With 126,000 veterans in Central Ohio, 88,000 veteran-owned business in the state and a vibrant startup ecosystem that was ranked #1 at scaling startups in 2016, Columbus provided an ideal formulation for the expansion of Chicago-based veteran business development nonprofit, Bunker Labs.
Founded in June of 2014, Bunker Labs seeks to empower veterans with the knowledge, connections and resources to start and grow a business in the civilian world. Realizing they could amplify their impact by expanding outside of Chicago, Bunker Labs and its primary sponsor, JPMorgan Chase, sought cities for growth across the U.S. The company’s already strong presence in Central Ohio was another attractive factor in bringing a chapter to Columbus, and more specifically to its home at Rev1 Ventures, 1275 Kinnear Rd.
“With JPMorgan Chase as a national sponsor for Bunker Labs and also a corporate partner of Rev1 Ventures, it made perfect sense to plant the Bunker Labs flag at Rev1,” says interim Executive Director John Hrivnak.
Now with 13 locations across the U.S. (and counting), Bunker Labs hunkered down in Columbus one year ago in May of 2016. Deputy Director Michael McNett says the first 12 months have primarily been about building awareness around Bunker Labs and the services and events they coordinate.
Bunker Labs programming centers around three themes: connect-inspire-educate. At monthly Bunker Brews, current and aspiring veteran entrepreneurs, and the community that want to support them, gather to network and share information on entrepreneurship as it relates to veterans. Bunker Labs Columbus is also gearing up to host its second annual Muster (a formal gathering of troops for the non-veteran folk) as a part of Columbus Startup Week. Active duty military, to veterans, and everyone in between, are invited to the series of events on Thursday, May 11, meant to develop new connections and insights. The afternoon of programming will be held at Vue Columbus, 95 Liberty St. in the Brewery District, and includes:
- 1:00-2:00 p.m. – JD Vance Fireside Chat with Bunker Labs CEO, Todd Connor
- 2:00-3:00 p.m. – Culture in Business Panel
- 3:00-4:00 p.m. – Bunker Labs Advisors Meet & Greet
- 4:00-5:00 p.m. – Bunker Labs Entrepreneur Showcase
- 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Happy Hour / Networking / Meet & Greet with Veteran Presenters (located at Copious 520 S. High St.)
The entrepreneur showcase will highlight the local veteran-owned business Bunker Labs has engaged, another facet in their suite of services.
“Bunker Labs Columbus companies have come through referrals, word of mouth, networking and attendance at our monthly events,” Hrivnak says. “Rev1 also has plays a key role by giving us access to veteran-owned companies who come through their deal flow process.”
The organization provides help, support and, “They are afforded greater access to Bunker Labs programs,” McNett says.
To date, Bunker Labs has engaged with six local businesses including:
“If the veteran entrepreneur or founder shows strong commitment, motivation and initiative to be part of the Bunker Labs network, and is actively trying to build a scalable startup, we would consider them qualified to be a “member” company,” Hrivnak says.
With apps to food-based business in their portfolio, Bunker Labs can support a wide variety of businesses, but Hrivnak says they are especially interested in tech-based companies, “But this is only because entrepreneurs who are building scalable, innovative technology companies will get more value from the network we’ve built in Columbus.”
Bunker Labs does plan to formalize the member selection process in 2017, one of the many structured changes that will be coming as Bunker Labs transitions out of its first year.
McNett will go from deputy director to director on June 1 as Hrivnak, a Rev1 employee, transitions back into his role, but stays on as an advisor for Bunker Labs. McNett is looking toward solidifying the programming future of Bunker Labs.
“In the future, as demand grows in the Columbus and Ohio area for our services, we want to start extending some of our programs that we offer,” McNett says.
Enough interest and enough companies, and Columbus could see the addition of Bunker Labs EPIC (Entrepreneurial Program for Innovation and Collaboration), a 14-week business-building curriculum.
For now, though, McNett is focused on growing programming, setting up the board of advisors and securing sponsors to support the viability of Bunker Labs Columbus.
For more information, visit bunkerlabs.org/columbus.
For more information on Bunker Labs’ Muster during Startup Week, this Thursday, May 11, visit columbus.startupweek.co.