Institute for Veterans and Military Families Celebrates Female Veteran and Spouse Entrepreneurs at Inaugural V-WISE Conference

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Four prize winners announced in “Bold Enough to Make it Happen” business pitch competition

During the inaugural Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) National Graduate Training Conference, held Nov. 1-3, 2014 in San Antonio, TX, over 260 female veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs gathered to compete for cash prizes, learn about best practices in entrepreneurship and share stories of overcoming obstacles as small business owners.

The conference was organized by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and sponsored by Sam’s Club.

Graduates of the V-WISE program were eligible to compete in the V-WISE “Bold Enough to Make it Happen” pitch competition, vying for the chance to share $42,500 in cash prizes provided by the Newman’s Own Foundation to support their small business plans. A pool of over 30 competitors was narrowed to 10 for the onsite semi-finals of the competition. The semi-finals took place in front of a panel of four judges who determined the selection of the four finalists who went on to compete in-front of the over 260 conference participants and a separate panel of judges.

Each contest participant was given 90 seconds to make their best business pitch, without the assistance of aids, index cards, slides or props, to a panel of judges, followed by a 5 minute Q&A session.

The winners of the V-WISE “Bold Enough to Make it Happen” pitch competition were:

First Place of $20,000: Pat Neleski, Owner, NavyRackPacks; V-WISE New York City Graduate

Patricia Neleski is a small business owner, military spouse, and graduate of V-WISE New York City 2014. Her company, NavyRackPacks, designs and manufactures blackout, flame-retardant, rack storage curtains for Navy ships and subs, Coast Guard cutters and Military Sealift Command Vessels.

Second Place of $10,000: Angela Cody-Rouget, Founder and CEO, Major Mom; V-WISE Denver Graduate

Angela Cody-Rouget is a founding partner of Major Mom and one of seven Certified Professional Organizers in Colorado. She is also a certified Family Manager. She moved with her family and the military more than 27 times. Because of this, she learned to keep her load light and not get attached to stuff. Angela understood what it was like to make new friends and then have to leave them. Angela spent 18 years dedicated to serving her country in the US Air Force.

Third Place of $7,500: Leah Olszewski, CEO, FEMTAC, LLC.; V-WISE Seattle Graduate    

Leah Olszewski has served in the U.S. Army for over 17 years. She is currently serving in a Special Operations unit. Leah and her sister, a former Army pilot and current federal law enforcement officer, founded FEMTAC in 2013. FEMTAC is dedicated to providing women tactical apparel and equipment that truly meets their needs and interests.

Fourth Place of $5,000: Ruth Ann Haider, Owner, Deux Soldats Estate Vineyard and Winery; V-WISE Long Beach Graduate

Ruthann Haider retired from the Army in 2006 after 26 years of service and continues in federal service as the Director of the Contracting Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Driven to create a profitable wine estate for future generations while supporting fellow veterans through employment, Ruth founded Deux Soldats Estate Vineyard and Winery in 2010. It is a certified sustainable ultra-premium Estate Vineyard and Winery in the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural (AVA) of Washington State.    

“This pitch competition has given four of our V-WISE graduates the opportunity to infuse capital into their business where needed most. The competition process was exciting for all of our entrants and we look forward to seeing what is to come for those who participated,” said Meghan Florkowski, V-WISE Program Manager.

The finale of the conference was the announcement by IVMF partner, Citi, of the launch of the second round of the “Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream Business Competition,” a $130,000 business plan competition open to all graduates of IVMF’s V-WISE and Boots to Business entrepreneurship training programs who have at least 51 percent ownership of a small business. Citi’s K.C. Choi launched the new competition after a successful round last year that highlighted some of the best new small businesses coming out of these two highly regarded entrepreneurship programs. Learn more about the competition at


The IVMF is the first interdisciplinary national institute in higher education focused on the social, economic, education and policy issues impacting veterans and their families post-service. Through our focus on veteran-facing programming, research and policy, employment and employer support, and community engagement, the institute provides in-depth analysis of the challenges facing the veteran community, captures best practices and serves as a forum to facilitate new partnerships and strong relationships between the individuals and organizations committed to making a difference for veterans and military families. Learn more about IVMF at

About V-WISE
V-WISE was developed by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management with support from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and provides cutting-edge entrepreneurship training to women veterans from any branch or era of military service, any military component, female spouses or partners of active duty personnel, and veterans looking to start a business venture.

The V-WISE program is a part of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), which leverages higher education to design, develop and deliver world-class educational programs for veterans, their families and community stakeholders. The institute’s educational programs are designed to provide veterans and their families with the skills needed to be successful in education, work and life.

The V-WISE program empowers women to learn business skills and turn their dreams of small business ownership into real ventures. V-WISE builds on the leadership, integrity, focus, and drive instilled by the military experience through premier educational training led by accomplished entrepreneurs and educators from across the country. Both growth and startup training tracks are offered to serve the spectrum of business owners and their business development stages.

Sam’s Club, the nation’s eighth largest retailer and a leading U.S. membership club, offers savings and surprises to millions of members in 643 U.S. club locations and at The Sam’s Club Giving Program, established by the Walmart Foundation in 2008, is dedicated to micro- and small business prosperity, investing more than $11 million in national and local programs dedicated to improved training, education and increased access to capital for small business owners. For more information on national or local giving, visit

Newman’s Own Foundation is an independent, private foundation formed in 2005 by Paul Newman to sustain the legacy of his philanthropic work. Funded entirely through the profits and royalties of Newman’s Own products, the Foundation does not maintain an endowment, raise funds, or accept donations. The Foundation believes that each of us, through the power of philanthropy, has the potential to make a difference. Since 1982, when Paul Newman first declared, “Let’s give it all away,” more than $400 million has been donated to thousands of nonprofit organizations helping people in need around the world.

Citi, the leading global bank, has approximately 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Citi provides consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, transaction services, and wealth management.

About the Citi Foundation
The Citi Foundation is committed to the economic empowerment and financial inclusion of individuals and families, particularly those in need, in the communities where we work so that they can improve their standard of living. Globally, the Citi Foundation targets its strategic giving to priority focus areas: Microfinance, Enterprise Development, Youth Education and Livelihoods, and Financial Capability and Asset Building. The Citi Foundation works with its partners in Microfinance and Enterprise Development to support environmental programs and innovations. Additional information can be found at


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