Photo credit: Dream Crew Productions
It's no secret that veterans are a highly motivated group of entrepreneurs. But even they may need help when scaling a business in growth mode.
That's why Bunker Labs created CEOcircle. Each year, the peer accountability group gathers a cohort of veteran and military spouse business owners for nine virtual huddles and four in-person forums. The entrepreneurs can ask critical questions impacting their companies, explore new business strategies, expand their networks and inspire each other to succeed. The executive cohort also gains access to dedicated learning sessions with notable business leaders, which have included Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Percentage of veteran small-business owners interested in growing their business
Percentage of veteran business owners who would prioritize business growth over profits
Source: 2021 National Survey of Military-Affiliated Entrepreneurs, Syracuse University D'Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families
We talked with CEOcircle participants about the challenges of networking, the power of teamwork and the shared experiences that can forge personal connections.
The right connection can help a business owner solve problems or seize opportunity. But veterans may face obstacles in assembling such a network.
"Often, veterans go to a new city where they might not have as many connections, or the network they do have stayed in the military or national security," said Terry Hill, Co-Head of Veteran Initiatives for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking and a former U.S. Army field artillery captain. "In business, you're creating and growing something of your own, not joining together to achieve a mission, which makes it a unique challenge."
"Being a CEO means 20-hour days, which puts networking on the back burner," Andersch said. "It makes it hard to look outside your immediate circle."
Army veteran Tim Hsia echoed that challenge.
"Building a company is a difficult and sometimes lonely process," said Hsia, founder and CEO of Media Mobilize, as well as managing partner at Context Ventures. "I know it's important to be a lifelong learner, but it's really hard to do that in isolation."
CEOcircle makes it so veteran owners don't have to go it alone.
"CEOcircle participants immediately gain access to a strong business network, which helps them navigate potential pitfalls, identify new opportunities and scale their operations over the long term," said Alex McKindra, Co-Head of Veteran Initiatives for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking and a former Air Force captain.
The setting acts as a catalyst from the outset.
"Trust, camaraderie, candor, thoughtful efficiency and productivity all happen when you put a group of high-achieving veterans in a room."
— Tim Hsia, founder and CEO of Media Mobilize and managing partner at Context Ventures
Growth-stage businesses encounter new challenges and opportunities from the startup phase—everything from raising capital to expanding into new markets. Having a close circle of peers going through the same thing means CEOcircle executives can tap one another's experiences.
"I can reach out to my cohort members and ask them how they’ve solved for any particular problem," Andersch said. "You'd be amazed how much people jump in and start sharing what they know or who they know."
For example, Andersch and Hsia both said they learned more about the federal contracting process through CEOcircle peers, potentially opening a new avenue of growth. The knowledge sharing is a pattern Hill has seen across many huddles and forums.
"Someone else at the table has been through a challenge and will be eager to share how they handled it, if you just ask," he said. "It's not through formal classroom work that these revelations happen, it's through organic and honest conversation."
Bunker Labs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a national network of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs dedicated to helping members start their own businesses. Bunker Labs is committed to seeing veterans and military spouses have the network, tools and resources they need to launch and grow their business. Follow Bunker Labs on LinkedIn to learn more.
The personal connections cohort members forge with one another are just as valuable as the professional network they develop. Shared experiences in the military and business naturally make for friendship.
"Everything's so genuine and intentional, I truly feel like the people I've met through this program are friends for life. We don't just talk about the struggles. We talk about the wins, we support each other."
— Marlie Andersch, founder and CEO of rockITdata
Hsia also has made friends for life whom he's learned from and can depend on.
"The experience personally and professionally has been fantastic," he said. "There's a new generation of veterans who are hungry to grow and build their businesses, and it was awesome to trade notes and try to help one another."
JPMorgan Chase is a sponsor of CEOcircle, which includes a 10-week mentorship program for cohort members, along with other resources and relationships. It's one part of our effort to advance veteran-owned businesses, which includes $64 million spent annually with veteran-owned suppliers, McKindra said.
Andersch and Hsia both spoke positively of the support from JPMorgan Chase: She feels she's finally found a banking partner who can be strategic with her, while he credits the bank's market analysis with helping him navigate business climates.
"From what I've seen, few other institutions have invested this much into the next generation of military veteran business leaders," Hsia said.
Learn more about JPMorgan Chase's Office of Military and Veterans Affairs and how our programs and initiatives are helping veterans and their families with career training, financial planning, business support, and more.
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