Veterans enrolled at UTC have received a financial boost to the tune of more than $1 million.
Mike and Amy Walden of Walden Security have made a bequest of $1 million to support the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program. Walden Security also has increased its lead gift to the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program to $250,000, providing substantial funding for the next five years.
Established in 2012, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program offers free training, mentoring and management expertise for small businesses founded by our nation’s disabled and service distinguished veterans.
Mike Walden, who served in the U.S. Navy, and Amy Walden founded Chattanooga-based Walden Security in 1990 and have built it into one of the nation’s most trusted and respected contract security companies. One of the 10 largest privately held security companies in the United States, Walden Security has more than 350 clients in 28 states, maintains more than 50 satellite operations in secondary markets and employs more than 5,000 employees.
“My service in the U.S. Navy changed my life for the better,” Mike Walden said. “I learned skills that taught me how to succeed in life and business, and it gave me the chance to achieve the American dream. Amy and I want to give other veteran business entrepreneurs the same opportunity. As a country, we need opportunities like VEP. We’ve supported this program for several years because we know it makes a difference in the lives of these veteran business entrepreneurs.”
Hosted each year in July on the UTC campus, veterans receive a full week of entrepreneurship courses taught by College of Business faculty and guest experts. Veterans meet with community leaders, top military officials and attend a graduation ceremony and dinner.
The Veterans Entrepreneurship Program offers an accelerated learning program using online education and a classroom-style “boot camp” followed by comprehensive mentorship with successful Chattanooga business professionals.
After graduation, veterans receive 10 months of ongoing support from experienced entrepreneurs at the UTC College of Business and online peer networking. Participants receive specific feedback regarding their ventures and can contact professionals who can answer specific questions and offer extended, hands-on guidance.
“While our military veterans served and protected our nation, they also acquired knowledge and skills including risk management, performance under pressure and leadership.” said Dr. Robert Dooley, Dean of the UTC College of Business. “Our goal is to help veterans translate those skills to help them create businesses as a means to their own financial well-being. We are honored to provide the VEP to those that have done so much for this country.”
The Veterans Entrepreneurship Program was created by Dr. Mike Morris and is based on a successful model at Oklahoma State University. The program is hosted by the College of Business in partnership with Oklahoma State, the University of Florida and the University of North Dakota. It is a direct response to the challenges faced by veterans suffering from physical or psychological disabilities.
“Mike and Amy Walden have been long-time champions of this program and support it, not only financially, but by sharing their time, their entrepreneurial story and their expertise with our delegates each year,” Dooley said. “We are so appreciative of their generous gift that will ensure the long-term impact of this important program.”
Over its six years, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program has had a total of 95 graduates. Around 40 percent of the veterans who graduated from the VEP now own their own businesses, including several who operate in the Chattanooga area.
The program is provided free of charge to all participating veterans and includes travel expenses, lodging, meals and all course materials. 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.