WEDC awards $95,000 grant to help support Innovator Academy business accelerator

Madison, Aug. 30, 2016 – A new program aimed at helping military veterans throughout Wisconsin start and grow their businesses will accept at least 10 teams and individuals into its inaugural business accelerator program this fall.

The Innovator Academy, presented by Bunker Labs Wisconsin and funded in part with a first-of-its-kind $95,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), will offer veteran-led startups training, workspace and access to mentors and investors in a peer-to-peer learning environment. The WEDC grant matches contributions from private-sector sponsors, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., AT&T Wisconsin, and UW-Madison’s University Research Park.

The statewide program, managed by a team of experienced business, technology and finance experts, most of whom are veterans themselves, emphasizes the development of entrepreneurial strengths and talents as they mentor entrepreneurs and connect them with the resources, tools and networks necessary for their success.

“Our veterans are owed an enormous debt of gratitude for their service to our nation,” said Governor Scott Walker. “I’m proud that the state is a partner in supporting veteran entrepreneurs as they embark on new business endeavors that will help to secure Wisconsin’s economic future.”

“We are very excited to launch the Innovator Academy in Wisconsin in September,” said Michael Ertmer, executive director of Bunker Labs Wisconsin. “Bunker Labs’ mission is to inspire, educate and connect military veteran entrepreneurs to the startup community, business leaders and each other.  Our program is focused on providing veterans with world-class mentorship, access to investment capital and assistance in acquiring paying customers.”

“Bunker Labs plays an important role in advancing our efforts to strengthen entrepreneurship in Wisconsin,” said Mark Hogan, secretary and CEO of WEDC. “The Innovator Academy represents a tremendous opportunity to serve highly skilled, trained and motivated veteran entrepreneurs with essential resources to help them launch and grow successful companies.”

Nearly 3 million active and reserve service members have left the military for civilian life since 2001, with another 1 million expected to transition in the next five years.  Those totals include an estimated 2,500 veterans in Wisconsin who make that transition each year.

According to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, among the generation of World War II veterans, 49 percent of veterans started their own businesses after returning home.   That has not yet been replicated in the current generation of veterans, however. While 25 percent of veterans say they want to start or own a business, only 6 percent do so.

The program has the support of key Wisconsin business leaders and veterans, including Donald Weber, CEO and founder of Logistics Health Inc., who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War and received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

“Bunker Labs is an important addition to Wisconsin’s startup ecosystem and I’m impressed with their team, innovative approach, and the successful results of their previous programs,” Weber said.

Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary John A. Scocos added: “Veteran-owned businesses have a significant impact on our nation’s economy. This program not only helps veteran business owners, but it’s good for Wisconsin’s economy and for developing our veteran workforce.”

The inaugural Innovator Academy is set begin in Madison in September and is designed for working professionals.  It is free for veterans and only $995 for non-veterans and companies that want to explore innovation and creating new products and services.  Business owners and leaders who want to hire military veterans also are encouraged to connect with Bunker Labs and participate in the Innovator Academy.

Bunker Labs Wisconsin will be accepting applications through Sept. 6. Application materials can be found here.

Bunker Labs Wisconsin is one of 12 nationwide affiliate locations of Bunker Labs, a Chicago-based nonprofit established to support veteran-led early stage and startup companies. With the funding provided by WEDC, Bunker Labs Wisconsin becomes the first location in the network to offer veteran entrepreneurs with seed funding as part of the Innovator Academy resources.