After three decades in the Army and National Guard, Jim Derry joined with other military veterans in a different kind of boot camp last year.
The 57-year-old retired Army officer came to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with 19 other vets to share in a weeklong Veterans Entrepreneurship Program to learn how to turn his software data management skills into a successful business.
"It was a different kind of boot camp than when I first entered the Army, but it was just as demanding but in a mental sense," Derry said. "After weeks of preparation online, we literally worked every day during boot camp from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a variety of instructors to learn about starting a business and to develop our own business plan."
Derry realized the fruits of his efforts Tuesday when he secured a loan from the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) to help finalize his software design and market his Derry Software business to prospective government agencies. Derry, who worked in drug intelligence for the National Guard's meth task force where he managed the data base for the program, hopes to use those skills in his business and begin signing contracts for his venture next month.
"When I started on this a year ago, I didn't know how to start a business and the VEP program was huge for me," he said. "This loan should give me the resources to help me get started and hopefully succeed."
Derry is among 97 veterans who have gone through the UTC program since it launched in 2012 and he was the first vet to secure one of the TVFCU "Idea Leap" loans for a startup business.
Dr. Robert Dooley, the dean of the UTC school of business, helped bring the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program to Chattanooga seven years ago from his former job at the business school at Oklahoma State University. UTC is one of only three colleges offering the vet entrepreneurship program, which provides both online and on campus help for veterans to start their own businesses.
"Jim is an example of the type of candidates in this program who have a dream and desire to be an entrepreneur and start their own business," Dooley said. "We don't want to be just a degree program at UTC, but we're eager to also engage with the business community and entrepreneurs to help them be successful."
About 30 percent of the vets who have launched businesses with the aid of UTC's Entrepreneurship Program have been successful and still have their businesses going, Dooley said. The graduates include Carter Wexler who started Big Frog Brewing in Red Bank and Bret Moldenhauer who began Norspring Center for Rejuvenation, which offers yoga, massage and cryotherapy in Chattanooga.
The VEP is staffed by both UTC faculty and retired business managers who work with veterans to hone their skills and develop effective business strategies. The VEP is funded entirely by private donations, including more than $1 million given for the program by Mike and Amy Walden of Walden Security.
"My Dad was a career Army Sargent so I understand military life, and with a lot of time on my hands in retirement, what better thing to do than to help these veterans start a business," said Bill McDonald, a retired businessman who has worked with the program since it came to UTC in 2012.
UTC will soon begin interviewing for the next class of 20 veterans for the entrepreneurship program, which will conduct the summertime boot camp in mid July.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340