For many Americans, the idea of starting your own business is more than a route to financial security; it represents a form of freedom that feels intrinsically tied to the American dream. Forging your own way in the world, earning a living through your passions, and finding success on your own terms are elements of the American ideal that date back to the very founding of the nation. Much like owning land was once seen as the path to true American freedom, owning a business, in the minds of many, serves as the modern equivalent: ensuring your permanent liberation from the tyranny of cubicle farms, patronizing supervisors, and a life spent toiling to build value in someone else’s coffers.

Most veterans have at least one story about a brilliant business idea developed over fourteen hours of a twenty-four hour post — a seemingly impossible dream to pursue someday, when your clothes are clean, sleep comes regularly, and you can finally devote your energy to your own success, rather than to that of the unit, the branch, or the nation. Then, when the day finally comes to hang up the uniform and enter into the private sector, that confidence begins to wane in some. Brilliant ideas often prove difficult to manifest, and success can begin to feel elusive. For others, however, success seems assured from the start, and until recently, little thought had been put to what differentiates the two.

For Christopher Ford, CEO of the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO), that question has been the basis for much of his work. A twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force with three combat tours under his belt, Ford left the service certain that he wanted to continue the work he’d done under the Joint Chiefs of Staff to help veterans succeed in the business realm. His organization’s latest effort may offer the key to identifying what variables from the veteran experience lead to success in veteran-run businesses.

While driven by a positive outlook on veteran contributions in the private sector, Ford doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the challenges faced by those looking to start a new business. He explained,