GVSU veterans accelerator program receives $250,000 grant from Michigan Veterans Trust Fund to expand program statewide
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.
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.
MVE-Lab is a three-month accelerator program offered through Grand Valley’s DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Seidman College of Business.
“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.”
GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella said the MVTF grant fills a need to reach veteran entrepreneurs beyond West Michigan. “Because of the success of Grand Valley’s 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 that and continue to shape GVSU as the best place for serving veterans.”
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 and provided opportunities that 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 business mentors helped me through some initial hurdles like finding funding and warehousing, and connecting with the community,” Weiss said. “I have continued to grow my company and team around me. In 2020, we had our best year in sales.”
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.”
For more information on MVE-Lab, visit gvsu.edu/mve