Organization helps veterans launch businesses

Home of the Brave

(NewsNation) — One organization is calling on veterans to boost entrepreneurship in the U.S. It is teaching our nation’s heroes how to use the skills they’ve learned in the military to create professional success after their service.

Bunker Labs is on a mission to grow businesses right here in America. The organization was founded in 2014 in Chicago by Navy veteran Todd Connor, who believed that with the right resources, military veteran entrepreneurs could be a major force for change in America’s private business sector.

Bunker Labs’ current CEO, Blake Hogan, is driven by this very mission: “I fundamentally believe that entrepreneurs are what’s gonna uplift us. And the ability to do it with a group of folks who have fought for that dream is pretty humbling.”

Bunker Labs offers three core programs for all different kinds of entrepreneurs:

Veterans in Residence

The Veterans in Residence program assists business owners from the idea stage until reaching $150,000 in revenue by walking them through key steps, like registering their business license and securing insurance.


The CEOcircle connects veteran entrepreneurs with other CEOs who run businesses with $1 million in revenue, or more, a year.

Ambassador Program

The Ambassador Program is a 12-month program for volunteers that want to help other veterans and military spouses launch and grow their own businesses. The volunteer role helps support and connect local entrepreneurs with small business owners.

To date, Bunker Labs has helped 2,000 veterans nationwide transition from military service to successful business owners.

U.S. Army veterans Aida Johnson-Rapp, Bunker Labs ecosystem ambassador, and Brian Zielinski, cofounder and CEO of ShapeConnect, joined “Morning in America” to discuss their experiences working with the organization.

“You know, some of the biggest challenges that veterans face is when they get out of the service, they have created that network in that community, but coming out of the service into military life, they really have to create new networks. And that’s one of the things that Bunker Labs is really great at: helping fellow veterans who are transitioning out of the service, create a community that can support them in their entrepreneurial journey,” Johnson-Rapp said.

She explained that starting off with the organization, veterans start out with Launch Lab Online. “Within there is a bunch of communities — kind of very similar to Facebook, social media — where you can start to connect. Then you can learn about the different programs that are in person that Bunker Labs has,” Johnson-Rapp said.

When Johnson-Rapp started volunteering for Bunker Labs, she was inspired to create her own business. She created a company around fitness called Aspire to Harmony, where she seeks to help people accomplish particular goals.

“It’s all inspired by the work that I did with Bunker Labs,” Johnson-Rapp said.

The organization also helped Zielinski through his entrepreneur journey. As a former ambassador to Bunker Labs, Zielinski was able to connect and learn from other entrepreneurs he feels he would otherwise never have met.

“Bunker Labs provides a lot of that backbone support, you know. You meet with colleagues and mentors, and you find these resources that help you build a successful business. So that’s the value of what I got from Bunker. And then, you know, you can focus more so on your idea, meeting with customers and then knowing that you’re going to have the supportive bunker behind,” Zielinski said.

“Just being in a room of people that are doing the same journey was big time important,” Zielinski said. Being able to feed off each other for new ideas and to be able to build strategic partnerships was an important opportunity that the organization provided.

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