Military Veterans Bringing a Presence to SXSW Interactive

By SABRINA MARSHALL-WOJTEWICZ
Special to Silicon Hills News

BunkerThere’s not yet an official outreach effort targeting military veterans to SXSW, but as trained leaders will do, there are some military veterans taking on the opportunity to rally the veteran community at the SXSW Interactive festival this year- and in the future.

Johnathan and Sabrina Wojtewicz, the husband and wife team leading Bunker Labs Austin, have partnered up with Dell’s Government Affairs team to put on a series of panels at the #DellLounge. They are conveniently enough being hosted at The Brass House, which is owned locally by a Marine veteran. The partnered events are promoting military veteran entrepreneurship (including tech, women and diversity crowds), and building conversations with elected officials about the roles of policy in bridging gaps to take down barriers that can create challenges for these groups as entrepreneurs.

Johnathan, a Marine Corps veteran and native Austinite, launched Bunker Labs Austin in December 2014 while anticipating his departure from a Fortune 200 company after two acquisitions from him and his business partner. The Wojtewicz’s, Blake Hogan and RideScout Co-founder and CEO Joseph Kopser wanted to make the transition from military leader to business leader smoother and allow for more military veterans to earn the success they are equipped to create as entrepreneurs.

Bunker Labs is the nation’s first innovation laboratory and community catalyzing the entrepreneurial potential of military experience to lead the American economy. After launching in Chicago with 19 companies in December 2014 and in Austin with 12 companies, Bunker Labs has continued to spread across the nation with 6 active locations and another half-dozen in various stages of launch. The Kauffman Foundation cites 25% of veterans as wanting to start businesses but the largest barriers to success have been a lack of business mentors, lack of connections in professional networks and translating military experience to business success. Bunker Labs aims to solve these issues with their focus areas to Inspire, Educate and Connect.

After jumping into unofficial SXSWi 2015 events with some BIG successes, Bunker Labs Austin targeted those that stepped up to help veterans as partners leading into 2016. “Dell was very gracious about inviting our members to events to interact with elected officials in 2015, so we partnered with them to immerse our members and more military veterans into the event lineup for 2016,” Wojtewicz says.

Another corporate partner, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), stepped up to invite veteran entrepreneurs to their office hours lounge at Parkside on 6th, and even went on to sponsor Bunker Labs Austin’s demo-day pitch event last July. This year they have branded Parkside again as the Next Stop Lounge by SVB and have invited military veterans to mingle and network on Monday, March 14 from 11:00am-1:00pm. As a managing partner at Silicon Valley Bank and former Navy SEAL, Beau Laskey has been active in seeking out and supporting veteran ventures.

Joseph Kopser, who acts as Chairman and Champion of Bunker Labs Austin, is well-known for his veteran entrepreneurship advocacy. Prior to RideScout, Joseph served in the Army for 20 years earning the Combat Action Badge, Army Ranger Tab and Bronze Star. Following the successful acquisition of RideScout by subsidiary Daimler AG (the maker of Mercedes-Benz), Kopser has promoted and supported Bunker Labs at every opportunity, going so far as to lend RideScout offices as workspace for Bunker Labs and member companies and hosting Bunker meetings and events. He also connects Bunker Labs to the wide networks of West Point, Harvard, UT and Austin’s Startup community collected in his successful career and time building RideScout.

