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Here’s why Bunker Labs PHL serves local veteran entrepreneurs like Sylvester Mobley

Sylvester Mobley and Joe Witte at this year's Philly Startup Leaders barbecue. August 30, 2016 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumPurpose


Editor's note: Generocity's parent company, Technically Media, is headquartered in the coworking space Benjamin's Desk, which was founded by Bunker Labs PHL founder Mike Maher. That relationship in unrelated to this article.
When Sylvester Mobley returned from a tour in Iraq in 2010, the Coded By Kids founder had a hard time assimilating back into civilian life.

“I didn’t have the easiest time adjusting to being home,” said Mobley, who’s served in three branches of the military. “And for a little while, I kind of floundered, because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, where I belonged. If I’d had a community of people around me, I think it would have made it a lot easier.”

In 2013, he found that community in Bunker Labs PHL, the local branch of the national incubator specifically for veterans.

The first cohort of eight early-stage enterprises launched this year and will last for 12 months at no cost to participants. Coded By Kids’ fellow startups include CauseEngine, which helps nonprofits scale, and JobAdvocate, which incorporates military training into corporate settings.

Apply to join the next cohort

The programming is meant to “inspire, educate and connect,” said Joe Witte, Bunker Labs PHL’s program director and an Army captain who also served in Iraq. That might mean bringing in successful local entrepreneurs such as Josh Kopelman and Nick Bayer to talk about their journeys, or simply intro’ing veteran entrepreneurs to each other via informal monthly meetups called Bunker Brews

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It’s important to point out that Bunker Labs is a nonprofit operation that invests no money into the enterprises in its program, so the objective isn’t to get a hefty financial return from them.

Nick Bayer Bunker Labs

Saxbys CEO Nick Bayer. (Courtesy photo)

Instead, “we want to see them become sustainable businesses,” Witte said. “If it’s a one-person business or a 10,000-person business, I don’t really care. I want to help them achieve their business objectives, whatever they may be.”

There are perks such as free business cards, free AWeber accounts and a few hundred dollars in Microsoft credit (all thanks to corporate in-kind partnerships, according to Witte). But the real benefit of participating in Bunker Labs in the community that comes from being around people who been through what you’ve been through.

“If you’ve ever gotten together with a group of veterans, it doesn’t matter what branch, you just see an immediate connection that occurs,” Witte said “There’s just a different level of respect that you’ve at the minimum gone through some basic training, [and there’s a] different level of maturity, experience.”

Mobley said it’s incredibly helpful to bounce ideas off of his cohort members. There’s no competition, only support.

“In a lot of ways, veterans are a group underrepresented,” he said. “When you’re making that transition back home [from being deployed], it’s difficult to relate to other people who haven’t experienced the same things. There’s a lack of community, lack of support.”

Instead, Bunkers Labs “says, ‘We’re going to give you community [with people who] have similar experiences, and we’re gonna help support you.’”

Coming up in November is Bunker Labs PHL’s flagship event “The Muster: Big Ideas for America.” Check it out for a showcase of this cohort’s businesses and discussions about veteran social impact.

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