Courtney R. Lewis called the third consecutive Veterans Entrepreneurship Program offered at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga a “tough but very rewarding experience.”
Ms. Lewis served in the Army from 2000-2010 as an electronic maintenance tech, recruiter, and a trainer for newly enlisted soldiers. She currently owns her own production company producing commercials, promos, company training videos, educational videos, and voiceovers.
“Sometimes when people get out of the military, they feel they are forgotten. UTC brought a lot of veterans together as a team. I have been saying 'we owe you success.' So many in the community have pulled together for this effort.
We owe you success,” she said.
As she learned to grow her production company successfully, Ms. Lewis disclosed a personal goal to assist homeless veterans.
Ms. Lewis, of Hermitage, Tn., was one of 16 disabled and service distinguished veterans selected from a pool of 150 who spent a weeklong “boot camp” on campus. They honed a business plan with the help of UTC faculty and guest entrepreneurs, and met with community leaders and top military officials.
Before they came to campus, participants in the VEP had already completed a five-week, online self-study to help them develop their business concepts and prepare for their time at UTC. The eight-day residency was intense, rigorous and demanding. A full range of business topics were presented, from cash flow management and human resources issues to patenting and marketing products and services.
“I came in thinking I knew a lot, but working with the faculty in the VEP taught me how to start and run a business with emphasis on marketing, sales, how to pitch a project, the market…everything you need for a successful business. I believe I’ve gained the leadership and ability to move forward,” said Glen Shackley of Angels Camp, Ca.
Mr. Shackley, who served in the U.S. Army for five years as a graphic illustrator for strategic commanders, is working to launch five related businesses in five years. They include paintings, photography, and sculpture of military memorabilia specifically marketed to those who serve and have served in the military. His goal is to produce quality artistry while he employs service disabled veterans.
Now that participants have graduated from the VEP, they will receive 10 months of ongoing support from entrepreneurship experts at the UTC College of Business and online peer networking. This allows the participants to get feedback regarding their ventures and provides access to professionals who can answer specific questions and offer extended hands-on guidance.
The UTC VEP was created by Dr. Mike Morris and is based on a successful model at Oklahoma State University. The program, created in direct response to the challenges faced by service disabled veterans with physical or psychological disabilities, is hosted by the UTC College of Business in partnership with Oklahoma State and the University of Florida.
“The VEP builds on the skills that veterans learn from their military careers and helps them focus those skills toward the creation of new ventures through intense entrepreneurial training and mentoring,” said Dr. Robert Dooley, dean of the UTC College of Business. “Our goal is to help veterans create businesses as a means to their own financial wellbeing, and we are honored to provide the VEP to those that have done so much for this country.”
Jeremey Chapin, who served in the U.S. Army, is a 2013 VEP graduate. He began making hand-crafted pens as therapy and decided to use his skills to start a business—Woodworks. “I closed my first sale during the boot camp last year to a contact I made at one of the VEP networking events,” he said.
The VEP is free to eligible veterans who are selected for the program. Travel expenses, lodging and meals for the boot camp are provided at no cost to the delegate. The costs of the VEP are underwritten by sponsors, including Walden Security, and private donors, with operations and program development provided by the UTC College of Business.
An application for the 2015 Veterans Entrepreneurship Program will be available after January 1, 2015, on the UTC College of Business website.