Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Bunker Labs, a national nonprofit offering veterans resources for business development and employment, chose a prime spot for its 17th chapter: San Antonio's downtown tech district.
"It only makes sense that we bring the organization to Military City, USA," said Todd Connor, CEO of Bunker Labs, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday inside the Geekdom Event Centre. "We know it's going to be a thriving success."
Started in 2014 and based in Chicago, the organization aims to inspire, educate, and connect military members to entrepreneurship opportunities. Programs offer online courses that provide active service members, veterans, and their family members with video lessons and other resources helpful in learning how to start and run a business.
The Bunker Labs San Antonio office is located inside Geekdom co-working facility at the Rand Building. Curtez D. Riggs, one of Bunker Labs' community managers, said the physical location offers a space for program participants to gather and ask questions for a deeper dive into topics addressed in online courses.
"We'll meet here and we'll facilitate a conversation based upon what they talked about in the online session," Riggs said. "We're going to continue the conversation, answer any hard-core questions, and continue to develop them on a local level. We're going to more or less build in the networking and community component of the online programming."
Twenty-two percent to 25 percent of veterans are interested in starting a business, according to Bunker Labs. With more than a million military service veterans beginning a transition into civilian life over the next several years, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that the organization would provide an opportunity to create and contribute to businesses in the heart of Texas.
"When I think about a venture like this, with great partners in the corporate community as well as our innovation community right here in Geekdom, I think the sky is the limit," Nirenberg said. "It's going to be great for San Antonio and these families."
Michael Pleasant, another community manager, said that one of the benefits of working in a collaborative space like Geekdom is that it offers participants the opportunity to find businesses they may be interested in joining.
"Entrepreneurship isn't necessarily starting a new business," Pleasant said. "It can also be finding a company that you really love, becoming a part of that company, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation within that company."
USAA partnered with Bunker Labs in 2015 to provide philanthropic financial support to the organization's Austin and San Antonio locations. Select USAA employees also serve as mentors, providing industry insight and experience.
"Being in a corporate environment, we're very aware of the business case needs, the legal needs, and talking through that ... makes the environment very safe," said Lea Sims, assistant vice president of employee and member innovation at USAA.
Harriet Dominique, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at USAA, said that the company's partnership would be an "enduring relationship" with one of the best organizations at fostering resiliency among military families.
"Our sole purpose for being in business is to take care of the military community," Dominique said. “That’s why we’re so thrilled to work with Bunker Labs. This is a perfect example of empowering veterans and spouses.”