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Bunker Labs, Women Ambassadors bring focus on military vets to Tampa

Margie Manning



Photo by Shari Sirotnak on Unsplash

Bunker Labs, a Chicago-based nonprofit that empowers military veterans to start and grow businesses, expects to launch a chapter in Tampa in the fall.

The national organization will take its first step into the area when it partners with Tampa-based Action Zone to host a Bunker Brews gathering at Bad Monkey in Ybor City, at 6 p.m. March 26. Bunker Brews are designed to connect veterans in business, empower the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and foster growth, knowledge and success.

It’s one of two upcoming events aimed at military veterans in the Tampa Bay area. Women Ambassadors Forum, a Tampa-based organization led by Ingrid Harb, plans an event in Tampa May 17 aimed at women currently serving in the military, veterans and spouses, a group Harb described as an underserved market.

The focus on prospective business owners with military experience comes amid a push for entrepreneurship and job creation throughout the region.

Just over 9 percent of all businesses in the United States are majority-owned by veterans, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Those businesses account for $1.14 trillion in annual revenue and employ 5.03 million people nationally.

Rosie Lee, executive director, Action Zone

“The businesses veterans create are predominantly in the professional, scientific and technical services,” said Rosie Lee, executive director of Action Zone, which won TiE Tampa’s award for social entrepreneurship earlier this year. “What this means for our local economy is obvious: Veteran-owned businesses in our communities drive industries that are lucrative not just in terms of gross revenue, beneficial to the tax base in the community, but also in elevating the working class in the local community by creating jobs that require professional, scientific and technical skills.”

Veterans see challenges as opportunities to find solutions and have learned to complete missions with as little risk as possible, while leading in a collaborative manner for a common goal, she said.

“The data tells us that when military veterans and military spouses start businesses, they are more successful than their civilian counterparts. This is good news; the challenge, however, is that not enough of them are starting businesses,” said Todd Connor, CEO of Bunker Labs. “In places like Tampa and across the country you need organizations to convene and pull out of the shadows the veterans that are starting businesses. Veterans are great at supporting each other and staying connected —but if they never meet each other then they can’t help each other. That’s the critical role that Action Zone and Bunker Labs is trying to fulfill.”

The March 26 Bunker Brews will feature Scott Neil, who will talk about how skills gained while serving in the military helped him and his veteran business partners build American Freedom Distillery, a vet-owned business in St. Petersburg. Registration is free at EventBrite.

Ingrid Harb, founder, Womens Ambassador Forum

Action Zone also is partnering on the Female Veteran Forum planned for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 19 at Sofwerx in Ybor City.

Military women deserve a space to be seen, heard and acknowledged, Harb said.

“Military women have the same experiences as their male counterparts, yet receive less recognition and consideration for their challenges,” she said, adding that 5.5 percent of military women are unemployed.

Military spouses are particularly underserved, she said.

More than four out of five — 84 percent — have some college education. One in four have a bachelor’s degree and 10 percent have an advanced degree, and yet 33 percent of military spouses are underemployed and 38 percent earn less than their civilian counterparts, Harb said.

It’s the second event Women Ambassadors Forum has held in Tampa. The organization partnered with Synapse on an event for women entrepreneurs in January.


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