Frank Butler grew up in a neighborhood filled with members of the U.S. Army.
“The neighbor right next door was a medic in the military. Across the street was a Blackhawk special operations helicopter pilot. Another guy was a captain of a platoon.
“They were all there, so I got to see the families deal with all of that, which always stuck with me,” said Butler, Frank W. McDonald and UC Foundation professor of management in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Butler grew up in Savannah, Georgia, home to Fort Stewart Army Base and Hunter Army Airfield, so the military was part of the city’s DNA. With that connection, it makes perfect sense that he joined the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program at UTC in 2017.
His stellar work in the program—which helps veterans start new businesses or develop ones they already have—is one of the reasons he was chosen for a UT System President’s Award in the “Bold and Impactful” category.
“You never really anticipate something like that. It’s competitive. I just do what I do,” he said.
There are seven categories in the President’s Awards, which recognize exceptional staff and faculty from throughout the workforce employed by UT system entities statewide.
Winners are selected each year from a pool of candidates nominated by their colleagues.
Katherine Karl, head of the Department of Management in the UTC College of Business, nominated Butler for being “very outgoing, friendly and easy to talk to” from the day they met.
“What really sets Frank apart is that he excels at everything. Not only does he go above and beyond in terms of service, but he is also a great teacher and respected scholar,” she said.
Robert Dooley, dean of the College of Business, described Butler as someone who is “approachable and has a great sense of humor. ”
“I greatly appreciate his willingness to champion many of the higher profile and impactful programs in the college such as VEP.”
One common characteristic of veterans in VEP—whether they’re fresh out of the military or completed their tour of duty years ago—is trouble transitioning from the highly structured world of the service to less-structured feel of day-to-day life, he said.
“Sometimes the real world just seems so unstructured. It’s foreign in a lot of ways. I think they thrive on the structure,” Butler explained. “A lot of times they want to start their own business so they can have more control like they felt they had in the service.”
During his five years with VEP, Butler has collaborated with veterans whose businesses cross a wide swath of ideas. One wanted to transport government goods through his trucking company. One wanted to repaint bridges. One wanted to help lower-income families understand the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. One wanted to sell nutritionally enhanced water that would improve a person’s complexion.
One of the newest business ideas is a veteran who wants to work with his wife to develop a website selling materials and tools to create “fairy gardens,” miniature landscapes complete with plants, buildings and sometimes figurines.
“That’s so cool. I’m excited about that one,” Butler said. “I enjoy having to think through these challenges. I just love solving problems or trying to think about something new. It stretches my brain muscles. It’s like exercise.”
Working with Mike Bradshaw, entrepreneur-in-residence in UTC’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Butler also is developing the Urban Vision Initiative, a program designed to mentor low-income Chattanoogans who’ve started their own businesses. Made possible by the support of the Frost Family Foundation, it begins in August.
“At the end of the day, it’s to help pull them out of the poverty condition. I mean, that’s the key, right?” Butler said. “We want to help them start building some level of wealth that hopefully will translate down the line.”
What he’s learned through his work in VEP also translates to the strategic management courses he teaches, he said. Students who want to start a business will face the same challenges as the veterans, he explained.
“Quite frequently I will bring in examples of businesses that have gone through our VEP program and talk about it in class,” Butler said. “Real-world examples and the challenges they’ll face.”