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New Class of Honorees to be Inducted into Old Dominion Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Three longtime business leaders will be inducted into Old Dominion University's Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame at a campus ceremony Friday, Nov. 4. They will be joined by an Old Dominion alumnus who has been chosen as the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year.

The honorees in the third hall of fame class are Jack Ezzell Jr. '11 (honorary), founder and CEO of Zel Technologies LLC; Mark Geddis '90, chairman of Geddis Holdings Inc., and Paul Hirschbiel Jr. '10 (honorary), chairman of 757 Angels.

Venkat Maroju '95 Ph.D., chief executive officer of software company SourceTrace Systems, will be the first entrepreneur of the year honored at the Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame induction, which is held every November at the University to coincide with National Entrepreneurship Month.

"ODU's Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame provides an opportunity to recognize outstanding alumni and community entrepreneurs who make significant contributions in leading innovation," said Nancy Grden, executive director of the University's Strome Entrepreneurial Center. "Each one serves as a model and inspiration to our various campus audiences."

The hall of fame induction will be at 4:30 p.m. in the North Café of Webb University Center, with a reception to follow in the Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

President John R. Broderick will deliver remarks, along with Grden and Franck Tchouambou '15. Tchouambou, a local entrepreneur and recent graduate of the University, partners closely with the students who receive mentorship, resources and peer support at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

The center opened in 2014, part of a huge boost for campus-wide entrepreneurial efforts fueled largely through an $11 million gift by the Strome Family Foundation of ODU engineering alumnus Mark Strome '78.

Student entrepreneurs, selling products ranging from graduation cap-and-gown rentals and 3-D printing to bacon snacks, have used the coaching and other services of the Strome Center. Several have launched businesses, which have gained a foothold in the Hampton Roads market.

Here are the biographies of the 2016 inductees:

Jack L. Ezzell Jr. is the founder and CEO of Zel Technologies LLC. He has overseen ZelTech's growth from a small consulting firm into a multi-faceted engineering, manufacturing and professional services corporation. Headquartered in Hampton, Virginia, ZelTech has operations throughout the United States and abroad.

Ezzell has been named Virginia's Small Business Person of Year, Virginia's Outstanding Industrialist and the Daily Press newspaper's Distinguished Citizen of the Year. He has received awards from CIVIC Leadership Institute, the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and WHRO public broadcasting and has been inducted into the Hampton Roads Business Hall of Fame.

Ezzell is a retired Air Force colonel. He graduated from North Carolina A&T State University and holds an M.B.A. from Ohio State University. Old Dominion awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2011.

Mark Geddis is the chair of Geddis Holdings Inc., a private equity firm that invests in growth companies in the United States and Canada. Geddis is also co-founder, current president and CEO of Super Fan Fundraising LLC.

His early experiences informed his entrepreneurship. Geddis directed media for the Syracuse Chiefs baseball club and worked with two Super Bowls, the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival, the 1992 NCAA East Regional Basketball Tournament, the 1993 National League Championship Series and four Major League Baseball All-Star games.

Between 1992 and 1999, Geddis worked with the Florida Marlins, overseeing marketing communication, broadcast operations and coordination with Major League Baseball. In 2000, he co-founded Convizion Inc., a digital content management company, and two years later launched Collegiate Images LLC to manage the distribution of copyrighted intellectual property focused on college sports. Geddis received his bachelor's degree in sports management from Old Dominion and his master's degree in media administration from The Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Paul O. Hirschbiel, Jr. is the chair of 757 Angels, which works to assure that high-quality, high-growth businesses are funded and remain in Hampton Roads. He also chairs StartWheel, a product of Re-Invent Hampton Roads, which aims to create a strong, supportive environment for entrepreneurs.

Hirschbiel has had a long and successful career in private equity investing. After co-founding one of the first venture capital firms in New York in the early 1980s, he spent nearly two decades successfully investing in growth companies, including Dell Computer, on whose board of directors he sat for 13 years. Upon his return to Hampton Roads in the late 1990s, Hirschbiel helped found Envest Ventures, the first professionally managed venture capital firm in Hampton Roads.

A Morehead Scholar, Hirschbiel received a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.B.A. degree from UNC Chapel Hill as a dean's scholar. Old Dominion awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2010.

Venkat Maroju is the chief executive officer of SourceTrace Systems, a global leader producing software solutions to make the agricultural value chain sustainable, transparent and equitable. The mission of SourceTrace is to empower smallholder farmers in developing economies to participate in the global supply chain. SourceTrace's innovative solutions have reached more than 250,000 grass-roots farmers in 14 countries on three continents.

Maroju's career began in the automotive industry with leadership positions at Bose Corp. and ComanPICO, a subsidiary of Fiat. His entrepreneurship grew from his humble beginnings in rural Telangana, India. He founded Factum Ventures, a holding company in India that set up and promoted new business ventures in sustainable agriculture, microfinance and renewable energy.

Maroju received a bachelor's degree in engineering from Osmania University College of Engineering, Hyderabad, in the capital of Telangana, and a master's degree in engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He was a Sloan fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received an M.B.A. He has a Ph.D. in engineering from Old Dominion.

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