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Veterans Pitch Contest Winners Get $$$ and “Secret Sauce” for Business

Veterans BootCamp Winners L to R: Donny O'Bryant, 3rd Place and Exemplary Leader; David Wright, Honorable Mention; Marcey Phillips, 2nd Place; Lena Schexnayder, 1st PlaceThe veterans-only pitch contest held on April 30 at the USTMAX Center in Conroe, Texas, put money into the winners’ pockets. Moreover, it reflected valuable business “secret sauce” gained by all who had attended the Veterans Entrepreneurship BootCamp (VEB) workshops.

First-place winner Lena Schexnayder came away with $3,000 and was ecstatic. But she was almost a no-show.

1st Place Winner, Lena Schexnayder“I almost had to back out of the competition because I was so nervous and had a painful kidney stone,” Schexnayder said. “But I decided to walk out in faith. And the moment I started talking about my nonprofit, I got excited because I know my idea works.”

The Army veteran and single mother who served in Iraq in 2003 runs a nonprofit called Zen Gab Foundation, providing therapeutic activities for veterans like herself who deal with PTSD and military sexual trauma.

Zen Gab organizes outings like bike rides, vision board workshops, pottery classes, financial literacy coaching, fishing trips and farm days.

Schexnayder said, “I mostly look for activities that made me happy as a kid, and I give that to my fellow veterans. I want them to feel carefree and relaxed and good again. And I’m helping myself feel those emotions too.”

A three-month Bootcamp led up to the pinnacle pitch day, and the winners were as follows:

·      1st Place: Lena Schexnayder, Zen Gab Foundation.  Prize $3,000

·      2nd Place: Marcey Phillips, VFW Post 4709.  Prize $2,000

·      3rd Place: Donny O’Bryant, WIN Counseling, LLC.  Prize $1,000

·      Honorable Mention: David Wright, 3rd Coast Automation and Control, LLC.  Prize $500

·      Exemplary Leader Award: Donny O’Bryant.  Prize $500

The VEB is a collaborative program of the USTMAX Center, UST Max Innovation Network and the McNair Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship, sharing essential skills, strategies and resources with veterans so they can have thriving businesses. UST’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Beena George, assembled a team of heavy hitters from the University of St. Thomas-Houston to design, develop and present the Bootcamp and pitch competition. All was done under the leadership of VEB Program Director Dr. Patrick Woock.

Schexnayder, who minored in business, said VEB made her credible and gave her the “secret sauce.”

“My business knowledge had taken me only so far,” she said. “BootCamp gave me the fundamentals from finance to networking to take my business to the next level. I learned how to calculate operational costs and do market research before going in front of investors. I learned about legal issues, trademarks and how to structure my business. They gave me math formulas so I wouldn’t underbid or overbid. They even gave me the step-by-step on how to execute on the knowledge and made me credible. All in all, they showed me how to make the secret sauce.”

Outstanding sponsors made the pitch competition possible.

USTMAX Center Senior Director Dr. Carla E. Alsandor said, “We received great support from our three sponsors. Conroe Economic Development Council, represented by Executive Director Danielle Scheiner, was our gold sponsor, John Barkley of the Barkley Law Firm was our silver sponsor, and Lupe Martinez-State Farm Insurance Agent was the Exemplary Leader Award sponsor.  In addition to their financial gifts, they also served as judges during the pitch competition.  We are extremely grateful for their generosity and support of the inaugural bootcamp.  We are already looking ahead to next year with plans to build upon the foundation set by our first cohort of veteran entrepreneurs.”

So stay tuned. Next year will be here before you know it.