Editor’s note: Jim Roberts is the Community Development Director at Bunker Labs RDU, the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE). Jim has been a connector and a resource for startups in North Carolina for the last 17 years. He also is a frequent contributor to WRAL TechWire. And a RABID Chicago Cubs fan.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – One of the best stories in the history of entrepreneurship is when Fred Smith was given a C on his term paper by his Yale University Professor on the idea of FedEx. Did you know Fred Smith is a military veteran and combat Marine?

North Carolina is blessed with veterans. 10% of our state’s population is made of up military veterans from our 13 military bases who choose to live here due to the quality of place in North Carolina. After World War II, almost 50% of military veterans became entrepreneurs.

Today that number is dipping below 5%.

America has a huge opportunity to assist these veterans to become job creators themselves. Veterans who become business owners are much more likely to hire transitioning veterans..

While entrepreneurship is not normally offered as a part of the transition out of the military, research says 25% of veterans want to open their own business.

Veterans have a huge impact on North Carolina’s economy

Below the radar is the fact that many of the veterans are entrepreneurs and VIPs in the business world right here in North Carolina. Art Pappas of Pappas Ventures was just given a Lifetime Achievement award by the CED for his work as a venture capitalist in the life sciences industry. Pappas has just agreed to be the opening keynote of the Bunker Labs RDU Muster event in Cary on September 21. Pappas is a decorated Vietnam veteran from the Army.

Here’s a look at other vets-turned-entrepreneuers:

  • The new high profile “On Demand Car Cleaning” startup Spiffy was started by military veteran Karl Murphy of the US Army and has recently added high profile serial entrepreneur Scot Wingo to the management team.
  • Bunker Labs RDU member Jessica Harris is a combat medic who created K9 Salute, an all natural dog food product that helps our canine friends that also protect our families and provides veterans with service dogs.
  • David Jones, co-founder of Bull City Venture Partners, is a Navy veteran and a very active participant in Bunker Labs events.
  • Brandon Shelton has created Task Force X Capital to invest in Veteran led business and is based in Charlotte.
  • The founder of Murphy’s Naturals and now the Loading Dock Raleigh, Philip Freeman is also a Navy veteran.
  • Thom Ruhe, the new leader of NC IDEA, was a leader in the Air Force and worked with the ROTC at Bowling Green University.
  • Andrew Williams of Elite Innovations in Wilmington is a VMI Mechanical Engineer, a combat Marine veteran, UNC MBA and I am proud to call him a friend.
  • Keith Luedeman of GoodMortgage.com in Charlotte was part of the National Guard, has recently sold his company to First Guaranty Mortgage and is very active in the startup ecosystem.

And as I am the Manager of the Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE), we have invested in three startups founded by military veterans including Petrics, PermitZone and Ten8Tech.com.

The mission

Bunker Labs exists to assist veterans who want to be entrepreneurs and this is a great way to create jobs for additional veterans. While I am not a veteran, the leaders of Bunker Labs RDU are proud veterans and successful entrepreneurs.

Dean Bundschu (Army) and Michael Penney (Marines) are both combat veterans and leaders. Dean had a startup called PrepChamps and Michael is the Founder of Five Paragraph Business Plan, gave a TedX Raleigh speech that will have you running through a wall.

Bunker Labs is very active in the community as you can see Terry Conlan (Air Force) at the 1 Million Cups every Wednesday. You can find Bunker Labs education partners Bill Warner (Army) working through Entredot with his partner Brad Lienhart to teach entrepreneurship classes to veterans at Fayetteville Tech.

Bunker Labs is now working to expand throughout the state of North Carolina in addition to the 16 chapters across America. Bunker Labs was founded in Chicago by Navy veteran Todd Connor and have a HQ at the famous 1871 coworking space.

Bunker Labs RDU has an office with a classroom at RTP Frontier. In addition, events are being held with new co-working space at Fayetteville Tech Community College, in Wilmington with the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) at Ironclad Brewery and August 3rd in Charlotte with GoodMortgage.com and soon in Greensboro.

With the track record of success by a wide range of veterans, Bunker Labs is ramping up for the annual MUSTER conference to be held on September 21 at the campus of Bunker Labs partner MetLife in Cary. Our chapter had one of the most successful MUSTER events in the country last year. We hope you will get involved in our September conference and assist these American heroes who are eager to succeed in business and help a new generation of veterans find a smoother transition when leaving the military.

  • VIDEO: Watch an overview about Bunker Labs at https://vimeo.com/214873927