large group of people standing, some holding oversized check

MVE-Lab winner plans hub to help vets better understand benefits

A Marine veteran earned $10,000 for his startup idea of developing a hub that would help veterans better understand their benefits and overcome barriers to success.

Dwayne Kelly won the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab (MVE-Lab) Pitch Night December 4 in Battle Creek. Kelly was among cohort members who spent the last three months in an entrepreneurial course sponsored by Grand Valley.

Kelly, who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said there are a lot of untapped resources for veterans from Veterans Affairs and other veteran service organizations. He added Michigan is 48th among U.S. states in allocating money for veterans.

"Veterans need to hear stories of support and find these connections," Kelly said. "I want to serve underserved veterans."

four people in row, two in center holding oversized check
From left are Charles Solano, Dwayne Kelly, Isaiah Dillard and Michael Hyacinthe. Solano and Hyacinthe co-led the cohort, Dillard is the MVE-Lab digital media specialist.
Image credit - Michael Lanka

Kelly said he plans to leverage the prize money to start a nonprofit organization, Veteran Reinforcement Resource Center, and search for grants and partnerships to begin a podcast to market his business to veterans.

The Battle Creek group of 10 veterans was the 12th cohort to complete the MVE-Lab, which is offered through GVSU's DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI), at the Seidman College of Business. Veterans worked with mentors from the community to hone or launch their small business start-ups.

Shorouq Almallah, director of the DeVos CEI, said the MVE-Lab began in 2018 and, since its launch, has successfully trained 150 veterans and their families in 11 cohorts and five different regions in Michigan. 

The cohort was led by Michael Hyacinthe, U.S. Navy veteran and CEO/founder of Wimage, a children’s media company; and Charles Solano, former Marine and owner/operator of Biggby Coffee shops in Battle Creek.

Hyacinthe said MVE-Lab is among the few entrepreneurial programs in the country that awards prize money to veterans.

woman at podium holding out right arm in emhasis
Shorouq Almallah, director of the DeVos CEI, said more than 150 veterans and their families have been trained through MVE-Lab cohorts.
Image credit - Michael Lanka

Other Battle Creek MVE-Lab prize winners

  • Kellee VanValkerburg, Cereal City Candles, $4,000
  • Miriam Eberhardt, Manila Soul Food, $2,250
  • John Capers, Pop's Family Kitchen, $1,500; Capers also received the People's Choice award of $1,000.


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