Andrew Weiss served as a sergeant in the Army and National Guard for nine years. He worked alongside medics helping the wounded during medical evacuation missions in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005-2014.
He said personal care and hygiene were challenging during deployments.
“The senior sergeant on my team used an ‘old-school’ razor to shave and he showed me how to use it,” Weiss recalled. “That experience propelled me to find the best products to shave.” And that lesson about shaving would change his future.
After his service, Weiss returned to Michigan and in 2015 earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. In 2018, he participated in the first cohort of
Grand Valley’s Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab (MVE-Lab). The free, three-month accelerator program is offered through the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the Seidman College of Business.
MVE-Lab connects veterans and military spouses with the larger entrepreneurship ecosystem for training, mentoring and networking. The program includes a Pitch Showcase, awarding a total of at least $10,000 in prize money.
Weiss won first place prize money of $5,000 at the pitch contest, helping him start Battle Brothers Shaving Co., featuring high-quality men’s grooming products, like double-edge razors for wet shaving.
Since MVE-Lab was started in 2018, 92 participants have completed the accelerator program. In May, the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund (MVTF), recognizing the value of the startup education and support provided to veteran entrepreneurs, gave MVE-Lab a two-year $250,000 grant to expand the program statewide.
The grant is the first and largest gift of its kind from MVTF to support veteran entrepreneurs as they prepare to launch a business.
Lindell Holm, MVTF director, 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.”
President Philomena V. Mantella said the MVTF grant fills a need to reach veteran entrepreneurs beyond West Michigan.
“Because of the success of MVE-Lab, members of surrounding communities have asked us to bring this program to their areas,” Mantella said. “We are so grateful for the generous support from the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund that will allow us to do just that and continue to shape GVSU as the best place for serving veterans.”
MVE-Lab will expand to the greater Detroit region, central southern Michigan, Muskegon and the Upper Peninsula, said CEI director Shorouq Almallah.
“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.
There’s nothing easy about entrepreneurship, Weiss said. “MVE-Lab put me in a room surrounded by other veterans who were going through similar struggles and difficulties. We could relate to each other’s problems or have solutions for each other,” he said.
MVE-Lab connected Weiss with business leaders and provided opportunities that he said opened doors for his business to grow. He credits MVE-Lab for the early success of Battle Brothers.
“Being connected to local resources and business mentors helped me through some initial hurdles like finding funding and warehousing, and connecting with the community,” he said. “I have continued to grow my company and team around me. In 2020, we had our best year in sales. Battle Brothers broke $100,000 in sales in 2020 for the first time.”
Perhaps most importantly, Weiss said MVE-Lab fosters a safe, comfortable and trusting atmosphere for veterans.
“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,” he explained. “Veterans are open to other veterans offering constructive criticism.
“Steel sharpens steel.”