Posted on: Friday - Nov 10, 2017

When I think of our military, the word “selfless” comes to mind. A desire to put the needs of others ahead of their own. After talking with Blake Hogan, executive director of Bunker Labs Nashville, I found that even after many military veterans have completed their service, a common feeling still remains: a need to continue to serve.

Hogan came from a military family. His grandfather served in the Navy during World War II, which sparked an ambition in Hogan at the young age of nine. He knew he wanted to be in the Marine Corps, and he knew he wanted to be an officer. He was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer in 2008 and as he was preparing to become an infantry officer, he suffered an accident which left him with a broken leg and hip. 

“I had accomplished many meaningful things up until that point in my career, but I still felt like I hadn’t done my job, which is not a unique feeling for someone in the military,” Hogan explained. “Many of us feel like we left something on the table and have a strong desire to figure out a way to continue our service, even if it’s outside of the military.”

Hogan says there are two reasons why he thinks he was injured: to meet his wife and to be a servant leader to businesses. That’s when he received a call from Todd Connor, CEO of Bunker Labs.

Bunker Labs, a national non-profit organization, was built by military veteran entrepreneurs to empower other military veterans to start and grow businesses. Connor started Bunker Labs in Chicago in 2014 and there are now 17 locations throughout the country, with about 30 others on a waitlist. The organization works to inspire, educate and connect veterans with the right resources and people locally to be successful. Hogan helped start Bunker Labs Austin and then moved to Tennessee to start the first Southeast chapter in Nashville. 

“About a quarter of military veterans who are actively leaving service over the next five years all say they want to start a business and less than five percent actually are,” said Hogan. “The big challenges for military entrepreneurs is the lack of professional networks. The idea behind Bunker Labs is that we’ve created this network effect all across the country. We want to provide them with the direction they need to help them figure out how to get a business started.”

Nashville Cohort
Blake Hogan, Executive Director of Bunker Labs Nashville
Bunker Labs team meeting
Gov. Haslam speaking at Nashville Muster 2016

Hogan says military personnel are uniquely positions to be successful in entrepreneurship because it’s all about being comfortable while being uncomfortable, which is a skill learned through military training. The key is to get through the chaos and find a way to success.

And the proof is in the numbers. In three years, Bunker Labs has seen the launch of 360 companies, which have raised nearly $30 million in capital and created 1,700 jobs and $50 million in revenue.

In regards to the success Bunker Labs has seen in Tennessee, Hogan says Tennessee has the opportunity to be the most veteran business-friendly state in the nation. “Tennessee really has it right with all of the accelerators across the state – not many states are connected like that. What TNECD has done with Launch Tennessee in creating this network, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots and plugging veterans in locally.”

As Bunker Labs continues to grow throughout the country, the organization will continue to follow two specific value sets. One is to have no ego and the other is to add value. Hogan says, “When you do those two things and put others ahead of yourself in business, it helps in the long run.”

When asked what Hogan likes the most about his job, it’s clear to see that the idea of selflessness is something that truly becomes engrained in a military veteran. “At Bunker Labs, we have the greatest job in the world because our job is to make other people look great. All we’re doing is engineering the right environments for people to be successful within. And when you do that, and you get to sit back and see deals happen, you realize it’s all worth it.”

To learn more about Bunker Labs, visit bunkerlabs.org