Helping veterans achieve their American dream
To help veterans succeed as business owners, Wells Fargo is funding $50,000 for two Bunker Labs entrepreneurship workshops, with a goal to train 60 veteran-owned businesses by the end of 2022.
Zephrine Hanson was on the brink of shutting down her farm. She had been trying to learn the trade and grow her business, but didn’t have the background and support to successfully do so. That’s when Renee Bobb, a U.S. Navy veteran and training and development manager for Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that helps military veterans and military spouses start and grow successful businesses, stepped in. She told Hanson about her organization’s Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship program for African American, Asian American, Latino, and women veterans.
“She ended up going through our eight-week program. Not only was she able to secure several different grants, but she was also able to create a strong revenue model and a strong business plan in order to really take her business to the next level,” Bobb said.
Today, Hanson’s farm is a thriving family business, thanks in part to the entrepreneurship program at Bunker Labs.
“We need successful entrepreneurs to lead the next phase in our country and in our economy,” said Blake Hogan, Bunker Labs CEO and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “The military can be one of the greatest catalysts to entrepreneurship. [Helping veterans] is also the right thing to do. These folks have fought to make sure the American dream can be a thing, and now we want them to participate in it.”
Juan Biddix Jr., owner of Sarge Fitt and a current Bunker Labs program participant, agreed. “The Army teaches us to have discipline and follow-through. There’s always discipline in doing the job — and doing the job right, not just cutting corners. Because in the military, you cut corners, people can die. So it teaches us to do it the right way.”
To help veterans find success as business owners, Wells Fargo is funding $50,000 for two Bunker Labs entrepreneurship workshops. The goal is to train 60 veteran-owned businesses by the end of 2022, according to Priscilla Wallace, head of Wells Fargo Supplier Diversity Management.
“This partnership fits right into our goal of giving opportunities to military veterans to ensure they remain successful — especially since they’ve served our country,” Wallace said.
Veteran and minority entrepreneurs face additional barriers
Entrepreneurs face unique challenges when starting their own business. These problems are exacerbated among women, minorities, and veterans. Civilian entrepreneurs are nearly twice as likely to succeed, Hogan explained, and according to the Small Business Administration, veteran-owned businesses are 85% white.
Minority entrepreneurs often have to contend with being a single parent, working a full-time job while starting the business, feeling isolated, and not having access to capital.
These are challenges Biddix knows all too well. “When I started, I was doing everything myself,” he said. “I don’t have a family member or a friend I can lean on or borrow an extensive amount of money from. So I’ve had to fund everything from scratch mostly by myself.”
Wells Fargo’s supplier diversity program aims to break down these barriers for diverse-owned businesses. “In addition to funding such programs as Breaking Barriers, we’re striving to spend 15% of total controllable spend toward diverse suppliers, including veteran-owned business enterprises,” said Wallace.
‘Don’t thank a veteran; do business with them’
The current Breaking Barriers cohort — sneaker and shoe companies, consulting agencies, a child care facility, technology companies, restaurants, a food truck, and a professional women’s football team — are learning essential skills for running their business: acquiring customers, sales, accounting, technology, marketing, and human resources. But the most important lesson is networking.
“I tell them to network, network, network. Your network is your net worth,” Bobb said.
Networking also means entrepreneurs should surround themselves with a support system.
“I tell them to network, network, network. Your network is your net worth.” — Renee Bobb
“When you’re on your own, you might say, ‘Maybe this is time to throw in the towel.’ But when you’re surrounded by other people that believe in you and want to see you be successful and are going to help you be successful, then that extends your fight quite a bit longer,” Hogan added.
Bunker Labs and corporate partners such as Wells Fargo help give veteran entrepreneurs a fighting chance to succeed in business. But they can’t do it alone.
“Don’t thank a veteran. Do business with them,” Hogan said. “Don’t think about this as charity. Think about this as growing the American economy and having a front-row seat to it.”