Bunker CEO Todd Connor
According to the Institute on Veterans and Military Families, 49% of veterans following World War II started their own businesses after returning home. In 1996, 12% of new entrepreneurs were veterans and in 2011, just 6% of new entrepreneurs had military experience.
The Bunker, a Chicago-based incubator and resource for veteran-owned tech companies, is looking to reverse this trend.
"But this isn't really just about helping veterans," said Bunker CEO Todd Connor this morning at the Muster, the organization's big annual conference. "It's about helping America. It's amazing what can happen when you give veterans the keys to the car."
The Bunker, which announced that it has officially rebranded from The Bunker Incubator to The Bunker Labs, supports veteran entrepreneurs in four key ways. The organization Ignites, helping entrepreneurs foster ideational development. The Bunker is also a Simulator, providing its members with peer mentors and interns, as well as legal, financial, HR, and sales resources. The Bunker functions as an Accelerator, too, helping early-stage startups evolve into businesses. Finally, the Bunker Circulates, connecting members across all of its chapters with customers, investors, and talent.
"We've rebranded to Labs because we're more about experimentation and testing initiatives that will help veteran entrepreneurs," said Connor. "Also, a 'lab' is more about the scientist than the experiment. If an experiment fails, the scientists will start another one. And that's what we're about - we're committed to the founders, the scientists."
In its first year - The Bunker launched in June 2014 - the organization has supported 19 veteran-owned startups and expanded into 11 markets, including Austin and D.C. Current Bunker members include OpenAirplane, a ZipCar for private aircraft, and CreditServe, a platform for providing service members with better loan options.
The Muster, held inside The Bunker's home at 1871, is an all-day conference architected to connect and inspire veteran entrepreneurs. Featuring keynotes, breakout sessions, and a 30-team pitch competition, The Muster is dedicated to building a "locally-networked, veteran-entrepreneur community."
This year, 200,000 service members will come off of active duty and 25% of them have expressed an interest in starting a business, said Connor. The Muster and The Bunker is designed to help provide these veterans with the tools needed to get started.