As of this year, there are 19 million military veterans in the United States, spanning history from World War II to the 21st-century missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for many of those brave men and women, coming home didn’t mean finding their way back into the workforce, which is highlighted by the fact that the veteran unemployment rate rose last year to 6.5%.

I was one of the lucky ones. Even before I joined the Army, I knew I was an entrepreneur, and when I transitioned back into civilian life, I took that drive and combined it with everything the military taught me to build a successful company. But my story shouldn’t be unique.

There are thousands of veterans out there with the same grit, accountability and sense of purpose that I had who have the potential to fundamentally change the business world. We need their contributions to entrepreneurship, now more than ever before, to emerge stronger, more united and more innovative in the years to come.

It’s not a secret that starting — and maintaining — a small business is difficult, and that’s without an uncontrollable public health crisis to contend with. According to statistics from the Small Business Administration, roughly 20% of businesses fail within the first year, and about half throw in the towel within five. But the failure rate skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, with an estimated 22% of businesses closing.

The drive to succeed will be essential as businesses pick themselves back up, and there are none that embody that grit and determination more than veterans. It’s in our training that we must get the job done, no matter the odds, and failure is not an option. Even once the stakes are no longer life and death, so many of those who have served retain that sense of determination and commitment to seeing a project through.

Many businesses that closed over the past year suffered from a lack of adaptability, whether to the technology or new marketing strategies that were necessary to virtually engage with customers. Those that survived — or even thrived — were the ones that tackled the challenge of moving their customer experience online and optimizing it for modern consumers.

There is no doubt that the 6% of businesses that are veteran-owned are adaptable and approach every challenge as an opportunity to do better. It’s likely that our economy will never look quite how it did before the pandemic, and we need businesses, and business owners, that are capable of evolving based on changing needs. Veterans are ideal entrepreneurs because of this innate desire to work the problem and come up with solutions in spite of the odds.

That desire is buoyed by something deeper, an intangible quality that makes them well suited to an entrepreneurial lifestyle. Veterans live and breathe the American ideal of opportunity for all, and this deeply held belief is what gives them the courage to go out and fight for their country. That same conviction, harnessed for the purpose of building a business, could be the force we need to rebuild after the damage wreaked by the pandemic.

Even with so many businesses failing over the past year, there were many success stories, as people who never considered owning a business took the risk and watched it pay off. The most successful entrepreneurs in this category were the ones who were mission driven and devoted to their cause, and no group is more capable of devoting themselves to a cause than those who have served our country.

There is no road map for what lies ahead, but what is abundantly clear is that the economy is shifting, making it the ideal time to encourage more Americans to get out there and change the face of business in this country. Veterans, in particular, deserve our support and could be the key to building the economy stronger than it was before the pandemic. Their grit, accountability and sense of purpose are unparalleled, and those criteria, essential to any entrepreneur, will enable them to have a powerful impact and bring us closer to the next generation of innovation.

Jake Hare is the founder and CEO of the Launchpeer incubator and an Army veteran

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now