By Allison Matyus

Bunker Labs has come a long way since their first Muster conference back in 2015. Since then, the Chicago-based nonprofit that focuses on helping veterans start businesses has expanded to 16 cities across the nation, partnered with national organizations, and now has four different programs for veterans to participate in.

“We aim to grow not only the veteran side of business but to really grow the U.S. economy and to really help veterans take a stronger position in higher places of business,” said Christine Mortensen, the CMO of Bunker Labs.

Some new ways that Bunker Labs is trying to help veterans is through unique programs like the recently launched Launch Lab Online program. While Bunker Labs is in cities that span from the West Coast to the East Coast there’s still many veterans that do not have access to the programs. This new online program aims to reach to those veterans.

“This allows veterans from any location, including those in rural communities, to participate in the entrepreneurial teachings to start and grow their business,” Mortensen said. “We’re looking to get 1,000 veterans starting businesses in this next cohort that starts in January.”

Bunker Labs has already helped so many veterans start businesses, and it doesn’t just have to be tech-based. There’s brick and mortar shoe stores, coffee shops, almond butter products, frozen yogurt made out of bananas, and some of their veterans have even been featured on the popular show “Shark Tank.”

The importance of veteran-owned businesses, according to Mortensen, lies in the skill sets that veterans gain through their service.

“These are people that are very driven to serve, not only their country but to serve their communities,” she said. “They have a sense of responsibility, timeliness, and if they see something that is in need of being done, they don’t ask ‘What do you need me to do?’ they just do it.”

Mortensen said they are trying to change the statistics that surrounds unemployment in military members after service.

“We often site that after WWII, 49 percent of veterans went on to start a business, but now with post 9/11 veterans, 29 percent of them indicate that they want to start a business but only 4 percent of them will and that’s the gap that were working to close,” she said.

Bunker Labs is now getting help with their mission to do so by national organizations such as WeWork, which was announced as their most recent partnership to create Veterans in Residence. This new partnership will provide workspace to veteran-owned companies, community networking opportunities, as well as WeWork’s promise to hire 1,500 veterans over the next five years.

With all the amazing things Bunker Labs has going for them, Mortensen said 2018 is going to be about taking what is working now and making it even better.

“It’s really about how do we take everything that’s been working and really just reach more people and make more of an impact,” she said.

2018 will be Bunker Labs’ third year helping veterans across the nation better their lives, and no matter what that will continue to be the organization’s mission.

“A lot of times we see people talk about veterans being broken and being in need of being fixed but we come at it from a place of inspiration, a place of encouragement to go on to your next mission,” Mortensen said.