By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
With financial support from Launch Tennessee, Bunker Labs Nashville is pilot testing an expansion model that, if successful, could be replicated across the country by the national Bunker Labs organization.
Blake Hogan, Executive Director and Founder of the Nashville affiliate, recently briefed the Launch Tennessee board of directors on the expansion that involves establishing chapters in Chattanooga, Clarksville, Knoxville and Memphis.
Two East Tennessee veterans – Derren Burrell of Knoxville and Jordon Kestner of Johnson City – have taken on responsibility for launching the Knoxville group. Their official titles are Community Leaders.
The overall goal is to create a supportive environment to help military veterans and their spouses start and grow new ventures. It sounds simple, but Bunker Labs has developed some specialized programming for veterans since it was launched nearly four years ago in Chicago. Today, there are programs in 16 major cities in 14 states – California and Texas have two locations each.
As described in this recent teknovation.biz series (Part 1), the foundation of the Bunker Labs programming is its “Bunker Brews,” monthly happy hours that connect military entrepreneurs with business leaders through pitch sessions and panels to share their business lessons from the frontline. That’s where the Knoxville Chapter will start.
“We spent a day and half a few weeks ago in Nashville where we charted-out a roadmap to set-up a chapter here,” Burrell told us “We are planning about six events between now and the end of the year” The first of the local “Bunker Brews” is set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. February 22 at Maple Hall, 414 South Gay Street, Knoxville. Click here to register.
Burrell is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel whose day job is as Chief Operating Officer of TAG Resources LLC. During his free time, he recently launched Veteran Ventures Capital LLC, a $5 million early stage fund designed to help entrepreneurs with a military background grow a business.
Kestner, an Army veteran, is Founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of Stealth Performance Communication Inc. He launched the company, which we featured in this 2017 teknovation.biz article, more than four years ago.
“Stealth was part of the most recent Bunker Labs Nashville cohort,” Kestner said. That engagement, much of which he did remotely via Skype, helped him see the value of the Bunker Labs approach.
Both of the Community Leaders are connecting with entrepreneurial support organizations in their region. Burrell is working closely with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, while Kestner describes his role as “focused on bringing juggernaut veteran business leaders to our Bunker community to bring free value to our future veteran entrepreneurial leaders.”
Why get involved? For both Burrell and Kestner, it’s about giving back and helping.
“Everyone has to transition from the military eventually,” Kestner says. Bunker Labs programming helps make that reality much easier for the estimated 25 percent of military veterans who desire to start their own business.