Military members typically make incredible connections with comrades abroad, but when they return to the U.S. as veterans they often struggle to establish a worthwhile network, said Joe Crane. That sense of isolation can inhibit would-be entrepreneurs from breaking into the startup world.
“It’s tough for veterans to connect,” said Crane, Bunker Labs’ city leader for Kansas City, and host of the Veteran on the Move podcast, both of which seek to empower veterans through entrepreneurs.
Having returned to Kansas City this summer, Bunker Labs is building on its increasingly national footprint to inspire local veterans through the successful stories of entrepreneurship of their fellow service members, Crane said.
Click here to read about veterans already making an impact on the KC startup scene.
A recent Bunker Labs event at The Grid in Overland Park, for example, showcased the journey of Kathy Rolin, founder of Montana-based Cowboy Cricket Farms, a sustainably sourced snack company. Rollin, along with her husband, James — both veterans of the Coast Guard — received more than $100,000 in grants in their business’ first year by navigating their region’s resource offerings.
But such wayfinding expertise doesn’t always come easily, Crane emphasized.
And that’s where Bunker Labs comes in. The grassroots movement organizes its efforts around a three-pronged approach: inspire, equip and connect.
Events like Bunker Labs’ “Muster Across America” highlight stories like Rollin’s, while “Bunker Brews” and other larger gatherings offer time to not only network, but also collaborate on ideas, Crane said.
“We aim to cultivate connectivity among veterans in a more casual environment,” he said.
Organized as a nonprofit, Bunker Labs derives funding through campaigns at the national level, which is filtered down to regional operations like Kansas City. Since its establishment in 2014, Bunker Labs has raised more than $80 million, according to the organization.
A local chapter of Bunker Labs received $100,000 from the Missouri Technology Corporation in 2016 under a previous funding model, according to Startland’s archives. The group conducted local events as recently as 2017.
An official launch for the new Kansas City chapter is planned for Nov. 19 during Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Click here to learn more about Bunker Labs KC.
“Bunker Labs will serve both sides of the metro, Missouri and Kansas,” said Crane, noting the organization hopes to spread the word about its offerings throughout the startup community, as well as local veterans groups like the VFW.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.