Kopser’s RideScout Co-founder and COO, Craig Cummings, has come to love Austin so much he recently relocated his family here. As his succinct LinkedIn profile says, he is a “Former Army Intelligence Officer turned entrepreneur. Specializes in founding, accelerating, and investing in start-ups with high impact potential. Enjoys working with and inspiring veteran entrepreneurs.” In addition to joining SXSW as part of RideScout’s presence, Cummings is a General Partner at Moonshots Capital, which invests in exceptional entrepreneurs with world-changing ideas and was founded by two West Point graduates—Kelly Perdew and Craig Cummings. Kelly and Craig form close working relationships with the companies they back to help them achieve their critical milestones and frequently take on Board seats or formal advisory roles. Kelly and Craig, both successful serial entrepreneurs, have worked and invested together for over ten years. They invest a minimum of $25K into the first round of every deal they syndicate and look to back 8-12 companies a year. They often back companies led by military veteran entrepreneurs. Both Kelly and Craig have operated start-up companies as founders and members of the senior management team. They’ve raised in excess of $100M in angel capital, ventured capital, and debt and participated in eight exits between them. Both Cummings and Perdew can be found bouncing around various SXSWi events, possibly scouting out their next venture investments.

Connections are key and the military/veteran entrepreneur community is coming together to bring a presence at SXSWi to help build more opportunities. Bunker Labs Austin has curated a list of official and unofficial SXSWi events that would be of interest to military veterans or are paneled by military veterans. Check it out and send them a shoutout on Twitter (@TheBunkerAustin) if you find it helpful, want to connect, get involved or just love what they are doing for the veteran community. You can find out more by visiting www.BunkerLabs.org or joining their #BunkerBrewsATX happy hour event (hosted at RideScout) on Saturday from 2:00pm-4:00pm.

Unofficial Bunker Labs & Partners SXSWi Events:

Saturday, March 12th:
8:00am-10:00am | #DellLounge & Bunker Labs – Women in Tech
Join Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. Susan Brooks, and Karen Quintos, Dell’s SVP and Chief Marketing Officer, for a discussion on the role of public policy in empowering women entrepreneurs, innovators and technology leaders.

11:00am-1:00pm | #DellLounge & Bunker Labs – Diversity in Tech
Join Dell, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Univision and minority programmers, coders, entrepreneurs for an interactive working session to develop recommendations to help ensure diversity in the technology industry and among tech startups.

DON’T MISS! 2:00pm-4:00pm | #BunkerBrewsATX Bunker Brews & News @RideScout
Join Bunker Labs Austin at RideScout for a high-impact veteran entrepreneur community networking event and find out what Bunker Labs is all about, what’s going on in Austin and in cities around the nation from D.C. to Nashville and more.

6:00pm-9:00pm | #DellLounge & Bunker Labs – Dell PolicyHack
Join Dell and (5)five Bunker companies for an interactive hack-a-thon that tasks teams of policymakers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and students, along with a “coach”, to design solutions to policy challenges faced by entrepreneurs running growing businesses. The goal is to share the winning solution with the next president. Following the hack, the teams will pitch their idea to a panel of experts including members of Congress and Elizabeth Gore, Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence, as well as the wider audience – you – will vote for the winning solution! The winning team will receive a Dell product and commitment from Dell to further develop the proposal and champion it with the new presidential administration.

Sunday, March 13th:
8:30am-10:30am | Bunker Labs/Dell Veteran Entrepreneur Breakfast Lounge @RideScout
Please join Rep. Will Hurd, Rep. Katherine Clark, Rep. Billy Long, Dell Executive Robert Douthit, Bunker Labs Austin Co-founder and Executive Director Johnathan Wojtewicz and RideScout Co-founder and CEO Joseph Kopser for breakfast and coffee at the Veteran Entrepreneur Lounge @RideScout. Members of congress and military veteran entrepreneurs will engage in discussions on the role of public policy in empowering veteran entrepreneurs as innovators in the American economy.

