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Daily CSR

Daily CSR
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Empowering Veterans through Entrepreneurship: VEP’s Impact and Success Stories


Motivated by the tragic events of 9/11 and a strong sense of patriotism, Barry Brock joined the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2001. Between 2002 and 2006, Brock served in the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment at Camp LeJeune. He was deployed to Iraq twice, participating in the significant recapture of Fallujah in November 2004.

Upon returning to civilian life in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Brock found a new purpose. He reflected, “A few of my comrades didn’t return from Iraq, which made me realize the preciousness of life. Why should I spend it in discontent? Why not pursue what I desire and what brings me joy?”

For Brock, joy has always been rooted in the pleasure people derive from food, especially the kind his grandmother used to make. He admired her ability to cook anything and everything, which he described as almost magical.

In pursuit of his passion, Brock utilized his GI Bill to obtain a culinary degree. In 2019, after several years of working as a chef and culinary instructor, he launched his own catering company, Sweet Merry Berry. The name “Sweet” is a tribute to his grandmother who inspired his love for cooking, while “Merry Berry” is a playful twist on his and his wife’s first names, Maria and Barry.

Initially, Brock specialized in pastries, but he later joined the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) to gain a more defined focus and strategy for his business.

The Veteran Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) is a structured, three-stage initiative that focuses on the fundamental aspects of successful entrepreneurship. The stages are as follows:
  • A five-week online self-study course
  • An intensive eight-day immersion boot camp at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
  • A five-month advisory period featuring online peer networking
VEP is designed to assist veterans who:
  • Have honorably separated from active-duty service (or are in the process of doing so), and
  • Have either conceptualized a business or have an existing business that is less than three years old.
The program prioritizes applicants who are recognized as disabled by the Veterans Administration or have demonstrated exceptional military conduct. Since its inception in 2012, VEP has aided over 850 veterans across the U.S. in starting or expanding their businesses. The costs for travel and accommodation during the boot camp are covered by sponsors and private donors. Volunteer instructors and mentors provide sessions on business planning, funding, marketing, legal matters, and accounting, and continue to offer advice post-boot camp.

Sandra Cordell, a U.S. Navy veteran and director of VEP, stated, “Veterans make significant sacrifices in service to our country, and it’s crucial that we support them during their transition back to civilian life.” She added, “I am well aware of the commitment, dedication, and resilience required in military service. Our shared experiences are a source of strength, and leading the VEP enables me to establish a support network that extends beyond the uniform.”

The Regions Foundation, a nonprofit primarily funded by Regions Bank and based in Alabama, has recently joined VEP’s support network. Jason Allen, the Chattanooga market executive for Regions Bank, presented a $30,000 grant to VEP on behalf of the foundation during a recent tailgate reunion for VEP alumni at a UTC home football game.

“By supporting initiatives that help veterans gain resources to become successful entrepreneurs, Regions Bank and the Regions Foundation are able to make a clear and measurable difference for our nation’s service members and warriors as they transition to civilian lives,” said Allen.

He went on to add, “As we create this positive difference, we are also able to create more inclusive prosperity for veterans in Chattanooga and beyond. We believe that for our communities to truly flourish, we must do everything we can to ensure all people have access to opportunities to succeed. And UT-Chattanooga is creating those opportunities for veterans.”

“We all kind of talk the same language, no matter what branch we’re in, no matter what job we had,” Brock said. “It was great to see [where] people [are] with their dreams.”

“Some days it’s still scary, but you know what? Go for it! Because you don’t want to get to the end of your life and have regrets,” said Brock. “Because of VEP, I went from just having a dream to actually living it every day.”