Our Muster Across America Tour has been a whirlwind of activity this year and it’s only half way through 2017. So far this year we have been to Washington D.C., Seattle, Columbus, Chicago, and Nashville. We’ve travelled from coast to coast to showcase the inspiring and innovative ideas veteran entrepreneurs are bringing to America economy.
Each city has unique challenges and opportunities for veterans looking to start a business and the Muster Across America Tour is designed to highlight the different “flavors” of entrepreneurship we we see prospering in each region. Let’s look at some of the highlights from the first half of our tour:
Washington D.C. Muster – February 23, 2017
The Washington D.C. Muster featured several panel sessions themed around the Bunker Labs’ mission: Inspire, Educate, Connect. Some of the topics discussed included, solving the right problem, finding your target customer, and how to get funding. The DC Muster also featured a pitch competition alongside the day’s programming, where local veteran entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their businesses for a cash prize. The winning business was True Made Foods, walking away with $3500 to invest in their business. The day was full of valuable information for entrepreneurs at all levels and plenty of connections were made during the happy hour over drinks and the amazing food from Mission BBQ.
Seattle Muster – May 5th, 2017
May 5th was a busy day for Bunker Labs in Seattle. The morning saw the launch and ribbon cutting of the new Bunker Labs Seattle location based out of the University of Washington Seattle campus at Startup Hall. The ribbon cutting ceremony featured remarks from Matt Griffin, CEO of Combat Flip Flops, Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman at Starbucks, and Carol Eggert, Senior Vice President, Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast.
Following the launch and ribbon cutting the celebration moved over to Impact Hub Seattle for the Muster. The Seattle Muster program featured several panel discussions revolving around the hot topics veteran entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest including, “Changing the [veteran] Narrative” and the investment and talent landscape. The program concluded with Bunker Labs Seattle’s Executive Director, Johannes Schonberg, detailing the plan of action for his chapter over the next 12 months. The evening ended with a chance for everyone to relax and connect during the happy hour.
Columbus Muster – May 11th, 2017
The Muster Across America tour rolled into Columbus, Ohio on May 11th, just in time to be a part of Columbus Startup Week. The Columbus Muster featured a fireside chat with JD Vance: author, Marine, and investment firm principle. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, topped The New York Times Bestseller list in August 2016 and January 2017. The fireside chat was followed by a lively panel discussion on culture in business which then segued into presentations from the veteran-owned businesses that have been through the Bunker Labs Columbus EPIC program. The evening was wrapped up with a happy hour celebration at Copious that featured a signature cocktail from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, created just for the occasion.
Chicago Muster – May 18th, 2017
The Chicago Muster was brimming with activity. As the flagship event of the tour reached its 3rd year the agenda could only be described as ambitious. The Chicago stop aimed to bring veteran entrepreneurs to Chicago from across the country to make connections, be exposed to the latest technology, and get inspired by successful veteran entrepreneurs who have been in their shoes. There were high-profile speakers, tech talks, fireside chats, and even a “Launch Lab” designed to build a business in 24 hours.
The day started off with networking and light refreshments in the canteen, supplied by the USO of Illinois. We then kicked off the programming with the posting of the colors and opening remarks from Erica Jeffries, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and Leslie Munger, Deputy Director of the State of Illinois. Captain Brening announced that Department of Defence Warrior Games will be coming to Chicago this summer and we heard from one of the athletes, Ryan Shannon.
Throughout the day we heard some great insights from Nick Taranto, CEO of Plated, Michael Piwowar, SEC Commissioner, Daniel Alarik, CEO of Grunt Style, and Gary Fencik, former Chicago Bears Free Safety and currently a partner with Adams Street Partners. The tech talks featured presentations on the future of space travel and technology, the future of the workplace, and the latest in augmented and virtual reality technologies. The fireside chats featured an interview with author, Marjorie Eastman, whose new book is entitled The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11. Following the interview there were panel discussions on corporate innovation and how to get startup funding.
There was also time set aside for select veteran entrepreneurs to meet with local venture capitalists to discuss their business and get feedback on their investment potential. At the same time other attendees were encouraged to check out Innovation Row which featured the latest technology from Microsoft, ShadowTech Labs, and Ex3 Labs including Oculos and Hololens.
While ALL of this was going on the Launch Lab was running concurrently. The Launch Labs was designed as a one day sprint to build a brand new business from scratch for a pre-selected veteran who has shown entrepreneurial potential, Shawn Dorgan. The Launch Lab participants included a range of subject matter experts from a wide range of fields, from marketing to UX/UI design to brand strategy and more. Throughout the day Muster attendees were asked to participate by completing customer surveys. Finally the new business was revealed during the closing ceremonies as UpNav, an enterprise level platform for companies to help improve employee happiness, engagement, and retention.
Another aspect of the event was the Mission Showcase, housed within Bunker Labs HQ. Mission Showcase featured a range of veteran owned businesses from the local Bunker Labs network including, Fox Valley Institute, ShoeBox One, Chicago Dental Studio, Ranger Nutrition, and Qikpix. This gave attendees the opportunity to interact with some of our veteran entrepreneurs, get exposed to their products and services, and learn about the benefits of Bunker Labs’ programming from those who have participated.
Finally the day came to a close. The closing ceremony featured the Launch Lab announcement, awards to our Bunker Companies of the Year, Rumi Spice and QikPix, some comedy from the very funny comedian Michael Garvey of ASAP Vets and the National Anthem sung by Jim Cornelison. For those who still wanted more we had a happy hour featuring the signature cocktail, Bunker Breeze, from Tito’s Handmade Vodka as well as beer supplied Linenkugel, and wine provided by Dauntless Wine Company. We also had a bit of fun with the photo booth from The Bosco.
Nashville Muster, May 24, 2017
The Nashville Muster opened with remarks by Nashville Mayor Megan Berry. In her speech, Barry said her father served as a Marine and had instilled the corps’ values in his family. She also marked the impact Bunker Labs Nashville has had by assisting to launch 32 companies and helping veterans make 500+ connections. Following the opening remarks 13 veteran-owned companies presented their businesses including Music City Icons, Ear.IQ, and Menud. In the end, the audience decided which of the 13 presenters shared the $5,000 in prize monies donated by Gulf Coast Mobile. First place and $2,500 was awarded to Kyle Willkom, CEO of Smart Choice Sitter, a company that connects parents seeking sitters with reliable college students. Second place and $1,500 was awarded to Dan Berry, CEO, and his team at Oaken Shell Meadery, a Chicago-based company that will soon start distributing its craft mead beverages in Nashville and elsewhere. While third place and $1,000 was awarded to Marie Vasquez, CEO of Photo Booth of Clarksville, a photo booth service to add spice and create special memories at events ranging from birthday parties to retirement celebrations.
That was just the first half of the tour. The tour will continue on September 21, 2017 in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. If you have never been to a Bunker Labs Muster we highly recommend you join us this fall at a location near you. Check out the fall tour schedule and sign up for our national newsletter to get the latest event details.