Post-Service Self-Employment: Jumpstarting a Business with BunkerLabs

By Marisa Stern (JD ’18)

When veterans are discharged from service, they look to new resources of income. Historically, a large number of veterans end up working for another corporation. More recently, however, veterans have started to self-employ in hopes of creating their own businesses. Specifically, 25% of the people leaving the military want to start their own businesses. BunkerLabs, a non-profit organization, is helping entrepreneur veterans take ahold of their future. BunkerLabs is a membership-based organization that aims to help veterans whose dreams are to be successful in their own ventures. BunkerLabs understands the various obstacles that veterans face because the organization is primarily run by veterans; the CEO, Todd Connor, is a U.S. Navy veteran.

BunkerLabs was first announced in June 2014; shortly after that, in 2015, the first North Carolina location was launched in Raleigh-Durham. The Raleigh-Durham (RDU) location, like all other BunkerLabs locations, offers an array of resources to veterans to further their business goals. Among the resources is a weekly “Braintrust session.” A Braintrust session is an open forum for all veterans, members, and thought leaders to share ideas and connect with each other. Each session revolves around a different topic or set of topics that are relevant to starting a business. “The program features: curated demonstrations, business pitches by Bunker members, skills-awareness presentations by Bunker mentors, interviews with thought leaders and successful entrepreneurs.”[1]

Additionally, BunkerLabs understands that networking is a key aspect of starting your business and as such uses their membership events and veteran-based relations as a way to facilitate the making of connections. Thus, BunkerLabs has a monthly “Bunker Brews” event. This is a meeting or happy hour in which the BunkerLabs community can network with each other to further develop their business. This environment allows veterans to grow alongside other veterans, and even more so, it allows for veterans to mentor each other. Furthermore, if a veteran specializes in a specific field or starts a particularized business, then that veteran can use this meet up as a way to advertise their business out to the BunkerLabs community. This allows more people to be aware of a new business and to help it prosper by either transacting with the business themselves or by referring the business to friends, family, and other points of contact.

Another program that the RDU BunkerLabs runs is called the “Launch Lab” (previously known as the “Entrepreneurial Program for Innovation and Collaboration,” or EPIC). Launch Lab is an intensive, in-person 12-week program for veterans who have a busy life, but would still like to take classes to learn the rules of the trade. It runs like a traditional educational program, for it requires participants to watch instructional videos and gauges their progress through regular assignments and assessments. Furthermore, there is a laboratory aspect to the program in which participants can experiment with their business concepts and ideas. Thus, this allows participants to figure out what works for them without sacrificing their business or future.

For persons residing outside of a BunkerLabs area, or for persons who are unavailable during scheduled events, BunkerLabs offers a “Bunker in a Box” program. This program is an online platform that allows for an individual to learn the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship and business at a self-scheduled pace. The program is developed around the three themes of Inspire, Educate, and Connection and takes the learner through “14 missions” aimed at learning the information and actively participating in BunkerLabs community discussions.

Overall BunkerLabs is a great resource for veterans, whether you are starting your own business or would just like more insight into the corporate rule. It also provides veterans with a support group because the members come from similar backgrounds and can share their experiences. BunkerLabs is also highly accessible, it is available both online and in-person, and it is only continuing to grow. If you are looking for a way to start your entrepreneurial dream, it seems as though BunkerLabs can provide you with the tools to do so, without consuming all of your time.