Editor’s note: Dean Bundschu, Executive of Bunker Labs RDU, served 8 years as an Infantry Officer in the US Army, to include a combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon exiting the military, Dean continued to serve transitioning veterans at Orion International.  Over the past 15 years he has founded, worked as an advisor, or served as a mentor for countless startups and high growth organizations.  Dean can be found on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/deanbundschu/ and on twitter @bunkerlabsrdu.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – More than 760,000 veterans live in North Carolina, representing almost 10% of the state’s total population. Overall North Carolina has the 3rd largest military population in the country when you include the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that serve at one of our 7 major military installations.  North Carolina has become the first state to have Bunker Labs events in multiple cities within the 16 nationwide chapters of Bunker Labs. This is an impressive feat when you consider how spread out the military population is within our state.

Post active duty service veterans are not restricted to living near bases like Fort Bragg or Camp Lejeune, in fact the biggest concentration of veterans lives in the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area (97,184 veterans). Veterans from the state come from both urban and rural areas and many return to those cities and towns in North Carolina. Other service members have military spouses who grow local roots and create small businesses to support their families while they serve overseas. Many more veterans are like myself, who grew up in Ohio, but decided to stay in North Carolina because of all the natural and economic advantages the state has.

Will Bunker Labs become the first entrepreneur support organization in North Carolina to have monthly events across the state?

Bunker Labs RDU launched in December 2015 at The Frontier in the Research Triangle Park.   We are now utilizing a hub and spoke model to host events through partnerships around the state, rather than creating additional satellite chapters.  Organizations like the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington has hosted Bunker Brews networking events since November 2016. We have expanded into Fayetteville through our partnership Fayetteville Tech Community College and recently expanded into Charlotte with the support of entrepreneur and National Guard veteran Keith Luedeman of GoodMortgage.com.

Across the state, partners like the North Carolina Military Foundation, NC Military Business Center and Carolina Small Business Development Fund support our efforts. The next city we look to expand into will be Greensboro, where our new Program Manager and Marine veteran, Nick Bradfield, has established the partnerships needed for our kickoff event there in October.  

Annual Conference called the Muster on September 21 in Cary

We hope that veterans, military spouses and interested civilians from these cities will join us for our second annual Muster Across American conference which has an impressive agenda and great lineup of veteran and civilian entrepreneurs and community leaders. The event is hosted by the MetLife Veterans Network (MVET) and is sponsored by JP Morgan Chase & Co., Grant Thornton, Alexandria Real Estate and Live Oak Bank.

Venture Capitalist and Vietnam veteran Art Pappas of Pappas Ventures will be the opening keynote speaker and will address how he translated his military service and leadership skills into an impressive investing career. Marques Ogden, a former NFL offensive lineman, will discuss how he went from losing everything after his NFL career to becoming a successful businessman by founding the Ogden Speaking Academy. There will also be politicians who support veterans like North Carolina Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs, Larry Hall and North Carolina House Representative, Holly Grange, who is the spouse of former Army General David Grange.  Daniel Alarik, a former Army Drill instructor and combat veteran, is also a keynote speaker who founded the lifestyle clothing brand, Grunt Style, which now has a value over $100 million and employees over 100 veterans.

The startup pitch contest sponsored by Carolina Small Business Development Fund has a $5,000 prize and will be judged by startup experts. Other agenda items include panels where you can learn about: companies that want to hire veterans, raising capital, starting a business, and perfecting your investor pitch.

We hope you will join us for this special one-day event where active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members can register for free at www.bunkerlabsrdu.org/muster.

Why Entrepreneurship?

Why entrepreneurship? Because it is one of the most important ways veterans can create opportunities for themselves, other veterans and members of our communities. In fact, veterans who are entrepreneurs are 40% more likely to hire other veterans. Almost 50% of veterans became entrepreneurs after World War II, creating one of the greatest periods of economic prosperity in our countries history. A majority of the businesses created by veterans are Main Street business that employ family members, friends and other veterans.  These types of companies create most of the new jobs in America and form the backbone of our economy, especially in rural areas.

We understand that there are many successful veteran support organizations in North Carolina that we certainly respect and partner with to help veterans. We are supportive of organizations like the USO, Charlotte Bridge Home and others who help the veterans transition from active duty to the other challenges of civilian life. But very few focus on entrepreneurship and business creation.

In many ways, a lot of veteran service organizations are not as relevant to the post 9/11 generation of veterans. Bunker Labs helps to Inspire, Educate and Connect veterans as leaders in entrepreneurship and innovation.  Not all veterans are well suited for employment opportunities; however, we have found that the great discipline, focus and drive veterans possess help them when it comes to starting and successfully running a business. With your support, Bunker Labs believes that this generation of veterans has the potential to lead our economy as the next greatest generation, much like their forefathers after WWII.