Episode: 486 |
Joe "Hark" Herold:
President and COO of Bunkerlabs:


Joe "Hark" Herold

President and COO of Bunkerlabs

Show Notes

Joe “Hark” Herold is a former Air Force colonel, he is the CEO of Design Thinking Denver, a consulting firm that takes a human-centered approach to innovation, and the president and COO of Bunkerlabs. Hark’s background covers information technology, cyber, civil engineering, and academia, in addition to strategy development and execution. 

In this episode, he talks about Bunkerlabs, an organisation that provides community, programs and courses to help military veterans and military spouses start and grow successful businesses and startups. To find out more, visit www.bunkerlabs.org.

Key points include:

  • 05:01: The programs at Bunkerlabs
  • 08:44: Bunkerlabs’ funding sources
  • 13:27: The CEO Circle
  • 16:49: The Mastermind Session

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:


Ep.486.Hark Herold


Hark Herold, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m here today with hark Harold, who is the president and chief operating officer of Bunker labs. Hark, welcome to the show.


Hark Herold  00:17

Hey, thank you. Well appreciate it excited to to have the opportunity to spread the word about bunker and let y’all know what we’re doing.


Will Bachman  00:25

Well, let’s start with that. Why don’t you give us an overview?


Hark Herold  00:28

Yeah, so bunker Labs is a national nonprofit, dedicated supporting military, veteran military spouse, entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. So we exist to serve the military, veteran military, spouse, military, family, really community who want to become small business owners, because that’s the backbone of America.


Will Bachman  00:53

Cool. Tell me a little bit about the different programs that you run to accomplish that objective.


Hark Herold  01:00

Yeah, so we have three main programs that we run, we support people on their entrepreneurial journey anywhere from I have an idea to 5 million 10 million or more in revenue. The first program I’ll talk about is the one we’ve been doing the longest is our six month incubator program. In partnership with we work and during this program, we take people who have a business entity established, but are probably pretty early in their entrepreneurial journey. So they have some traction, but they’re really just kind of starting to get going. That is a geographically based program. Because we are in partnership with we work which does the co working space. And we went from 23 cities. With our last cohort we just ended in June. Our next cohort, which will start in July will be in 34 different cities. And we’ll also have five virtual cohorts going through that program from July through December. The second program that we’ll talk about is our CEO circle program, which is a monthly mastermind that is designed for companies that have a million or more in recurring revenue, or have raised more than 5 million in capital, and are really looking to scale. So they’re much farther along their entrepreneurial journey. That program is a 12 month program where the cohort meets monthly. Nine of those meetings are virtual, with the other four being actual in person fly in forums. And that program, we just relaunched this past November in partnership with JP Morgan Chase. We had 43 companies in our in the current cohort, and we’re looking to double that for our next cohort, which will again start in November, the applications are actually open for that right now. If you go to our website, bunker labs.org Look under Programs, you can have people who can apply for that currently. The third program we have is our ambassador program, which is a fellowship for our volunteers who are in the different cities running the veterans in residence program and supporting the veterans in residence. This is designed to really help them number one, grow their business most of them are entrepreneurs themselves, but also help them learn how to become ecosystem builders how to support the entrepreneurs in the DIR program, the veterans and residents and also to bring the local community in to support the people in that program. The veterans in residence program. Again, that’s a six month program that culminates in December and June, where we have a showcase in the ambassadors are responsible for trying to make sure that they are bringing in the local community to support those entrepreneurs. And so those are our three main programs. We also have a breaking barriers into entrepreneurship workshop series, which is designed for demographic, demographically underrepresented, entrepreneurial, such as we have a black entrepreneur workshop series, a Hispanic ops entrepreneur workshop series, female entrepreneur workshop series, and Asian American entrepreneur workshop series. And that’s really designed to help those companies make sure they’re ready for the veterans in residence program.


Will Bachman  04:37

Fantastic. Let’s get let’s dive into these a little bit deeper. So for that first one, the six month incubator the veterans in residence, so give me a little bit more detail. So what what is there a fee for that? What’s the fee and what is the kind of content of it is there like weekly sessions or coaching or mentoring or, or just give us a little bit more details on that one.


Hark Herold  05:01

Yeah, so all of our programs are offered at no cost to the participants. Number one, the CEO circle participants, they do cover their own travel costs to the fly in forums. But we bunker labs do not charge any of our participants for being in our programs. The veterans and residency you apply for the program, they’re selected, we’ll select eight to 10 cohort per our members per location, they then meet weekly with the ambassador, who will help facilitate the weekly meetings where it’s a peer facilitated peer support structure with some content as well. So we will have monthly masterminds on a specific topic that is of interest to the people in that cohort. And then the local ambassadors also will bring in experts in whatever field is of interest to the cohort participants. So if the cohort participants say, I’d really like to understand debt financing better, we look for the local ambassador to find those resources and bring them in to support the cohort members in the VAR cohort members. If they don’t have the access to those resources, then they turn to our staff, and we can help them find those resources. So it’s all about supporting the entrepreneurs who are going through this program against Go ahead.


