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Four honored at Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame Ceremony

By Keith Pierce

Three business leaders were inducted into the sixth class of the Old Dominion Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame on Thursday, and the founder of an organization that provides quality of life support programs to military service members and families worldwide was named the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year.

This year's inductees are:

  • Ajit Prabhu '94, chairman and CEO, QuEST Global.
  • Renée E. Warren-Mebane '87, co-founder, Noelle-Elaine Media, Inc., and president, Arielle-Wren, Inc.
  • Andrew (Drew) Ungvarsky '02 founder and CEO, Grow, and founder and CEO, Assembly.

The Entrepreneur of the Year is Michael D. Zeiders, founder and chairman of Zeiders Enterprises, Inc., and Zeiders American Theatre.

Prabhu co-founded QuEST Global in 1997. What started as a two-person operation now employs more than 12,000 professionals across 69 engineering centers across 14 countries.

"I think the biggest thing people need to be successful is to have no fear of failure and accept that failure as a part of life," Prabhu said. "The more you fail, as long as you're not repeating the same mistakes, the more you will gain momentum and become successful. I always hold on to the mindset that better is yet to come. That philosophy is very much ingrained and propelling our company to be where we are today and it will continue to fuel our success."

In 2017, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of ODU. Prabhu has also received Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2014 in the Services category. In 2014, he was also recognized by Singapore-Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) for his achievement as an outstanding entrepreneur. Prabhu is also the recipient of the Young Investigator Award, conferred by International Association for Dental Research during his studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

His charitable interests include supporting ODU and QuEST's adopted government schools in Bangalore and Hubli. He has pledged to support college education expenses of 1,000 students by 2035 and created Ajitprabhufoundation.org toward that end. Currently, 202 students have benefitted via this foundation.

Warren-Mebane celebrated her 26th year as an entrepreneur with her best friend and business partner, Kirsten Poe Hill, in October. Under her two nationally recognized firms, she has worked with: Ariel Mutual Funds, BET, Charles Schwab, Citibank, Corporate Governance, Cricket mobile phones, Black Enterprise magazine, Essence, Joint Center Health Policy Institute,IR magazine, MONEY magazine, Disney and Disney Channel, L'Oreal, the NAACP, the National Association of Black Accountants, the National Cancer Institute, the National Association Black MBA Association, the National Urban League, Pepsi, Porter Novelli, the SCOOTER Store, the Steve Harvey Foundation, UNCF and Williams Capital Group. In addition to her national experience, she has worked on the four continents (North America, South America, Europe and Africa), producing large-scale events.

"My parents were entrepreneurs as well as were my grandparents," she said. "They taught me about hard work, doing your very best, following your dreams and that it wasn't always about money. It was about doing what you love."

Prior to creating her companies, she worked for CNBC, Dow Jones & Company, WTKR, The Virginian-Pilot and The Daily Press. She also wrote for Black Enterprise and Essence magazines.

She is the co-author of "You Buy the Peanut Butter, I'll Get the Bread" and "The Absolutely True Adventures of Best Friends in Business." She alsoworked asan adjunct/assistant professor at New York University for 15 years, where she taught social media and event public relations.

Under Ungvarsky's leadership, Grow has created innovative digital experiences and marketing campaigns for leading brands like Google, adidas, Spotify, and EA Games. He and his company's work have been recognized by The New York Times, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Adweek among many others. They've also been celebrated by the industry's top award shows, including the Cannes Lions, CLIOs, and Webbys.

"I'm thankful for this honor, but I will take it on loan and continue to try to earn it by following the footsteps of incredible entrepreneurs coming out of this university," he said. "I will take a moment to specifically acknowledge the Honors College for its role in my education and creating a home for me here."

He added that in addition to giving him his first job, "where I started and fell in love with the idea of web design and ultimately built this company," he also met his future wife, who was a receptionist at the Honors College.

"Old Dominion has given me much in my life that I'm very thankful for," he said.

With Assembly, he is creating a development that will house leading creative and technology companies, startups and freelancers from the region in three historic department stores in Downtown Norfolk.

He serves on the board of the Downtown Norfolk Council, where he's helped create the Vibrant Spaces program and the Selden Market. He's also a founding board member of the Elizabeth River Trail Foundation. He previously served on the boards of Re:Vision Norfolk, StartWheel and RISE.

Zeiders' company, Zeiders Enterprises, Inc., has more than 1,000 employees working on support programs for military service members and their families.

"The joy of entrepreneurship is in the fact that you get to go out and share your dream and ask someone else if they want to join you in that journey," he said. "To me entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, it's a way of life and it's a way of approaching other people to take this journey with you."

Additionally, in 2007, he and his wife, Charlotte, founded the Quality of Life Foundation, a charitable organization thatsupports caregivers of severely wounded, ill, and injured veterans nationwide.He serves as president and chairman.

In 2013, he founded the Zeiders American Dream Theater, known as The Z. Located in the Town Center in Virginia Beach, The Z is a charitable organization whose mission is to introduce new works and emerging artists, present unique artistic experiences, and inspire creative growth in the community. He serves as chairman.

Zeiders has served as chairman of the Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board and is the author of the book, "Entrepreneurship, The Art of Succeeding in Business."

President John R. Broderick touted ODU's entrepreneurial efforts, starting with the establishment of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center 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 1978 ODU engineering alumnus Mark Strome.

"Every year since then marks additional expansion, influence and impact from ODU entrepreneurial and economic development activities both on the campus and in the community," he said.

Among the other initiatives he noted: the creation of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Brooks Crossing initiative in Newport News and the establishment of the ODU Economic Development Catalyst Task Force.

"Entrepreneurship and innovation are now firmly embedded in our University Strategic Plan. Entrepreneurship is literally everywhere on our campus," Broderick said.

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