Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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The Bunker Labs EPIC Program at the CIE

by Nikki Kroushl on February 17, 2017

Bunker Labs

Throughout the months of January, February, and early March, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is acting as host to a breakout section of the Raleigh-based Bunker Labs business acceleration program. The program, known as Bunker Labs EPIC—the Entrepreneurial Program for Innovation and Collaboration—is a ten-week course with three-hour sessions that cover the building blocks of business creation.

“The idea behind having a structured program,” says CIE Director Diane Durance, “is to get the entrepreneurs focused on spending ten weeks to achieve their next milestone. If they’re at the idea stage, they’re taking steps to develop a plan of action. If they already have proof of concept, it’s more about working on taking their product to market, figuring out their customer base, and so forth.”

Bunker Labs is a nonprofit based in Chicago which was originally founded with the goal of helping military veterans start their own businesses. The EPIC program allows civilians to participate, but veteran participants receive a large discount. Early in the year, the CIE decided to sponsor eight Wilmington entrepreneurs to create a cohort that video conferences weekly with the main course taught in Raleigh by the principals of EntreDot. Two of the Wilmington participants are veterans.

“There are similar programs out there—all designed to facilitate the thought processes entrepreneurs need to understand their customer and the market. We’re thrilled to be testing the waters with this program and the Raleigh cohort,” Durance says. “It’s helping our entrepreneurs figure out their business models and whether or not their great idea can be a viable business.”

“The interaction with other participants and mentors is the most valuable part of it,” says Chris Krumm, Manager of the Office of Innovation and Commercialization, program participant, and veteran. “You don’t typically get that kind of time to immerse yourself with people who are like-minded and entrepreneurial. It’s like having a focus group.”

Krumm speaks highly of the program mentors. “They’re willing to go the extra mile,” he says, describing how the EPIC mentors actively promote participants’ business ideas among their networks. “The mentors are using their free time to help us—it’s almost like they’re doing market research for us,” he adds. The EPIC program becomes more than just a class—it becomes a way to make connections that could pave the way for each entrepreneur’s future.

In the next few weeks, the Wilmington cohort will travel to Raleigh to meet their fellow students and mentors in person. In the meantime, Durance says the results from the program are positive enough that the CIE will continue to work with EntreDot to explore options for Bunker Labs in Wilmington.

“Hopefully we’ll do a full program here in Wilmington at some point,” Durance says. “In the meantime, there’s tremendous value in collaborating and making connections with the mentors and entrepreneurs in Raleigh. It gives our local entrepreneurs the best of both worlds!”

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