How Veteran Franchise Centers Helps Veterans Follow Their Entrepreneurial Dream

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lonnie Helgerson has headed up Ident-A-Kid, Expetec and Computer Doctor, but he's also a veteran of the U.S. Army. Helgerson's latest company combines his knowledge of both worlds.

How did you go from the Army to franchising? I spent a couple of years in active duty and then moved into the Army National Guard. While in the Guard, I started working for Super 8 Motels in the aviation department. One day Super 8's founder, Ron Rivett, and I were chatting in front of one of the hangars and I took his picture. In the background of that photo were his Learjet and Mercedes, and at that moment it dawned on me that I could do what he was doing by starting my own franchise company. A few years later I formed Computer Doctor, and the rest, as they say, is history. I still have that picture hanging in my office and look at it every day.

How did this latest company, Veteran Franchise Centers, get started? I chaired the IFA's VetFran committee for two years, and during that time I met Drew Myers, a Marine veteran who owns RecruitMilitary, a military-to-civilian job transition company. We started talking about how we might be able to get more veterans into franchising, and over the course of about two weeks we decided to partner to start Veteran Franchise Centers, a franchise broker network to provide free franchise matching services for veterans. We started franchising the concept last year.

How do you match a veteran to the right opportunity? It's a two-week process. We educate them on franchising, give them free business tools and profile them both financially and personally. We look at their likes and dislikes, whether they're interested in service or retail and what level of investment they're comfortable with, and we narrow down the choices from there. We also scrub the franchises pretty hard to ensure they're stable. We want to make sure that when we place a vet into a system, they get the support and training they need to build a strong business. And, of course, the franchisors we represent--about 80 so far--have to have some kind of discount or financing program for veterans.

Have any Veteran Franchise Centers franchises opened yet? Yes, our first two opened in March, in Houston and Seattle. One franchisee is a former Marine. The other is the wife of a disabled veteran. She's been with him throughout his entire military career, which makes her a veteran, too, in a way. We hope to have 10 to 12 franchises open by the end of this year, and eventually we'd like to grow to 100 to 150 offices throughout the U.S.

Help from the SBA There's lots of support out there for veterans interested in business ownership. Besides learning about what incentives and assistance your franchisor offers, be sure to check out these programs from the SBA: The Veterans' Business Outreach Center Program (VBOC) provides business training and counseling from 16 locations, as well as online assistance.

Through the Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative the SBA has approved more than $500 million in low-interest small-business loans for veterans, reservists and their spouses since its creation in 2007.

Service-disabled veterans can receive one year of entrepreneurship training through the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), a partnership between the SBA and Syracuse University. It is now expanding to six more business schools around the country.

Also created under the partnership with Syracuse University are Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) and Operation Endure & Grow, which will offer training to women veterans and reservists and military family members, respectively.

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422 West Loveland Ave
Loveland, OH

Phone: 727-455-0056

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