Bunker Labs

WeWork’s Newest ‘Veterans in Residence’ Get Down to Business

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WeWork and Bunker Labs’ Veterans in Residence (ViR) gives vets and military spouses a free workspace for six months to develop their startups. We talk with the head of the LA cohort.

By S.C. Stuart

At the end of World War II, the GI Bill helped many return to the workforce or go to college. Large corporations like IBM pledged to hire these highly skilled workers, and some have similar programs today.

But that employment trajectory—the lifelong corporate job with a pension and a gold watch when you turn 60—is not the norm these days. An increasing number of people start their own thing, often testing the waters by renting space in a coworking setup like WeWork, which now has 502 locations across the US.

Which is why WeWork Veterans in Residence (ViR), a partnership with Bunker Labs, launched in 2016. With 18 units—or cohorts—nationwide, it gives veterans and military spouses support to build a business, including full WeWork membership privileges and complimentary workspace for six months. There’s also a host of digital help, including an online-only mini MBA-style program.

Last week, the newest group of ViRs arrived at WeWorks across the country. Andrew Andrews-Ramirez, who spent nine years in the US Army and Army National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, leads WeWork’s Los Angeles-based cohort. We spoke with him via email; here are edited and condensed excerpts from our conversation.

Andrew, how did you get involved in Veterans in Residence? 
I met the founder and CEO of Bunker Labs, Todd Connor, when I was in business school in Chicago. We reconnected a few years later. I offered my support to the mission as I was starting my own business at the time and the Veterans in Residence program was rolling out in 10 cities.

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What appealed to you most about the setup?
I wanted to be a part of shaping the entrepreneur ecosystem in Los Angeles and support not only the amazing ViR program, but also the larger Bunker Labs mission. An offering like this was always a goal for Bunker Labs, and it couldn’t have a better partner than WeWork.

Based on your own active duty experience in the military, what are the three qualities that servicemen and women possess that make them great entrepreneurs?
Decision making: You train and operate with the understanding that the decisions you make affect the lives of those to your left and right. Resource allocation: You quickly realize that you need to live by the mantra of, “do more with less.” Whether that means that your unit is under staffed, you lack mission critical equipment, or you find yourself in a scenario where you’ve run out of food or water and there’s no possibility of resupply for at least a week. Finally, determination: Never giving up is ingrained in your head through various creeds or something like the warrior ethos.

Those sound like stellar founder/CEO qualities.
In my opinion, you want someone running a company that has pushed their mind and body to limits they never thought possible and who has found ways to overcome situations where the odds were stacked against them. With such a high failure rate for ventures, these three main qualities set veterans up to be great entrepreneurs.

Talk us through the specifics of the current LA cohort. 
This will be LA’s third cohort. To date there have been close to 300 applicants for the LA program. Each cohort selects 10 veterans, or spouses of veteran—entrepreneurs who: are committed to working on their business full-time; display a desire to be a part of a tribe that is looking to help each other be successful; and show a need for incubating their business in a collaborative work environment.

What can they expect on day one?
The first day of the program is comprised of introductions for the entire team with a focus on goal setting by each member of the cohort. The Bunker Labs team spends time asking questions so that they can provide the right support and resources during their six-month tenure as well as review the curriculum that will be covered.

What happens after the six-months wrap up?
Each cohort ends the program with what we call a Demo Day, which is an opportunity for each entrepreneur to showcase their business by pitching in front of angel investors, venture capitalists, strategic partners, and other professionals who support the veteran entrepreneur ecosystem. Success is defined differently for each business, and we aim to help all members achieve the goals they established at the beginning of the program.

As this is PCMag, give us an idea of the tech tools your cohort will use as they learn to build a business.
A majority of startups will never secure funding and will have to bootstrap for extended periods of time. Luckily for them, there are many free tools and low-cost resources available to help you run your business. Things like HubSpot to assist with email marketing as well as CRM capability, Asana for project management, Google offerings for document control, Quickbooks and Xero for basic financials, or all the tools offered in Office 365 (Teams, Planner, SharePoint, etc.), just to name a few.

Are there any tech-focused startups in the current cohort who just did their demo day?
Sure: CureMint is the first and only all-in-one marketplace and spend management SaaS designed specifically for the unique needs of dental organizations. RANDIAN is a patented platform that makes shows and videos interactive by allowing consumers to watch, click, shop, and buy what they see on their favorite shows or movies. UAV-IQ is an agriculture technology SaaS company that provides the infrastructure, platform, analytics, and tools necessary to manage complex agronomic and farm management decisions.

We’ve written about several startups that have received DoD funding, includingthose supported by the DIU (Defense Innovation Unit). Do you help your cohort pursue these sorts of funding opportunities?
In our first two cohorts, we have not had any companies focused on the government contracting space nor have they had products or services they were trying to sell to any type of government agency where they would be considered for DoD funding or be targeted by DIU. DIU is one of the hardest funding sources to secure out there and its consideration just hasn’t been a need in our market.

Finally, when we covered Team Rubicon, it was noticeable that retaining a sense of shared purpose is crucial when leaving the camaraderie of the services. How would you say WeWork Veterans in Residence does this today?
Entrepreneurship is often a very lonely journey where founders are trying to save money by working out of their home or various coffee shops. The ViR creates a collaborative working environment of entrepreneurs that are not only sharing that journey but also understand the additional struggles that are being faced in relation to prior service in the military. At the end of the day, no one quite understands a veteran better than a fellow veteran.

Veterans who want to apply for the next cohort in Q4 2019, can find details here.

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