Business Plan Challenge

Helping veterans is mission of VetNet

There are more than 20 million veterans in the United States. Many of them, especially the vets returning from combat, face unemployment. Some return with PTSD and have succumbed to alcohol or drug abuse to cope. Too many have committed suicide.

This team of tech-savvy high school juniors from Ransom Everglades asked, “How can we help?”

“This is a huge problem that needs to be addressed, considering these are veterans who once risked their lives to protect us. Our app connects veterans with organizations and people who could potentially solve these problems,” wrote Carlos Esber, Austin Acosta and Julian Zighelboim in their entry in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. This team took third place in the high school track. Judges lauded the app idea and well-researched plan.

VetNet would help veterans combat issues including unemployment, lack of resources such as mental health therapy and isolation.

The team explained that the app would connect veterans to local job openings and feature businesses that have launched campaigns to hire vets. The app would also connect vets to organizations such as Veteran Jobs Mission, a group of big businesses that came together to hire veterans. Veterans struggling to make ends meet could access an interactive map of nearby stores and restaurants with discounts for veterans. A social networking component could link veterans with other vets who have been through similar experiences.

“Another very important aspect of our app would be the mental health section,” said Austin, who wants to pursue business and entrepreneurship in college. “[Users] could be connected to resources such as Give An Hour, a nonprofit that offers free therapy to veterans. The mental health section will also include a suicide hotline and an emergency contact list.”

The team envisions making money primarily through app ad revenue, which could increase exponentially as more veterans use the app.

Their idea started in their Advanced Placement macro-micro economics class at Ransom, where all the students worked on business plans. “I loved the concept behind VetNet as soon as Austin, Carlos and Julian pitched the idea to our class,” said their teacher, Jennifer Nero. “Their heartfelt presentation made the compelling case for the need for an innovative and comprehensive platform that can provide opportunities for veterans.”

VetNet made it into the finals at the school contest in March with three other Ransom teams. VetNet didn’t win but “the feedback the judges gave us ... improved our app and business idea as a whole,” said Julian, who is interested in the math and sciences and plays soccer competitively.

“The judges did not like our financials so we scrapped them and redid them for the Miami Herald. The financials we put in the Miami Herald [contest] better accounted for software costs, monthly app updates and development,” added Carlos, a junior who is also interested in the STEM fields, and may pursue chemical engineering in college. “In researching costs of developing an app, we discovered they varied a lot. The app we needed that would help 20 million veterans would cost a lot more.”

Miami Herald judges noted the financials showed “great recognition of the reality of the business” and that overall the plan showed strong potential for ad revenue to fuel the team’s important social mission.

The team may continue to work on VetNet. Each has summer plans that will help them grow their business and entrepreneurship acumen.

Austin will be doing an internship at The LAB Miami, an entrepreneurship center in Wynwood; he also is starting a “politically charged fashion line” with friends. Carlos will be working at a business consulting firm in New York City. Julian will be participating in soccer showcases to line up college opportunities, and he also wants to do charity work in Haiti.

“We had a really good time thinking of these ideas and we think this whole business challenge was a great opportunity to learn about the world of entrepreneurship,” Julian said.

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