This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wake Technical Community College.

For veteran business owner Kenny Ragsdale, serving his country was something he always knew he was supposed to do.

“It’s just become a longstanding tradition for my family,” Ragsdale explained.”My dad served in World War II and my oldest brother is a Vietnam vet. I have three older brothers who all served.”

But after 25 years in the Army that took him from Kansas City, Mo., to Fort Bragg, N.C., all the way to Iraq’s front line and back, Major Ragsdale felt something else calling to him.

“Being an entrepreneur, for me, has been a childhood dream,” said Ragsdale, who is a personal trainer and owner of Front Line Fitness LLC. “The aspiration was there. I just wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to start.”

Kenny Ragsdale was an amateur bodybuilder and turned his passion into a business.

Ragsdale had competed as an amateur bodybuilder and realized that he could turn his passion into a business after he attended a military transition event at the North Carolina National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters in 2016 that was co-hosted by Wake Technical Community College in 2016.

A place for vets to learn & network

The Triangle boasts the third largest veteran population in the country outside of cities where military bases are actually located. With programs like the Veterans Entrepreneurship Advantage program at Wake Tech, it’s no wonder that between 1,500 and 2,000 Triangle-area veterans are enrolled at Wake Tech at any given time.

Katie Gailes, director of Entrepreneurship Initiatives at Wake Tech, said entrepreneurship is part of the school’s mission statement.

“We knew there were a lot of veterans here. We thought, ‘Why don’t we try a program on entrepreneurship?’ Because we know some of these guys want to start their own business,” Gailes said.

The VEA program, launched in 2015 and channels the tools the military has already given veterans into entrepreneurial pursuits. The eight-week course engages veterans, active-duty military and military spouses in all facets of building a business — from research and planning, to marketing and funding.

It’s the very program that Ragsdale stumbled across while attending a military-civilian transition event in 2016.

“It was just real talk. What I mean is that it wasn’t sugar-coated. It was the good, the bad, [and] the ugly. And it was really beneficial to hear people tell about their struggles early on trying to get the business up and running,” Ragsdale recalled. “To have done anything otherwise would have been a disservice to the class participants because it would have given us somewhat of a false impression of the difficulty that we were getting ready to get into.”

“It’s very important that veterans look at entrepreneurship because it’s one of the things that they could be good at because of the training and leadership abilities that they get while they’re in the military,” advised Dr. Samuel Strickland III, senior vice president of Military and Veteran Programs at Wake Tech.

Marilyn Terrill, dean of Veterans Programs and Innovations at Wake Tech, said re-entering civilian life and deciding a course of action regarding their education can be daunting for veterans, but they can be successful.

“They served our country, and now it’s time to give back and help them get on their feet for that next step,” she said. “We want them to know our doors are open and we have a place to help you be successful.”


Since completing the VEA program, Ragsdale has taken full advantage of the many resources available to him, from seeing a career coach to finding a veteran-friendly lender to fully support his business plan.

Military veteran Kenny Ragsdale speaks at the grand opening of Front Line Fitness in Wake Forest.

Ragsdale’s dream of owning his own health club finally became a reality when Front Line Fitness opened its doors in Wake Forest in August 2017.

“I had a grand opening and I combined my military retirement with the grand opening and that made it all the more special,” Ragsdale reminisced. “Several of my military colleagues attended and presented me with my military retirement awards and a flag, and [spoke about] why the skills and lessons I’d learned in my more than two decades in uniform would translate and help me be successful as an entrepreneur. It was just a special day — a day to remember.”

Strickland added, “If veterans seek [out] something they know they’re good at that they can also furnish to the community, as well as bring in other veterans to work, it’s a win-win for the whole community.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Wake Technical Community College.