Will Bachman  06:33

And what are some of the topics? He said? There’s some like, it sounds like there’s some kind of package type topics that maybe get used across the different locations? What are some of the more common and more popular topics? Yeah,


Hark Herold  06:47

it could be social media, it could be marketing. It could be you know, how do i What’s the right business entity, if I want to set my company up for acquisition down the road? It really depends on what the cohort members are. And because the the veterans in residence program is geographically based, it is industry agnostic. And what that means is in the same cohort, we’ll have people who, you know, have a patch making business with a farmer with a somebody working on a tech product with somebody working on government contracting. And what we found because of the diversity of perspective within the cohort themselves, it brings different viewpoints into the conversations and enables for a more robust, well rounded experience for our participants.


Will Bachman  07:48

You mentioned a few different possible types of business. Have you done kind of some kind of survey or overall look? Can you give us a sense of either percentage wise, or just what are the top kind of five or 10 most common types of business that participants are doing?


Hark Herold  08:05

Yeah, a lot of them are independent consultants, actually. They’re either management or they’re providing some sort of, you know, business consulting, the others are anywhere from tech it and health. And then nonprofits is actually we have a fair number of people who are interested in have started a nonprofit, or are trying to have a nonprofit and are trying to to grow it.


Will Bachman  08:36

Cool. Given that the programs are free for the veterans, where’s your funding coming from?


Hark Herold  08:44

Yeah, we are different from most nonprofits, we are largely corporate funded, which is a different strategy for most nonprofits, which has its pros and cons. Our big partners are JP Morgan, Chase, USAA, PwC, to mention just a few of them. And we have partnerships with them. So we don’t we look to partner with our funders with especially with those corporate types of funders, so that we can involve their employees and their resources and bring those to bear to help the participants. So these are just example is JP Morgan Chase with the CEO circle program. Their commercial bank is very involved, very supportive. They participate in the monthly forums. They will host the the four times a year flying forums, the in person forums. So those are the types of partnerships we look for. We also do we also do have smaller funders and do take individual donations. And those, of course help us as we’re continuing to expand our reach and impact across the US.


Will Bachman  10:01

I get it so. So for JPMorgan Chase, they’re beyond just purely reputational benefits, they’re also kind of getting access to some potential customers, right, who might take out corporate loans or want to do their their business checking, etc, or getting credit cards, etc. For their for their firms?


Hark Herold  10:22

Yep, potentially, yes. But I must say I, we have not found that to be their driving rationale. I mean, they’re happy to take business if somebody wants to, but they’re, the people who are involved in the monthly huddles have been extremely forthcoming and helpful in areas that is not like, hey, come do business with me. Yeah. It is very much a, hey, for instance, a company says I’m looking at at an acquisition or at being acquired, what should I be looking for? Can I get some advice, and JP Morgan will utilize their network to find somebody who can talk about that, regardless of whether that person goes through JP Morgan or not. Now, like I said, if if participants want to of course, that’s a that’s a great added bonus, but that’s not really the driver for why they’re doing it.


Will Bachman  11:11

That’s fantastic. So the CEO circle. That’s an Oh, and by the way, I guess one other question, you said, you partner with we work so and there’s no cost. As part of this, do the veterans and residents get to kind of have like a six month we work, you know, set up the office setup as part of the deal?


Hark Herold  11:33

Yeah, so we work the the partnership we have with we work is for the participants in the program. During the six months there in the program, they get what is called a we work all access pass, which enables them to come into any work and utilize the hot desk space. They also are able to do printing to reserve conference rooms, while they’re in the program. And we work then also provides additional support for our ambassadors who are out in the field, where we have weather are we work locations?


Will Bachman  12:11

Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a pretty good deal. I think that’s retailing that’s like normally 300 bucks a month or something. Yeah, is that we work. That is a handy thing to have, if you’re traveling around and you want to have like in person meetings or something somewhere, you don’t want to do it your hotel room, or Starbucks or whatever.


Hark Herold  12:29

Exactly. And it also gives you a business address you can use, that’s a physical, you know, location, if you don’t want to have things sent to your home, or if you want to have the look from the outside of a more more fully developed company. So yeah, it’s it’s an amazing partnership with with we work, they also provide our ambassadors with a one or two person office. So there is an actual physical office space for our ambassadors. But the cohort participants get that all access.


Will Bachman  12:59

Let’s be nice. Let’s talk a little bit more about the CEO circle, these mastermind groups. That’s something something that people could find, yeah, I can really see how that can be valuable. Talking, you said I think the to get into that the CEO of the business has to be doing at least 1 million revenue per year, you said or was that per month or per year? To to get into that?


