GVSU program helps veterans make their entrepreneurial pitch
MUSKEGON — For the past three months, the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur Lab, one of the flagship programs of GVSU’s Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, has provided guidance to a cohort of military veterans with their small businesses and start-ups.
The entrepreneurs unveiled their weeks of work and preparation during the MVE-Lab Final Pitch Showcase on May 25 at the Muskegon Innovation Hub, each getting five minutes to impress a panel of judges and an enthusiastic crowd of family and friends with their proposals.
“It’s all about you, the participants,” Michael Hyacinthe, the lab’s lead instructor, told the cohort at the start of the event. “You’ve worked hard, you’ve studied, you’ve pitched ideas. But most of all you are part of a community that, in my opinion, is the most sacred community of those that have served and worn the uniform of our military.”
In the end, it was Arisha Coffee and her dog training business, Training with Rish, that wowed the judges and took home the $10,000 grand prize.
“This means so, so much to me,” Coffee said. “I’ve been really looking forward to adding to my business and finding ways where I can give back to the community. I’m really excited about the things to come.”
Kevin Ricco, director of the Muskegon Innovation Hub, said the lab and its function as an accelerator for veteran entrepreneurs forges bonds within the cohort that he doesn’t see with other groups of entrepreneurs or small business owners.
“They’ve spent the last 12 weeks, every Wednesday, three hours a night together,” Ricco said. “I can tell you, having been here for most of those Wednesday nights, it’s amazing the camaraderie that they’ve built and the mutual support they have for each other.”
Coffee said as the cohort progressed and the support grew, the bonds among the participants strengthened.
“So, not only does the MVE-Lab offer opportunities for camaraderie, but there's also a great deal of support and resources that are given,” Coffee said. “We were able to get more comfortable with sharing our business and expressing it.”
Omeclia Holden and her handmade, natural line of soaps, Pooh Bubbles, won the People’s Choice Award and its $1,000 prize.
The MVE-Lab is accepting applications for the 12th cohort in Battle Creek this fall. Those interested can visit the lab’s homepage for more information.