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Three New Programs to Boost Local Startups at 2018 Lion’s Lair Innovation Competition

By Noell Saunders

The final round of Old Dominion University's 2018 Lion's Lair Innovation Competition was held in conjunction with the introduction of three new programs aimed to boost Hampton Roads startup companies at the Selden Market in Norfolk on March 30.

The new programs are StartWheel.org, a website designed to connect entrepreneurs with resources in the community; 757 Accelerate, a three-month mentorship class, and 757 Seed Fund, which provides money for businesses that are beyond the idea stage but not ripe for venture capital.

Four Lion's Lair finalists presented their start-up ideas to a panel of four local business and political leaders, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner; Tony DiSilvestro, co-owner of Ynot Pizza & Italian Cuisine; Angela Reddix, president and CEO of Norfolk-based consulting firm ARDX, and Drew Ungvarsky, an Old Dominion alumnus who is CEO of Grow, a digital branding agency based in Norfolk.

Each team's presentation was judged in six categories: market opportunity, distinctive confidence, management capability, financial understanding, investment potential and presentation.

The 2018 Lion's Lair award winners were:

  • Old Dominion student Sophia O'Neal, for her new clothing line Alitta, which is an ethical and sustainable women's fashion startup that specializes in edgy modern clothing for both work and casual outings.
  • Tim and Ben Hagerty, for their new platform, TeamingPro, which is like Match.com for federal contractors. The company matches teammates for federal contracting opportunities based on points of compatibility, including past performance.

O'Neal, who previously owned the sustainable fashion accessories company Two Pink Peas, said she was elated to start Alitta.

"I learned a lot from my previous business," she said. "With Alitta, l see myself going forward. It's been wonderful to see the growth. I think this is the one."

About 200 attendees heard remarks from Warner; Old Dominion President John R. Broderick; Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander; Nancy Grden, the executive director of the ODU Strome Entrepreneurial Center, and other community leaders.

"We're excited about momentum that's building throughout Hampton Roads, and we owe a lot of it to you, our entrepreneurs and business leaders," Alexander said.

Broderick encouraged attendees to keep supporting local businesses and visit Old Dominion's new student entrepreneur store, THE Monarch Way.

"If you go behind the Ted Constant Convocation Center on Monarch Way, you will see what we believe is the first retail store in the country that's composed of only student entrepreneur products," Broderick told the crowd. "You will see a no better example of how entrepreneurial-based education and culture is leading to world-class innovation right here in Hampton Roads."

Warner said, "Business entrepreneurship is about spirit and opportunity." He told the crowd about his failure with two businesses before striking a home run with the former cell phone giant, Nextel.

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