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Connecting veterans to the entrepreneurial ecosystem

Sumeet Chahal, Regional Executive Director for the Central Region at Bunker Labs, shares the exciting work his team is doing to help veterans create and scale their businesses.

Sumeet Chahal wanted to start a business after serving in the Marines, but he struggled to find the network to make it happen. And Sumeet is not alone in this. After World War II, 45 percent of veterans came home and started their own businesses, but today, that number has fallen to only 4.5 percent.

“Those of us that served in the military walked away from the largest network we’ve ever known once we got out — whether we retire or serve our time and get out. And we never leverage that network after,” Chahal explained. “And so the premise was, if we got these people together in a room, could we help each other launch or scale our companies?”

In this episode of Disrupt the Continuum, Chahal describes how Bunker Labs is helping veterans and military spouses create and grow their businesses, and he offers insight into the unique advantages that come from building a business in Tennessee.

Equipping Veterans to Succeed

For many veterans, leaving the military means moving to a new city with few connections, and that can make entrepreneurship significantly more difficult. Additionally, veteran-run companies are less likely to get funded by traditional banking sources.

This is the gap Bunker Labs helps to fill, with programming that connects individuals to a network of entrepreneurs who want to help their fellow veterans. With Launch Lab Online, the Veterans in Residence program, and CEO Circle, Bunker Labs meets entrepreneurs wherever they find themselves in the process of building a business and helps them take it to the next level.

Though veterans may face certain barriers to entry into entrepreneurship, Chahal has seen how tapping into the military community can also create enormous opportunities. The Bunker Labs network includes major players like Army veteran and FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and those individuals often want to help their fellow veterans.

“We want to create the next Fred Smith, and that happens because we can get access to someone like Fred Smith because he’s a veteran,” Chahal explained.

The Tennessee Advantage

Bunker Labs’ Central Region includes three chapters in Tennessee, and Chahal — who now lives in Memphis — believes the state offers some unique advantages to entrepreneurs. These advantages come from both the helpful spirit of Tennessee residents and the pre-existing entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“I heard about Tennessee as the volunteer state, and I heard about it as a beautiful state,” he remembered. “What I found was a state where people are willing to help each other. I came in not a native Tennessean, with very few people I knew, and the connectivity of Bunker Labs being the entrance into it. But with Bunker Labs came Launch Tennessee, and with Launch Tennessee came all of the partners across the state.”

With the Launch Tennessee network, Bunker Labs can offer even more resources to their veteran members, because they don’t have to build an ecosystem from scratch. Chahal also sees a unique culture of collaboration and connection instead of competition.

“I can name you people all across the state that are willing to help you, that five years before today didn’t know who I was,” he said. “There’s the volunteer mindset of ‘What can we do to help?’ I think that’s what sets Tennessee apart in many ways.”

Please subscribe, rate, and review Disrupt the Continuum wherever you listen to podcasts. This season we’re sharing Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem story. It’s about how, as a statewide community, we collaborate and provide resources founders need to build, scale, and execute their businesses. It’s the power of our statewide network and the boots-on-the-ground startups that #BuildTN.

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