Starting a business can be a challenging and intimidating feat, but one national nonprofit organization has continually proven its ability to aid veteran entrepreneurs in the process.
Bunker Labs was founded by military veteran entrepreneurs who wanted to help fellow veterans start and grow businesses by providing free educational support, training and access to a local network. The organization has nearby chapters in Nashville and Raleigh-Durham, and it’ll soon expand into Atlanta.
“This is not about giving a veteran a fish,” said Kirby Atwell, chief operating officer at Bunker Labs. “It’s about teaching them to fish and provide for the rest of their life.”
The program is designed to walk veterans through the process of creating a startup and helping with common issues many entrepreneurs face.
“When starting a business, you may not know about contracts, accounting, bookkeeping, marketing or fundraising,” said Joseph Sroka, an Atlanta-area veteran and entrepreneur. “Those are all essential elements of success that an entrepreneur can gain by participating in the Bunker Labs program. This allows them to focus on the product or service they are trying to bring to the market and access experts in those other areas.”
Since its inception three years ago, Bunker Labs has expanded to 15 cities, with hopes to reach 20 before the end of 2018.
“Many people think of the military and entrepreneurship as two very distinctive, diverse skillsets,” Sroka explained. “By creating Bunker Labs and moving into these cities, we’re shining a light around the fact that the same skills you would learn in the military are the same things entrepreneurs go through.”
According to Bunker Labs, about 25 percent of active duty military members express an interest in starting and owning their own business, but only 4.5 percent of post-9/11 veterans have actually done so. The organization wants to increase that number across the country—and now in metro Atlanta.
“Atlanta is definitely a market where there’s a lot of veterans and a lot of innovation going on,” said Atwell. “It’s the perfect market for a Bunker Labs.”
The need for an Atlanta chapter was identified through independent research and data collected with the Bunker Labs app. The app serves as a networking tool to connect entrepreneurs. Atlanta veterans took advantage of the application, becoming one of its biggest markets.
Sroka and a group of veterans and volunteers have been leading the ground efforts to establish a Bunker Labs chapter in Atlanta. “We’ve spent the last 12 months creating awareness in the community, fundraising and seeking out mentors and experienced business people who all want to contribute to help veterans in the Atlanta area start businesses,” Sroka added.
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Though Bunker Labs was created specifically for veterans, its impact is far-reaching. The organization has helped participating startups create more than 1,100 jobs and more the than $50 million in revenue. Military veterans account for 10 percent of the jobs created.
Sroka believes Bunker Labs could have a huge impact in metro Atlanta. “We hope to contribute to the Atlanta economy and the Atlanta startup ecosystem by allowing well-qualified veterans to start successful businesses.”
Bunker Labs Atlanta is scheduled to launch mid-2018. Corporations and community foundations interested in sponsoring the local chapter can inquire here.
Lead photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash.