Veteran Entrepreneurship and “Bunker Labs”
What do FedEx, WalMart, Go Daddy, and Nike all have in common? The answer can obviously be found at the end of this blog post, but please resist the urge to skip right to the end of the article and look it up.
About Bunker Labs
As an US Army veteran, I recently attended a Bunker Labs “Muster” in Cary. Bunker Labs – a 501(c)(3) non-profit – is a national network of veteran entrepreneurs dedicated to helping new veteran entrepreneurs start their own business. If you'd like to learn more about them specifically, their website (https://bunkerlabs.org/) is a great place to start. The Muster event welcomes veterans, corporate partners, and innovators to come, bring their best ideas and develop new connections and insights. The event is free for Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve service members. The day brought hundreds of participants and partners together for a full day of veteran entrepreneurs pitching their businesses, keynote speakers, workshops, and panels. This was the third year for this event.
As I listened to the presentations from all types of veterans – male and female, officer and enlisted, and from all branches of service, I wondered why so many veterans are drawn to entrepreneurship. Does military service and entrepreneurship go together well, or not?
Military Veterans in the Business Field
First of all, Military veterans are often categorized as having self-discipline, being courageous, thinking strategically. Certainly, all three of these traits help within entrepreneurship. No one is going to tell the entrepreneur which business to start, what market to serve, what hours to work, and how much of your life savings to risk at each stage of the venture.
On the other hand, entrepreneurship also requires special traits that are not always linked to military leadership, such as:
Creativity - by definition, you have to build a business that did not exist previously.
Persuasiveness - you have to build a team of people around you that are on your team not because of “rank,” but because of mutual self-interest.
Adaptability - to be successful, you have to change your way of thinking nearly every day to react to market shifts.
So, on the one hand, the military encourages entrepreneurship by developing discipline and courage. On the other hand, the military doesn’t necessarily promote “thinking outside the box” or the gentle art of personal persuasion. So, what shifts the balance toward entrepreneurship?
Transferring Military Skills to Entrepreneurship
Personally, I believe the scales are tipped by veterans who see entrepreneurship as another form of leadership, which means it is also another act of service. We often assume entrepreneurs are simply seeking more freedom to do things their own way, or seeking to earn what they are worth without limitation. But, I think that much of their drive – quite possibly the biggest part - stems from the satisfaction they enjoy when they provide a needed service to others. Veterans and entrepreneurs, and especially veteran entrepreneurs, may just like to be of service.
And to answer the question about what common trait all those famous companies have: They were all founded by military veterans, and they have all improved the lives of millions of people.
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