William Blair Hosts Bunker Labs’ Veterans Starting Businesses

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

From left, Todd Connor, Michael Hubbard, Justin Walker, Patrick Murphy, Jim O’Connor, Solange Velazquez , Jon Skinner and Corey Tobin.

A group of leaders from William Blair’s investment banking and investment management teams joined military veteran entrepreneurs from Bunker Labs for a panel discussion on financial modeling April 19 in Chicago to help veterans start and grow new businesses. Former Congressman and Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy also addressed the gathering sharing his experiences as a veteran and an entrepreneur.

William Blair colleagues began teaching the popular financial modeling course for veterans with Bunker Labs in 2015 shortly after the non-profit was founded with the goals of inspiring and connecting the next generation of veterans to drive new business formation. Since it was started in Chicago as a business incubator four years ago, Bunker Labs has spread to 22 cities across the country and now supports thousands of American veterans.

Murphy, who was America’s first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress and served as a lawmaker from 2007 to 2011, is now leading his own education tech startup WorkMerk based in Philadelphia. The former Army secretary encouraged the crowd to persevere in their goal of starting a business and keep in mind the wave of growth driven after World War II by returning veterans.

He noted some of the most iconic American companies were started by veterans: Walmart, Comcast, Johnson and Johnson, FedEx, Verizon, Seven 11. Sons of founder William McCormick Blair were also WWII veterans and held leadership roles at the firm.

“Part of the reasons why veterans are more likely to start a small business and for those small businesses to be successful is because they understand what team work is all about,” Murphy said. “They will sacrifice and do what it takes to win.”

Financial modeling

More than 50 military male and female veterans from Bunker Labs attended the event held at the firm’s global headquarters to hear Murphy; Bunker Labs’ Todd Connor and Justin Walker; and William Blair’s panel of advisors – Jim O’Connor, Jon Skinner, Corey Tobin, Solange Velazquez. The group discussed the importance of financial modeling from accounting, marketing and attracting investors.      

The event was part of Bunker Labs spring cohort training and the start of Launch Lab Online now available across the globe including military bases overseas.

“Our goal is to translate what we teach into videos and put that online and also be able to host virtual office hours where people can skype into William Blair offices and get advice and mentorship,” said Michael Hubbard, who leads William Blair’s Veteran Alliance group and works closely with Bunker Labs' entrepreneurs.

Hubbard, a William Blair research analyst and former Marine infantry officer, has been teaching financial modeling classes for Bunker Labs’ entrepreneurs since the program began.

“It’s incredibly energizing to think about the potential impact Bunker Labs can have,” said Hubbard, adding that fully one-third of the U.S. jobs comes from companies with less than 100 employees.

Today, one quarter of American veterans returning to civilian life say they want to start a business but only 4% do, he said.

“If we can help close that gap, the number of jobs, the economic value added to the economy would be significant,” Hubbard said. “And if we could get back to numbers seen post World War II, when 50% of all veterans started their own businesses, you’re talking about economic impact that is roughly 10% of GDP.”

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