A new intensive study program at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is providing the region’s veterans with the tools they need to go into business for themselves.
Robert Dooley, dean of the college of business at UTC, described the program to the Rotary Cub of Cleveland Tuesday.
“(For) post 9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate is still running at about 12.1 percent,” Dooley said.
Unemployment is especially high for veterans ages 18 to 25.
“Its an astounding 31 percent, currently,” Dooley said.
The unemployment rate for disabled veterans is about 8.5 percent.
The first veteran entrepreneur program at UTC had 14 students, many of whom have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. They came from a variety of ranks, ranging from enlisted to commander.
Dooley said the class has an intense application process requiring the veteran to have a clear business idea. The program will help the veteran develop this idea into a business plan.
“You have an interesting skill set when you look at veterans, so if you look at entrepreneurship research and look at the characteristics of what makes for a successful entrepreneur, they mirror very closely the skills that are learned in their military service. Characteristics such as tenacity, goal/mission oriented, adaptable (and) the ability to take risks,” Dooley said.
This region is an ideal place for such a program because there is a large veteran population from Chattanooga to Knoxville, according to Dooley.
The program is offered free of charge and made possible by grants, donations and in-kind donations. Professors volunteer their time for the course. The university also partnered with local companies to have hotel suites and shuttle service provided free of charge.
“We cover every aspect of starting a business,” Dooley said.
After completing five weeks of online coursework, students come to the UTC campus for an eight-day intensive class “bootcamp” in which they are in class from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“At 10 at night, they were still sitting there hungry for more,” Dooley said. “If I had students like that in my regular classes, my life would be great as a professor.”
Dooley said the university does add some fun elements to the program such as going to a ballgame and visiting Chickamauga Battlefield in North Georgia. After the veterans complete their time on campus, they are matched with business mentors in the community to help them continue developing their business.
Of the 14 students who participated in the class, three have existing businesses looking to expand. Three have launched their businesses. The rest are at various stages, with some who have had to put their business plans on hold for the moment. Two of the students secured loans for their businesses through a local business-pitch competition. The program also will be providing the vets with an opportunity to apply for $2,000 grants for developing their businesses.
Dooley had pioneered a similar program when he worked at a state university in Oklahoma
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Veterans Entrepreneur Program