in 2015.

From the Bdaily article, it appears that X-Forces provides incubator space, on-site technical assistance, and start-up loans for veterans’ new businesses. The new incubator, the Beacon business center, was actually established with the help of charities, including Centre West and Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle, which actually manage the Beacon facility. The Beacon facility, already 95 percent occupied, appears to have excellent, flexible accommodations for a wide variety of potential businesses.

However, the X-Forces program and the Beacon facility seem to have benefitted not just from private investors expecting a return or profit on their investments, but from subsidies made available by charities and government. Even if both expect a return on their investments in X-Forces and Beacon, they still lead to the inescapable conclusion that this social enterprise program contains a large dose of “social” or “public” in its bloodstream.

In the U.S., entities structured as nonprofits have been engaged in promoting and assisting entrepreneurship by veterans for some time. The most widely recognized group in this field is probably the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. Among its celebrated programs are its Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans’ Families and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, offered not only at Syracuse, but at UCLA, Florida State, Texas A&M, Purdue, the University of Connecticut, LSU, and Cornell. EBV participants get access to technical assistance from the university faculties and from other EBV graduates.

Although we cannot attest to their quality, there are a number of business incubators in the U.S. with an emphasis on services to veteran entrepreneurs, including the VETrepreneur Incubator Program in Dallas created by the nonprofit Honor Courage Commitment, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center which apparently houses the Veterans Incubator of Colorado, VETransfer in Milwaukee, the University of Washington at Tacoma’s Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship, and the small business incubator sponsored by the Veterans Center of Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y.

Syracuse’s IVMF is widely respected for its top-notch support of veterans’ entrepreneurship opportunities, and if the quality of the space and support is there, there will probably be demand for the services of the various veterans business incubators that have arisen in recent years. If they are anything like IVMF and its leader, Mike Haynie, they will fit anyone’s definition of social enterprise—except that they are nonprofits. Let’s not sell nonprofits short on their commitment and desire to be entrepreneurial. The difference between them and for-profit social enterprises is that they invest their financial returns into programs rather than their pockets, which is a nice value to recognize and remember.—Rick Cohen