By Aly Kuiken
After three successful years of its Launch Lab X Cohort, Bunker Labs Philadelphia shares how they’re shaking up the startup incubator scene for veterans in Philadelphia.
We sat down with Dan Hughes, Director of the Bunker Labs Launch Lab X Cohort in Philadelphia. Dan served in the U.S. Navy as a submarine specialist in the late 1980’s, then graduated from Temple University and co-founded Claritee Group, a data analytics firm for businesses.
Dan was drawn to Bunker Labs because of the organization’s mission: to inspire, equip, and connect military veterans with the tools and resources to pursue their entrepreneurial goals.
“The big thing for me was Bunker’s forward-focused attitude,” he explained. “It’s about solving problems, helping people, and building great businesses. That’s what makes Bunker unique.”
Launch Lab X is a 16-week cohort program that begins each January to help veterans and veteran spouses launch, validate, and grow their businesses. The 2018 cohort consisted of 13 veteran-owned startups, ranging from business services, to medical devices and personal care items, to restaurants. Launch Lab X involves weekly meetings covering a variety of topics presented by guest speakers.
Topics include branding, scaling operations, raising capital and marketing, among others. Each week, cohort companies present their successes and challenges to receive feedback and advice from other members.
“One of the best resources in Launch Lab X is the people,” noted Dan. “Having somebody who’s been through a similar experience to talk through your business plan and your challenges with is a huge benefit.”
David Arena, Air Force veteran and Founder/CEO of Alcove Media, explained what the comradery of Launch Lab X meant to him: “It takes you to a place where you don’t feel so lonely as an entrepreneur. You meet people who have gone through some of the same experiences and can give advice on something you may be struggling with in your business.”
Each cohort company is paired with a mentor to guide them through the program. These mentors are regional experts who have successfully started their own companies or have had years of business experience in a certain industry.
“We tried to set a tone of transparency and vulnerability so that people could keep it real,” said Hughes. “Our speakers this year really lived up to that.”
One speaker in particular was Nick Bayer, Founder and CEO of Saxby’s Coffee. Nick led a session in Week 6 of the cohort, discussing company values and culture.
“It really put things in perspective, by bringing forward these highly successful speakers, and having them go through the challenges and ups and downs that they went through to get where they are today,” remarked Dan.
Since its start in 2016, Launch Lab X has graduated 31 companies which have collectively generated over $10 million in revenue. These companies represent all 5 branches of the military, including servicemembers from the Vietnam era through recently-transitioned veterans.
“A great piece of Launch Lab X was that there were different stages of military careers…it was a really good learning opportunity for all groups,” mentioned Dr. Faith Leibman, founder of Foxhole and U.S. Navy and Army veteran (1985-89; 1990-91, Desert Storm).
Cohort members are featured each month on the Bunker Labs PHL blog and are regular speakers at monthly Bunker Brews events. Past members have been recognized by the University of Pennsylvania, Gentleman Jack’s Pitch Distilled Competition, and the WeWork Creator Awards.
Suzanne and Chris Garber (U.S. Army) are the co-founders of Gauze, a global database of hospitals. Since completing the program in 2017, Gauze has expanded to connect over 20,000 hospitals all over the world.
“Launch Lab X gave us three things: amazing content, fantastic connections, and access to capital. The program led us to make significant introductions to people who have helped us with legal, marketing, and technical assistance,” remarked Suzanne.
The program also provides practical resources like contracts, process templates, financial models, and documentation templates, all included free of charge to cohort members.
“These tools are great because they’re already there for members to use and share, and it saves a lot of time and money,” said Dan Hughes.
Launch Lab X welcomes veteran entrepreneurs at different stages of their business journeys. Earlier-stage companies can benefit from the feedback and input from experienced members of the group. Those further along in their development can provide insight to more recently started companies or serve as a mentor to the program.
“It’s important to remember that Bunker Labs is a non--profit organization, so much of our programming and regular events that we hold to build community wouldn’t be possible without the support of sponsors like Comcast, Bank of America, Boeing, Lincoln Financial Group, and CSL Behring,” concluded Hughes.
Interested in joining next year’s Launch Lab X Cohort? Applications for Launch Lab X are open through December 20th, 2018. To apply, click here.
About Bunker Labs
Bunker Labs is a national not-for-profit organization built by military veteran entrepreneurs to empower other military veterans as leaders in innovation. Through local chapters organized in 18 different cities including Philadelphia, Bunker Labs provides educational programming, mentors, events, and thriving local networks to help military veterans and their spouses start and grow businesses. Bunker Labs works to Inspire, Equip, and Connect veterans with the right resources and people locally to be successful, while also providing national tools and resources like: Launch Lab Online or Community Mobile App to support aspiring entrepreneurs where ever they may currently live or be stationed. For more information, please visit bunkerlabs.org or bunkerlabsphl.com/ and follow us on our social media profiles linked below.