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

ODU Alumnus Named Entrepreneur of the Year at Annual Hall of Fame Induction

Three longtime business leaders who graduated from Old Dominion were recently inducted into the University's Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony also included alumnus Venkat Maroju who was chosen as the inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year.

The honorees inducted Nov. 4 into the University's third Strome Entrepreneurial 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.

Maroju '95, chief executive officer of software company SourceTrace Systems, was the first Entrepreneur of the Year to be honored at the annual induction ceremony, which is held in November to coincide with National Entrepreneurship Month.

"We are proud to recognize our ODU Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame honorees during these National and Global Entrepreneurial Week celebrations," said Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center. "Aside from their personal accomplishments, they inspire all of us to pursue innovation, no matter our age or interest."

Old Dominion President John R. Broderick delivered remarks at the event.

"This event today, and many other things we are doing here, tells me we are well on our way of meeting that goal in our strategic plan about creating an entrepreneurial culture that will really support the region's economic development," President Broderick said, of the work being done at the Strome Center with campus-based start-up businesses. "It just reinforces to me that we are doing the right thing and we did set up something that is going to continue to trigger jobs and opportunities in this market."

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 gourmet bacon-based snacks, have used the coaching and other services of the Strome Center. Several have launched businesses that gained a foothold in the Hampton Roads market.

The 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year winner, Maroju, was recognized for promoting ventures in sustainable agriculture, microfinance and renewable energy "always with an eye for helping people at the bottom of the pyramid in developing economies," Grden said.

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 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 the 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.

Maroju said he was "deeply honored" to be the University's first Entrepreneur of the Year.

"I cannot thank ODU, my faculty and my advisor enough for what they did for me during the crucial years of my development while I did my Ph.D.," Maroju said. "They really helped me grow professionally, economically and socially and prepared me well to compete in the global workplace."

Maroju noted that in rural India, where he grew up, many people lack significant opportunities for personal growth. That, he said, drove him to pursue social entrepreneurship activities working at the grass roots level.

"I had to go through a long journey, starting with humble beginnings, to where I'm standing today here. It makes it that much more gratifying and rewarding," he said. "I want to dedicate today's award to all those people who are lacking opportunities and we want one day to make them reach their full potential."

The 2016 Strome Hall of Fame inductees were:

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.

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