Iraq veteran wins 2013 New Venture Competition

(l–r): Jim Tolbert, Robert Bibbo, Dave Bear, Mary Bear, and Chancellor Jerrilee K. Mosier


$20,000 start-up funds to aid military-themed apparel, accessories company

While each of the 2013 New Venture Competition finalists presented their business plans to their friends, family members, and 40 judges taking notes in the crowd, just off to the speakers’ left loomed one of those enormous checks—the kind that promises big-time funds and a giggle from a bank teller were someone to try and cash it.

It was made out for $20,000 and signed by Dave Bear, president of JB Tool, Die & Engineering Inc., the sponsor of the New Venture Competition. But the “Pay to the order of” line was blank, waiting for score cards to be tallied.

At the end of the evening, computer information technology major Robert Bibbo was named the 2013 New Venture champion. In its third year, the competition awards an Ivy Tech Community College Northeast student or alumnus entrepreneur with start-up funds. Local business professionals judge the competition based on the finalists’ presentations and responses during a question-and-answer period.

Jim Tolbert, business administration assistant professor and head of New Venture, said the idea for the competition came to him from a question he often asks his classes. He will introduce himself on the first day of classes and say he owned a small business for 20 years.

“‘I’m just curious to know if anyone here has ever thought about starting his or her own business.’  Forty to 50 percent of the students raise their hands every semester,” Tolbert says. “I thought, ‘There’s something here, and I wonder what it would be like if we found a way to help a student launch a business each year.’”

When Bibbo was announced as the 2013 New Venture winner, Bibbo stood and turned to his daughter, Nina, a fellow student at Ivy Tech Northeast. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged her dad.

“I know that things like this are very special,” Bibbo said to the crowd of about 70 in his thank you speech on the Coliseum Campus. “Being a service member myself, I know what I’ll be able to do for other service members. This check is a large part of what I’ll be able to do for them.”

Bibbo’s is a military-themed clothing and accessories company. American Combat Veteran Clothing specializes in T-shirts to memorialize those killed in action and honor America’s veterans and service men and women.

Bibbo served in Iraq in 2008–09, and he came up with the idea for his company while he was overseas. During deployment, he entered a T-shirt design competition. He didn’t win, but it planted the seed of an idea, which bloomed into American Combat Veteran Clothing.

Bibbo’s goal is to employ only veterans, and his market research has shown that the vast majority of respondents would prefer to buy from veteran-made clothing companies. He plans to donate 20 percent of all profits to non-profit veteran organizations, such as Operation Honor Our Heroes, whose mission it is to meet the needs of wounded veterans and their families.

Plus, because Bibbo is attending school on the GI Bill, officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, he can afford to work for free until his company makes a profit.

With his winnings, Bibbo says, he wants to buy a new transfer machine, which is how he puts images on his T-shirts, make a bulk order of American-made shirts, and expand his advertising.

“I’m going to hire at least one vet to do the labor in the beginning so I can concentrate on marketing the business,” he says.

“Our unique selling point is hard to beat: A combat vet creating jobs for other vets, creating clothing for other veterans.”

Where are they now?

Jon-Paul Capito, last year’s New Venture champion, is the founder of DeRossi. The company started by offering custom shirts with imported fabrics but has expanded to include custom bags and shoes. DeRossi launched an iPad application this year that helps customers create and view their own designs. DeRossi can be found at DeRossiCo.com.


Olivia Fabian won the inaugural New Venture Competition, in 2011. Her company, OFabz Swimwear, specializes in retro bikinis. They are available online at OFabz.com, as well as other online retailers and brick-and-mortar locations in the United States and overseas including Australia, Great Britain, and Germany. OFabz Swimwear can be found in Fort Wayne at Belyst, 6380 W. Jefferson Blvd.