About 1 in 10 businesses nationwide are veteran-owned — according to the Small Business Administration, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans. When first starting out, they often need to take advantage of their local startup communities to learn how to translate the skills they learned in the field or to grow their network when it’s time to scale.
“The biggest challenge that veterans face, in all honesty, is the transition out of the military to the civilian world and not having a network,” says Dean Bundschu, executive director at entrepreneurship incubator Bunker Labs Raleigh-Durham and a veteran entrepreneur. “That’s a big reason why in addition to the education, we focus on building a community.”
Bunker Labs helps early-stage, veteran-owned businesses and veteran entrepreneurs to provide those much-needed connections through programming, mentorship, events, and a national support network of 500+ veterans. The Raleigh-Durham location is one of 15 hubs, including headquarters in Chicago.
Many of the startup founders that go through the program are already familiar with the technology they are working with. In fact, 36.4 percent of new veteran entrepreneurs indicated that they made use of one or more technologies while on active duty service that were of “direct relevance to the operation” of their new business, per their most recent national annual report.
The incubator offers four phases to help these entrepreneurs go from idea to growth stage, raise capital, and scale their business. The first, Bunker in a Box, offers an online, gamified platform for founders to learn the basics of growing a business. The program has 14 immersive “missions” to complete that include networking and focusing your initial idea.
As a complement, the organization offers a networking event called Bunker Brews, a monthly meetup for members to mingle with like-minded founders, investors, and other local leaders. Once your idea has legs, founders can join the 12-week Epic cohort to test and accelerate their ideas.
“It’s not only the connection to the community, but the connection to other like-minded veterans and the value that brings,” says Bundschu. “On average, we’ll run anywhere between 20-25 events across North Carolina. We bring in top-notch guest speakers to provide inspiration, community leaders, and other veteran entrepreneurs.”
Once the startup launches, CEOs can join the CEO Circle for continued support and scaling opportunities.
“It’s heavy in terms of mentorship and peer-to-peer support,” says Bundschu. “It’s still a lot of peer-to-peer with the purpose of helping businesses actually grow.”
Bunker Labs’ portfolio companies have raised over $25 million in capital and realized over $50 million in revenue, according to their national report.
After founding his own startup Prep Champs, a platform that helped high school sports players get recruited, and raising $2.2M in working capital from private investors, Bundschu recruited other veterans to help grow his business. He eventually made his way to Bunker Labs. With support of MetLife and JP Morgan Chase, Bundschu was able to expand the model to other communities in North Carolina.
According to Bunker Labs, military veterans are 30 percent more likely to employ other veterans.
“One thing you don’t want to do as an entrepreneur is make it be a solitary adventure, it’s already difficult enough,” says Bundschu. “Plugging in with folks that have either been in your shoes or are in the same boat is super important. And that’s why we try to do things to facilitate the whole entire peer-to-peer connections.”
The Bunker Labs Raleigh-Durham hub has supported over 250 veteran-owned businesses in over 18 months with 70+ supported directly through their incubator program.
Photos courtesy of Bunker Labs