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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Gov. McAuliffe Visits ODU, Holds Veterans' Entrepreneurial Roundtable

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited Old Dominion University March 6, and in a roundtable session with University leaders, military-affiliated organizations and active duty military students, stressed that his overriding imperative as governor is to support initiatives that create jobs.

"If it involves job creation, I want to hear about it," McAuliffe told the gathering.

President John R. Broderick welcomed the Governor, noting he's no stranger to the Old Dominion University campus, and will speak at the 2015 Spring Commencement Exercises in May. Broderick stressed the University's commitment, both to its military-affiliated population, and to individuals who are seeking to start a business.

"We're trying to ensure, when someone from Old Dominion University has skills and an idea, that they don't believe they have to go to Northern Virginia or Washington to start a business. And we've got pretty good examples of that," Broderick said.

McAuliffe heard from military entrepreneurs who accessed services of the Hampton Roads Veterans Business Outreach Center (HRVBOC), which was created at Old Dominion University in 2010, as well as from leaders of ODU's Military Connection Center.

Veteran entrepreneurs told the Governor how pivotal the assistance of the HRVBOC has been in launching their start-up companies - in micro-brewing, big data analysis and food truck service.

Speaking directly to the veteran entrepreneurs, McAuliffe stressed their initiative and drive is exactly what the Commonwealth needs.

"Like you, I'm an entrepreneur. I've started close to 30 companies. I started my first one at 14 because my parents couldn't afford to send me to college," McAuliffe said. "I clearly understand the ups and downs of starting your own business, but there's nothing more fun."

McAuliffe explained that his administration's plan is to move the economy forward - by diversifying beyond direct federal spending defense contracts to investments in high tech, education and trade - involve the ingenuity of individuals with passion and ideas.

"Entrepreneurs are the crux of it," he emphasized.

ODU's Chief Operating Officer David F. Harnage told the Governor about the University's Center for Enterprise and Innovation, led by Marty Kaszubowski, which houses programs including the Technology Applications Center, the Women's Business Center, the Procurement Assistance Center and the HRVBOC.

"Several months ago, the President asked us to investigate how we expand those programs to a broader scale, and how the University can become more actively engaged in economic development for the region," he said.

Harnage said Old Dominion is currently in negotiations to partner with three Hampton Roads communities, in creating a network of business accelerators.

"One of the important things is that it's a place for engagement. There are some phenomenal success stories of veterans starting businesses," he said.

The HRVBOC serves a six-state region, providing a range of services for veterans seeking to start businesses. Director Cherylynn Sagester said the Center has 710 active business clients, and has helped launch 120 veteran-owned businesses, creating 400 jobs and encouraging $10 million in investment.

Dexter Green, a Navy veteran who started the food truck service Yum Yum Concessions when he was still on active duty, stressed to McAuliffe how valuable the HRVBOC has been. "Any person I meet who's a veteran who wants to start a business, I tell them, 'You need to go meet with Cherylynn.'"

McAuliffe also heard about ODU's Military Connection Center. Director Bill Brown, the former Army ROTC commander at Old Dominion University, said the Center works to ensure that the quarter of the University's population that is military-affiliated, including more than 2,600 students attending on the GI Bill, are fully welcomed into the ODU community.

"We really see ourselves as a one-stop-shop or a hub that reaches out to campus," Brown said. "We don't want soldiers and sailors walking around our campus, not knowing where to go, and not knowing what to do."

Ellen Neufeldt, ODU's Vice President for Student Engagement and Enrollment Services, said the Military Connections Center was not envisioned as simply a standalone military center when it was launched two years ago.

"It's about making sure, across campus, we are inserting people ready to work with the military where they are," she said.

Concluding the roundtable, President Broderick told participants he is grateful to Gov. McAuliffe for additional University funding support in the Virginia General Assembly's amendments to the 2014-2016 budget. He said he's also grateful for the passion McAuliffe shows for the job every day.

"Anyone who has ever met Gov. McAuliffe will see that he is as passionate about moving Virginia forward as any individual you are ever going to meet," Broderick said.

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