Hanscom FCU awards $25,000 in seed money to veterans and Gold Star Family Members

HANSCOM AFB, MA (June 6, 2022) — Salem, MA, businesswoman Lauren Ayube won a $12,500 first-place prize at the recent Mass Fallen Heroes InnoVets Business Expo & Pitch Competition held in Boston. Ayube, a Gold Star wife, pitched her business, The Salem Plant Witch, LLC, along with four other competitors.

In a “Shark Tank-style” pitch competition before a panel of four judges, Ayube made a compelling case for the successful future of The Salem Plant Witch, which specializes in easy-care plants and plant displays for individuals and wholesale marketing. Her business offers plant-care classes and consultations for troubleshooting issues in container gardens, and home and retail assessments to help plant owners make informed decisions on the appropriate plants. The Salem Plant Witch also works with clients to make spaces more hospitable to container gardening.

Speaking about the experience afterwards, Ayube said in a phone interview, “I’ve never done anything like this before and I usually don’t put myself out there, so it was exciting for me. When they said I’d won, I don’t think I heard them at first. I was shocked. Everyone else had really good ideas and were so passionate about their products.”

“Lauren has developed a business that brings joy to people’s lives, and she showcased her range of products and services well during the pitch competition,” said Peter Rice, Hanscom FCU’s President/CEO and a judge for the event. “Lauren is keeping her Gold Star family’s legacy alive through her works and deeds. Through her company she’s also sharing the peace and joy that cultivating green spaces has brought her with others, and helping them learn to connect with nature on their own. She’s clearly found her purpose and has a solid business plan, which showed in her presentation at the InnoVets Pitch Competition.”

Ayube plans to use her seed money to hire someone to work on her website ( and to conduct research and development on design ideas she’d like to get out into the marketplace.

Rice added, “All of the veteran entrepreneurs who participated in the pitch competition were examples of the tenacious spirit that military life brings forth. It was a fantastic night that showcased inspiring business stories from five incredible purpose-driven leaders. It was truly moving to hear the stories of people who not only defended our freedoms, but who also want to carve out their own paths to prosperity in their civilian lives.”

The other presenters who participated in the InnoVets Pitch Competition included:

  • Erik Diedrichsen, U.S. Army Veteran, who won second place with $7,500 in seed money for Riverbend Resources’ Poultry Pro Feeder
  • Seth Jordan, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, who won third place with $5,000 in seed money for ServeDao
  • Darlene Flores, U.S. Army Veteran, Karaya Wellness, LLC
  • Nicholas Vardaro, U.S. Army Veteran, South Shore Dog Waste Removal


In addition to Hanscom Federal Credit Union’s contribution of the $25,000 in seed money, the credit union is providing financial counseling and support to these Veteran and Gold Star family businesses through their association with InnoVets and Mass Fallen Heroes.

The InnoVets Business Expo & Pitch Competition for Veteran and Gold Star family entrepreneurs was hosted by Mass Fallen Heroes as part of their 10-day Patriot Week celebration from May 21 through May 31, 2022. The May 25 event was presented by Hanscom Federal Credit Union. Besides Peter Rice of Hanscom FCU, the judges included David Bellavia, Medal of Honor Recipient, U.S. Army Veteran; Jack Child, Co-founder of Veteran Service Brands; and Brian Shortsleeve, Founder M33 Growth, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran.

The Mass Fallen Heroes InnoVets program is Boston’s first Veteran and Gold Star family-focused entrepreneurship accelerator program designed to connect, inspire, and support Veterans and Gold Star families as they establish and grow their businesses.  In collaboration with sponsors like Hanscom Field Credit Union, corporations, investors, educational institutions and associations, InnoVets provides dedicated resources and opportunities to Veteran and Gold Star family entrepreneurs in Massachusetts.

Hanscom FCU’s seed money donation is part of the community support channeled through Hanscom FCU Charitable Foundation, which has donated more than $1.5 million in support of Veterans, Gold Star families, and underserved members of the community. “Providing support for those who have served our country and their families is in our DNA,” said Rice. “Supporting the personal and business dreams of those in the military community is at the heart of our values. Veteran entrepreneurs in particular need support from their local communities. Nearly half say that finding resources is not easy, and even when they do find funding, often it is just not enough for their business to survive. Incredibly, almost all of them, 94 percent, don’t give up even in the face of those difficulties. We see this event as a tangible way to gather community support to deliver on the promise that America holds. We congratulate Mass Fallen Heroes for their relaunch of their InnoVets program and are honored to be part of their work on behalf of veterans and Gold Star families.”


Peter Rice, Hanscom FCU President/CEO with first-place InnoVets Competition winner Lauren Ayube of The Salem Plant Witch, LLC.

About Hanscom Federal Credit Union

Hanscom Federal Credit Union is a purpose-driven organization based in Littleton, MA, empowering its members to achieve financial wellness. Guided by its five core values of Members First, Integrity, Teamwork, Innovation and Empathy, Hanscom FCU serves more than 95,000 members across the country and overseas through 21 branches, more than 100,000 surcharge-free ATMs, 5,000 service centers, and a web-based branch. The credit union holds $1.9 billion in assets. Follow Hanscom FCU on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter, and check out our MoneyWisdom blog today.


Alexander Caswell
Regan Communications Group




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