Albert Woodard thought he was being insulted when he was first called an entrepreneur.
"I didn't even know what an entrepreneur was, but it didn't sound good," says the founder of what became one of the biggest black-owned software companies in America.
Woodard, who grew up in Ooltewah and graduated with an engineering degree from UTC in the 1970s, initially worked for IBM when the computer giant was the most profitable company in the country.
But the drive for independence and control of a business he first learned running his grandfather's gas station as a teenager spurred Woodward to go out on his own and form BCA. With the aid of a pair of other UTC graduates, Woodward grew the computer software company across the country before selling the business in 2015 to Acentia in Washington D.C.
"I learned a lot in business and I also appreciated that a poor black man from rural Hamilton County can live the American dream as I have done," he says.
That dream of many Americans to own and run their own business is particularly appealing in Chattanooga where the startup community works to help new business startups to succeed.
The Gary Rollins College of Business at UTC saluted Woodward for his dreams and actions during UTC's 20th anniversary of its Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in April. UTC Chancellor Steve Angle said the business college in Chattanooga and its 20-year record recognizing local leaders has helped to shape the city.
"Twenty years of entrepreneurship, in a way, defines Chattanooga," he says.
In 1999, Dr. Richard Becherer and a group of community and business leaders began to plan an Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame to be housed at the UTC College of Business. The impetus for this idea was the proud entrepreneurial heritage of Chattanooga that built the city with such breakthrough products as the first bottled soft drinks, the first tow truck and the start of the payday lending industry.
Over the past generation, Chattanooga has developed its entrepreneurial culture with Tennessee's biggest business incubator on the North Shore at Hamilton County's INCubator and a variety of business accelerator and startup assistance programs in Chattanooga's downtown Innovation District by the Company Lab (COLAB), Launch Chattanooga, the Enterprise Center and Tech Town.
Becherer retired from his full-time role at UTC in 2016 and his successor — Dr. Tom Lyons — will assume the new job as the Clarence E. Harris chair of excellence in business and entrepreneurship in August. Lyons is currently director of the Michigan State University Product Center who teaches entrepreneurship in regional food networks and was formerly a professor of entrepreneurship an management at City University in New York.
In his new role at UTC, Lyons will help lead the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will be housed in the James Mapp Bulding on M.L. King Boulevard, which UTC took over nearly five years ago. The new 5,700-square—foot center within the Mapp building will include a classroom, maker space, team and mentor rooms and space for accelerator programs.
"Students who are working on their ventures will have a place to come and meet with students from across campus and across the community," says Dr. Beverly Brockman, chair of the marketing and entrepreneurship department at UTC which has sponsored a major in entrepreneurship since the 1990s. "We hope this center will help our students and help our community."
The university annually hosts the Southeast Entrepreneurial Conference every spring, which this year drew more than 180 students from 15 universities and colleges.
The UTC CEO Club (student-led Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization) also sponsors an annual student Elevator Pitch each fall. The Pitch Competition inspires students to move beyond classroom theory to actual application and provides lessons in salesmanship and business analysis. UTC has received sponsorship from the LampPost Group and an anonymous donor, as well as a sponsorship from Launch Tennessee for participating in their statewide University Venture Challenge Competition.
In 2015, UTC and Chattanooga State Community College launched a new higher education partnership funded jointly by the Chattanooga Area Chamber and the Small Business Administration to develop economic research internship opportunities to involve students in research and outreach services. Research interns receive credit hours and are paid by the internship employer or sponsors.
Dr. Robert Dooley, dean of the UTC Rollins College of Business, said the internship program "provides students with quality, real-world research experiences that will build upon and enhance the knowledge they gain in the classroom."
Hall of Fame Inductees
Over the past two decades, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga College of Business has recognized more than 60 local business leaders in its Hall of Fame.
Jeffrey K. Morgan
Taylor and Mike Monen
Carl Austin Watson
Harry S. Probasco
Max L. Fuller
Greg A. Vital
Gordon P. Street
Michael and Amy Walden
Robert C. Bullard
Lewis Card, Sr.
Roy T. Card
Samuel H. Campbell, Jr. and Harriet Babcock Campbell Copper
Victor “Pete” Serodino
George H. Pettway
Anthony L. Vest
Nelson E. Bowers II
L. Hardwick “Hacker” Caldwell III
Ernest Holmes Sr.
Dr. Richard C. Becherer
Harold C. Coker
Jack L. Frost
Edgar M. Jolley
Glenn H. Morris Sr.
Brenda G. Lawson
James L. “Bucky” Wolford
W. Allan Jones
A. Hamid Andalib
James D. Kennedy, Jr.
Spencer H. Wright
Adolph S. Ochs
Mose and Garrison Siskin
Dr. J. Don Brock
Clyde M. Fuller
Roy Ketner McDonald
Anna Ruth McKee
James C. Berry
Joseph F. Decosimo
John Thomas Lupton
Zebiom Cartter Patten
John C. Thornton