MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Going from the battlefield to the world of small business, many veterans have followed their entrepreneurial dreams.
The U.S. Small Business Administration classifies two different types of veteran owned businesses; standard veteran owned and service disabled veteran owned. West Virginia Small Business Administration Deputy District Director George Murray said distinctions are important for several reasons.
"The federal government is required to give certain classifications of business a percentage of contracts each year," Murray said. "In the case of service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses, that is 3 percent."
Murray added that with an organization as large as the federal government, even small percentages can mean billions of dollars.
"Three percent might not sound like a lot, but you have to put into context just how much money the government spends on these contracts," he said. "When they are spending between 400 or 500 billion dollars a year, 3 percent is quite a lot."
Murray said the awarding of government contracts to small businesses is important to maintaining a healthy economy.
"The government wants to make sure it's maintaining a diverse industrial base," he said. "Diversity is key to a healthy economy, and small business helps provide it."
Doug Tate, owner of Alpha Technologies, first entered the military when he was 18, leaving on medical retirement just shy of nine years of service. After transitioning back to civilian life, Tate founded Alpha Technologies, a service disabled veteran-owned small business.
"We work with our customers to satisfy a number of technological needs," Tate said. "We own several data centers, have built miles of fiber optic cable networks and more."
Tate said government entities awarding him and other small companies contracts is crucial to their business.
"Their awarding small businesses contracts is extremely important to both owners and the economy at large," Tate said. "Without that investment in small business, the small companies will never have the ability to get into these government contracts and compete with big companies."
While there is work available for companies like Alpha Technologies in the private sector, Tate said they are often insufficient for growing businesses.
"There is commercial work out there, but federal projects tend to be larger, last longer and pay more," Tate said. "They really act as a great cornerstone for a young company to build upon."
Tate added that there are also numerous advantages to hiring small companies, which can give out services he believes larger businesses can't.
"In my opinion the big difference between Alpa Technologies and our larger competitors is flexibility," he said. We are able to quickly adjust and service our customers in a way that isn't as easy for a large company, and provide that personal touch."
Tate also said companies like Alpha Technologies have one big strength that many more established companies lack -- a hunger and desire to grow.
"Since we're trying to expand, we don't ask for the same profit margins as these bigger companies," he said. "While a large company might need to make twice the percentage points, a small company can go leaner, which with government contracts save the taxpayers money."
While only service-disabled veteran owned small businesses are guaranteed a percentage of contracts, other veteran entrepreneurs say there are other advantages that come with being a former soldier and running a business.
After retiring from the Navy, Natalie Oliverio started a career in corporate placement, helping businesses find the best employees to fit their needs. Deciding to cut out the middleman, Oliverio opened her own career place business in July.
Her company is Military Talent Partners, a veteran/woman-owned small business which helps give career advice and finds employment for former military and military spouses.
"After leaving the service myself, I realized how difficult it can be to make the transition from a military career to a civilian one," she said. "I wanted to help out those who found themselves in the same situation I was in."
Oliverio said being a veteran-owned business gives Military Talent Partners a leg up in several departments.
"As a veteran, I've learned to adapt and overcome every situation I'm faced with," she said. "As an entrepreneur, there are a little million things that are going to pop up just by tomorrow, but as a veteran, I know I can face down and overcome any problem in my way."
In general, Oliverio said she believes customers and businesses like to utilize companies run by veterans, women and other more diverse CEOs.
"With such a small number of companies run by women, veterans and other groups, I do believe that customers and clients like to support what is out there," she said.
As a veteran who seeks to find employment for other veterans, Oliverio said that she has seen firsthand the tenacity and strength that former military personnel can bring to a business.
"There are attributes and qualities that only military service can provide," she said. "And that's what makes veterans such a powerhouse in the workforce."