For veteran Michael Nemke, creating a startup is like being in the armed forces.
During his 10 years in the U.S. Army Special Forces and the Green Berets, he worked in small teams and lived within communities to develop internal resources to repel crime and build better communities. Startups also work in small teams and often lead to a community working for the greater good, according to Nemke.
Nemke is one of the first San Francisco Bay Area veterans to join WeWork’s Veterans in Residence program, which provides six months of free space for veteran entrepreneurs. After the program ends, veterans receive 25% off membership for a year. Its San Francisco location is at the Golden Gate WeWork, but veterans have access to the entire WeWork network.
The program is a partnership with Bunker Labs and recently launched in new cities after a pilot program in Denver. Additional locations are in Austin, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City.
Bunker Labs provides various networking and programming opportunities for veterans, including happy hours, meetings with high-revenue growth CEOs and other events, according to Bunker Labs Bay Area Executive Director Justine Evirs.
The program has been particularly helpful to Nemke, who previously founded a marketing firm MKTR.ai. Nemke said he used WeWork’s online community to find a head of sales for this marketing firm.
“You can’t discount the value of free space,” Nemke said. “It’s incredibly expensive to operate in San Francisco.”
With the help of networks he created through WeWork, he expects to launch a new startup, Datamyne.ai, in the coming weeks to provide other startups with data to ensure their survival. About 50 million new companies start every year with about 500 million in operation, he said. Of those, 70% are expected to be defunct by the end of the decade, he said.
The Veterans in Residence program is meant to provide options to veterans who have the wherewithal to create a new business, but may be lacking other resources. Evirs said about 20% of transitioning service members want to start a business, but only about 4.5% do it.
“It’s not a lack of ability,” she said. “It’s actually a lack of resources and access to networks.”
Bunker Labs plans to expand into all 50 states by the end of the year and has a waitlist of 70 cities, according to Evirs. Bunker Labs is accepting applications for its second six-month cohort in its existing locations beginning in June. The organization received 400 applications during the first week of the program’s launch, she said.
Having a location in the Bay Area is particularly beneficial, especially with the thriving tech community in the Silicon Valley, according to Bunker Labs Bay Area Community Manager Trevor Kincy. The Bay Area offers a central location for veterans to interact with civilians to create and build amazing things, he said.
Kincy, a veteran who served five years in the U.S. Navy, said he tried starting a company toward the end of his time in the service, but it ended up being a terrible idea. He said he was naïve in thinking he could do it on his own.
“The lesson learned is no, you need help,” Kincy said. “It’s important … to know how much time you can dedicate to something. That was one of the valuable lessons learned.”
He has gone on to create several startups and is currently the creative director of Kryptoloop, a company that will consolidate different cryptocurrency tools into one location for easier trading.
Through the Veterans in Residence program and Bunker Labs, he will be presenting an event about cryptocurrency at WeWork to get the word out about the company and to start growing it.
Like Nemke, Kincy has been combining his background in the armed forces into his startups.
“Taking a military background of adapting and overcoming serves vets incredibly well,” Kincy said. “It is easy to get disheartened by setbacks, but it could be a lot worse because it has been a lot worse. You push through setbacks.”