Veterans in Residence, a startup program of Bunker Labs and WeWork, bases 8 teams in Raleigh

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The business incubator Veterans in Residence, a joint program of Bunker Labs and WeWork, includes a current eight-team cohort based in Raleigh, and more than a thousand veteran entrepreneurs nationally have participated.

“The Triangle area has an incredibly high-quality collection of start-ups,” said Jim Raschella, the city ambassador for Bunker Labs in Raleigh.  “In just a few years, we’ve had a broad spectrum of companies come through our Veterans in Residence program – from local food trucks to Y-Combinator-accepted tech companies, and everything in between,” said Raschella, who in the role of city ambassador oversees and facilitates the Veterans in Residence program.

Monica Goodson, co-founder and president of Happy Products, LLC, is a current cohort member in the Veterans in Residence program in Raleigh.

The company launched in 2020 with the mission of making children’s birthdays more memorable, and Goodson’s business achieves this by developing consumer goods, creative entertainment-based content, and immersive interactive experiences around the magic of birthdays.

“Every parent wants to give their children happy memories and create new traditions with them which is something our toy brand fulfills,” said Goodson.

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Goodson won yesterday’s pitch contest hosted by Bunker Labs and the Ford Company Foundation, earning top prize of $7,500, following a pitch contest victory, and a $5,000 award, in August at the New Voices & Target Accelerators contest.

Happy the Birthday Bird. Image: Happy Products website.

Her company’s product, Happy The Birthday Bird, is also the recipient of the 2020 National Parenting Seal of Approval and 2020 National Parenting Product Award, Goodson noted.

The product uses integrated technology and an immersive experience, including a QR code that when scanned, delivers an original song experience.

“Our vision is to expand our offerings through immersive, interactive experiences in order to meet demands of mobile “screen time” for today’s consumers,” said Goodson.  “We plan to create a 3D augmented reality experience of our products that can be accessed through a mobile app. When readers scan the book’s illustrations, 3D animated images of the characters literally jump from the pages of the book, come alive and speak to enhance the story and encourage the reader.”

Goodson noted that she’s thrived despite the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic and the disruption to the industry, particularly the in-person events and trade shows that were high-visibility opportunities to showcase her company’s products.

“I leaned on my military experience, adapted, moved forward, and overcame,” said Goodson. “We’ve been able to workaround those challenges and persevere.”

Goodson served as a medical service corps officer.  “During my military service, I gained great work ethics, outstanding management skills and leadership abilities,” said Goodson.  “This has served me well because as an entrepreneur I have to be flexible and maintain calmness in stressful situations.”

In total, more than 1,400 veterans and military spouses have participated in Veterans in Residence nationally, a spokesperson for the program told WRAL TechWire this week.  The results from the latest national cohort, which graduated in July, are promising.  According to the data shared with WRAL TechWire, 57% of entrepreneurs increased their revenue, and 77% of those with a revenue increase reported boosting revenues by more than 25%.  Additionally, two-thirds reported getting more involved with their business upon completing the program, and 96% indicated they would continue their business pursuits, despite 70% sharing they’d changed their business model or approach based on lessons learned during the program.

“Veterans naturally have entrepreneurial skill sets, including leadership, creativity, and a willingness to take risks,” said Raschella.  “More importantly, we’ve all experienced and overcome varying levels of adversity. We’re comfortable being uncomfortable which just isn’t something you can learn in a business textbook.”

The six-month business incubator program launched in 2017, and currently operates in 22 cities as well as through two additional virtual cohorts, with about 10 participants in each cohort group.  During the program, participants are asked to complete weekly accountability huddles, monthly meetups and masterclass programs, and a showcase event or pitch competition, said Raschella.

The current Raleigh-based cohort, which is based at the WeWork location along Glenwood Ave., also includes:

  • Breakpoint Coaching, LLC, led by Patrice Carter, which focuses on certifying and training Christian life coaches.
  • Choose Love Solutions, LLC, led by Nisla Love, which helps educate individuals and families achieve their tax and financial goals by providing guidance on their tax returns.
  • Customized Laser Design, led by Jason Grider, which works with business owners to create custom laser engraved products for their businesses while subsidizing start up with B2C products, specializing in handcrafted leather products.
  • Lavi, Inc., led by Nathaniel Torres, which provides an alternative solution to in-house and third party food delivery, with a business model that enables the company to operate its own trained employee fleet.
  • Rich Font Creative, led by Richard Font, which provides creative video production services.
  • rockITdata LLC, led by Marlie Andersch, provider of IT development services around AWS, Microsoft and AWS, as well as staffing services.
  • SportBike Chic, LLC, led by LaShundra Rucker, provider of motorcycle apparel and accessories for women motorcyclists.

It’s one way to assist veteran-led entrepreneurs, said Raschella.  But we can, as a society, do more, he noted.  Compare the number of veteran-led businesses launched following World War II, for example, with the number of veterans who launched businesses following 9/11: 49% of veterans started businesses after World War II compared to 5.9% of post-9/11 veterans, according to Raschella.

“Programs like Veterans in Residence are helping to increase the number of veteran-owned companies, but more programs that are accessible to more people can help increase the number of vets starting companies,” said Raschella.

Raschella is also the CEO of Off Duty Blue, which he described in an interview with WRAL TechWire as “a software as a service company that helps public safety organizations save time and improve accountability by streamlining the way they manage overtime, special events, and private security and traffic details.”

Original Source: WRAL TechWire