0 comments on “Five entrepreneurs win prize money at first MVE Pitch Competition”

Five entrepreneurs win prize money at first MVE Pitch Competition

By Kayla Sosa

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Five entrepreneurs with military background or connection took home prize money at the first showcase and final pitch competition for the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur Lab.

Produced through the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, this free, community cohort program began in August. For nine weeks, the group met once a week to learn about how to start a business and all the aspects that go into it. They each had an idea or had already started a small business and work with the final pitch in sight.

On November 26, thirteen business ideas and plans were presented to a panel of judges at the DeVos Center on GVSU’s downtown campus. From a bakery to meditation therapy, the ideas ranged across the board. Each presenter also had a showcase table outside the auditorium explaining more in depth their idea. Each attendee got five tokens when they arrived and could use those to vote towards any of the ideas. At the end, winners were chosen by both audience vote and judge vote.

The first place award for $5,000 went to Andrew Weiss of Battle Brothers Shaving Co.

“I am extremely humbled to have won,” Weiss said, following the event. “There are so many excellent businesses that were presented. To be chosen, is very humbling. It’s also validating for me as an entrepreneur, because we’ve been working really hard for three years, but this helps me gain confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.”

With the money, Weiss plans to start manufacturing his razors locally in Jenison, starting with a few prototypes. Additionally, he wants to get some photography and videography done for marketing the product.

“It will be this product that I think is going to be the catalyst that brings me to my end goal of a subscription razor, of soaps, shampoos, combs; anything a guy needs in the bathroom that wants to be associated with our brand,” Weiss said. “I want to hopefully provide that some day.”

Second place, for $3,000, went to Trey Sumner of ACES, who also won one of the community choice picks, winning another $1,000.

Olympia Nelson, of Mobile Curbside Cuts & Styles took third place, winning $2,000. Also in third place, Zaneta Adams and Henrietta Hadley with WINC also took home $2,000. The other community choice award of $1,000 went to Bill Richards, with Helping Veterans Cope Through Arts & Music.

Julie Cowie, program manager, was so proud to see the progress all of the participants made over the nine-week program. She said it was a combination of the course curriculum, guest speakers, mentors and pitch practices that contributed to their development.

“The participants really came a long way with their pitches,” Cowie said. “I was so impressed.”

The next cohort begins in January. Cowie said now, especially after this pitch competition, the community can really see the talent that lies within the veteran community in West Michigan.

“I think the community has had its eyes opened and now they see that this program is happening,” she said. “The camaraderie was strong and the support was strong and there was a low attrition rate, a lot of completers.”

Go to www.gvsu.edu/mve/ to learn more about the program and stay tuned to sign up for the next cohort, beginning in January.

0 comments on “Spotlight: Local veteran hopes to redefine masculinity for a younger generation of men”

Spotlight: Local veteran hopes to redefine masculinity for a younger generation of men

By Kayla Sosa

ACES blue jpgA local man is hoping to change society’s view of masculinity through a new non-profit he’s calling ACES.

Awareness, Compassion, Equity, Strength. That’s what ACES stands for, and what Trey Sumner is looking to for the foundation of his new non-profit. Sumner is a veteran and Grand Valley State University alumni, and is developing his business through the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab, a program out of GVSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He said he got the idea for ACES after seeing “toxic masculinity” within the military.

“On my last deployment I did, it was my fourth one, it was the first time I’d worked with

1525065_10153050140157837_1948398124_n
Sumner in Petra, Jordan.

women to that degree,” Sumner said. “I realized for the first time in medevac just what a boy’s club the military really was. Seeing that inequity, seeing that disparity, was shocking.”

Around the same time, soldiers were being interviewed about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Sumner found himself in an activist role, as an ally towards the gay soldiers he served with.

“It was a big time of social justice and I felt myself drawn to be an ally,” Sumner said. “I painted my toenails hot pink the whole deployment supporting gay soldiers, but then I realized (me) being an ally, was me trying to save the day.”

Sumner wanted to advocate for people, but he wanted to find the root of the problem in toxic masculinity, where men feel like they always have to be the strong, emotionless figure and where homophobia and sexism can come from.

“I started to evaluate myself and my own life and I realized what a mess I was, how much pain I put myself through, and the world around me, trying to be this example of what a man is that is provided by our society,” he said.

After retiring out of the military, Sumner saw the same type of “boy’s club” mentality in civilian life and realized he wanted to do something about it. Sumner got enrolled at GVSU as a “40-year-old freshman,” now graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies: Masculinity Studies and Gender Equity. He then came up with the idea to start a nonprofit that would do the work of this mission.

“My goal is to give young men and boys the tools, the permission and the freedom to demonstrate a healthy masculinity without fear or shame,” Sumner said.

