Veteran Entrepreneurs Pitch Community Betterment in Nashville

By Justin Stokes

As high schoolers and college students are prepping for a summer’s worth of freedom, so too are those enrolled in Bunker Labs cohorts nationwide.

A national nonprofit that helps military veterans grow businesses, Bunker Labs recently held a 2017 Muster Across America event in Nashville at The Wond’ry at Vanderbilt University. The event, proudly sponsored by businesses with local footprints such as Comcast, drew more than 200 attendees.

“As a founding Bunker Labs sponsor both nationally and locally, Comcast is committed to supporting the military community,” said Tony Germer, Comcast’s Director of Engineering and Bunker Labs board member. “We are excited to be here with Nashville’s community leaders to connect Veteran entrepreneurs to mentors, resources and prospective investors.”

Startup founder Neil Whitney shares his pitch at the Muster Across America event (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Startup founder Neil Whitney shares his pitch at the Muster Across America event (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Todd Connor, founder and CEO of Bunker Labs, spoke to us about how this annual get-together helps everyone. “At this second annual Muster event, we expect hundreds of new connections to be made,” he said. “We expect deals to be [made]. We expect people to find mentors for their early-stage ideas, new customer opportunities for the businesses that [veterans] have already formed and more opportunities to hire employees or find interns.

“Really, it’s a community that we convene as the Bunker Labs to bring together the military veterans and the entrepreneurial communities that bring them together,” Connor continued. “At a big event like this where several hundred people come together, there are limitless opportunities. I hear every single day [about] relevant connections that were made at events like this: ideas that were triggered and opportunities that were made because of their participation in this event.”

The signature event for the Nashville chapter brought many ranks and variations of business professionals into the area. According to Daniel Berry, cofounder of the Nashville Bunker Labs chapter, the organization is “truly a landing point for veterans and entrepreneurs to call home and find access to resources needed to launch and grown their businesses.”

“The Muster [event] puts that on full display to grow the network and showcase the talent Veteran entrepreneurs bring to corporate America,” Berry continued.

Also in attendance was Marjorie Eastman, veteran and author of the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award-winning memoir The Frontline Generation. Eastman discussed the status of American veterans in 2017 and shared how her military intelligence background has served her in the world of business by teaching others how to lead.

“Marjorie Eastman portrays the vision and values for the post-9/11 veteran in such a meaningful way,” Berry said. “The story of those who have served needs to be told and honored. Keeping the American veteran in the forefront of our minds and the minds of our neighbors will remind everyone to cost of freedom. Lest we remember the American veteran, we are destined to repeat history.”

Eastman was among guests including Mayor Megan Barry and Vanderbilt University’s Robert Grajewski, who both spoke to express their admiration and pride for American veterans. They agreed that the event proved how those who serve need communal support to get their great business ideas off the ground.

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Robert Grajewski (Photo courtesy of John Russell/Vanderbilt)

“There is no better group to give back to than our veterans, who fought for our freedoms,” Grajewski said.

During the annual Muster Across America pitch contest, 13 veterans pitched their community-oriented business ideas to the crowd. Though Oaken Shell Meadery and Photo Booth of Clarksville earned second and third places respectively, it was babysitting service Smart Choice Sitters that won the $5,000 top prize. The platform allows parents and guardians to find quality babysitting services by browsing well-performing students or recent graduates in the service’s database.

The next Nashville Bunker Labs cohort begins in September, and those interested can apply here.

Lead photo of Mayor Megan Barry by John Russell/Vanderbilt University

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