Veterans Voices: ‘STRIVE’ program supports Tri-Cities veteran entrepreneurship

Veterans Voices

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University’s “STRIVE” program has helped over 20 veteran families launch businesses in the Tri-Cities.

STRIVE (Startup Training Resources to Inspire Veteran Entrepreneurship), an entrepreneurship program for veterans and their families, is in its third year.

Mark Walters, and his wife, Stephanie, started Early Bird’s Coffee Company, after participating in the program.

Walters sets up at the Kingsport Farmers Market, participates in events around the region and does catering.

Before Walters was serving up coffee, he was serving in a different kind of way.

“I was in the National Guard for six years,” Walters said. “Two of which were active duty or deployed. I was a small arms repairman as well as a senior gunner for my unit.”

For Walters, serving is in his DNA.

“I come from a family of seven generations of serving in the military in a row on my father’s side, and I’m the youngest of five,” Walters said. “It was time to make that decision so that was kind of what pushed me over the edge but what really got me interested in it was serving our community and serving others.”

The Walters started their coffee company in April 2021, which they say STRIVE was instrumental in.

“We’ve been in contact with some of the STRIVE professors, and they’ve just been invaluable, given us a lot of help in our launch,” Stephanie Walters said.

Heath Guinn is the president of Sync Space Entrepreneurship, a sponsor of STRIVE.

Guinn said the program has supported the creation of businesses in fields ranging from software development to farming.

“What we do is help them understand the basics of the business, understand how to get started from day one or even grow a business they already have and then help them make a home here in East Tennessee,” Guinn said.  

“I’ve always had a knack for making tasty drinks, but I didn’t ever think I would make a living off of it,” Walters said. “It’s just such a pleasure to wake up in the morning and do exactly what I want to do.”

The classes previously held in Johnson City will expand to Kingsport in Spring 2022. Applications are open now.

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