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limelight

By Debbie Gregory

Veteran Business Owner Sonny Tosco is a go-getter. The 30 year-old entrepreneur is not shy about going after what he wants.

That skill came in handy during his time at West Point, side effects his six years of service as an Army operations officer, for sale and most recently in his role as CEO of Limelight Mobile, pharm  a social platform that lets users source real-time images from anywhere in the world.

Tosco came from a low income California immigrant family.  He knew the only way to get ahead was to attend a top-tier school and excel.  In 2002, Tosco was accepted to West Point.

The transition from West Point to active duty had its challenges, and Tosco used his off-duty time to explore entrepreneurship.  As a result, not only did he learn a lot of valuable information, his military career began to improve.

During his deployment to Bahrain, Tosco found that the media had misrepresented the situation on the ground. While they were prepared for battle, the areas where he was deployed to still had American families, conducting daily life as usual.

He felt that had Limelight existed back then, things would have been different. The community driven app designed to crowd source photos from anywhere on earth would have allowed him to see anywhere in the world in real time. He would have been able to reach out to anyone on the map and ask them to send a photo of their location. And that quality information would have benefitted pre-deployment preparation.

But life is not without tragedy, and the successive loss of both of his parents, a good friend, as well as the miscarriage of his child left Tosco revaluating his life. In 2012, he decided to transition out of the military. His military career came to an end, but his entrepreneurial journey was just beginning.

Today, Tosco is raising seed funding for the second version of the app.  Approximately 35% of all users log in on a daily basis, compared to the 5% for other social platforms.

Tosco connected with Don Faul, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the COO of Pinterest, who has provided Tosco and his team with guidance.

Sonny Tosco is achieving his dream.

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If you are on VAMBOA’s blog, chances are that you already know that veterans are twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to jump into entrepreneurship. And according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), one in ten small businesses boasts a veteran at the helm.

Why do so many veterans become entrepreneurs post-military? For many, it’s a way to leverage the unique skills they acquired through their service into long term success. It is also a way to contribute to the country’s economy.

There are a number of resources available to aid veteran entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Of course, joining a trade association like VAMBOA is a great step. VAMBOA has numerous resources, including contract opportunities, events, mentorship and more. Membership is free.

The SBA’s Boots to Business training program provides free entrepreneurial training for U.S. veterans. The program is available to service members transitioning or retiring from the U.S. military, as well as to their dependents.

Designed specifically for post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans National Program leverages the skills, resources and infrastructure of higher education to offer cutting-edge, experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management. The aim of the program is to open the door to economic opportunity for our veterans and their families by developing their competencies in creating and sustaining an entrepreneurial venture.

The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) helps active duty U.S. service members develop the career skills necessary to meet the IT industry’s high demand for cloud developers, cloud administrators, and database and business intelligence administrators. Upon successful completion of the program, participants gain an interview for a full-time job at Microsoft or one of their participating partners.

In order to take advantage of these resources, it is important to sure you have the certification you need to verify that your business is veteran-owned. Certification is available through the National Veteran Business Development Council. The turn-around time for certification averages 60 days from the initial application, but can also be fast-tracked if your company has previously been authorized by

  • Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE)
  • National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
  • The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  • National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)

The cost to submit an application is based on revenues.

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Owning your own business, being your own boss – it’s the American dream. You can see it every Friday night on Shark Tank, or in commercials for Small Business Saturdays. It’s no surprise that military veterans make excellent entrepreneurs because of the skills they gained while serving. And in a challenging economy when jobs for military veterans may be scarce, a great option for veterans is to start their own business.

Entrepreneurs can be at the helm of a mom & pop corner store, or a major corporation like Enterprise Rental Car or Starbucks. But just because you have many of the required skills to be an entrepreneur, that doesn’t guarantee success.

A military veteran benefit for entrepreneurs comes in the form of a boost from the VA when starting or growing a business. While everyone knows that a major veteran benefit is education for veterans, many may not know that the VA will pay for other programs. Education for veterans offered by Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), the most comprehensive small business assistance network in the United States, is one such program.

