Bunker Labs: Nonprofit helps veterans start businesses

Bunker Labs: Nonprofit helps veterans start businesses

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Who are the most trusted people in our country?

We usually find ourselves talking about the people we don’t think we can trust: politicians, the media, or virtual assistants. Let’s flip that.

In 2018, Gallup asked Americans which institutions they trust the most. At the top of the list: the military and small businesses.

In 2018, Gallup asked Americans which institutions they trust the most. At the top of the list: the military and small businesses.
In 2018, Gallup asked Americans which institutions they trust the most. At the top of the list: the military and small businesses. (Source: Gallup)

When you think about it, the two have a lot in common. They rely on camaraderie, adaptability and resilience to succeed. Combine the two: a veteran starting their own business.

Paula Kranz says it’s a natural fit.

“I think many of us are jack of all trades. We learn to adapt and just pull our bootstraps up and transition and overcome and that’s a quality that most military personnel have. I think that fits well into the entrepreneur system, right? Sometimes you’ve got to be the chief marketing officer. The finance officer. The CEO. And everything else in between,” Kranz said.

Kranz spent more than 20 years serving in the U.S. Army. Her first assignment was in Korea – working as an electronic warfare officer. She says putting her life on the line took courage, but so did starting her own business.

“In the military, people’s lives are on the line. In the startup world, maybe less risk in that regard, but it’s your reputation, possibly all your finances, maybe your marriage if there’s a lot of stress,” Kranz said.

Now she’s in the process of launching a startup that uses virtual reality to train people in the healthcare industry. But getting that idea off the ground takes resources that can be hard to come by.

It could be part of the reason why there are so few veteran-owned businesses today.

About half of World War II vets started their own businesses. About 40 percent of Korean War vets started up their own. Since 9/11, only 4.5 percent of veterans have opened businesses.

Kranz’ first hurdle was one that many veterans face: learning another language.

“I've seen this again and again with people leaving the military - they don't know how to translate their leadership skills or their technical skills to the corporate world,” she says.

“It’s a different language. It’s a different culture. Different mindset,” Kranz said.

Andrew Castrodale’s been in her shoes. He served in the Navy for seven years. When he left, he had a business idea spinning in his head.

“I had an idea that was very difficult to communicate. It was highly technical. And frankly not a lot of people would be interested had I kept communicating about it in the manner that I was,” Castrodale said.

It’s why he and Kranz went to Bunker Labs. It’s a national nonprofit that trains veterans in entrepreneurship – everything from speaking corporate lingo to networking to finding funding.

“It is highly networking focused and community building, really. I’d say a little bit broader than networking, because it’s not just meeting the right people just for the sake of the business. It’s also helping that veteran transition,” Castrodale said.

Now, he’s going to be leading Bunker Labs’ 35th chapter, when it comes to Charlotte on Feb. 27. It will start with monthly meetups, called Bunker Brews. Then, it will evolve into a more structured program.

“In six months to a year, there’s a veterans residence program. It’s a partnership with WeWork. And that’s much more structured. I believe it’s 12 weeks or so and it’s cohort-based, where a dozen or so founders will be given space as well as that community to be able to advance their ideas,” Castrodale says. “It helps develop not just your business model, but you personally - is entrepreneurship right for you?”

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