A Madison-based non-profit is hoping to connect veterans across the state with resources to start or grow businesses.
Bunker Labs Wisconsin kicked off its Muster Across Wisconsin Tour in downtown La Crosse Wednesday. The organization, which works to network veteran entrepreneurs with their peers and business start-up resources, chose La Crosse because of the impressive efforts of former Marine and Logistics Health Inc. founder Don Weber.
Weber served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart and two bronze stars in addition to other honors. He has led LHI’s growth from a small startup to more than 1,000 full-time employees and the company he founded recently landed up to $3 billion in contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that would allow the La Crosse-based company increase its employment to 2,500 workers within a year.
“I grew up in Onalaska,” Bunker Labs Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Ertmer said. “The success story of Don Weber and LHI is one of the better stories in the state.”
Along with several networking events throughout the afternoon and evening, Weber and representatives from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Small Business Development Center, the Wisconsin Technology Council and venture capital firm Idea Fund of La Crosse presented information to participants. Talks covered such subjects as connecting with resources to start and grow a business to a presentation on the investment capital landscape in the state.
Ertmer, who served in the U.S. Army National Guard in Iraq and worked in Silicon Valley before coming to Madison, said veterans were one of the biggest contributors to the economic boom after World War II. Nearly half of the war’s veterans became entrepreneurs and business owners, but today, experts predict of the 20 percent of veterans who are interested in starting a business, only 6 percent will realize that dream.
Professional networks and access to resources are critical for veterans to be successful. Along with reaching out to veterans with the tour, his organization hosts Bunker Forums which focus on marketing, access to business capital and tips on reaching that first customer. There are also online resources atbunkerlabs.org/madison/ and bunkerinabox.org, which provides an online toolkit for entrepreneurs.
“I love entrepreneurship,” Ertmer said. “This organization gives me a unique opportunity to give back to veterans. I wish I had this when I got out.”