The PenFed Foundation Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program (VEIP) received over 55 proposals for new businesses and ideas. The VEIP Selection Committee, which included Black veteran entrepreneurs from the PenFed Foundation Master’s Program, selected the top 15 finalists. The finalists’ pitches and stories were posted to the VEIP website and the community voted Eye Smile Optometry and Dental Care, Keep Your Hair Headgear and Sweet Christi’s as their favorite businesses. The entrepreneurs then pitched their companies to a panel consisting of PenFed Credit Union leadership and community leaders. The panel’s original intent was to select one winner among the three finalists. Instead, the judges unanimously decided to award all three businesses with $15,000 grants.
“PenFed Foundation is proud to celebrate Black History Month and we congratulate this year’s three inspiring and innovative winners,” said PenFed Credit Union President/CEO and PenFed Foundation CEO James Schenck. “During the pitch competition, the judges and I were blown away by the breadth and depth of their business ideas and felt all three finalists won. For that reason, we were thrilled to award them all the winning grant amount of $15,000.”
Eye Smile Optometry & Dental Care is a family-owned, primary care optometric and dental practice that was founded in Virginia in March 2020 by U.S. Air Force veteran Dr. Keith James, OD and his wife Dr. Yvonelle Moreau, DDS. It was developed to provide Arlington, Alexandria and the surrounding region with comprehensive, patient-centered vision and dental services in one convenient location.
“When we were told at the end of the competition that we were all winners of the grant, Dr. Moreau and I were rendered speechless,” said Dr. James. “The other contestants were so amazing and we were honored to be in their company. We were taken aback and humbled by the judges’ decision to give us all the winning prize.”
Keep Your Hair Headgear was founded by U.S. Army veteran Natasha Hinds and offers quality satin and silk-lined products to protect hair from breaking off while wearing moisture-absorbing wool, cotton and nylon headwear. The company’s innovation of completely lining military headwear with silk material created an option for members to purchase headgear more conducive to their hair type or skin condition and still remain within military wear and appearance standards. Keep Your Hair Headgear recently expanded their product line to satin lined official licensed headwear for sororities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and one branch of the military.
“My team and I are so honored and proud to be a recipient of the PenFed Foundation Black History Month Ignition Challenge top prize,” said Hinds. “This is our first grant in four years of business and we would not be here without the pitch training we received from the PenFed Foundation and the overwhelming support from the Keep Your Hair Headgear community. The grant along with invaluable business coaching will make a huge impact for our small business and we will not let our supporters down.”
Sweet Christi’s, founded by U.S. Navy veteran Hilda Alexander and her daughter Christianna, makes plant-based bath and body products for girls that look and smell like delectable sweet treats. Sweet Christi’s products are clean, and they also promote self-care as a routine practice for overall wellness. The company’s mission is to teach girls the importance of routine self-care practices and how to implement it through workshops and literature.
“We were a little fatigued from working late nights preparing for the pitch so when they announced the winners it felt like we were in a dream,” said Hilda Alexander. “A very magical dream that I didn’t want to be awakened from. To work so hard and then feel validated, plants a seed deep down to continue on. I worked the tech and my 15-year-old daughter made the verbal presentation. The PenFed Foundation platform not only gave veterans a voice but also the family members like my daughter who sacrificed her early mother/daughter bond while I served. We will remember the experience for the rest of our lives and make them proud.”
In addition to funding, VEIP staff is providing coaching and support to the winning entrepreneurs to help each fine-tune their businesses and to further position them for future success. Encouraged by the success of the Black History Month Ignition Challenge, the PenFed Foundation is planning another Ignition Challenge for minority entrepreneurs later this year.
“The PenFed Foundation congratulates the winning entrepreneurs and we look forward to following and supporting the trajectory of these three fantastic veteran-owned businesses,” said PenFed Foundation President and retired Army General John W. Nicholson, Jr. “The quality of the proposals for new businesses and ideas received by the VEIP Selection Committee made this inaugural Ignition Challenge a resounding success.”
About PenFed Foundation
Founded in 2001, the PenFed Foundation is a national nonprofit organization committed to empowering military service members, veterans and their communities with the skills and resources to realize financial stability and opportunity. It provides service members, veterans, their families and support networks with the skills and resources they need to improve their lives through programs on financial education, homeownership, veteran entrepreneurship and short-term assistance. Affiliated with PenFed Credit Union, the Foundation has the resources to effectively reach military communities across the nation, build strong partnerships, and engage a dedicated corps of volunteers in its mission. The credit union funds the Foundation’s personnel and most operational costs, demonstrating its strong commitment to the programs the Foundation provides. Equal Housing Opportunity. To learn more, visit www.penfedfoundation.org.
SOURCE PenFed Foundation