The way Sumner plans to do this is to create an education program, with a final trip at the end. For the last four years, he has taught a course at various junior high schools through the Men’s Resource Center. For ACES, he plans to have an 8-week session with young men teaching “emotional intelligence, nonviolent alternatives, conflict resolution, how to develop your masculinity in a healthy way.”

“We spend that eight weeks teaching these classes and we prepare for a trip,” Sumner said. “And then I take them on a two and a half week backpacking trip through the Middle East.”

1559396_10153050122092837_232098979_o
Sumner, Tyler Sumner, and Hanson. 

Sumner was deployed four times in the Middle East, lived in Egypt for a year and has traveled there for fun, so he knows his way around geographically and culturally.

For Sumner’s thesis project at GVSU, he did a test run of this trip with his son and nephew. For three months, he prepped them for the three-week trip. He said, “it changed them.”

1502895_10153050150577837_866856792_o
From left to right: Sumner’s nephew, Keagon Hansen, who was 16 at the time and is now a GVSU senior, Sumner, and his son, Tyler, who was 12 years old, in Jerash, Jordan.

Sumner plans to continue weekly sessions with the group of boys after they get back from the trip.

“I want to continue to have them meet with me, we’ll meet once a week,” he said. “I want to take these boys and teach them how to facilitate that same 8-week class I do, and then when I go to the junior highs take one of those boys with me as a co-facilitator, and have them now contribute back.”

Sumner will be pitching his business idea along with other veterans in the entrepreneur lab at the MVE Showcase and Final Pitch on November 26.

0 comments on “Spotlight: Veteran, wife hope to open community dental clinic”

Spotlight: Veteran, wife hope to open community dental clinic

By Kayla Sosa

As a dental hygienist, Blanca Elizabeth Duque-Rico knows the dentist office inside and out, including the advantages and disadvantages certain people face when trying to access dental care, and just health care in general. After seeing this, she and her husband Jorge Ivan Duque decided to take their shot at opening their own clinic, with Duque-Rico’s goal to be a dentist in sight.

“I was working for a community clinic for five years and then I switched up to a private practice,” she said. “I liked working for the community. The only thing I did not like about it was the fact that you treated these patients like cattle; bring ‘em in, take ‘em out, bring ‘em in, take ‘em out.”

“There was no relationship between you and the patient.”

On the contrary, private practices are focused on money. In her heart, Duque-Rico wanted a different relationship with her patients, that was more personal and ultimately, more helpful.

“I like what I do, but I want a little bit more,” she said. So, she asked her husband what he thought and he said, “Why not?”

The couple are now on the road to opening their own clinic, with a building and a dental supplier already set. Through the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab through the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, they have been able to brainstorm and come up with new ideas for what they want to do and what they need to get started.

Duque-Rico wants to help those that may be underserved, or can’t make it to the dentist office for some reason.

“There’s always a high anxiety group of people that hate coming to the dentist,” she said. “It’s not a good thing that you don’t want to come to the dentist. People disregard their mouth a lot, and they forget that their mouth is part of a whole system.

Duque-Rico said she started to look into veterans in the health community and found that they’re “almost forgotten.”

Some VA benefits may cover dental insurance, but a lot of times veterans find themselves on a waiting list, or having to drive long distances to get to the clinic that’s covered by their benefits. And not every dental practice accepts VA benefits.

Duque-Rico said there would still be general practice, but what sets her clinic apart from the rest is the unique way she wants to reach her patients. One of the ideas she and her husband have is to run a mobile dental clinic, or facilitate house calls for those with anxiety or physical ailments that prevent them from making it to the clinic. And she wants to focus on patients that are in the “weird limbo” of not being able to get government assistance, but can’t afford standard health or dental insurance.

“We wanted to focus a little bit more on those types of people, obviously veterans and disabled people.”

Duque-Rico said many people put off going to the dentist, and don’t realize that dental care realty is a necessity.

“A lot of people think dental (care) is a privilege, not a necessity,” she said. “Dental should be looked at as just as important as medical. Everything goes through your mouth, it’s your gateway to everything. So why wouldn’t you think, yes, this is a necessity, not a cosmetic treatment.”

Throughout the business development process, Duque said even though there are stumbling blocks along the way, his military experience has pushed him to keep going and solve each problem head-on.

“We are still working the problem so we can find a way that everyone wins without heavy loss to quality of patient care, provider compensation, and loss of profit to the company,” he explained. “I believe there is a solution but people haven’t found it because, once a point of friction is discovered, people turn away from that path. We are still in the beginning stages but we are determined to provide a solution to the veterans and people who are in ‘the gap’ … people who have an income that walks the line, too much income for government assistance and not enough to pay for private dental insurance.”

“I truly believe that my dedication to mission accomplishment is what drives us to keep going even when we doubt ourselves.”

Stay on the lookout for a new community clinic near you, with a goal to help veterans and the underserved.