R.I.S.E. Program Graduates Share Their Experience In New Program

The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, part of Florida State University’s College of Business, in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), recently graduated 37 military veterans and veteran family members from the inaugural R.I.S.E. (Resilience. Innovate. Sustain. Evaluate.) cohort in late October.

Focused on pivoting a business through uncertain times, the six-week, online program covered relevant topics small businesses have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics included redetermining a company’s business model, content ideation, rebranding for reopening, determining a sustainable growth rate and strategic assessment.

Recently, the Jim Moran Institute’s Events and Marketing Coordinator Nicolette Hoffman caught up with two of our R.I.S.E. graduates, Ericka McKim and Edwin Rivera, to learn more about their businesses. Both spoke about their experience throughout the six weeks, and described how the tools and training they gained from R.I.S.E. helped them to pivot and grow their businesses during the pandemic and resultant economic downturn.

With more than 11 years of experience in the augmented reality (AR) field and six years of experience in consulting, Edwin Rivera, a graduate of the R.I.S.E. program, developed Charlie Golf One (CG1) Solutions in early 2016. CG1 Solutions is a certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business software development company with a strong focus on providing consulting services, specifically in the AR sector.

Rivera attributes his participation in the inaugural program with helping to expand CG1 Solutions from a project-based company to a product-based company with a focus on producing AR products for health systems.

“One of the biggest challenges for AR is valuable content. Based on the intel we received from our customers in 2019 and getting accepted into the R.I.S.E. program, the writing was on the wall to make a push towards launching products that the healthcare system is lacking,” Rivera said. “If I could describe the product we are going to launch, it is basically a subscription-based Netflix platform for AR content.”

CG1 Solutions and Rivera’s goal is to launch the company’s first product, The A.R.C., which stands for Augmented Reality Content, in early 2021. “The perfect timing of entering the R.I.S.E. program, combined with the assignments and trainings I was learning helped me figure out that my initial product idea was not just an emotional decision based on the severity of the pandemic and our economic climate, but that it was actually the perfect timing to make this pivot and dive into expanding into not only a consulting company, but a product based company as well,” he said.

Rivera’s unit was deployed to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991. He was a dedicated member of the Marine Corps Reserves from 1989 to 1995, and now is a proud U.S. veteran.

Ericka McKim, owner and founder of And I Like It Cheesecakes, is also a recent graduate of the inaugural R.I.S.E. cohort. McKim never planned to produce cheesecakes or own her own business. In fact, her goal was to become a chiropractor after enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 2004 , with a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of North Texas.. McKim medically retired from the U.S. Navy in 2014 from joint and bone damage after serving and traveling worldwide for more than nine years as a Gunner’s Mate.

“When I got out of the military, I had to move back home to live with my parents to recover from the severity of the health issues I was facing” McKim said. “I couldn’t sleep for more than two hours each night. My body was just falling apart.”

McKim felt that many factors that led to her medical retirement was that she had severe gluten sensitivities and was addicted to sugar. The result was broken down joints, gut issues, sleepless nights from cramping muscles, brain fogginess and major weight gain.

“I knew I needed to change my eating habits, but it was not an easy road,” she said. “Most foods I tried that were gluten-free and sugar-free tasted horrible.” The concept of And I Like It Cheesecakes launched in 2017 when McKim and her sister, Mikeal, started to test out clean recipes to find the perfect mix of ingredients that blended nicely and were actually enjoyable. Since the company’s launch, And I Like It Cheesecakes has grown from $4,000 in sales revenue in 2017 to more than $120,000 in sales revenue in 2020. McKim learned about the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) programs after attending the 2019 Veteran EDGE Conference hosted by IVMF.

“After attending EDGE, I knew I wanted to participate in an EBV program, but I was never been able to take time off to travel for a specific training,” McKim said. “R.I.S.E. ended up being the perfect solution when it came down to timeframe and flexibility, since it was offered online and I knew I could participate while maintaining my busy schedule.”

To be eligible for the R.I.S.E. program, applicants must have been a military veteran or first-degree military family member who owns or maintains 50% or more of a small business, have been operating the business for at least one year and have a need to expand or pivot their business. Graduates of other IVMF programs were also eligible to participate.

“My two main goals entering into the R.I.S.E. program were to work on my website and to manufacture my products to scale my business, and I have been able to do both of these with the resources and trainings available to me during the six-week program,” McKim said. “R.I.S.E. also helped me take a step forward in expanding when it comes to product marketing, product labeling, sales and more.”

As a result of the generous support of Jan Moran, her late husband Jim Moran, The Jim Moran Foundation and the IVMF, the inaugural R.I.S.E. program was offered at no cost to participants.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, the Jim Moran Institute recognized an overwhelming need for small business owners to alter their business models in order to survive and ultimately thrive during these unprecedented times,” said Melissa Roberts, managing director of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship. “We are so are proud to have taken a leading role in assisting veteran entrepreneurs like Edwin and Ericka to retool their operations and grow their businesses.” For more information about the R.I.S.E. program, please contact Lindsey Boomer at lboomer@jimmoraninstitute.fsu.edu.