Niles veteran-owned business named semi-finalist in Veterans Business Battle

NILES – A Niles business owner with a flair for experimenting with flavors is one of 16 semi-finalists in the Veterans Business Battle hosted by Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Aiye Akhigbe and her business, Sticky Spoons Jam, LLC, will be competing virtually in the competition against the other semi-finalists for cash prizes and funding opportunities.

“My dream has always been that one day, I will be on ‘Shark Tank.’ So, this is the veterans-only ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s kind of an amazing thing,” Akhigbe said.

The competition this year had 110 applicants all together.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time researching grants for veterans and grants for women-owned businesses,” Akhigbe said. “I stated reading more about the Veterans Business Battle in January or February.”

After a year that proved difficult for a business that depends on events and markets to sell products, Akhigbe has been looking for other ways to grow her business.

She found the competition, wrote up a business plan, had her brother and cousin look at it, and made more changes. She created a pitch deck, or marketing presentation to show to potential investors, two days before the application was due.

“You don’t know how many people are going to apply. You don’t know what [the judges] are really looking for,” Akhigbe said. “I knew I qualified based on being a veteran. I hoped to qualify for having a unique business.”

She received an email not long after that she disregarded as a joke. Then, another came through letting her know they needed more information, as she was a semifinalist in the competition.

“Now, I’m waiting for the next step,” Akhigbe said.

She will attend the competition virtually and give her first presentation as a semi-finalist on April 23. The event was completely virtual in 2020.

“Judges will select the top five, who will present their pitches again on April 24 for a chance at prizes totaling $30,000 and financing options,” said Sara Yonker, an event representative from the Veterans Business Battle. “Businesses include new ventures and owner-operated businesses, both seeking investments to expand. All semi-finalists have the potential to receive investment offers.”

Akhigbe said there are veterans in the semi-finalist round who make chocolates and sweets, a consulting company, a software company and even a band.

“It’s just an amazing the diverse group of people who applied for this, who are all under the column of United States military,” Akhigbe said.

Cash prizes for the event include a $15,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place and $5,000 for third place.

The Veterans Business Battle is partnered with NextSeed Securities.

“They’re a registered broker dealer and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority member that works with startups and small businesses to raise capital through an online investment platform,” Yonker said. “The semi-finalists will be featured on a dedicated online platform allowing individuals from the general public to make investments in those companies.”

Akhigbe said the public likely will not be able to watch a live-streamed video of the event, but she will post whatever videos she has to the Sticky Spoons Jam, LLC Facebook page when she has them.

She said friends have asked if they can vote for her business in the competition.

“It’s not a popularity contest, but you can send me good wishes that I don’t stutter during my presentation,” Akhigbe said.

Prior to the competition, on April 17, Sticky Spoons Jam, LLC, will be at The Grand LV selling her jam. On May 2, she will have her jams at the Fraternal Order of Police Post 95 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for an event, as well as the Apple Festival Spring Market on May 15 and 16, where she said she will have her apple pie jam.

More information on the event can be found at its website business.rice.edu/veterans-business-battle.

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