The cofounder of Flank 5 Academy and CEO of Bunker Labs is on a mission to provide support for entrepreneurially minded veterans.
- By October 10, 2016
8 a.m. I’m usually among the first people to arrive at Bunker Labs in [coworking space] 1871. I start by spending an hour cranking through email. I carve out blocks where I just respond to email, so I can be present for other activities throughout the day.
9–11 a.m. I film interviews with successful entrepreneurs, create new modules, and regularly update the content for our online platform, Bunker in a Box, to connect with the men and women who are going to get out of the military this year.
11 a.m. Have coffee with someone seeking support. I talk to a lot of transitioning military service members or veterans looking to start businesses, and I love talking to these men and women that I care about.
Noon Lunch with a partner, client, or sponsor. Chicago has a lot of corporate and civic activity, and it would be easy to fill the week with luncheons, learning, and networking, but I focus on key relationships. I take my team out for lunch usually once or twice a month.
I have always felt strongly connected to service. I've always felt strongly connected to this country. When I graduated college in 2000, I went off and I did four years of active duty on the USS Bunker Hill, which is sort of the namesake for the organization Bunker Labs now, and really just had a great experience in the military working alongside fellow officers and sailors and loved it. Learned a lot, grew a lot, led a lot. In 2004, I was done with my obligation. I always knew that I wanted to come back to Chicago, and so I returned back and applied to Booth. Booth was my first choice. I got in and I thought, "This is great."
What we're doing here is something that I just have always done personally, which is help other military veterans figure out ways that they can start their own business. I think that there's just a huge opportunity to find ways to take this raw talent, these people that have learned how to do difficult things on active duty, and turn them into entrepreneurs and help redirect them with their next mission in life to start a business, grow an economy, hire people, hire veterans, become leaders in their community, and find ways for them to have more impact back.
Somebody that's been on the ground in Fallujah and done the things that are required of you doesn't just want to go punch a clock. This is a group of people that, they're leaders and if we empower them and give them the platform to realize their full potential, they're going to be highly successful entrepreneurs and their success will translate for veteran impact down the road. We've seen that play out and that's a powerful message.
There's several Booth alum that have companies that are active inside the Bunker. One of our first companies was a company called Credit Serve. Two cofounders, Cesar Munoz and Jason Smart, both Booth grads. They actually came to us while they were still in Booth and then they said, "Hey, military service members have lower credit score because they move a lot and because they do these things as a function of their job." As a function of them being in the military, that ultimately hurt their credit profile. So they said, "We ought to think of a different solution around this," so they came up with a company called Credit Serve that was all about giving a different credit score for military service members as a way for them to access credit at competitive rates, which is what they deserve.
So we start the conversation with them when they were in Booth, they were in the new venture challenge. They came to us, we worked with them on growing their business. They ultimately actually sold their business to a a local veteran-owned bank here in Chicago, Federal Savings Bank, that does a lot in the home lending mortgage industry and Jason went to go work for them and Cesar got a job with Google. So these stories just happen all the time here. It's one of the really fun things about it is that there is this sort of club of folks that, whether they went to Booth or somewhere else, they come to us and they come as veterans and we build a community around that. We have a lot of fun and we see them make their path toward success.
1 p.m. Conference call with the national Bunker Labs team. The 12 Bunker Labs chapters nationwide talk weekly about what we call “pains and gains.” Each city leader gives an update on their programming, fundraising, events, and other key initiatives. I listen, usually in awe, to all of the amazing work that these military veterans and entrepreneurs are doing in their local markets.
3 p.m. Meet with my seven teammates at the Bunker in Chicago. We follow a strict meeting protocol. Each person identifies the three things they aim to get done for the week. It’s easy to be busy, but identifying our “big 3” publicly ensures we are progressing toward focused goals.
4 p.m. Check-in with Emily Drake, the CEO of Flank 5 Academy, the company that I cofounded in 2013 that continues to grow and be of service to lots of people in Chicago.
5 p.m. I return phone calls from the day and spend another hour on emails, and review my schedule for the coming two weeks.
6:30 p.m. Drive home to cook dinner with Andrew. We don’t talk work at home—we talk about our family, trips, plans, but we like the break from work at night.
9:30 p.m. I usually fall asleep reading. I’m currently rereading Mindset by Carol Dweck.