An accelerator program at Grand Valley State University that provides startup education and support for veteran entrepreneurs in West Michigan will expand statewide thanks to a grant from the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund (MVTF).
The two-year, $250,000 grant will allow Grand Valley's Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab (MVE-Lab) to expand to the greater Detroit region, central southern Michigan, Muskegon and the Upper Peninsula.
MVE-Lab is a free, three-month accelerator program offered through Grand Valley's DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Seidman College of Business. For more information on MVE-Lab, visit gvsu.edu/mve
The grant is the first gift from MVTF to support veteran entrepreneurs as they prepare to launch a business. Lindell Holm, director of the MVTV - which turns 75 this year - said supporting MVE-Lab will help create a vibrant thriving veteran community throughout Michigan.
"While the focus of the Veterans Trust Fund remains its Emergency Grant Program, we felt that this was a strategic opportunity to begin investing in the larger veteran community," Holm said. "Some of the veteran entrepreneurs who come out of this program will grow their businesses and hire other veterans. Opportunities such as the MVE-Lab are important to help improve the long-term economic health and vitality of veterans in Michigan."
CEI Director Shorouq Almallah said MVE-Lab connects veterans and military spouses with the larger entrepreneurship ecosystem for training, mentoring and networking. The program concludes with a Pitch Showcase, awarding at least $10,000 in prize money.
"We know some veteran entrepreneurs face several barriers, like limited income and business experience, and access to high-quality training programs. This grant will allow us to expand across the state so more veterans can realize their dream of starting a business," Almallah said.
Since MVE-Lab launched in 2018, 92 participants have completed the program.
Andrew Weiss, founder and CEO of Battle Brothers Shaving Co., participated in the first MVE-Lab cohort. Weiss won first place and $5,000 at the MVE-Lab Pitch Contest.
A sergeant in the Army and National Guard from 2005-2014, Weiss said MVE-Lab connected him with business leaders which opened doors for his business to grow.
"Early success for Battle Brothers came from the MVE Lab's support and mentorship. Being connected to local resources and other business mentors helped me through some initial hurdles like finding funding, warehousing and connecting with the community," Weiss said. "Since then, I have continued to grow my company and team around me. In 2020, we had our best year in sales. An exciting milestone but there is plenty more to do."
He said MVE-Lab provides veterans a comfortable, safe and trusting atmosphere.
"Coming out of the military I had 10 years of life experience but not 10 years of corporate experience. You feel a little displaced as a veteran because you have so many transferable skills to the corporate world, but it's challenging," Weiss said. "Veterans are open to other veterans offering constructive criticism. Steel sharpens steel."