A year after being selected as semifinalists in the Student Veterans of America National Business Plan Competition, the University of Southern Maine Husky Vets have now placed second in the annual event, held earlier this month in San Antonio, Texas.
Four of USM’s student veterans — Mary Swanson, Omar Andrews, Rudy DaRocha and Kelsey Earley — were awarded the silver trophy at the annual SVA National Conference for their business plan to increase awareness of the campus group and promote its membership.
According to Camden Ege, assistant veterans' services coordinator, the SVA provides grant opportunities to its chapters annually through Bank of America, and money is up for grabs to the veteran groups who can pitch their best business plans at the conference, held this year from Jan. 2 to Jan. 7.
A major component of the grant application is the submission of a chapter business plan. Six chapter finalists are selected and compete in a setting similar to the ABC television show, “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs vie for startup funding against a panel of hardened judges.
As part of the silver-winning business plan, the veterans outlined three goals: to build chapter sustainability, provide an environment that fosters student veteran success and to be an active voice for student veterans on the USM campus and within the community.
The second-place finish came with a $1,500 prize to benefit the USM Husky Vets, an SVA chapter, coupled with a $2,000 grant already provided to the group by the SVA, Ege said.
Ege said the money will be helpful in bolstering the Husky Vets’ programming, particularly around raising awareness and bringing more students into the fold. Some of the funds are already being used to compete in a bowling competition to raise funds for an Augusta nonprofit organization, he said.
Money aside, also valuable was the experience, Ege said, of developing a business proposal and pitching it start-to-finish.
“What this did do is teach a group of veterans how to propose and present something to business leaders. That's an opportunity that not everyone has,” he said.
Andrews, president of the Husky Vets, said he was amazed at how well his team performed.
“It would take me a short novel to describe the incredible talent that we were up against, and I would not have liked to be one of the judges on the panel,” he said, adding that the win would would serve as a motivator to him.
He also said it would serve to reaffirm the group’s mission: to help others.
“What makes us who we are as a group is how we treat each other and the community around us,” Andrews said. “Our mission is to help veterans, service members and their families in all aspects in life. If our reputation must be boiled down to a sentence, it would be that.”
Ege agreed, adding that the Husky Vets excel in all aspect of their lives — in the classroom, and in their personal lives.
“They are representative of the quality of USM's student veterans. They don't shy away from a challenge. They come together as a team and get things done,” he said. “They have families, jobs, are full-time students, [are] transitioning from service and, most importantly, they're succeeding.”
By Alan Bennett, Office of Public Affairs