Hark Herold  13:27

Yeah, so it’s a it’s a million or more in revenue per year, per year. And that is so we partnered with JP Morgan Chase again, we we relaunched this program, or we launched it in partnership with JP this past November. And initially, the requirement that we were looking for was 5 million or more in revenue. And so that was kind of our pilot test case this last year. And it’s been so successful and so impactful, that we’re like, hey, how do we expand the aperture here, because they do have to be, they also have to be better known. So for this next cohort, which is the applications are open now, it is 1 billion or more in revenue, as opposed to five and we’ve also opened up to military spouse owned companies. So really trying to make sure that we’re hitting all the different areas and enabling as many people as we can to enter into the program.


Will Bachman  14:26

What have you learned about how to run a successful mastermind program?


Hark Herold  14:35

Yeah, that what we’ve learned over the past years and Todd Conner was the founder of Bunker labs. He’s still with the organization, though he’s moved on to some other things as well. But Todd was very he’s a very skilled facilitator. And he developed the process that we use, and a lot of it is putting the responsibility On the cohort members themselves, to both facilitate the discussions and hold each other accountable. And by having the participants themselves be involved, they look at each other. And so when somebody isn’t able to be there, or says, Hey, I don’t know, if I’m able to make it, they’re letting each other down, not some outside facilitator who’s just there. So they they really develop that cohort, peer support perspective. And that is what drives them to really lean in. The other thing is with the veteran and military spouse community, what we’ve discovered is that, that camaraderie that inclusion, there’s almost like an instant trust, based off of the shared experiences. And we’ll have people who come in and say, Listen, this is this is my safe space, I can come in here and I can say, hey, I’m worried about making payroll. Because I can’t say that it’s my company. I can’t say that with maybe my co founder, I can’t, you know, but here I can. The other thing is that, as I like to say that the military veterans and spouses, they’ll tell you, your baby is ugly, because they’re doing it with love, because they don’t want to see you fail. Whereas if you ask your you know, your mom about your business idea, she may say, that’s great, sweetie, I think that all sounds fantastic. Cuz she’s supporting you, the veteran, the peers will look at it and give you honest and straightforward and sometimes could be considered brutal, but But it’s all done with love on? Why are you thinking that? What are you and they really push each other?


Will Bachman  16:49

And what’s the typical mastermind session? What’s sort of the agenda? How long is it? Do you? Does each person share? Here’s what I’m stressed about this week? Or here’s what I could help help on? Or do you kind of focus on a topic or focus on one company per session? Or just give me a little sense of what the sessions are? Like?


Hark Herold  17:08

Yeah, so a typical session will be the entire cohort gathers, shares a personal best and a professional best from, you know, since the last meeting, you know, what’s what what is happening in my personal life, that’s just been great. And also, then, you know, what’s happened in my business over the past, you know, either week, or 30 days, that is fantastic. As well as what challenge Am I facing? And then the group will decide and go, Hey, I really think we should do this person or the person may come as I’m really having an issue with this, I’d really appreciate if I can be up in the barrel this time. And then they will they will go around. It’s a a critical questions format, where the person who has the challenge or opportunity will speak about it. The other members are allowed to ask clarifying questions on you know, what about what about what about. And then the cohort members work the verbally out loud work on the challenge, and provide rapid fire like, Hey, I wonder if she’s tried this. I wonder if she’s engaged with these people? I wonder if, and this is all designed to get ideas out about how the person can handle it can tackle the challenge. And, and the the person who has a challenge is not allowed to comment while they’re doing this. Right. So this rapid fire brainstorming on I wonder if have they tried? Could they maybe do this? So after that happens, then the person who has the challenge will then address the issues are addressed the suggestions and may go a that was really isn’t had a thought, yeah, I’ve already tried that. That didn’t work. However, what you said here, I may put a different take on it. And then there’s the so what and then everybody’s you know, so what are you going to do between now and the next time we meet, and then they commit to it out loud in front of everybody else in their peers. And then the peers help hold them accountable the next time they meet.


Will Bachman  19:22

Talking about documentation to someone take notes, or you said you know, hold accountable. So who’s the one that says okay, you know, last time Jane, you said that you’re going to do this and did you do it? Is there some kind of record keeping or here’s the minutes or something like that?


Hark Herold  19:38

Yeah, so we ask the end, the cohort members can kind of decide this themselves. We encourage them to take turns, doing the different controlling functions, right? So we say hey, somebody be a timekeeper. Because you’re gonna have three minutes to do this and four minutes for this somebody be the facilitator, kind of make sure everything’s running. Somebody be the note taker. And so yes, so they will then, you know, take notes, and then capture those things so they can check back up on it.


Will Bachman  20:14

And there’s, in addition to the cohort members, there’s also the ambassador is participating in these are.


