Start and Grow a Veteran-led Business, with Tim O’Neil, Bunker Labs, Minneapolis

Bunker Labs, Minneapolis is a non-profit built by military veteran entrepreneurs to empower other military veterans as leaders in innovation.

Tim O'Neil, Bunker Labs, Minneapolis

Tim O’Neil, Bunker Labs, Minneapolis

This year, 200,000 military veterans will leave the service. Twenty-five percent of them want to start a business. In 2013, Tim O’Neil was one of those people.

After 7 years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, Tim left the military. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Business to pursue his MBA.

When Tim graduated, he started Fidelis Co, a manufacturer, and distributor of carried goods: backpacks, duffle bags, cases for electronics. The company has a veteran’s thesis. Tim took components of what he was familiar with in the service and brought them to the urban professional. He and a co-founder launched the company in the Spring of 2015 with a Kickstarter campaign. When they reached their goal in the first 48 hours, they knew they were onto something.

About 12 months after the initial launch of his company, Tim had an opportunity to be in Chicago for a photo shoot for Fidelis Co. While he was there, he was introduced to Todd Connor. Todd runs 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. Because of their common background in the military and in entrepreneurship, it made sense to both Tim and Todd that they should meet.

Tim was immediately taken with the idea of veterans helping veterans to start businesses. He had several follow-up conversations. Tim says, “Eventually, you sit in on enough conference calls and you ask enough questions, and you own it.”

There are fifteen Bunker Labs chapters across the United States. They focus on educational programming, mentors, and events. They are building a thriving local network to help veterans start and grow businesses.

For people who are still in the military but are planning on leaving the service in the next six months or so, Bunker Labs offers Bunker-in-a-Box, an online training course. The language of the course reflects the military. For example, instead of lessons, there are fourteen missions.

When a military veteran returns to their home community, they can connect through a fun, casual social event called Bunker Brews. “That’s where the catalytic collisions really start to occur,” Tim told me.

Once a veteran has an idea for a business, Bunker Labs provides a 14-week long program called EPIC. They meet one night per week for three hours. Tim explained, “That’s really how you get from idea to invoice.” In the last cohort in Minneapolis, ten individuals leading ten veteran-led companies participated.

As veteran-led organizations grow to around $500,000 in recurring revenue, Bunker Labs provides a program called CEO Circle. This is a monthly, hosted breakfast.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Tim O’Neil

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I live in Minneapolis, and they were doing all this stuff in Chicago.” Tim O’Neil, @BunkerLabsMPLS “]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Timings not everything. It’s the only thing.” Tim O’Neil, @BunkerLabsMPLS”]

“It was a lived experience.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We say we’re a community.” Tim O’Neil, @BunkerLabsMPLS”]

“We are decidedly not an incubator or an accelerator.”

“Our only interest is the success of the companies that are inside of our community.”

“One in four military veterans leaving the service are interested in entrepreneurship or a small business.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have something to help veteran entrepreneurs at each stage.” Tim O’Neil, @BunkerLabsMPLS”]

“We’re only going to do things that we ourselves are excited about.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Learn how to listen, and talk strategically.” Tim O’Neil, @BunkerLabsMPLS”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The veteran community is tight knit.” Tim O’Neil, @BunkerLabsMPLS”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

About the Author
Tony Loyd is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and the author of Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs. He is a former Fortune 500 executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, talent management, and leadership development. Tony is the host of the podcast Social Entrepreneur where you can hear the stories of changemakers who are making an impact on the world.

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