Veteran Entrepreneur Spotlight:

Joelle Choe

 

This is a story about Ari and Baro, two Boston Terriers. Ari and Baro both developed severe allergies, making it almost impossible to feed them store-bought food. Joelle’s sister, Minkyung, spent a lot of time shuttling her dogs to the vet, trying to find something they could eat without getting sick. It was a struggle that seemed to be headed for an unhappy ending.

Part of the problem was the litany of additives, preservatives, and toxins present in the overly processed options in store-bought food and treats. Studies about pet food are starting to identify a connection between food quality, pet health, and a pet’s quality of life. And who wouldn’t want their beloved pet to live their very best life?

Eventually, Minkyung gave up on finding food her dogs could safely eat. 

She would cook for Ari and Baro herself.

Joelle’s Military Experience

Joelle was in college on track for a Bachelor’s of Integrated Sciences from Penn State when she joined the Air Force. She trained as an MP, and was based out of RAF Croughton and Andrews AFB, Maryland from 2017-2021. In September of 2019, she got deployed to Turkey, serving overseas through April of 2020.

Unfortunately, she suffered from some medical issues, and took orders back to Andrews AFB, Maryland. There, Joelle worked as a marketing and advertising coordinator for Andrews AFB’s SparkX Cell until she separated in July of 2021. 

It was a long process, but after just a few months, she noticed a difference in Ari and Baro. Their health was improving, there were fewer trips to the vet, and Ari and Baro were thriving.

It wasn’t long before some of Joelle’s friends took notice, and Minkyung started sharing the treats. It turned out most pets are fans of Minkyung’s cooking, and the idea for Aribaro Company was born.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

While Joelle was serving, she founded JYC Group, a boutique digital marketing agency focused on social media and content creation. During the pandemic, JYC Group was a business model that was built for remote work at a time when companies were trying to optimize and increase their online presence to make up for in-person business losses brought on by shutdowns and shifting trends. At this time, she was also working in real estate and co-founded Elpisphere, a government creative agency fostering relationships with military communities.

When Joelle separated from the Air Force, rather than return home to run her business, she put the names of seven cities in a hat and drew Houston. She didn’t know anyone in Houston. She didn’t have a specific plan or prospect or school she wanted to attend in Houston. She just knew the real estate market was taking off, the city was growing, and it was much warmer than her native New Jersey.

Meanwhile, her sister, Minkyung, wanted to go into business. The demand for her food was evident in her circle, but she didn’t have any business experience. She turned to Joelle, looking to draw on her marketing and business management experience. In November 2021, Aribaro Company opened for business, selling freeze-dried, dehydrated, simple, single-ingredient pet treats with no toxins or preservatives inspired by Korean culture. 

Connecting With Bunker Labs

Joelle joined Bunker Labs just coming off a successful IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. She joined our Veterans in Residence (ViR) program, as part of cohort 22A. She credits her time at Bunker Labs with refining her pitch and her growth strategy, sticking to a bootstrapping approach for as long as possible, while seeking opportunities for partnerships.

Joelle was getting enough out of ViR that she explored our other offerings, and joined Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship’s (BBiE) 22B cohort. Afterward, she decided to give back to Bunker Labs by becoming an Ambassador for Houston.

 

We now realize because of Bunker Labs, it gave us insight, it gave us a confidence on just cold calling or cold emailing large corporations, even if that means just walking into that store.”

Joelle Choe

COO, Aribaro Company

Getting Ready To Grow and Scale

Joelle is enjoying working with her sister, and is determined to scale Aribaro Company so pets everywhere can enjoy quality, simple, healthy food that they’re excited to eat. Since her time at Bunker Labs, Aribaro has expanded its menu to 29 products, and won the competitive Founders First Stephen L. Tadlock Veteran grant in 2023. 

They are looking to run a pop-up event and open a brick & mortar location in Houston in November 2024. They’re also planning to open a pet resort in Austin in April 2025. Joelle and Minkyung have also started the process of getting their products available in more places. You can now find Aribaro on Etsy, Spouse-ly, and of course the Aribaro website.

It’s Your Time

Veterans in Residence is a professionally-facilitated, sixteen-week business incubator that provides veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs a networking community, business skills, and opportunities to help grow their business.

Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship is a virtual workshop series that facilitates business growth and support within AAPI, Black, Latinx, and female veteran and military spouse communities. The eight-week program is designed to create an immediate impact for early to growth-stage businesses by providing access to business tools, resources, capital opportunities, mentorship, and a stronger peer network!

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!