Hark Herold  20:22

Yes, so for the veterans in residence program, which is the weekly geographically based program, the ambassador, the volunteer is there. But again, they are not there to solve the problem. They’re there to help the cohort. So they’ll facilitate at the beginning, but again, ideally, we want the cohort members themselves to be the facilitators, so that they’re taking on that responsibility and impure accountability. But the facilitator, the excuse me, the ambassador will be there to help. And then also, their job is to listen for the challenges and the asks, and to rely on how can they utilize their network to find the right people to help. I started in bunker as a volunteer here in Denver, Colorado. And you know, I said, I don’t know anything, but I know people who know things. And so we really tried to get the the ambassadors to not feel like it’s not the weight of the shoulders on them to to like, resolve all these issues, their job is to help find the support system for the cohort members.


Will Bachman  21:33

And for the, for the the CEO circle, those is it just the just the CEOs, participating errs, there’s also kind of a moderator facilitator person.


Hark Herold  21:44

Yeah, for the CEO circle. So thank you. So for the veterans and residents, we have the ambassadors who are in those weekly meetings. For the CEO circle, we actually have a staff member from our CEO circle program, who sits in on those meetings, to help identify those things, as well as in the case of like our current cohort JP Morgan. Chase, has bankers has has people staff in the sessions as well, again, always looking for Well, who do I know that can help? What can what can I or my contacts bring to support the entrepreneurs?


Will Bachman  22:24

I see. Okay. So. So you do have some central way to make sure that the meetings are, in fact, continuing to be scheduled and happen and, and the quality level is maintained? Yes. Because that can be a problem, I think with with, with these sorts of mastermind groups, if there’s no one who sort of job it is to make sure that they keep running right and keep inviting people and that the people showing up that, yeah, if it’s solely kind of run by the members, it can just fall apart as people get busy or whatever.


Hark Herold  23:00

Yeah, absolutely. And, and, you know, the CEO circle, again, that’s the one where we actually have the paid staff. So our model, let me back up just a minute. Our model is a paid national staff. And then volunteers in the cities where we have our our veterans in residence program. So those are our ambassadors, the volunteers in the different cities. And so the paid staff exists to support the volunteers in the field who are administering the programs and who are going through our ambassador program. And then with CEO circle, it’s it’s a more high touch, and we actually have the paid staff and but what we do with our volunteers who run the veterans and residents weekly huddles is we provide them with training and resources so that they are able to do it and have the knowledge that they need to be able to run these


Will Bachman  23:54

for a listener who’s thinking, oh, boy, I wonder if I could help out the sounds interesting. What are the opportunities for people to help? Maybe a different levels of commitment to people have to be like a veteran to be an ambassador or to assist in some way talk a little bit about what the opportunities are for anyone who wants to volunteer?


Hark Herold  24:16

Yeah, absolutely. The number one thing you can do it the easiest is to support our entrepreneurs on our veterans in residence program. And I’ll tell you how you can do that. But but that is the easiest to support the entrepreneurs who are who are the early stage entrepreneurs going through our veterans in residence program. Again, we’re in 34 cities starting in July. With veterans in residence programs, if you go to our website, you can look up communities and you can see if there’s one in your local community. They meet weekly, but the big event is the combination event at the conclusion of each of the six month cohorts and that is what we call our showcase. And that is one night, across the US, all of our veterans in residence locations have the showcase. And it’s an opportunity for the people in the that have just completed the cohort to kind of give their, hey, you know, this is what I’ve learned. And this is what I still need for the next stage in order to be successful. And then we also introduce the people who are coming into the next cohort. So it’s it’s both the outgoing the quote, unquote, graduating class, as well as the incoming cohort members. And that is in those 34 cities on one night, and all of that is available on the web page, if you look up the different communities,


Will Bachman  25:46

and when is the next showcase?


Hark Herold  25:49

The next showcase is December 7. And the one after that we move the date I believe it is May 17.


Will Bachman  25:58

All right, so mark your calendars.


Hark Herold  26:01

Yes, December 7, again, go to go to the web page, look up your local community. If I tried to rattle off 34 of them, I’d miss one. So


Will Bachman  26:08

let’s not do that. Fantastic, so hard for people that want to learn more, where would you’ll put them online? Just share the share the link with us and we will also put that in the show notes.


Hark Herold  26:20

Yeah, it’s bunker labs that or bunker labs dot o RG. We’ve been around for since about 2014 had to pivot like a lot of other organizations during COVID and have emerged out of that stronger than ever before and delivering more impact to the military veteran military spouse entrepreneurial community. So yeah, please come check it out bunker labs.org. And there’s there’s lots of different ways to engage depending on people’s expertise, availability and desire.


Will Bachman  26:54

And as it will Hark, thank you for joining thanks for your supporting our veterans, and we will include that link in the show notes.

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