HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.— Hofstra University’s Center for Entrepreneurship is launching a $100,000 pitch competition for military veterans that will provide access to experienced mentors, an entrepreneurship bootcamp and seed capital for their startups.
The Hofstra Veterans Venture Challenge is a partnership of the Center for Entrepreneurship, the Hesselbirg Family and the United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce. It is one of the most ambitious entrepreneurship contests for retired servicemembers in the nation.
Kevin Hesselbirg, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship, and a retired three-time CEO of growth-oriented technology businesses, said: “I was first given the opportunity to be a CEO when promoted by Coleman Fung, the founder of OpenLink, where I experienced firsthand the tremendous impact that can be achieved from a great idea and lot of hard work.”
“When I was looking for an opportunity to give back, I wanted to invest in something that would create opportunities for veterans who have given so much to our country,” Hesselbirg said. “The program is designed to help foster a supportive, educational environment such that entrepreneurs have the best opportunity to flourish and generate a multiplier effect across the community.”
“I am grateful for the support of Hofstra and the U.S. Veterans Chamber of Commerce,” he added. “We came together to craft a unique program, which we anticipate will launch many veteran startups for years to come.”
There is no charge to enter the contest, and unlike many other veteran entrepreneur competitions, the Hofstra challenge provides both in-kind services, such as mentoring, and substantial seed capital.
“Long Island is an important market for veterans and veteran-entrepreneurship training,” said Michael Zacchea, executive director of the U.S. Veterans Chamber of Commerce. “Hofstra has taken a leading role in veteran entrepreneurship in New York and nationally. The United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce is extremely pleased to be able to support Hofstra University’s Hofstra Veterans Venture Challenge program in bringing business startup opportunities to America’s most recent generation of combat veterans.”
A November 2018 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that veterans have a harder time getting access to capital for business startups. Veteran entrepreneurs submitted more loan applications, and were approved for loans less often, than their non-veteran counterparts. They also were more likely to be deemed a high credit risk, the study found.
“The new Hofstra Veterans Venture Challenge will provide veteran entrepreneurs access to educational tools, funding, mentorship and product development resources through the Center for Entrepreneurship and our partner, the United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce,” said Stacey Sikes, executive dean of Entrepreneurship and Business Development at Hofstra.
“We have worked with several veteran-owned companies, and they have demonstrated great leadership skills, discipline, team building, and risk management, which are essential qualities of successful entrepreneurs,” Sikes said. “We are now able to expand our services to veterans and thank our long-time Entrepreneur-in-Residence Kevin Hesselbirg for his support and commitment to this program.”
Applications will be accepted through Feb. 29, 2020. The contest is open to veterans nationwide, spouses of veterans and members of Gold Star families.
Twenty finalists will be chosen in March 2020. Finalists will participate in virtual mentorship sessions and an online course offered in partnership with Hofstra Continuing Education between April and June, culminating in an entrepreneurship bootcamp at Hofstra June 15-19, 2020 and the pitch contest on June 19. Finalists will have access to networking opportunities with angel investors during the bootcamp. All housing costs for the bootcamp will be paid for by the Venture Challenge.