Veterans and their spouses launching a business in Central Iowa have a new resource dedicated to their needs.
A Des Moines chapter of Bunker Labs launched virtually on Tuesday with volunteer city leaders Adam Hass and Bernie Stone. The event will be the national organization’s first virtual launch party since Bunker Labs was founded in 2014, and featured as speaker Mike Colwell, executive director of entrepreneurial initiatives at the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
“Bunker Labs is an entrepreneurial ecosystem for veteran entrepreneurs and veteran spouses,” said Hass, himself a veteran and entrepreneur based in Johnston.
Based in Chicago, the national nonprofit aids in educating veteran entrepreneurs in business management and connecting them with their local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Bunker Labs hosts the free Launch Lab Online course for potential entrepreneurs seeking initial feedback in vetting a business idea; the Veterans in Residence program, which offers six months of free coworking space to 10 veterans in select cities; and the CEO Circle program, which guides veteran-owned companies seeking to scale. Local chapters host monthly Bunker Brews events tailored to community needs, and the Des Moines chapter can help support and direct veteran entrepreneurs seeking local resources for their business, Hass said.
“If you look at Venture School, the format is very similar to that with an online community as well. There’s the basic things you go through [analyzing] your business model, there are Facebook groups where you can still collaborate with other veterans or spouse entrepreneurs,” Hass said. “It’s really collaborative, then you have that sense of community too to help each other.”
Hass was introduced to the nonprofit five years ago when he worked in marketing. His employer at the time used the marketing software HubSpot, which introduced a veterans program in partnership with Bunker Labs. In March this year, Hass connected with Stone who had plans to launch a local chapter, and decided to volunteer.
“Knowing [as a veteran] that we don’t have those resources here, … there’s a big difference between online learning and then having a connection in your community,” Hass said. “That would have been super helpful for me when I was starting.”
A veterans-focused resource that understands shared values can help the local community build ties after veterans return or move to Iowa, in some cases starting fresh without a built-in network that civilian entrepreneurs may have developed over years in their careers, Hass said. Community events are open to the general public, and the chapter will bring in regional experts to talk about business needs such as human resources or securing funding.
“When you’re in the military, one of the things you develop is the ‘band of brothers,’ a sense of belonging with each other and that camaraderie,” Hass said. “Veterans still crave that even after the service. Being able to provide that sense of camaraderie that they might have lost getting out of the service with like-minded people is part of it, but also veteran business owners represent almost 10% of businesses. … There’s a lot of value in having a shared background and sense of where you came from.”
In between meetings, Hass and Stone want the chapter to connect with other entrepreneurial resources in the community.
“Everyone is in a different stage, and everyone needs different help,” Hass said. “The big thing for us is to be the face of Bunker Labs that people know they can reach out to … whether it’s us helping them personally, or connecting them to the right resource that can get them their answers.”