11:15am-12:15pm | Bunker Labs @ Tech Inclusion Day at Galvanize

Monday, March 14th:
11:00am-1:00pm | Bunker Labs and veteran entrepreneurs invited: Next Stop Lounge @Parkside by SVB

Official SXSWi Events:

Saturday, March 12th:
SATURDAY, MARCH 1
9:30AM – 10:30AM
Data Defeats Truman: How CRM Will Elect a President
Solo / Dual / Panel
Hilton Austin Downtown
Salon G

9:30AM – 10:30AM
Supporting US Entrepreneurs: America Job 1
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Salon 3-4

9:30AM – 10:30AM
Military and Veteran Roll Call Meet Up
Meet Up
JW Marriott
Room 213

11:00AM – 12:00PM
Is There an Innovation Party?
Sessions
Solo / Dual / Panel
Partner Programming
Omni Downtown
Capital Ballroom

12:30PM – 1:00PM
Matt Gallagher: Iraq War Vet, Youngblood Author
Book Reading
Austin Convention Center
Room 10AB

12:30PM – 1:00PM
5 Cities, One Fed, $50 Million: Smart City Challenge
Solo / Dual / Panel
Government and Policy
JW Marriott
Salon 5

2:00PM – 3:00PM
How to Disrupt Government
Sessions
Solo / Dual / Panel
Partner Programming
Omni Downtown
Capital Ballroom

3:30PM – 4:30PM
Technology Driven Accessible Transportation Apps
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Salon 1-2

5:00PM – 6:00PM
Female Founders in Tech: Sparking Growth
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Salon 7

5:00PM – 6:00PM
Military Medical Practitioners Meet Up
Meet Up
JW Marriott
Room 208
SUNDAY, MARCH 13
Sunday, March 13th:

11:00AM – 12:00PM
Believing Is Seeing: Tech+Attitude Trumps Blindness
Solo / Dual / Panel
Austin Convention Center
Room 9ABC

11:00AM – 12:00PM
What the Ethics? Ethics of Data Decision Making
Solo / Dual / Panel
Hilton Austin Downtown
Salon H

2:00PM – 3:00PM
Radical Strategies in Institutional IT Security
Solo / Dual / Panel
Old School Bar

3:30PM – 4:30PM
IBM Watson: Information, Insight and Inspiration
Solo / Dual / Panel
Courtyard Marriott
Rio Grande Ballroom

3:30PM – 4:30PM
The New Battleground: States and Tech Policy
Solo / Dual / Panel
Omni Downtown
Capital Ballroom

3:30PM – 4:30PM
Veteran Hiring as a Strategic Differentiator
Solo / Dual / Panel
Old School Bar

5:00PM – 6:00PM
(Video) Gaming the Healthcare System
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
MedTech Stage
MONDAY, MARCH 14
Monday, March 14th:

9:30AM – 10:30AM
Swipe to Get Intimate: Tech Tatts & Surveillance
Solo / Dual / Panel
Radisson Town Lake
Riverside Ballroom

11:00AM – 12:00PM
Hiring Veterans in the Tech and Energy Field Meet Up
Meet Up
JW Marriott
Room 210

12:30PM – 1:30PM
Frugal Innovation: Making a Culture of Ownership
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Room 303-304

2:00PM – 3:00PM
Ultimate Empathy Machine: 360 Storytelling in VR
Solo / Dual / Panel
Austin Convention Center
Room 9ABC

3:30PM – 4:30PM
Ignite SXSW: Behind the Curtain
Ignite™
Austin Convention Center
Room 10AB

3:30PM – 4:30PM
Leveraging an Open Ecosystem for App Development
Solo / Dual / Panel
Radisson Town Lake
Riverside Ballroom

5:00PM – 6:00PM
How to Recruit for Diversity and Achieve Inclusion
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Salon 6

5:00PM – 6:00PM
Awareness Reform: Engineering “Perception Shift”
Solo / Dual / Panel
Four Seasons
Ballroom AB
TUESDAY, MARCH 15
Tuesday, March 15th:

9:30AM – 10:30AM
Turn Texas Green
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Salon 3-4

12:30PM – 1:30PM
Veterans in Public Relations Meet Up
Meet Up
JW Marriott
Room 210

3:30PM – 4:30PM
Tech, Impact Investing and Driving Social Change
Solo / Dual / Panel
JW Marriott
Room 303-304

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