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New ODU Program Helps Firms Transitioning to Private Sector Markets

Close to 300 business community members, anticipating seismic changes in the commercial landscape in the years ahead, attended the launch of Old Dominion University's GOV2COM program November 9.

GOV2COM, a program designed to help government and military contractors better understand how to do business in the private sector, hosted the event in the Big Blue Room of Old Dominion's Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Attendees networked, as they share an uncertain future with the specter of future government spending reductions. Following this, they listened to a panel of community leaders speaking about how there is also opportunity in that change.

GOV2COM seeks to be a leader in helping the sometimes difficult re-orientation of business focus to non-governmental markets.

"Tonight we are celebrating and launching a new program, that will give entrepreneurs the tools to explore commercial business opportunities," said David F. Harnage, Chief Operating Officer of the University. "I feel the program is already successful in the interaction we have seen here in the last hour."

In his introductory remarks, Harnage said by reorienting to commercial markets these companies, "which have served our economy, and our nation so well" can stay viable or even grow, while helping the region retain its strategic role in the nation's military readiness.

The event's panel of experts, spoke from their experience in growing commercial enterprises, and diversifying from government funding. Paul Hirschbiel, chair of Reinvent Hampton Roads and founder of venture capital firm 757 Angels, stressed to attendees that the most important thing new companies can demonstrate is effective management.

"The thing I look at first when I am considering investing in a company is the quality of the management team," Hirschbiel said. He added: "Don't be afraid of failure when you do this. This region has always been afraid of failure. In my experience, that's the best way to learn."

Other panelists included Col. Paul Olsen (Ret.), Old Dominion's new director of federal, commonwealth and municipal programs, and former division commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Paul Robinson, director and founder of AeroTech Research Inc.; and Paul DiNardo, of Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer.

The event also included a presentation by director Elizabeth Dietzmann about GOV2COM's services and networking opportunities. "We are blessed to have such incredible expertise right here in our community," Dietzmann said about the panel.

GOV2COM was created through a new $5.4 million grant received by the Commonwealth from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA).

GOV2COM's six interconnected projects are designed to instill expertise in different aspects of private enterprise, including market and customer culture; business processes; business infrastructure; commercial business skills; market knowledge; and networks of relationships.

Together, the projects are designed to support Hampton Roads companies and their employees as they transition into more far-reaching, but unfamiliar, commercial markets.

The projects include events to create a "community of practice" with business owners forming long-term partnerships with local and regional experts and mentors; a transition-specific training and skills enhancement project; and an annual competition for local "spin-outs" to provide knowledge to entrepreneurs, and an opportunity to showcase their potential high-growth projects.

Marty Kaszubowski, director of the Center for Enterprise Innovation, which houses the program, said GOV2COM events are already being planned across the region.

"There's an emerging consensus at the local, state and federal levels that our region needs to aggressively move beyond that old economic development model as uncertainty around government spending grows," Kaszubowski said.

Old Dominion University's Center for Enterprise Innovation (CEI) is an organization that houses several programs under its Business Gateway that are designed to leverage the unique strengths of the University to help Hampton Roads-based entrepreneurs establish and grow innovative new ventures.

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