Business & Economy

Florida SBDC at UWF hosts Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program business plan competition

The Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of West Florida recently hosted a business plan competition to conclude its inaugural Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program, an entrepreneurial training initiative for veterans in the state of Florida seeking to start their own businesses.

The program – piloted by UWF, in conjunction with the FSBDC Network and Military Veterans Resource Center – opened in March to more than 80 veterans. The first phase included online training, and the second involved three weekends of direct business training, mentoring and an optional business plan competition on the final day.

Bradley Cantrell of Fort Walton Beach, Robert Fuszner of Pensacola and Lee Hinman of Panama City had the top three business concepts. Cantrell won the competition with “Happy Hour Ice Cream,” an alcohol-infused ice cream parlor with non-alcoholic options also available. Fuszner came in second place with “StarChip Computers,” a solution for cybersecurity and computer aging issues. Hinman was the third place winner with “eMarket Places,” an improved search mechanism to find various, highly rated service contractors.

“The program educated me on the business model canvas where I learned how to research my ideas and find out if they were feasible,” Cantrell said. “The pitch was by far the most challenging component, but also the most valuable, because I now know what was missing from my plan.”

The competition gave participants the opportunity to hear comments and critiques from the judges and advice from program mentors, helping to bolster their ideas.

“My business model changed due to direct feedback and reflection,” Fuszner said. “Being part of the contest helped me better understand how my business model can work best in today’s market.”

Judges for the competition included three distinguished guests: Kathleen Baldwin, certified public accountant and certified construction industry financial professional with Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors; Larry Strain, small business administration product specialist for government guaranteed lending with Synovus Bank; and Rick Duke, founding director of the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship. The judges said they were impressed with the overall program and the plans pitched to them for consideration.

“Simply preparing for a competition like the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship business plan requires a significant level of commitment, learning, practice, thought and courage,” Duke said. “Regardless of the outcome, the value to them was the experience, which likely took them outside their comfort zone.”

Veterans Florida, the Florida SBDC Network, the UWF Military Veterans Resource Center and other partners in the program held a closing session in Tampa on June 27 and 28, where administrators discussed the program’s future and opportunities for expansion. Business mentoring from the Florida SBDC is available to all program participants.

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program is available to veterans who are active duty or have been honorably discharged; reside in Florida or plan to locate to Florida; and demonstrate a strong interest in entrepreneurship. The program is provided at no cost.

For more information about the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program and business plan competition, contact