Entrepreneurship training through the SBDC allows eligible service members and veterans to use VA education benefits to take courses they offer. SBDCs can help you plan your veteran finances with business plan development, procurement, market research, lending assistance and more.

Those who are eligible to receive reimbursement for approved entrepreneurship courses include those eligible for any of the following VA Education Programs:

  • Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty
  • Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve
  • Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program
  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill

For additional information on using your military veteran benefits with SBDCs, visit the VA Entrepreneurship Training Web page.

To locate course offerings near you, or view training opportunities on the web, contact the Small Business Development Center directly athttp://www.sba.gov/sbdc/ or by phone at 800-8 ASK SBA.

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Many military veterans are successful entrepreneurs because of the leadership qualities honed during their service. There are numerous resources available to help veteran owned businesses as they start up and grow.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA)  http://www.vamboa.org

VAMBOA, a non-profit trade association, provides for the development, growth and prosperity of Veteran Business Owners, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses (SDVOB) and Military Business Owners of all sizes. VAMBOA’s future expansion includes establishing regional chapters throughout the country.

StreetShares  https://streetshares.com/

StreetShares is a social-lending marketplace that connects small business owners with investors. On the StreetShares marketplace, business owners pitch their stories directly to retail and institutional investors, who then place bids to fund a portion of the business owner’s requested loan.

21 Gun Salute Initiative  http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/232955

The General Services Administration’s program to support service-disabled veteran owned businesses is known as the 21 Gun Salute Initiative. The 21 Gun Salute was created with gratitude for the injured soldier turned businessperson. The Salute is an action plan to meet and exceed the 3% contracting goal with the nation’s service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

 American Corporate Partners  http://www.acp-usa.org/

This non-profit organization offers veterans tools for long-term career development through mentoring, career counseling, and networking opportunities.

The Bunker http://bunkerlabs.org/

The goal of the Bunker is goal is to launch and accelerate veteran-owned businesses, channel the energy among veterans to become entrepreneurs and business owners, and create a new forum for high-performing veterans to meet and collaborate.

BusinessUSA  http://business.usa.gov/

The BusinessUSA Veterans Resource tool is an interactive guide to help veteran business owners find the most relevant federal, state and local tools to help start and grow their businesses.

Boots to Business  http://boots2business.org/

Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The curriculum continuum includes steps for evaluating business concepts, the foundational knowledge required to develop a business plan and information on SBA resources available to help access start-up capital and additional technical assistance.

EBV Foundation  http://www.ebvfoundation.org/

The EBV National Program offers cutting-edge, experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities as well as to military family members who serve in a caregiver role to a veteran with a service-connected disability. The program is offered at no cost. The foundation provides grants to graduates of the program and help with business plan development.

FedBizOpps  https://www.fbo.gov/

The Federal Business Opportunities website provides a portal for businesses looking for active federal contracting opportunities. While not restricted to veteran owned businesses, it can still be a useful resource for finding opportunities.

Honor Courage Commitment, Inc.  http://www.honorcouragecommitment.org/

HCC provides resources and empowerment to veteran entrepreneurs including grants, scholarships and a fellowship program designed to build leadership qualities. HCC trains and positions military veterans to become successful entrepreneurs, business and community leaders by maximizing veteran talent.

Institute for Veteran and Military Families  http://vets.syr.edu/

A program of Syracuse University, IVMF is the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans, and provides a wide variety of resources for military veterans. There are numerous resources for veterans re-entering the workforce or looking to start their own businesses.

National Veteran Business Development Council – NVBDC – www.nvbdc.org

The National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that will act as the certification body for Veteran Owned Businesses (VOB) and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses (SDVOB) to ensure that credible documentation exists of a business’s Veteran status, ownership and control. The NVBDC shall certify the validity of the VOB or SDVOB business seeking opportunity in the Supplier Diversity initiatives made available to veteran owned businesses.

National Veteran Small Business Coalition  http://www.nvsbc.com/

This organization works to ensure that veteran owned small businesses are given first consideration for federal prime and subcontracting procurement opportunities. Members receive access to resources related to federal contracting.

