FORT MYERS, Fla. (May 27, 2016) – The Frank Stern Compassionate Shark Tank for Veterans awarded two grants on Sunday, May 22 during the final phase of the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. The grants were made from the FAR MAR Fund, a fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
The top prize of $10,000 was awarded to Stephen Berge for his construction supply sourcing company BRAVO, and the runner-up, receiving $5,000, was Cindy Latsko for her Onsite RN concept to provide education to chronically ill patients.
Stephen Berge is from Cape Coral and served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2008 and has a service connected disability. He was an engineer in the Marines, and after working in construction and manufacturing, he is currently an emergency room nurse. Recently, he decided to finally go forward with an idea for a construction material company based on drop shipments of specialty products.
Cindy Latsko served in the Army from 1993 to 1996 and has a service connected disability. She is originally from Chicago but now resides in Naples. She served just less than four years active duty Army as a 97E (Russian interrogator) and was stationed in Fort Carson, Colo. During her military service, she completed her Bachelor of Arts in sociology. After she was medically discharged, the Department of Veteran Affairs paid for her to go back to school where she obtained a master’s degree in community counseling. She enjoyed working one-on-one helping people as a licensed professional counselor. Latsko wanted to also help people physically, not just emotionally, so when her marriage dissolved almost seven years ago, she and her daughter moved to Florida. She went back to school and received an associate degree in nursing and now works as a registered nurse in home health and hospice. She truly loves what she does and is ready to start taking some chances and become an entrepreneur in order to create a better and more secure future her family.
FGCU’s Institute for Entrepreneurship facilitated Phase II of The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program with 45 veterans participating in hands-on workshops with FGCU faculty, staff and mentors from within the local community to start, grow or revamp their businesses.
The veterans’ business ideas ranged from products and services to the nonprofit sector. Phase II of the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program was held at FGCU’s Emergent Technologies Institute (ETI) for three weekends in May. The newly built facility has helped foster an environment of innovation where participants may establish their ideas and brainstorm with peers, mentors and facilitators.
“Our team at FGCU was inspired by the passion and tenacity of our veteran entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Sandra Kauanui, director for the Institute for Entrepreneurship. “Each veteran was dedicated and worked hard to develop a plan to launch their startups while remaining focused on adding value to their community.”
The final phase of the program concluded with the Frank Stern Compassionate Shark Tank for Veterans where the veterans were able to pitch their ideas to local investors and business leaders.
Frank Stern was a self-made millionaire who never dressed the part or lived extravagantly.
Every dollar he saved – more than $4 million during a 14-year span – was endowed to a donor-advised fund at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation upon his death at age 95 in February 2014.
“It is people like Frank who inspire us in our work to do everything we can as effectively and efficiently as possible to create change in our region,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
Stern made his fortune in real estate investment and development during the first wave of seasonal residents to Fort Myers and Cape Coral in the mid 1900s. Born in Wisconsin, Stern tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit in high school, renovating and selling Ford motorcars. He was working toward a business degree at the University of Texas during the onset of World War II. Stern went to flight school and was stationed in England and flew unarmed recognizance missions into enemy territory. He retired as a major in the U.S. Air Force and was active in its reserve program for 20 years. He established his permanent roots in the Fort Myers area in the 1960s.
About the Institute for Entrepreneurship
The Institute for Entrepreneurship is facilitated by Florida Gulf Coast University’s Lutgert College of Business and U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering. Dr. Sandra Kauanui is the director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and has worked hard, along with her colleagues in engineering, to develop an outstanding program to facilitate growth and entrepreneurship within the community. The Institute provides students with genuine support and a strong foundation of knowledge from which to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations. This is accomplished through the combined efforts of FGCU faculty, student graduates and a variety of community partners in Southwest Florida. The Institute strives to create camaraderie between these groups and emphasize the need for an entrepreneurial spirit between FGCU and its constituents. For more information on the Institute for Entrepreneurship, contact Dr. Kauanui at [email protected].
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Community Foundation connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, it has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants. For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com.