Veterans are a strong component in the lifeblood of North Carolina’s economy. More than 769,000 veterans live in North Carolina, representing 9.8 percent of the state’s total population. There are over 87,000 veteran-owned firms in North Carolina, and together they generate over $54.9 billion in receipts. This makes North Carolina the 8th largest veteran-owned business economy in the nation.
Unfortunately, veteran entrepreneurship is not strongly enough supported throughout the country. Twenty five percent of veterans would like to start businesses, but only 6 percent actually do. Why is this? The problem is simply lack of a platform. There are an abundance of resources for veterans, but historically, none of these resources have provided support towards new business ventures.
After World War II, a whopping 49 percent of veterans returned home to start their own businesses. Because nearly every eligible man had served, everyone knew someone within the network of veterans. Today, only 1 percent of young people enlist in military service, so the network of support is much lower.
Given all of this information, Todd Connor, an entrepreneur and Navy veteran decided to create the platform that would allow veteran innovation to thrive. Connor knew that he could send care packages overseas, or write a letter to a soldier over the holidays, but he “wanted to do what I do best for veterans.” Connor decided to offer his strong business knowledge and entrepreneurial skills to other veterans. Thus Bunker Labs was born.
Bunker Labs is a highly networked local community which offers a unique entrepreneurship curriculum as well as highly qualified subject matter experts to develop an environment of entrepreneurial support. Connor says that when it comes down to it “the curriculum doesn’t matter.” Although Bunker Labs does have a wonderful curriculum, it is the people that create the success of the program.
Connor states that upon beginning this venture, individuals would approached him in disbelief at the concept that a group of people could show up, seemingly out of nowhere, and put in such great effort to make something like Bunker Labs happen. But according to Connor, “If you don’t understand it, then you don’t understand veterans.”
Alisha Ramsey is a fellow veteran and cohort at Bunker Labs RDU. As the founder and CEO of Tellurvision Studios, she deeply understands the ways that military training prepare individuals for the business world.
“One of my philosophies not only in the military but in business is to say yes and figure it out later,” Ramsey says. “You say yes to command when they give you an order, and you just get it done. Even if you have no resources, even if you aren’t told how to do it, you just do it. I keep that same philosophy as a business owner.”
Ramsey reflects on times when there have been opportunities in business presented to her that she didn’t necessarily have the resources or know-how to accomplish, but says that “[although] I didn’t know how I would get them done, I just knew I would, so I said yes, and I figured it out.”
Colonel David W. Sutherland, a 29 year military veteran, attributes the strong business success that veterans are capable of to the US Military’s Warrior Ethos: I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade. According to Colonel Sutherland, “Our Warrior Ethos enables us on the field, and enables us when we return home.”
Here at the Research Triangle Foundation, we are committed to ensuring that veteran entrepreneurship continues to thrive. That is why we have partnered with Bunker Labs to create a space to equip veterans for success in their entrepreneurial ventures. Bunker Labs RDU is now located within The Frontier building in Research Triangle Park. The Frontier, which is a collaboration destination open to anyone in the community, is an ideal location to build vital entrepreneurial networks. The space is an incubator for innovation to thrive. Every day, renegades and pioneers collaborate to promote their businesses and support each other.
“When we talk about renegades and pioneers, who better represents that than veterans?” says RTF President and CEO, Bob Geolas. The Foundation is fully supportive and confident that The Frontier will be the perfect place for Bunker Labs RDU to thrive.
As I sat amongst a crowd of business people and veterans who had come out to support Bunker Labs RDU, I was overcome by a deep sense of patriotism like nothing I have ever experienced. The overwhelming success of the event truly speaks to the support that the community has to offer this movement, and the veterans it is comprised of. Join us in continuing to follow this amazing new initiative; we know that only the best things are to come for each of the eight entrepreneurs embarking on this journey together.
Special thanks to the following:
- Dean Bundschu, verteran and Executive Director of Bunker Labs RDU
- CJ Scarlet of Tiger Eye Security Sensor
- Michael Penny of Cigars and Sea Stories
- Alisha Ramsey of Tellurvision Studios
- Steven Walther of The Toof-inger Brush
- Peter Llaguno of Culper Technologies
- John Brady of Neusiok Wines
- Nick Bradfield of Divvy Investments
- Michael Wayne of Qualia Networks