Breaking News
More () »

Made for Knoxville: Derren Burrell helps fellow veterans start new businesses

Derren Burrell is the founder and president of Veteran Ventures Capital.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Each week, WBIR highlights local entrepreneurs and businesses that are "Made for Knoxville" in partnership with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

Derren Burrell is happy to call Knoxville home after two decades of moving all over the country with the military.

"It's always a central location, there's so much to do here," he said. "The community has just been phenomenal for the entrepreneurial ecosystem and just helping really connect with other people in the community."

RELATED: Made for Knoxville: Jenna Johns pioneers new technology

Burrell served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years. During that time he was deployed to Iraq and worked directly with senior White House staff.

"I was a finance officer in the military and that's where I kind of learned that veteran-owned businesses, they have a little bit of a disadvantage when it comes to access to capital," said Burrell.

When Burrell started his own veteran-owned business, Veteran Ventures Capital, he learned that it could be difficult to access capital firsthand.

"It's basically an investment firm and fund that is seeking to really invest in the lives of veteran-owned businesses across the spectrum and help them scale and grow," said Burrell. "It's kind of military 'Shark Tank,' that's a nice way to think about it."

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, nearly 1 in 10 of all businesses nationwide are owned by veterans. Burrell said they're 30 percent less likely to receive venture funding.

"While someone on like Wall Street had a couple of decades to develop that Rolodex, the veteran was busy serving their country and being deployed and all those things," he said. "It comes down to access to capital and access to networking."

RELATED: Made for Knoxville: Powerful female force leads KaTom to success

Burrell said that's where his business comes in.

"With that large veteran population that we have here in East Tennessee, it makes a lot of sense for you to support it here at the local level as well," said Burrell.

He also works with Bunker Labs, a national nonprofit group working to help veterans start businesses.

"With [Veteran Ventures] and Bunker Labs, we're asked to host our first-ever veterans in residence program in 2022, where we're going to have around eight veteran entrepreneurs, or 'vetrepreneurs,' start their businesses and have this forum here in Knoxville to help them grow and scale and take their operations to the next level," said Burrell.

He said Knoxville's climate, which caters to new local businesses, is part of this success.

"When you have an idea, you have the resources available here in Knoxville to take that idea from ideation all the way in creation and then execution," said Burrell.

RELATED: Made for Knoxville: Phillips Forged handcrafts artisan kitchen knives