Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network founder Alex Archawski wants Philly to be a top city for veterans to start businesses.
But for that to happen, the former Navy search and rescue swimmer says, the narrative around veteran entrepreneurship and veterans overall needs to change.
“We are always fighting the news that we’re struggling, that we need help,” Archawski said. “The goal is to make sure the community is very well aware that veteran entrepreneurs are succeeding. The more we can showcase the success of their businesses, the better.”
The genesis of the nonprofit can be traced back to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Following the terrorist attacks, Archawski and his former unit were redeployed to active duty in the Middle East. A few years after his return from duty, seeing a vacuum in veteran outreach, he founded GPVN in 2010, which provides career and entrepreneurship training for veterans while connecting corporations to veteran-owned business.
The organization’s main event of the year is the Veteran Shark Tank, happening Dec. 3 with Comcast as presenting sponsor. For its sixth annual edition, the pitch competition will invest $25,000 in a veteran-owned business. Author and speaker Justin Constantine will be the keynote speaker.
“The unique part of this event is that we make it very blue collar/white collar,” Archawski said, in reference to the diverse background and history of entrepreneurs pitching. “It’s not just the brilliant ones from Wharton. It’s not about scale but who has the best pitch.”
Archawski said his organization collaborates well with other veteran entrepreneur organizations in the area. For example, Mike Maher’s Bunker Labs, whose real estate tech venture Houwzer went on to win the 2012 edition of the competition.
Last year, virtual-reality training company Street Smarts VR won a $10,000 check at the event. Army veteran Chris Molaro and his company NeuroFlow won the 2016 edition.
“Aside from the competition, Veteran Shark Tank gave our business the opportunity to make connections and forge relationships that continue to be fruitful,” Molaro said.
Veteran-owned businesses interested in pitching at the event can apply by Oct. 10.
Here’s a quick recap of last year’s event: