Josh Wathen, Program Manager for Bunker Labs talks about entrepreneur opportunities and how they can overcome business hurdles for veterans.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. Texasbusinessradio.com is the website. 844-814-8144 is our 24-hour call-in line. 24 hours, it means call in now, call in later, call in at 3:00 in the morning. I really don’t have an opinion on it. We’re going to get the experts on here to get your questions answered. I’m your host, Matt Register. Jay Curry is sitting over there in the cohost chair.
We’re going to talk a little bit about entrepreneurship and veterans especially. You got a lot of veterans. Every time I watch TV and see something about a veteran, it’s they’re unemployed. I absolutely hate seeing that. There’s some veterans doing some really good things in the business world, and there are some organizations that are here to give those guys a hand, and we’re going to tell you a little bit about it here in just a second. What do you think, Jay?
Jay Curry: Yeah, I think if there’s any place that we … The thing about being a veteran is, by definition, you’re going to be unemployed, right?
Matt Register: That’s it, yeah, when you get out.
Jay Curry: At some point, your career … Anything we can do to help these folks who are the foundation to our country and keep us here, this is all good stuff.
Matt Register: Yeah. Bunker Labs is an organization, a nationwide organization now, that helps veteran entrepreneurs expand, grow their business, start their business, get rolling. Josh Wathen is the program manager here in Houston for Bunker Labs. Josh, welcome to the show.
Josh Wathen: Hey. Thanks for having me, Matt. I really appreciate it.
Matt Register: Talk to me about Bunker Labs. What is Bunker Labs?
Josh Wathen: Simply put, Bunker Labs is veteran entrepreneurship everything, from education to networking, needing a little help, finding a few contacts, whether you’re looking for funding, looking for people to hire or people to call when you need a little bit of advice. That’s Bunker Labs in a nutshell.
Matt Register: Got it, so it started in Austin.
Josh Wathen: No, no. It started in Chicago.
Matt Register: Started in Chicago, okay.
Josh Wathen: Yeah, by Todd Connor. Todd Connor was a Navy officer and a vet, and he was on the USS Bunker Hill, so that’s how it got its name as Bunker Labs, being kind of a tech accelerator veteran melting pot, if you will, yeah.
Matt Register: Sure, interesting, but it is now all over the country. They’re helping entrepreneurs of all flavors, veteran entrepreneurs, get started. Talk to me a little bit about some of the services they do, because this is one part incubator, one part networking group, one part … several different things.
Josh Wathen: Right. Overall, it’s a community, so it does whatever you need it to do in the way of veteran entrepreneurship. For the most part, we help develop pitching, make sure you know how to get your message across. If you need some help with business development, we’ll pair you with a couple of veteran MBAs, have them look over your business plan. Then, from there, it’s off to the races. We do plenty of Bunker Brews and networking events where you can meet potential investors, potential clients, things of that nature, and generally get to know the veteran entrepreneurship community in your area because that’s one of the biggest impacts we can have is connecting these folks that are getting out of the military with business professionals in their area so that they feel more comfortable going out and expanding their business and growing their life.
Matt Register: Yeah. No. I’m a veteran. You’re a veteran. I understand. When we get ready to hire, I know certain things about people when they’re a veteran. I mean that doesn’t mean that other people don’t have those skills, but you certainly know, based on somebody that’s a veteran, that they do have a certain set of skills. Why veterans? Why is this something that companies need to get behind?
Josh Wathen: I think the one-word answer to that is perseverance. Out of every veteran, each one’s going to have a different skillset, based on their MOS and what they did in the military in service, but overall they’re going to have a certain level of perseverance and teamwork and capability. Being able to be coachable, and fail, and get up, and try again, and fail, and get up, and try again, and go through the rigor that it takes to run your own business, make those mistakes, is something that’s quite refreshing when you’re helping out veteran entrepreneurs because they do it instinctively and intuitively as opposed to coaching any other entrepreneur that you meet where that’s a hugely … a very large focus on the leadership skill development. You don’t have to do that with veterans. It’s already there. It’s already ingrained.
Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt about that, and entrepreneurship is nothing but an exercise in perseverance, right?
Josh Wathen: That’s exactly right.
Matt Register: I mean, arguably, you have to enjoy getting kicked in the teeth on a daily basis and get back up and keep going.
Josh Wathen: You bet.
Matt Register: Walk me through some of the companies that you guys are currently helping. I mean give me a couple of examples of who actually is a fit for you guys?
Josh Wathen: Okay, so I’ve got a young man named [Hans Goss 00:04:46] who’s a former paratrooper out of Fort Bragg. He wants to start a bar called Ted 18. It’s going to be the first e-sports bar in town where they’re hosing at-
Matt Register: E-sports.
Josh Wathen: E-sports, you got it, so rather than-
Matt Register: Video games.
Josh Wathen: You got it. You got it. No more pool, nothing like that. We’re going to do the golf tee stuff, but we’re also going to do the competitive gaming that you get with Call of Duty and Battlefield and things like that. He’s got these cool trending statistics based out of Europe because this is blowing up, and he’s got a really awesome market opportunity based on e-sports events in town, but there’s no location for these guys to land, so all-
Matt Register: I didn’t even know that was a thing, to be honest with you.
