In a partnership with Google for Startups, Bunker Labs will soon bring to Raleigh a six-month program to 10 startups led by military veterans. Called Bunker Basecamp, the program aims to benefit veterans and military spouse entrepreneurs by providing access to shared work space, resources and community while they develop their business models. Applications are open until Aug. 18.
Transitioning back to civilian life as a veteran can be difficult. That’s exactly what Bunker Labs, with its 25 chapters nationwide including one in the Triangle, is designed to address. The organization emerged from a desire by CEO Todd Connor, who served in the Navy on the USS Bunker Hill, to help military veterans find a sense of purpose by launching their own businesses, just like he did.
“When I got out of the Navy, I was personally searching for that sense of mission, that sense of fulfillment that you get sort of packaged and handed to you in the military when you’re in uniform,” Connor said. “But it’s harder to access, frankly, when you’re a civilian. And I really found that inspiration and that sense of purpose through entrepreneurship by starting my own business.”
In addition to access to physical space and mentors, startups in the Bunker Basecamp cohort will participate in weekly workshops and receive publicity and connections to potential funding in a six-month experience that will culminate with each startup delivering a pitch at a final event. Connor estimates Bunker Labs will receive 20-30 applications per city—it’s launching in Atlanta as well as Raleigh—and said Bunker Basecamp is looking for early-stage startups just past the idea stage.
Connor said the Bunker Labs vision is to empower the dreams of the military veteran community, which he believes goes beyond just businesses.
“It transcends a financial model,” Connor said. “It’s actually about the lived aspirations and dreams that the military veteran community holds dear, and that I believe we have a sacred duty to honor. Entrepreneurship is just a vehicle to do that.”
The Google partnership provides one-on-one mentorship for startups in the program with Google advisers. Google for Startups has also recently partnered with Durham-based Veteran Capital, which places veterans and military spouses in three-month fellowships at high-growth tech startups in the Triangle. (We wrote about the program in March.)
“Google is such an exciting and relevant platform for anybody who’s wanting to start a business,” Connor said. “From their brand reputation, their ability to provide their suite of services to entrepreneurs, as well as the financial support that they’re lending this effort really makes them an exciting and distinct partner for us.”
It Takes A Village
Connecting veteran entrepreneurs with community is essential, Connor said. This is one advantage that cohort members will gain in Bunker Basecamp.
“The biggest thing that entrepreneurs need is a squad of cheerleaders, friends and supporters that they can lean on to accelerate their learning and their thinking, as well as find the camaraderie and emotional support for when things are hard,” Connor said. “The reality is, things are hard when you’re starting a business and there’s a lot of wisdom that you can borrow, if you will, from people who have been down the road you’re going down.”
Ultimately, Bunker Basecamp will help the veteran community bring their entrepreneur dreams to life. Entrepreneurship, Connor said, allows veterans self-expression, self-determination and financial freedom, which the veterans and military spouses can use to make an impact much larger than themselves.
“What we know about the veteran community is that when they are successful, they give back to the community,” Connor said. “Their lives are transformed. Their families are transformed, and ultimately our country is transformed. We think that there’s secondary and tertiary effects of military veterans and military spouses becoming successful entrepreneurs, that it casts a benefit over all of us in society.”