The purse Peter Moore offered up looked normal: square, with a front flap and an eye-catching shoulder strap.
But a rear zipper set it apart: one simple tug opened an ideal-sized space to store mace or a handgun.
"I spent most of my life protecting strangers overseas," said Moore, 55, who retired five years ago from uniformed service in the U.S. Army. "Then I came home, and I see women afraid to leave work at night, afraid to go to the shopping mall. I want to give women greater confidence."
Moore, who created the handbag, and 16 others veterans graduate today from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Veterans Entrepreneurship Program. Selected from a pool of 150, each spent the past week honing a business plan with the help of business experts and UTC College of Business faculty.
"They helped me see the potential of the product," said Moore, who lives in Chattanooga and is a UT graduate.
The program, now in its third year, is free to all honorably discharged veterans. To be considered, applicants have to show they have the chops for being entrepreneurs and be pretty far along with their business plan. The program begins with five weeks of online self-study and culminates with an eight-day boot camp. The graduates get 10 months of support from the College of Business after graduation. Private and corporate gifts pay for the program, which costs about $70,000, according to the university.
This year participants hailed from across the country.
"We've broadened our reach," Robert Dooley, dean of the UTC College of Business. That also goes for locations that host the program: Oklahoma State University, where it originated, and, now, University of Florida. The consortium allows the schools to share resources and refer applicants to each other.
Moore plans to sell his handbags online and in gun stores. American Contemporary Products, as he's named his company, should allow him to stay home, something he didn't get much of during his long tenure in the military or afterward as a defense consultant.
"When I retired my wife expected I'd be home more," said Moore, who has three daughters and a granddaughter. His wife, a designer, helps with the artistic side of the handbags.
He had no personal business experience when he came to the program. Moore focused on infantry and special operations in the Army, serving in Desert Shield and Operation Iraqi Freedom, among others.
"One thing I am expert at is guns," he said. "My challenge is branding and marketing."
Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at email@example.com or 423-757-6406.