August 18, 2022

Local initiative helps veterans start businesses


Bunker Labs Indianapolis Ambassador Courtney Zaugg

Bunker Labs Indianapolis Ambassador Courtney Zaugg

A national organization incubator helps military veterans and spouses start and grow successful businesses and startups. Bunker Labs is a nonprofit ambassador program in more than 30 U.S. cities where participants take part in a year-long, cohort-based development program. WFYI’s Taylor Bennett spoke to Indianapolis Ambassador Courtney Zaugg, about why it can be difficult to start a business, especially for veterans. 

Applications for the next cohort will open in September.

WFYI's Taylor Bennett:   Why is it so hard for the veterans? You think with the the background that they have coming out and they want to just start something on their own. Are they facing any different challenges?

Bunker Labs Indianapolis Ambassador Courtney Zaugg: I think the biggest challenge would be their transition into civilian life. In many cases, while there are programs available, there isn't sufficient support at all, for those transitioning into the civilian world, not getting them connected to the right type of jobs, not getting them connected, sharing their resume and their actual skill set that in military language doesn't translate on a resume very well.

And I think this missing piece of service as well, you know, they, they had a mission and a purpose, and they're all on the same team. And that's completely taken away when they transition to the civilian world. So when starting a company, they're used to having, again, a team, a foundation to rely on transition to the civilian world, and then starting a business where it's even harder to build that team. It makes it very difficult.

Bennett:  What are some of the work that you're doing with them that helps?

Zaugg:  The reason I am a part of Bunker Labs is not only because of the resources, but when you have a group of folks in the same room with a shared experience, whether you are a military spouse, or whether you are a veteran, instantly the walls come down there is this instant foundation of trust that is established that easily allows people to solve problems. It's a peer oriented initiative that research shows peer led cohort groups actually are more successful in supporting and scaling businesses. And that focus with military background has made it wildly successful.

Bennett:  Do you find that support is lacking for local entrepreneurs?

Zaugg: In some communities yes. And the reason I would say that, the candid reason for that, is when policymakers run on platforms focused on jobs, the things are selling newspapers are how many jobs, how much capital investment, which are all good things. But there has been an evolution in the economic development industry where that has, while that has been successful, the next step is ecosystem development.

And as a part of that ecosystem, startups play a really critical part startups are, you know, companies younger than five years old. So national data shows that nearly all net new jobs are created by young firms under five years old. So you have large companies that are hiring 1,000 people. Market shifts, then they decrease by 1,000 people or more, and it goes back up. So it's really it's neutral. So all of the new creation of new jobs are startups. And I think sharing that information and in tying the data to what kind of strategies would be a better, longer term return on your investment. It's about entrepreneurship.

Bennett: Well, thank you so much.

Zaugg:  Thank you very much, Taylor

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