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

Participants Make Final Presentations in Strome Pre-Accelerator Program

It was show time for participants in the Strome Entrepreneurial Center's pre-accelerator program, and Maria Cabrera admitted she was a little nervous.

She had just finished the presentation of her proposed business startup of Michal Edwards Communications, a grant-writing service for small arts and nonprofit organizations, to a panel of business experts at the Old Dominion University entrepreneurial hub.

They included Marty Kaszubowski, director of the University's Center for Enterprise Innovation; Steve Lanivich, assistant professor of entrepreneurship; and Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, a business accelerator and incubator based in Miami and Strome Center partner.

"It was a challenge presenting the concept in front of those experts, in such a short time," said Cabrera, who has a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Old Dominion, and is starting her master's in a professional grant-writing program.

Fortunately, it wasn't a competition. The presentations by nine entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs marked the culmination of nine weeks of intensive training received through the Strome Center in the first-ever pre-incubator program.

The judges - who also included Monique Adams of the local venture capital firm 757 Angels; Susan Hudson of Mid-Atlantic Small Business Finance; and Roberto Interiano, executive director of the Miami Enterprise Development Organization - were there to offer feedback on the pitches to the participating teams, not to pick winners and losers.

"We purposefully wanted to get away from the "Shark Tank" model for this pre-incubator program," said Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Center and organizer of the pre-incubator.

In the eight-week program, co-sponsored by Venture Hive, participants received hands-on instruction in real-world entrepreneurial skills such as leadership, customer development, promotion and marketing and sales.

Though the participants were preparing seemingly unrelated businesses - from mobile apps to knowledge management- they worked collaboratively to wrestle with common dilemmas throughout the eight-week program.

Cabrera said she received great mentorship from fellow pre-accelerator participant David Richards, who presented his own concept of a technology platform to allow people to more easily donate food in Hampton Roads.

"It really was a great experience to hear about the projects of my fellow participants. We shared a lot of the same issues, even though we are launching different businesses," she said.

Grden said this first-ever pre-accelerator was a success, and organizers purposefully recruited a mix of student entrepreneurs and veterans of the start-up process. "We were particularly interested in that mix of experience, to see how working relationships would evolve," she said.

Old Dominion's Strome Entrepreneurial Center was created in 2014 following an $11-million donation from the Strome Family Foundation. It is designed to be the centerpiece of the University's campus-wide entrepreneurial strategy, empowering Old Dominion-affiliated entrepreneurs at every stage of the business startup lifecycle.

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