Patriot Boot Camp  http://patriotbootcamp.org/

Patriot Boot Camp is an accelerator program focused on helping military veterans and their spouses become successful technology entrepreneurs. Open to all active duty military members, veterans and their spouses, the main program is a 3-day event that provides participants with free education, training and mentorship.

SBA Contracting Support for Small Businesses  https://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/contracting

The SBA offers resources for service-disabled veteran owned businesses looking to procure federal contracts. The SDVOSBC program allows procuring agencies to set aside contracts specifically for veteran owned businesses.

VetBiz  http://www.vetbiz.gov/

The VA’s VetBiz site provides information about the Center for Verification and Evaluation’s efforts to verify Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs).  SDVOSBs and VOSBs who want to participate in the VA’s Veterans First Contracting Program must be verified by CVE in order to be eligible for VA contract set-asides.

VetBizCentral  http://vetbizcentral.org/

VetBizCentral is a veteran run site that assists veteran and active duty military entrepreneurs in the formation and expansion of their businesses through training and counseling, networking opportunities, mentoring and advocacy.

Veteran Business Outreach Centers  https://www.sba.gov/offices/headquarters/ovbd/resources/362341

The SBA provides assistance locally through Veteran Business Outreach Centers. The centers assist veterans in locating resources in their local communities, such as such as business training, counseling and mentoring.

Veteran Entrepreneur Portal  http://www.va.gov/osdbu/entrepreneur/

As part of the VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal provides access to a number of business tools and services, including starting and expanding a business, acquisition support, strategic support and more.

Veteran Fast Launch Initiative  https://www.score.org/vetsfastlaunch

The Veteran Fast Launch Initiative is a package of free software and services combined with SCORE’s mentoring program in order to help accelerate the ability of veterans and their families to start and succeed as small business owners.

Vetrepreneur Mentoring  http://vetrepreneurmentoring.com/index.html

Vetrepreneur Mentoring provides mentoring, guidance and expertise to help veteran entrepreneurs with everything from contractor registration to website creation.

Victory Spark  http://gan.co/members/view/victory-spark

Victory Spark is a program of the larger Global Entrepreneurship Collective, Inc. umbrella. Specifically, Victory Spark focuses on servicing U.S. Military Veteran-led startups. The program includes a 12-week mentor-driven Lean LaunchPad Program, along with grant funding for entrepreneurs who complete the program.

V-Wise  http://whitman.syr.edu/vwise/

An entrepreneurship project of the Whitman School of Management, Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-Wise) provides resources, courses and mentorship to female veterans who have started businesses or are looking to do so.

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Leadership can be found at the core of every Veteran. Any service member who completed any length of enlistment has followed the orders of their superiors, order and most have had some experience in a leadership role. Starting as low as E-4 on the rank hierarchy, find many Veterans saw responsibility in extreme situations, that could have a major impact on the lives of their subordinates. Because of this type of experience, Veterans don’t shy away from the ultimate civilian leadership role of owning a business and being responsible for the livelihoods of their employees.

Possibly due to their military leadership experiences, Veterans are taking on the challenges of business ownership en masse. According to the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA)’s Office of Advocacy March 2012 report, there are nearly two and a half million Veteran owned businesses in the U.S. Veteran owned businesses make up nearly 10% of all businesses nation-wide.  They also employ close to six million people, including fellow Veterans.

For a company to be considered “Veteran owned,” a Veteran must maintain at least 51% of the business’ ownership. The federal government, as well as state and local governments, make special provisions that protect Veteran owned businesses. They do so by setting aside government contracts specifically for Veteran businesses. Additionally, an increasing number of Fortune 500 companies have also made pledges to sub-contract with Veteran owned companies.

Studies have shown that 70% of American consumers would prefer to frequent Veteran owned businesses. The proof is in the dollars. Veteran owned businesses account for almost $1.25 trillion in sales receipts each year. Veteran small businesses make up 78.1% of small businesses, with yearly sales of $100,000 or more.

Veterans and service-disabled Veterans who are interested in starting their own companies, or expanding their existing businesses are encouraged to seek membership in the Veteran And Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA). VAMBOA offers its members contract opportunities and networking contacts with large corporations. Membership is free.

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