Bunker Labs: Investing in Entrepreneurial Veterans
Updated on Apr 18 2018
National nonprofit, Bunker Labs, helps veterans start their next project, build a business or expand their networks to find their next career. Senior veterans are benefiting from this program as many of them are able to launch second careers and stay in the workforce longer.
Veterans transitioning from the military to civilian life now have access to a network of local entrepreneurs to help support them during that transition phase. Standing united, business leaders, volunteers and veterans help empower veterans who want to start their own business after leaving the military.
Jake Tozier, Bunker Lab’s Seattle Chapter Co-Founder, Program Director and U.S. Army veteran, comments:
“It’s important to get past the veteran stereotype and empower veterans through entrepreneurship. This past year has been ‘eye-opening’ as the possibilities are limitless. The senior veteran community has the opportunity to be more self-identifying. Bunker Labs in Seattle helps demystify the possibilities and set people up for success by providing them with the resources and education to succeed if they’re running into work obstacles, no matter their age. The program pillars: Inspire, Connect and Educate help to set veterans up for success to rewrite the veteran narrative.”
Enabling Senior Veteran Networking and Career Opportunities
America is in a bit of financial trouble as seniors are beginning to retire; many of whom are in their early 60s, have not saved big enough nest eggs and could possibly live decades longer draining government resources. Economists refer to the issue as the ‘Silver Tsunami’ as more than 20 percent of America’s population will be retired, flooding the already struggling U.S. healthcare system. The longer Americans can work and find enjoyment and pride in their work the American economy as a whole is in better shape.
Being an entrepreneur is a natural fit for many veterans and their skillset. Typically, the hours go beyond the typical ‘nine-to-five’ business day and leadership, problem-solving and perseverance – skills that are all learned in the military. Perhaps this is why it’s not uncommon for senior veterans to be business owners.
“Veteran business owners are much older than business owners, in general. In 2012, 74 percent of veteran business owners were age 55 and older compared to 41 percent of business owners of the general population,” Tozier notes. Nearly half of World War II veterans started their own business, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military families, but less than five percent of veterans who have served since September 11, 2001 have done the same. Tozier continues, “We give veterans the support they need to pursue their own businesses ventures.”
Basically, Bunker Labs helps veterans network and connects them with resources, educational classes and other tools they need to help prepare them and give them confidence to succeed as small business owners. “We host expert roundtables and a series of evening classes to walk newly returned veterans through the startup process, including pitching to investors. There are also monthly ‘bunker brews’ for networking and socializing,” discusses Tozier.
Partnering with WeWork to Help Veterans
Bunker Labs is also partnering with WeWork to provide a Veterans in Residence (ViR) program, or a “fully sponsored workspace to ten tribes of ten veteran leaders across ten cities every six months.” Veterans and military spouses are also eligible to apply to be part of this helpful program which is opening doors for veterans and their families.
Tozier discusses that he “feels inspired to be a part of an organization that helps so many veterans succeed.” He notes, “Changing the stereotype is part of Bunker Lab’s mission. We’re working to transform that narrative from the broken veteran to the empowered veteran.”
Veterans Who Have Launched Second Careers Successfully
Many veterans gathered at the Veterans in Residence Launch party a couple weeks ago at the WeWork South Lake Union location to celebrate. A couple of them discuss how they have successfully launched second careers and are very fulfilled in their entrepreneurial roles.
Steven Cameron, Director of Strategic Concepts at Intrinsic Ventures and Management Consultant at Chartering the Course Leadership Consulting, LLC, discusses his journey:
“I recently started my own consulting business. My history in the Air Force and then working many years for a Fortune 500 Company has helped me transition to this new role of helping others succeed. I have been able to leverage my diverse experience to help solve life’s biggest, most meaningful challenges to help others achieve their unique goals. I really enjoy what I do as I feel like I make a difference—and there’s something really energizing about that. I feel like I am following my purpose and my passion.”
Another veteran and entrepreneur, Brenda Wilson, started the company DieHard RC which is centered on Remote Control Sports and STEM focused fun for the whole family. She is also starting a nonprofit to provide therapy to veterans who suffer from PTSD and mobility issues. She comments:
“Deciding to leave the security of a bi-weekly paycheck and all the benefits that comes with a corporate career was difficult and really scared me—and still does some days. However, when I wake up on fire with ideas about how to support our community, veterans and youth, I don’t feel as scared because I know that if I continue to push forward, follow my dreams and tell our story, the rest will fall into place. Don’t get me wrong it is a lot of work; but now when I am working at 10pm I don’t feel drained — instead I feel empowered.”
Steven and Brenda are just a couple of the many veterans who can benefit from entrepreneurial veteran’s benefits. King County is home to at least 127,000 current and former members of the U.S. military, Army Reserves, and the National Guard of varying races, ages, genders and interests.
A New Veteran’s Benefit: Helping Veterans Succeed in Their Own Business Pursuits
While the pervasive idea that most veterans battle PTSD or addiction, Bunker Labs and WeWork seeks to replace that narrative with one that depicts veterans as highly-skilled leaders. The senior veteran demographic is benefiting from the business education, network and resources.
In fact, helping veterans succeed in their own business pursuits is a veteran benefit with a spin. Bunker Labs empowers, teaches and supports veterans to reach their individual small business goals at any age. The WeWork partnership provides a space for veterans to turn their goals into a reality. As Jake Tozier relays, “We’re helping people not only find their way in the world after transitioning from the field, we’re also helping them feel proud to be veterans.” A worthy cause, we have to agree, as people are working well into their 70s in the 21st century.
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About Bunker Labs
Bunker Labs is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization built by military veteran entrepreneurs to empower other military veterans as leaders in innovation. Through local chapters organized in 12 different cities, Bunker Labs provides educational programming, mentors, events, and thriving local networks to help military veterans start and grow businesses.
Bunker Labs works to inspire, educate, and connect veterans with the right people and the right resources to be successful as entrepreneurs and as innovators. Additionally, our online platform, Bunker in a Box, gives active duty and veterans worldwide access to entrepreneurship education, complete with dozens of interviews with military veterans who have successfully started a diverse array of businesses.
About WeWork’s Veterans in Residence (ViR) Program
WeWork’s ViR program is a national partnership with Bunker Labs to help veterans start their next project, build a business, or expand their networks and find their next career. WeWork provides fully sponsored workspace to 10 tribes of 10 veteran leaders across 10 cities every six months, and veterans and military spouses are eligible to apply. Bunker Labs provides the network, knowledge, and the resources to help those veterans and military spouses succeed as small business owners.