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USAA to host veteran, active-duty $280,000 business pitch contest

Rear Adm. Paul Pearigen, chief of U.S. Navy Medical Corps, speaks to veteran entrepreneurs at Bunker Hill Labs in June 2019. (Regena Kowitz/Naval Medical Forces Pacific)
December 01, 2021

USAA is set to launch a multi-city contest where active duty and veteran business owners can compete for about $280,000 in prize money, including $100,000 for first-place.

USAA announced the contest in an emailed statement to American Military News on Wednesday. The military-oriented banking and financial services company, which itself was started in 1922 by a group of 25 U.S. Army officers, said it is “seeking to find deserving military-connected start-up businesses that are making an impact on their community.”

The year-long pitch contest is set to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of USAA, in 2022.

“Nearly 100 years ago, USAA was formed as a military start-up company, and we’ve never forgotten our entrepreneurial spirit,” Nathan McKinley, USAA’s Vice President of Corporate Development, said. “With more than 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in the United States and countless veterans and military spouses looking for flexible and meaningful employment following their military service, the pitch contest is just one more way we are showing our support and advocacy for the military community and positive contributions they make to our communities.”

Veterans interested in competing can apply to pitch their businesses at one of six regional pitch contests, which will be held in Los Angeles, California on Feb. 17, Austin, Texas on March 24, Chicago, Illinois on April 21, Washington, D.C. on May 26, Seattle, Washington on July 21, and Charlotte, North Carolina on Sept. 15.

Regional top finalists stand to win $10,000 in prize money and second place finalists stand to win $5,000

Up to 36 startups will be allowed to compete in the six regional pitch contests and from there the top ten regional finalists will advance to the finals in San Antonio, Texas in November. The winner of the final contest will receive $100,000, with a second-place prize of $50,000 and a third-place prize of $25,000. There is also a $15,000 prize for the crowd favorite.

For the competition, USAA is partnering with Bunker Labs, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to help military entrepreneurs start their own businesses. USAA has provided the nonprofit more than $2.5 million since 2018 to support military entrepreneurs, including through programs like Veteran in Residence, a six-month business incubator program that provides veterans, military spouses, and military family members with coworking space, local community and national business networking, and targeted support to grow their business.

Interested entrepreneurs can visit Bunker Labs’ website to start the application process.

“As a non-profit that helps aspiring veteran entrepreneurs take their ideas and turn them into impactful businesses, USAA’s support of Bunker Labs sends a profound message that USAA believes in veterans and our military community and has their back,” Bunker Labs CEO Blake Hogan said. “USAA’s 100-Year pitch contest will make a difference in the lives of the winners and help propel them forward.”

Bunker Labs said it will provide each participant in this pitch contest with up to two hours of coaching and preparation prior to their regional pitch.

During the competition, each competitor will have five minutes to pitch their business, with an additional five-minute question and answer session from the panel of judges.

To be eligible for the competition, participants must be active, retired, or separated U.S. veterans with a discharge type of “Honorable” or eligible family members, such as spouses, widows and widowers, and children of active, retired and separated veterans. Entrepreneurs need to have raised less than $5 million in capital, demonstrate traction with some annual revenue (less than $1M in revenue) or an executed pilot.

The competition is open to all business types, with a preference for technology-enabled companies who could hypothetically work with USAA and serve its members, such as financial technology, insurances, cybersecurity companies. Bunker Labs states, “if in doubt, please apply.”