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Veterans See San Diego As Prime Location To Become Entrepreneurs

Reported by Katie Schoolov

Research shows veterans are more likely to form businesses than other people, which makes San Diego a prime location for veteran entrepreneurs.

California has more veteran-owned businesses than any other state — more than 250,000 businesses, according to the Small Business Administration.

With San Diego’s access to military contracts and its ready supply of personnel leaving the military, the county is seen as a growing hub for veteran entrepreneurs.

Sumner Lee was a Navy helicopter pilot who later worked with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego. After he got out of the military, he spent a year as a designer for a large firm in Los Angeles before realizing what he really wanted to do was create his own job.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Sumner Lee, founder of Fuse Integration, an engineering and design firm that contracts with the military and first responders, Dec. 20, 2016.

“I realized that I get a lot more satisfaction in life from being able to develop solutions for the guys who are out on the front lines, and putting their life on the line to keep each other safe and to help America overall,” Lee said.

Lee opened Fuse Integration in 2010. It works on software that will allow commanders to sort all of the data coming from satellites, drones and personnel in the field.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Carlos Figari, director of the SOCAL Veterans Business Outreach Center in Carlsbad, Dec. 20, 2016.

One of the reasons why San Diego is a hot spot for veteran entrepreneurs is that the county is home to roughly 300,000 veterans. Research from the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program shows veterans are 45 percent more likely to run their own business than non-veterans.

Lee says veterans are natural entrepreneurs.

“They have an understanding of how to deal with adversity,” he said. “How to deal with problems as they come up and how to drive toward mission accomplishment even through the face of adversity in front of them.”

They also have to learn how to motivate their employees without expecting them to salute.

Since San Diego is home to several Naval installations and the Marines, it’s a large potential market for people who already understand the customer — if they know how to access those contracts.

For years, the Department of Defense has set aside a certain portion of its contracts for businesses run by veterans. The federal government is doing more to enforce those quotas for veterans over the last couple of years, said Carlos Figari, director of the SOCAL Veterans Business Outreach Center in Carlsbad.

“They want to make sure they are helping the veterans,” Figari said. “So people are really watching those numbers to make sure they are coming in.”

Part of the Small Business Administration, his office opened last year to cover eight Southern California counties, including San Diego. There are a number of groups in San Diego guiding veterans through the start-up process. Since 2013, the Small Business Administration has offered a two-day Boots to Business course, open to all personnel before they separate from the military.

“They attend two days and be exposed to the steps and the kind of things that they need to be aware when they start a business,” Figari said.

The Small Business Administration offers an optional eight week online follow up course. Camp Pendleton and Naval Base San Diego have requested the course more often than any other bases in the country, outside of Washington D.C.


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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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