Fans of local bakery Jodycakes know the woman behind the cakes as Jody Stevens. As one of the city's chief purveyors of gluten-free goodies for nearly a decade, her creations have earned rave reviews for being nearly indiscernable from their gluten-filled counterparts. What they may not know is that Stevens is a veteran of the US Air Force, having served in the 57th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron stationed in Keflavik, Iceland from 1990 to 1993.
Jodycakes is one of an estimated 21,000 veteran-owned businesses across America, and though Stevens has successfully grown her bakery from a part-time gig into a full-time job since baking her first few gluten-free cupcakes in 2006, she's ready to move into a larger commercial space—perhaps even a storefront of her own. Which is how she ended up applying for a spot in this weekend's Entrepreneurs' Organization-Houston Veterans Business Battle.
"I found out about the opportunity in mid-January with a short turnaround to submit my business plan to be reviewed," says Stevens. That opportunity? The chance to pitch her business plan to a panel of investors—including the Houston Angel Network and Amegy Bank—at Rice University in conjunction with the school's Veterans in Business Association.
"I did a short bio and two-minute video in the kitchen explaining why I was a great candidate to be considered," says Stevens. She explained not only her gluten-free niche—a market that was still greatly underserved when Stevens began baking in 2006—but also the local Hindu market, which has its own set of dietary restrictions; Stevens's eggless cakes cater to this growing population with equal success. She sent in the bio and the video, then waited—but not for long.
"I found out about two weeks later that I had been chosen as one of 14 finalists out of 146 submissions nationwide," Stevens beams. Of those 14 finalists, Stevens is one of five Houston-area business owners and one of only two women. Her first pitch will take place this Saturday morning in the Shell Auditorium in front of both judges and investors, followed by a lunch hosted by keynote speaker Lt. Col. Oliver North. "If chosen," she says, "I'll move on to another round of presentations that afternoon."
Winners will be announced in three categories, which will split $1 million in investment money: a start-up category, a growth category, and a voted-upon crowd favorite. North will be back again to announce those winners at a special dinner at The Wynden in the Galleria, tickets to which have already sold out. Regardless of whether or not Stevens wins, however, she's simply happy to be representing some of the most inventive veteran-owned businesses in the nation. "I'm so honored to have been chosen for this opportunity."