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Phoenix Forward

7 tips for active-duty entrepreneurs

Active-Duty military entrepreneur

You have this brilliant business idea, but there’s a catch: How do you make your entrepreneurial dream a reality while you’re actively serving in the military? Matt Butler, an alumnus of the University of Phoenix Master of Information Systems program, says it’s easier than you might think. The U.S. Air Force major offers these tips for success:

1. Record the “aha” moment.

Don’t dismiss an idea that pops up while on active duty, says Butler, who brainstormed his lawn game Rollors® business between flight missions. Document your business idea or invention, including any prototype sketches, in a small notebook or inventor’s log book.

“When you’re in that aha moment, you’ll want to have a written record either before you forget or to use later on as a reference if your plan is to revisit the idea post-military,” he says.

2. Research during downtime.

Once you have an idea, Butler suggests checking whether similar products or businesses exist. He acknowledges that resources can be limited if you’re deployed overseas but says most military bases have the Internet. Also, you can request stateside contacts to add specialty or trade magazines to care packages they send you. “I looked in gaming and tailgating magazines and didn’t see anything like Rollors out there,” Butler says.

3. Seek free consultation.

“Business-minded people are more than happy to spend time talking with you,” Butler assures. Military personnel can connect face to face with local groups or with online mentors and consultants for help on small business fundamentals, the patent process and other requirements. Some go-to organizations, Butler notes, are the U.S. Small Business Administration, Score and the United Inventors Association of America

4. Capitalize on funding options.

You can fund your idea with your own money like Butler did. Or, he says, you can seek financial help geared toward military entrepreneurs. The government-run National Resource Directory provides an overview of military-oriented business resources and loans. Loans are also available to help military reservists maintain small businesses during active service. Asking people for donations, profit-sharing and partnerships with stateside contacts are worth checking out, Butler adds.

5. Outsource documents.

Nondisclosure agreements, patent applications and other legal documentation can be complex and time consuming. “Find someone who is knowledgeable and certified to handle these tasks so you can focus your energies on your military service,” Butler advises.

6. Upgrade your business aptitude.

Further your education through degree or certification programs to complement your business venture, Butler encourages. “It gives you the needed foundation to start a business either while you’re active duty or once you return home,” he notes.

7. Take advantage of your military status.

Plan to market your business when you return home regardless if you’ll remain on active duty or be a veteran, Butler recommends. He suggests listing your business on a military-owned service directory that caters to both active duty and veterans, or registering your business with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ database of veteran-owned businesses.


Rollors is a registered trademark of Matthew J. Butler.