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Bunker Labs Helps Military Veterans Become Entrepreneurs

Courtesy of Bunker Labs
Veterans working with Bunker Labs learn about startups at one of the organization's monthly "Bunker Brews" networking events.

A national nonprofit to help military veterans become entrepreneurs has recently opened up a Seattle chapter.

Bunker Labs aims to help veterans start their own businesses by connecting them to the resources they need to do so.

Nearly half of World War II veterans went on to start a business, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. But a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows thatless than five percent of veterans who have served since September 11, 2001 have done the same.

Bunker Labs Seattle Executive Director Johannes Shonberg calls the decline a missed opportunity.

"The skills that you get in the military -- self-discipline, perseverance, exceptional team players -- it's just sort of the core elements that go into being successful entrepreneurs," Shonberg said.

A  veteran who joined a startup in Tacoma when he left the Navy, Shonberg said the military doesn't provide a lot of support for service members looking to start a business when they get out.

For example, Shonberg was an officer driving ships and managing departments. As he was transitioning out of the military, he took a test to match that experience with civilian careers. The tests indicated that he should be a crosswalk border guard, a colonoscopy technician or a coatroom attendant.

"I said, 'This is broken," Shonberg said.

Bunker Labs aims to help veterans learn about everything from financial management to becoming a freelancer to getting into tech startups.

The Puget Sound region is a hub for such startups, but Shonberg says even veterans who want to start brick-and-mortar businesses have a lot to learn.

"There's a lot more involved with starting a company than there was in, say, back in post-World War II," Shonberg said.

Bunker Labs holds monthly networking events in Tacoma and will begin offering an entrepreneurship course for veterans this summer.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.