The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) will conduct their annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) Boot Camp this weekend in Chattanooga, TN.  The team at Derry Software would like to recognize the faculty at UTC, as well as the committed volunteers and the local community, who have had an impact on creating this successful program at the university’s campus. We would like to shed light on the importance of this program and become part of the efforts to help advance its mission.

This program was brought to UTC in 2012 by the Dean of the Gary W. Rollins College of Business, Dr. Robert Dooley. The program is modeled after the successful VEP program at Oklahoma State University. UTC is now one of three universities to offer this rigorous program to men and women who want to transition from their military backgrounds into successful business owners. The mission of the VEP at UTC is to help enable veterans to start their own small businesses by providing them the education, resources, and continued support they need to become successful.

The program includes three intensive phases. The first phase provides a 6-week self-study curriculum that helps veterans develop business concepts. The second phase is a rigorous 8-day boot camp held in Fletcher Hall where UTC faculty, veteran business owners, and local business experts come to share their knowledge, experiences, and expertise, to help the veterans grow and organize their business ventures.  The final phase includes 9 months of mentoring, networking, and continued business development support. The program has had great success rates, with roughly 30 percent of graduates starting successful small businesses since the launch of the program.  The program is entirely free for every veteran and covers the cost of travel, lodging, food, and educational resources.

So, our question is, what has made this program so successful at UTC’s campus? We reached out to Frank Butler, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Management, who has played a significant role in the program’s success. Professor Butler grew up with a strong appreciation for the military. When Dr. Dooley launched the program, he became involved by creating the business plan workshop. As he had more free time, and his passion continued for the program and the individuals involved, his role expanded. Professor Butler then began teaching academic curriculums for the program.

Frank states that this program has been successful because of people like him who have a passion for helping others: “It keeps me engaged because I know we are making a difference and helping. This is my way of giving back because I was never able to serve.” Alongside the passion of the faculty at UTC, Frank contributes the program’s success to the strong community support: “I think it is important to note how much support we get from the community, with time and financial support. Volunteer instructors, judges for the pitch competition, and numerous others from our community who want to give back make this program work. And that’s what makes it a special program.” He also states that Chattanooga is an entrepreneurial hub and it is a perfect community to start up a small business: “There is an incredible network in this area that wants to give back.” VEP at UTC works closely with the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Chattanooga and CO.LAB. The program has worked to partner with Bunker Labs which links veteran business owners to a nationwide network.

Once again, the team at Derry Software would like to thank everyone involved in the efforts of making this program so successful. Without the devoted UTC staff, committed volunteers, and gracious donors, veterans like Jim Derry, would not have the opportunity to follow their entrepreneurial passions.

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