Josh Wathen: Right, and so a lot of folks don’t, but with the trending that’s going on with online and all the videos with kids watching other people playing video games as tutorials, it’s going to be a huge market, and I think he’s hitting it. All he needs is an investor, so we’re helping him with his pitch, getting him around. I’d say he’s probably 60 days out from closing a half a million dollars.
Matt Register: Oh, good for him, man, good, but you also work with some more mature companies as well.
Josh Wathen: Absolutely, absolutely. I just talked to a few gentlemen who do [StoneCrete 00:05:53], which is basically a treatment for concrete to make it look like limestone. It’s cheaper, it’s more durable, and it’s faster. He’s looking to franchise opportunities for veterans coming out of the military to own franchises in certain territories in the Texas area. This is a program that now a veteran or an Army soldier can come out of the military knowing that they’re going to have some skin in the game, have a training program, have a job that’s going to not just be a job but their own business that they can run and then expand. We’ve got everything from A to Z coming through Bunker Labs right now. It’s really an awesome time to get involved.
Matt Register: Well, it’s critically important. When guys come out of the military, they certainly have the perseverance, they certainly have the work ethic, but they don’t necessarily have the education component that teaches them how to actually be responsible for P&L, how to be … manage financing and to be able to finance a business. Now, a big part of what you guys are doing is educating these guys on the pieces that … the gaps they have in their skillset. Correct?
Josh Wathen: That’s absolutely right.
Matt Register: Talk to me a little bit about the educational opportunities through Bunker Labs.
Josh Wathen: Bunker Labs does an individual cohort per chapter at the chapter’s disposal.
Matt Register: Slow down. We need to talk about what exactly those are.
Josh Wathen: Okay.
Matt Register: What is a chapter? What’s a cohort?
Josh Wathen: Bunker Labs started in Chicago, so we have national support from the Chicago office, but a chapter basically means the Bunker Labs that’s in your city, so there’s a Bunker Labs Austin chapter, San Antonio chapter, and Houston here. A cohort is basically a small group of veteran entrepreneurs, say 10 entrepreneurs, that get together as a team and go through three months of training to build their business plan, get them out in front of connections, and really have a formal education system.
From there, we have an online program called Launch Lab Online that’s provided by the headquarters unit. It’s got a gamification education in it on network building, and they do one in the winter and one in the summer. When we do our cohort here in town, we’ll lean on that program heavily as a lot of the content so we can focus on connecting the entrepreneurs with each other inside that cohort as well as with mentors, advisors, expertise, and clients outside.
Matt Register: Now, the mentors and advisors, who are these guys that are coming in to help these veteran entrepreneurs?
Josh Wathen: They’re great people that want to value their time to have some business experience. It really depends on how you fit. Some mentors mentor folks because they get along and they’ve got more experience. Some are more of a industry-specific mentor helping them out with things like that. You’ve the MBA army, that I like to call, that we have at our disposal for more of the general business development on a one-on-one coaching basis because you can only get so much from online content. Having a conversation is really great.
Matt Register: Yeah. No, no, no, no. At some point, you need a smart guy there to explain, mechanically, how it is you do some of this stuff, right?
Josh Wathen: Right, absolutely, and then to have a semi-father figure now around to pick you up when you’re going through some rough times is huge for some of these guys.
Matt Register: Or kick you in the butt when you need it, right?
Josh Wathen: Right, you got it, you got it, both ways.
Matt Register: Yeah, so what’s the easiest way for somebody to get in touch should somebody want to learn more? Specifically in Houston, how do they do that?
Josh Wathen: You can go online to bunkerlabs.org, and you can register on there and say that you’re in Houston, and I’ll get the email pushed through to me. You’re more than welcome to get on our Bunker Labs Houston Facebook page and send us a message. We’ve got a Bunker Labs app that’s totally free to download as well, and the community is on that app, so you can message on there, or you can shoot me an email personally at joshua.wathen, that’s W-A-T-H-E-N, @bunkerlabs.org.
Matt Register: Interesting. There’s a chapter in Houston. There’s a chapter in San Antonio, one in Austin. Is there one in Dallas as well?
Josh Wathen: Not yet, but there will be soon.
Matt Register: There will be soon, so bunkerlabs.org is the website. We’re going to have that linked right there from texasbusinessradio.com. Interesting stuff, Jay. This is important. I think I would love to see as many veterans as possible come out and … I mean this is the best-kept secret in the country, right, is owning your own business?
Jay Curry: It’s a great organization in that there’s a lot of talent out there that want to help the veterans, and this organization helps pull them together in an organized way. This is good stuff.
Matt Register: Yeah. Josh Wathen, Bunker Labs, bunkerlabs.org, thank you very much for joining us.
Josh Wathen: Thanks for having me, guys. It’s been a blast.
Matt Register: We got to pay some more bills. We’ll be back right on the other side of the break with a whole lot more Texas Business Radio.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.