Military Veteran Entrepreneurs

As soon as I learned about Bunker Labs’ mission from Andrew Schwab at the First Flight Venture Center in Research Triangle Park, I made it a priority to get to know them, eager to offer my assistance.

Bunker Labs is the Chicago-based national service organization founded and built by former active duty military to help other veterans become entrepreneurs: 250,000 men and women from all branches of military service are scheduled to muster out each of the next 4 years, and 25% are interested in starting their own ventures, so Bunker Labs has a big job ahead of them.

veterans twice as likely

Founded barely two years ago, Bunker Labs member companies have generated $17.5 million in revenue and have 290 employees. Bunker Labs has local chapters in 12 markets—they were in 8 when I first introduced myself four months ago—and I met Dean Bundschu, the Executive Director of RDU Bunker Labs (Raleigh-Durham) and former Infantry Office in the Army, and Michael Penney, the local chapter’s Program Manager, a former Marine NCO.

When I found how impressive they were at telling their extraordinary stories of service to our country I invited them to speak to my Duke class last spring. They talked about their military experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and about how often they had to rely on entrepreneurial skills there and how they are making their way as entrepreneurs and creative professionals now—they each have a couple of start-ups active, Dean has a couple earlier successes under his belt—and students let me know they found them to be powerful speakers.

Later this spring Michael and I organized and I conducted an evening creativity workshop for RDU Bunker Labs member companies; along with a few other invited guests there were 25 of us who had a blast together. Andy Schwab generously hosted it at the First Flight Venture Center.

todd connor

A couple of weeks ago I met Bunker Labs CEO and founder, Todd Connor, a former Navy Lieutenant. Along with driving Bunker Labs’ growth he is the founder of Flank 5 Academy, a successful career development venture. He is a dynamic leader (everywhere I look at Bunker Labs, there’s the most generative leadership vibe happening). I learned a lot in our hour long discussion, and was so impressed with all they accomplished with their Bunker Burst, a one day innovation workshop that Bunker Labs hosted in partnership with the United States Naval Institute to spur new ideas to big challenges facing the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

muster rdu

When I learned that Bunker Labs next big event is in my town I volunteered to help. Muster RDU will be a full day of programs and workshops to help veterans who are considering entrepreneurship gain access to the resources, programs and community they need to help transform their military experience into business success.

Just one measure of Bunker Labs’ success is how quickly major corporations are supporting their good work; this event is sponsored by MetLife Military Veterans Network, an employee-based diversity business network at MetLife that advocates for and supports the military community, JPMorgan Chase and Company, Cisco, and The Research Triangle Park Foundation.

Muster RDU is FREE to veterans and tickets are $50 for the general public. It will be held at the MetLife Global Technology Campus in Cary, NC on Thursday, September 22, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. I look forward to seeing you there.

Bunker Builds America – Raleigh-Durham Muster

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