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Winners of $100,000 Small Business Contest for Military Veteran Entrepreneurs Announced

SYRACUSE, N.Y., March 06, 2017 -- Four veteran entrepreneurs rose to the top to win the VetSmallBiz Growth Challenge, a unique business competition offered by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families
Marcus Ruzek, Program Director, The Marcus Foundation; Leah Olszewski, FEMTAC; Kathryn Thomas, Yoga 4 Change; Jim Raschella, Off Duty Blue; Ken Kelso, Military Express LLC; Maureen Casey, Chief Operating Officer, Institute for Veterans and Military Families.


A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/d1c2ce05-748a-4927-a9f1-383bc058a7d2

The VetSmallBiz Growth Challenge provides exposure to a distinguished judging panel and access to capital - $100,000 in total to be awarded, in addition to three months of mentorship. The competition was offered through the generous support of The Marcus Foundation and was open to U.S. service member and veteran entrepreneurs of all eras of service.

1st Place - $50,000: Leah Olszewski, FEMTAC – Fort Walton Beach, FL
2nd Place - $25,000: Kathryn Thomas, Yoga 4 Change – Atlantic Beach, FL
3rd Place - $10,000: Jim Raschella, Off Duty Blue – Syracuse, NY
Most Innovative Venture - $5,000: Jim Raschella, Off Duty Blue – Syracuse, NY
Best Social Venture - $5,000: Kathryn Thomas, Yoga 4 Change – Atlantic Beach, FL
Best Venture Impacting Veterans - $5,000: Ken Kelso, Military Express LLC – Mandeville, LA

First prize winner, FEMTAC, provides tactical apparel and gear to improve the safety and support the performance for women whose work and/or passion takes them to the field. FEMTAC is founded, managed and designed by women in U.S. military and law enforcement. Second prize and Best Social Venture went to Yoga 4 Change which provides yoga classes for PTSD and other trauma survivors from different backgrounds. Off Duty Blue, a business which makes it easy to hire off-duty law enforcement for private security won both third prize and Most Innovative Venture. Military Express, winner of Best Venture Impacting Veterans, is building a corps of commercial truck drivers who are applying their military training.

“Veteran-owned business plays a key role in our economy with more than 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in the United States employing over 5 million people. We thank The Marcus Foundation for their leadership in supporting this important economic driver,” said Meghan Florkowski, Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the IVMF. “We congratulate the six winners and all of the finalists for their vision and drive and wish them tremendous success.”

Through this and other entrepreneurship initiatives, the IVMF opens the door to economic opportunity for veterans and military spouses by developing their competencies around creating and sustaining a small business venture. Its programs have supported potential and practicing veteran entrepreneurs with training in areas including business finance, marketing and budgeting.

For more information about the VetSmallBiz Growth Challenge, and to learn about all of the finalists visit vetbizchallenge.com.

About the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) is the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service. The Institute is supported by a world-class advisory board and public and private partners committed to advancing the post-service lives of America’s service members, veterans and their families. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families and its professional staff deliver leading programs in career, vocational and entrepreneurship education and training. The Institute also conducts actionable research, policy analysis and program evaluations, coordinates comprehensive collective impact strategies, and works with communities and non-profits to enhance service delivery for veterans and their families. For more information, visit ivmf.syracuse.edu, and follow the IVMF on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About The Marcus Foundation
Bernie Marcus is a co-founder of The Home Depot. Since his retirement from the company in 2001, he has been a philanthropist and CEO of The Marcus Foundation. Bernie is a patriot and staunch supporter of American military and veterans. The Marcus Foundation focuses on five areas: children, Jewish causes, medical research, free enterprise and community.

Media Contacts
Meghan Florkowski 
Director, Entrepreneurship Programs
Institute for Veterans and Military Families 
315.443.4629, [email protected]

Ronnie Burnett    
Senior Public Relations Director                                                                               
MARCH Marketing
773.807.2830, [email protected]

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