Winners Announced in Citi’s and IVMF’s Realizing Your Dream Business Competition for Veterans

Aspiring Small Business Hopefuls with Military Experience Convened in Long Beach, California for Weekend of Training and Competing
Jan 23, 2014 1:15 PM ET

New York, Jan. 23, 2014 /3BL Media/ – Citi and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) today announced the winners of the Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream Business Competition, a year-long opportunity for veterans who are established or aspiring entrepreneurs to submit formal small business plans in hopes of receiving a share of $130,000 in available seed funding. The final judging and competition occurred this weekend at the IVMF’s three-day Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) conference in Long Beach, California.  V-WISE is a collaborative partnership between the IVMF and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The Citi Foundation provided funding for the Realizing Your Dream Business Competition.

More than 150 entrepreneurs submitted business plans since the Realizing Your Dream program commenced in spring 2013.  The program culminated this weekend when 17 semi-finalists each had the opportunity to present a 15-minute business plan pitch and engage in 5 minutes of Q&A with an esteemed panel of expert judges.  Five finalists each from V-WISE and the IVMF’s Boots to Business program were then selected to present their final 90-second pitch live to the entire 160-member V-WISE audience.  The following winners were announced at the conclusion of the event:


First Place: $25,000
Kristina Guerrero - TurboPup

Second Place: $15,000
Shevonica Howell - Academy of Scholars

Third Place: $10,000
Jill Hinton - Outdoor Book Club

Best Social Venture 1: $5,000
Sonia Deal - Diabetes Education Augmenting Lifestyles Centers & Clinic, LLC

Best Tech Venture 2: $5,000
Lisa Belcastro - TF SASA, LLC

Venture Impacting Vets: $5,000
Terri Spahr Nelson - Sugati Publications


First Place: $25,000
Sandra Gonzales - DOCERE E-learning Solutions

Second Place: $15,000
Dr. Tony Turin - Mt. Hood Eye Care

Third Place: $10,000
Andre Smith - Celestial Lighting Services

Best Social Venture: $5,000
Becky Watson - Music for Wellness, LLC

Best Tech Venture: $5,000
Andre Smith - Celestial Lighting Services

Venture Impacting Vets: $5,000
Rudy Lopez - Lopez Psychological Services

“The Realizing Your Dream program is designed to boost the ability of veterans and their family members to access the capacity-building tools and support they need to start their own businesses and create enduring, sustainable livelihoods” said John Tien, Managing Director, Citi, and Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.), who served on the competition’s judging panel.  “While there were many worthy business plans submitted, the winners distinguished themselves with their thoroughness, ingenuity, and business acumen.  We are pleased to work with many great partners to help transform their start-up dreams into reality.”

In addition to Tien, the realizing Your Dream judging panels included Larry Broughton, Founder & CEO of Broughton Hotels and a former Green Beret; Jessica Eaves Mathews, Founder and CEO of Grace & Game; Bill Elmore, Former Associate Administrator for Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration; Ryan Delaney, Senior Vice President and Head of Asset Management, Oaktree Capital Management; and Gina Harman, President and CEO of ACCION USA, which is providing crucial access to microloan capital and technical assistance for qualified graduates of the IVMF’s entrepreneurship training programs including V-WISE and Boots to Business.

“SBA appreciates companies that sponsor events like the Citi Salutes Realizing Your Dream Business Competition for Boots to Business and VWISE graduates,” said Rhett Jeppson, Associate Administrator, Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration.  “These veterans, like those before, have made tremendous sacrifices for our country and will make a huge positive impact on our nation’s economy.   Events like the Realizing Your Dream Business Competition provide critical startup capital and encouragement for this next generation of veteran entrepreneurs.”

Citi Salutes™ is a Citi-wide initiative to support veteran consumers and job-seekers by connecting them to Citi’s entire range of services geared to the veteran community, including career development opportunities, banking products and services developed to meet the unique needs of military families, and partnerships with leading veterans service and community organizations, led by Citi Community Development.

Created as a partnership between the IVMF and SBA, V-WISE and Boots to Business are the nation’s leading entrepreneurship training programs for veterans, active duty service members and military family members, positioned to empower participants to launch and/or grow sustainable business ventures.  V-WISE, which consists of a 15-day online course in addition to the three-day conference and ongoing post-program support, is open to all female veterans, active duty (including National Guard and Reserve) and female spouses/partners of active duty and veterans with a passion for entrepreneurship and the desire to start  and grow their own business. Boots to Business is a three-phase training program that introduces and trains transitioning service members to business ownership. It is open to all transitioning military personnel and their spouses from all branches of service.

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About Citi

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.

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About the Citi Foundation

The Citi Foundation is committed to the economic empowerment and financial inclusion of low- to moderate-income individuals and families 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, College Success, and Financial Capability and Asset Building. In the United States, the Citi Foundation also supports Neighborhood Revitalization programs. The Citi Foundation works with its partners in Microfinance, Enterprise Development, and Neighborhood Revitalization to support environmental programs and innovations. Additional information can be found at

About the Institute for Veterans & Military Families

As the first institute of its kind in the nation, the IVMF leverages the intellectual, programmatic and human capital resources of higher education in support of the post-service life course of the nation’s veterans and military families. The IVMF focuses on developing impactful programming, cultivating actionable research, conducting policy analysis and providing technical assistance positioned to address the social, economic and public policy challenges facing the veterans’ community. The IVMF team approaches this mission as a collaboration, forging enduring partnerships with government, private industry, institutions of higher education, philanthropic organizations and stakeholders committed to supporting transitioning service members, veterans and their families. Visit for more information. Follow the IVMF on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, VetNet and LinkedIn.

About the Accion U.S. Network

As the largest nationwide micro- and small business lending network in the United States, we connect small business owners with the accessible financing and advice it takes to create or grow healthy businesses. Since 1991, the five members of the Accion U.S. Network have collectively made over 47,700 loans, totaling over $380 million. Additionally, over 400,000 business owners across the nation have turned to Accion for financial and business advice via workshops, online tools, and one-on-one consultations. Globally, Accion ( is a pioneer in microfinance, reaching millions of individuals through its international network of partners. For more information visit