For Anthony Kuhn, a Buffalo-based partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, helping disabled veteran business owners is a way to give back.
After all, he can relate.
“I’m a disabled combat veteran,” Kuhn said, adding that he’s been in the Army for 21 years. “I’ve been a small-business owner in the past. I know where these guys are, I know what they’ve gone through and what it feels like to not know where the next check is coming from or where the next job will be lined up.”
To that end, he and colleagues at the law firm will present the Veterans in Economic Transition Conference, or VETCON, on June 24. The free event is geared toward veteran business owners and will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Wyndham Garden Inn, Williamsville. Hotel owner Ellicott Development offered free space for the conference.
For disabled veterans who own businesses in this state, certification is available, which opens the door for opportunities on contract bidding throughout New York.
The problem, however, is many don’t know about the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses certification, or SDVOB. That’s why representatives of the program, which is run through the state’s Office of General Services, are hitting the road to push it.
“The biggest challenge is getting the word out to as many eligible businesses as possible, which is why the director of the program is constantly on the road, criss-crossing the state and meeting with veterans’ groups and businesses,” said Heather Groll, director of communications for OGS.
Ken Williams, who runs the state-certification program for SDVOBs, will be in Buffalo for VETCON. Williams will discuss the process of applying for certification through the state and will assist business owners looking to apply.
In order to qualify, a disabled veteran must own 51 percent of the company. And while some veterans question whether their injury qualifies them to receive the certification, Kuhn said it doesn’t take as much as some might think.
“All you need is 10 percent,” he said, referring to the ranking system used by the Department of Veteran Affairs to assess combat disabilities. “Most people who have done significant time in the military can qualify for something. That bad knee or a shoulder injury or sleep apnea … there’s a number of different things that can result in a service-related rating. A lot of veterans don’t pursue it.”
According to OGS, other qualifications include being in business for a year, ability to qualify as a small business in New York state and the business must be located in or have a substantial presence in the state,
As of June 13, there were 349 businesses certified, according to Groll.
“Of these businesses, nearly 40 percent are actively engaged in business with New York state with awards and/or disbursements totaling in excess of $40 million,” she said. “These contracts range from construction and information technology-related products and services to specialized services including signs, drones, underwater diving, management consulting and more.”
Along with Williams, Kuhn will present at the conference on legal issues for small businesses and startups.
The list of speakers includes Mario Cometti, a partner at Tully Rinckey who works with businesses; Marianne Sernoffsky and Stephanie from the Veterans Outreach Center; Linda Nosbisch, a benefits adviser from the state Division of Veteran Affairs and Ken Weinstein, CPA, a certified financial planner who has experience working with small businesses and veterans’ benefits.
VETCON Buffalo is an offshoot of a larger event held in Albany, said Greg Rinckey, a veteran himself and managing partner at the firm. In Albany, the event is held over the course of two days and aims to link state agencies with SDVOBs. This year’s event will be held there in November.
“The biggest roadblock is matchmaking, and that’s what we’re trying to help,” he said.
Rinckey, whose partner, Matthew Tully, was injured in Afghanistan, said his law firm is steeped in military service. Like Kuhn, Rinckey said the conferences are a way to give back to SDVOBS.
“What we’d really like to see is that those who step forward and fight for this country should get some sort of business benefit,” he said. “We’re a strong believer in the education of that.”