Using military skills
to start your own business

Posted: 15th Jan 2020

Around six percent of the nation’s small businesses are owned by veterans...

with this figure set to increase as self-employment becomes an increasingly popular career choice for those leaving the military.

Tavel company Trailfinders, property giant RE/MAX, logistics behemoth FedEx, and web-hosting experts GoDaddy. Not organisations that one would consider natural bedfellows, but there is a connection: all were founded by veterans.

Statistics published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development state that 1 in 7 people in the UK are self-employed, while the Federation of Small Businesses reports that some 340,000 SMEs are owned by veterans, the vast majority of which have grown to take on employees: 50% have between one and 10 employees, while 7% have in excess of 50 employees.

But how does one go from life in uniform to a career in business? What skills and qualities does a military career provide that are applicable to self-employment, and what makes ex-service people successful entrepreneurs?

In pursuit of an answer to these questions we spoke to Ren Kapur MBE, CEO and Founder of X-Forces Enterprise, the largest provider of start-up support to the armed forces community which has midwifed over 1700 businesses. Ren, herself an Army Reservist and the Federation of Small Businesses’ Armed Forces Champion, asserts that there is commonality between the qualities of armed forces personnel and those of successful entrepreneurs: “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome are attributes that most people in self-employment will recognise and they are abundant within the services,” she explains. The attitudes of getting the job done, working towards a common goal, and respect, go a long way when delivering for your customer and can make all the difference. Knowledge can be acquired through training but the same cannot be said about mindset. This is one of the first things that sets military entrepreneurs apart, it’s in their DNA and leadership code.”

Kapur spent a year researching why the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) had such a high success rate of microfinancing and small business ownership, especially in Eastern Europe where infrastructure is less developed than in the UK. Her findings were illuminating, particularly for would-be ex-military entrepreneurs: “The EBRD were getting results primarily because of the community cohesion and on-going support systems they had fostered. This enables people to learn more quickly and be more confident. The sense of belonging and camaraderie one experiences in the Armed Forces is exceptional and the peer-support systems unparalleled.”

Realising Potential

he entrepreneurial talent of Britain’s military veterans should be better realised, according to a report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) which calls for a better connection between service leavers and the small business community. The report, ‘A Force For Business’, recommends an enhanced support package for those transitioning out of the armed forces, including a greater focus on the option of self-employment and the key skills needed to succeed in enterprise.

FSB National Chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “Setting up and running your own business requires courage, determination and a strong work ethic. These are attributes which service leavers have in spades, and why self-employment is a route well worth considering by those coming towards the end of their time in the Armed Forces.

“But there is room for greater support and advice to service leavers on the options of self-employment or finding work within an existing smaller business, and there should be more of a focus on the key skills needed to succeed in enterprise.”

The report also recommends more financial support for those service leavers in need of further training and qualifications to achieve their post-military ambitions.

Putting the Fizz Into Biz

David Field – formerly a Lt Colonel in the Army – and his wife Camilla, spent 3 blissful years living in Reims and fell in love with all things champagne.

They decided to turn that passion into a business, attended an Officers’ Association Self-Employment Discovery Workshop, and thus their champagne entertainment company Esprit Connections was born.

“I wanted a new challenge, something very different to what I had spent the last 30+ years doing,” says David. “I liked the idea of working for myself, and doing something that my wife could also engage with in this new chapter of our lives.”

While their champagne-orientated life may appear idyllic and romantic, the Fields recognise that there are challenges to running a business, as David explains: “Working together creates a different dynamic to being married: seeing our different ways of working as positives and setting work boundaries to our day are two areas that we still have to work through.”

David and Camilla thoroughly enjoyed the process of setting up their business and the sharp learning curve involved, but amongst the excitement there was some anxiety: as David puts it “the deal is not done until the money is in the bank!” The former Lt Col. freely admits that the security of his military pension alleviates some of the pressure and allows him to enjoy the freedom that comes with self-employment, a career choice he clearly recommends:

“Ask yourself: in 20 years’ time, will I wonder what might have been if I had given it a go? So, if you have the soft skills, naturally honed over your career in the Forces, why not give self-employment serious consideration? Don’t worry about qualifications as you will either already have them or can learn as you go along. Bon courage!”


The OA provide workshops – delivered by X-Forces Enterprise – specifically designed for officers and their spouses keen to launch their own businesses. These one-day workshops help attendees kick-start their business ideas and discover if working for themselves is the right option. Alongside an insight into the pros and cons of self-employment, the workshops provide an opportunity to consider the wider impact on family and finances.

Lee Holloway, Chief Executive Officer of the OA, comments: “We know that officers have the skills and experience to launch their own successful businesses, or become freelance consultants. We are working to develop this potential us support business enterprise and helps us further extends our employment services provision.”

Pathfinder Magazine
This article originally appeared in Pathfinder, the monthly magazine for Service leavers. The OA provides regular features, articles and insights for Pathfinder.

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