This past October 18-20, Bunker Labs was in San Antonio, Texas hosting an Ambassador Fly-In. The event brought staff and Ambassadors together for three days of networking and learning about how to build ecosystems that provide opportunities to the veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs in our programs. This is the third such fly-in we’ve held for Ambassadors this year, bringing in Bunker Labs representatives from communities across the country.
We asked superstar ambassadors Liseth Velez (Boston, MA) and Kris Vandenberg (Austin, TX) to document some of their experiences at the fly-in to give the Bunker Labs community a “boots on the ground” view of the experience.
Liseth is an Air Force Veteran and is the founder and CEO of LJV Development, a solution-based construction management firm focused on collaboration and integrating technology to build more, more efficiently.
Kris is the Founder and executive director of Vetted Farms and Kitchens, a nonprofit that offers wholistic agriculture wrap-around services to veterans, their families, and communities which include food growing, production, nutrition, education, and recreational health and wellness opportunities.
Day One: October 18th Travel and Networking
Kris: I’m a newly appointed Bunker Labs Ambassador representing the Austin, Texas cohort, so this was all a new experience for me. I drove to beautiful San Antonio, TX from home in Austin. They call it Military City because it’s the single largest concentration of military facilities in the United States.
Once I arrived, I went to the hotel, checked in, and was greeted by the welcome team on the second floor of the hotel. I got my swag bag and Bunker Labs polo (my first official one!) and proceeded to the rooftop lounge area, where we were meeting for the nighttime Opening Kick-off Ceremony.
I immediately connected with my fellow Ambassadors and leadership staff. I found a few that I personally knew already, and excitedly got to see many in person that I had previously only met virtually. It was an honor and privilege to meet everyone in person, finally!
There were appetizers and drinks while Ambassadors and Bunker Labs staff mingled (non-alcoholic ones, for me!). Then the ceremony kicked off with a greeting from Bunker Labs CEO Blake Hogan, who represented Texas with boots and a cowboy hat! He talked about Bunker Labs’ core values and mission, which lead to introducing Bunker Labs Founder, Todd Connor. It was great to hear from Todd. He explained his original vision of Bunker Labs, how it all came to fruition, and tugged the heartstrings of all in attendance by sharing his passion and gratitude for the work we Ambassadors do!
The night was capped off by each ambassador receiving an appreciation plaque and a continued mingling of Bunker Labs present members and leaders.
Liseth: Upon arrival in San Antonio, I met up with Ambassadors Joey “Mac” Dizon from New Jersey, Brandon Aaron from Denver and “Tony” Lee from Knoxville, where we enjoyed a delicious Mexican lunch. Afterward, we registered and collected our event swag. The evening’s networking event was on the rooftop of the hotel, offering a breathtaking view of the San Antonio skyline. The event included a surprise recognition plaque, which was truly impressive. We learned that the company responsible for the plaques also creates emblems for the presidents!
Day Two: October 19th Education
Liseth: I missed the morning fitness class because I slept in, but the day was packed with action. Bunker Labs offered engaging content sessions, and I particularly enjoyed Session 4. The “Beyond Business Cards Speed Networking Challenge” was a refreshing take on networking. It was interactive and involved thought-provoking questions, such as defining success after ten years and sharing personal fears. This approach allowed me to see how everyone perceives success differently, and it revealed common fears, primarily the fear of failure. Veterans, known for their selflessness, connected, and offered assistance. This aspect of Bunker Labs makes it unique; it’s not just about sharing your journey but also about extending a helping hand.
Session 3, focusing on DEI Strategy, was also intriguing. It ventured beyond the usual DEI session format. They introduced an engaging exercise where participants had to choose which “pie” they believed was better and stand on a side of the room accordingly. This exercise encouraged diverse perspectives and revealed common ground. It also facilitated connections in an unconventional way. Bunker Labs emphasizes Representation, Resources, and Respect. Seeing individuals who resemble you in a space is important. Everyone needs resources to run their businesses, and respect is a universal need. This aligns with one of the values at LJV, where every individual’s choices are respected as their best intention, and undermining others based on differing points of view is discouraged.
Day Three: October 20th Pitch Competition!
Liseth: I missed the fitness session once again. I discovered a great spot called Grocery, where I enjoyed boiled eggs and greens. Later, I had the opportunity to watch the Veterans in Residence Pitch competition, which resembled a TED Talk and left me inspired. The winners were all deserving, and congrats to:
- 1st place, $25K to Felicia Jackson, Founder of CPRWrap, Inc.
- 2nd place, $15K to Carly Rhyne, Founder of Ellipticraft
- 3rd place, $10K to Jason Anderson, Founder of VeteranPCS
Additionally, Business Startup Week coincided with our event, allowing me to interact with entrepreneurs on their own unique journeys. After the closing remarks, I had an extra night in San Antonio, and I booked a spa day following the pitch competition. I went sightseeing with some fellow veterans, and visited the historic Alamo. In the evening, I dined on delicious Argentinian food near the hotel, savoring a wonderful paella. The following day, I boarded my flight back to Medellin, Colombia.
Want to Join the Bunker Labs Community?
If you’re a Veteran or military spouse and you’re launching or running your own business, odds are we have a program, workshop, or course that can help! Earlier stage ventures might look at the Veterans in Residence or Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship programs, or even one of our courses. More mature ventures looking to scale might investigate our CEOcircle program, while more experienced entrepreneurs that want to act as mentors, connectors, and ecosystem builders might learn about our Ambassador Program.
No matter what stage your venture is in, the Bunker Labs community wants to help! Not sure which program is for you? Join Bunker Online and reach out to our community for advice!
Bunker Labs is Now Part of IVMF
As of January 2024, Bunker Labs is now a part of Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). In addition to ongoing Bunker Labs programming, we’d encourage you to browse IVMF’s deep wealth of entrepreneurship programming, much of it available virtually or at locations across the country. Find the program to help your business take the next step today!