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Business Brief: Bunker Labs Invites Veterans To Business Boot Camp

Distenfield head shot
John Burr
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A new Jacksonville nonprofit that helps veterans start businesses is getting grant money from financial-services company JPMorgan Chase.

In this week’s “Business Brief,” analyst John Burr introduces WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo to the veteran in charge of Jacksonville’s Bunker Labs, Derek Distenfield.

Distenfield asks, “How phenomenal would it be if Jacksonville was known as a place for military veterans to start businesses? That would be amazing, and we have everything for it. There’s a lot of people here doing great things that help military veterans. What the Bunker does, it just wraps a brand around it.”

Bunker Labs puts vets through intense, months-long training and immersion programs with companies, where they learn everything from how to hire the best workers to how to raise money for their startup.

Distenfield says veterans coming out of World War II would often network and hatch business plans at meeting places like the VFW lodge or American Legion hall. Nowadays, he says about a quarter of veterans want to start businesses, but they don’t frequent those built-in incubators. He hopes Bunker Labs can fill that role for a new generation.

“Millennials want to be a part of startups,” he says. “And what we’re doing is we’re rebranding with physical locations, physical rally points, under a new premise, a modern premise that military veterans want to be a part of.”

Of the $1.5 million grant to 12 Bunker Labs chapters nationwide, the Jacksonville chapter is getting $50,000. Distenfield says he wants to use that toward getting more business mentors and partner companies to sign on.

On Nov. 5, Bunker Labs Jacksonville will also be a stop on a national tour, when the Chicago-based nonprofit will send staff on the road “to catalyze that next greatest generation of military-trained entrepreneurs.”