Growing up as the daughter of Army veterans and later marrying a Marine, Jean South has spent much of her life bridging the civilian and military worlds. So, when she decided to leave her job as a leadership and management consultant last summer, Jean gravitated toward starting a business that could link employers with veterans whose unique skills and valuable military experience are highly prized.
Bunker Labs chapters supported by Comcast NBCUniversal
Her growing company, Hire Served, gained vital support from another kind of bridge — one created specifically for veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses. Bunker Labs, a national nonprofit supported by Comcast NBCUniversal, connected Jean with mentors, educational programs, and a thriving network of fellow startup owners.
“Partnering with Bunker Labs is a natural avenue for us to support entrepreneurial innovation as well as create valuable opportunities for military veterans to extend their professional skills,” says Carol Eggert, retired Brigadier General and Senior Vice President of Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast. "We became the nonprofit’s first national corporate sponsor and helped found its Philadelphia chapter in June 2015."
With chapters in 14 U.S. cities and an extensive library of online resources, Bunker Labs’ success comes from building upon the distinctive strengths of military community members while also addressing their shared challenges. At its monthly Bunker Brews gatherings, for example, the organization brings successful veteran business owners on stage to share what their military experience has taught them about entrepreneurship.
“We can create these amazing interactions and practice our business skills in a safe space, with people who are dedicated to our success.”
Jean South | Founder and CEO, Hire Served
“They talk about how being in combat and having to make critical decisions based on only partial information is similar to the pressures you face as a business owner. In both situations, you need a high tolerance for risk,” Jean explains. “Getting that type of insight from a fellow veteran can be so powerful for someone who’s just starting out.”
Bunker Labs also links entrepreneurs from the military community with experienced businesspeople to answer questions and provide advice — which can sometimes be profoundly influential, Jean says. She recalls her early days when her Bunker mentor, Steve, delivered some “tough love” at a pivotal time.
“I had a different company name, Your Next M.O.S. — which stands for Military Occupational Specialty — and a logo that I really loved,” she says. “We’re walking out after a Bunker Brews one night, and Steve says, ‘Just so you know, I have your new name. Let me know when you’re ready for it,’ and then he walks away.
“When I called him later, he said, ‘It’s Hire Served,’ and explained that ‘M.O.S.’ didn’t speak to the people looking to hire veterans,” Jean says. “He was right — and the next day, he emailed me a whole new logo.
“That’s the kind of business-changing support that we get from Bunker Labs,” she adds. Jean is now part of that chain through the help she offers other business owners as they transition from military roles to the more self-directed realm of entrepreneur.
Earlier this year, she began an intensive 17-week program at Bunker Labs Philadelphia that prepares startup owners to reach higher levels of success and growth. Their small-group discussions, homework, and in-depth mentoring sessions culminate in The Muster, where entrepreneurs present their products and services in front of other local business owners.
“We can create these amazing interactions and practice our business skills in a safe space, with people who are dedicated to our success,” Jean says.
Comcast NBCUniversal’s financial support of Bunker Labs has made a fundamental difference in the lives of military community entrepreneurs, she adds. “I can personally count at least 15 people — including me — whose businesses wouldn’t exist if Bunker Labs Philadelphia didn’t exist.”
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