Throughout our nation’s history, many military veterans have transitioned from the battlefield to the boardroom, served well by attributes such as discipline, hard work and strategy. While almost 50% of World War II veterans owned and operated a business after leaving the military, only 4.5% of post-9/11 veterans did the same. Bunker Labs in Columbus, Ohio, knows that military veterans today are no less suited for the startup life than veterans of the past, so they’re working to educate and empower veteran entrepreneurship.
“Surveys from the Small Business Administration say that about 25% of the people leaving the military have a desire to start and own their own business,” said Mike McNett, Executive Director of Bunker Labs Columbus. “In the end, though, only between four and six percent actually do anything about it. There’s clearly a gap that needs to be addressed, and we have the network and resources to do that.”
Bunker Labs offers military veterans resources such as Bunker Brews, a networking and educational meetup with, you guessed it—beer—and a new topic on entrepreneurship each month. The Muster Across America initiative is an annual, day-long event (usually during Columbus Startup Week) focused on connecting veterans to the larger entrepreneurial community through pitch competitions, keynotes and panel discussions from leading business innovators.
The program is also rebranding one of its digital resources, Bunker in a Box, to Launch Lab Online. Launch Lab Online is a set of virtual courses that help an individual determine whether a startup is right for them, and if so, what their next steps should be. This is a condensed, digital spinout of their main service, Launch Lab, which functions as a 14-week on-site accelerator program that gives veterans the start they need to launch a business.
Bunker Labs began in Chicago in 2014 and expanded to Columbus in April 2016 when John Hrivnak, military veteran and Director of Investments at Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier, laid the groundwork to bring the program to Columbus. 29-year military veteran Mike McNett came on board in 2017 with a long history of leadership in the military including a role as Chief Information Officer at West Point. He’s built a team, put Bunker Labs programming in motion, and established success early on.
McNett and his team currently advise seven startups from their Rev1 Ventures location and are looking to grow that number in 2018 with an inaugural Launch Lab class. Among the seven companies in the Bunker Labs Columbus portfolio are Grypmat, which recently landed a deal on Shark Tank, and Refill, which has landed major partnerships in professional sports. McNett, who’s bounced from state to state over the course of his career, thinks Ohio—with the sixth-most veterans in the nation—is the perfect place for Bunker Labs to make a difference.
“I can’t say enough about the support and connections we’ve received here. We’re building something really important in central Ohio thanks to the great resources and corporations that enable us to help our veterans,” said McNett. “Ohio is a great place to be a veteran because of the size of the community. It’s a great place to build a startup with all the resources available in the state. Now we really want to connect those two pieces together, and we think Bunker Labs is the answer.”