Bunker Labs: Creating a Successful Business with Valerie Rivera

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Valerie Rivera, one of three City Leaders for Bunker Lab’s newest chapter in Omaha. Bunker Labs is a national nonprofit organization committed to helping Veterans, active-duty military, and military spouses start and grow business. Our conversation touched on a variety of different topics, including how Bunker Labs helps Veteran business owners, some tips for aspiring business -owners, the unique challenges of operating a business in Nebraska, and what’s next for Bunker Labs Omaha.

The Road to Omaha

Working as a Mission Manager and later a Team Leader for the Air Force while stationed in Hawaii, Valerie developed experience in what it takes to create and implement successful change management strategies. Following her time in the Air Force, she received her MBA from Stanford, further equipping her with business and operational management expertise. Her next step was to found Take Back Work, a company dedicated to providing management training and solutions to organization leaders and management teams.

Valerie was introduced to Bunker Labs through a close friend who was running the San Francisco Bay Area chapter at the time. After attending a few of their popular Bunker Brews events, Valerie learned that her husband had been reassigned a new position in Nebraska. While researching the entrepreneurial scene in Omaha in preparation for the move, she began to notice the state’s widespread support of its Veteran community. Understanding how close Omaha was to Offutt Air Force Base, she knew Bunker Labs needed a chapter here.

For those still wondering: “What exactly is Bunker Labs?” Valerie laid it out cleanly: “Bunker Labs exists to help Veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses find the quickest route to a successful business. Our mission is to inspire, equip, and connect – by that I mean we strive to inspire Veterans and military spouses to start their own businesses, equip them with the knowledge they need to succeed, and connect them with others who can help them on their journey.”

Getting Down to Business

Depending on the kind of business you start, you may experience “barriers to entry,” meaning that your business will face obstacles to competing with larger, more-established companies, like lack of access to capital. Valerie provided great advice for those who wish to start a business but are feeling discouraged by the barriers to entry. She explained that understanding your exact market and their needs will help tremendously. Some questions you should be asking are:

  • What are my customers buying?
  • Why should they buy from me? Why not?
  • Do I have a unique offering capable of competing with established organizations?
  • What level of quality do I wish to compete with?

Answering these questions with solid logic and reasoning can lay the foundation for a good business. She emphasized that your answers should not rely on guesswork – talk to as many potential clients as possible to gain a holistic view of your industry.

Pivoting from an industry view, our discussion moved to more detailed workplace culture tips. Rivera noted, “No matter what, your organization will have a culture. The question you should ask yourself is ‘Does our culture help us accomplish our mission or hinder it?’ There’s no one right or wrong culture by the way…but finding alignment between the culture and what you are trying to accomplish is an incredible competitive advantage!”

On the macro scale, Valerie had some poignant ideas on how to improve the business community of Nebraska with the current divisive political climate. She started by pointing out the importance of inclusivity. “If we can be more inclusive and harness the richness of our differences, it will serve Nebraska well.” She continued, “Beyond treating everyone with dignity and respect, my hope is that the leaders in our communities (business, government, religious, et cetera) will use their power to open as many doors to as many voices as possible. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because diversity (both cognitive and identity) is powerful and leads to better outcomes.”

Bunker Brews

Nebraska has a large, active military and Veteran community. Disregarding this group or forgetting to take them into consideration means missing an important piece of our community. Valerie suggested non-military affiliated businesses should come to one of their “Bunker Brews” to better engage and include servicemen and servicewomen. “It’s the easiest way to network with current and future Veteran business owners. Share your story, form relationships, and provide your perspective – it’s invaluable for newbies to the world of business!” There’s normally a Bunker Brews event once a month with a featured speaker focusing on specific aspects of starting or running a business. The next one will take place on July 22, and you can find more info on the event here – Bunker Brews Omaha

As we wrapped up our discussion, we wanted gain insight on how Valerie’s time in service helped shaped her life in the business world. She pointed to the often-unpredictable times in the military and how her ability to manage the rapidly changing environment of the Air Force translated to managing changes in the workplace. “Change is constant, and you’ll never have enough time and resources to do everything you want. I never stop taking in new information and adjusting as necessary. You’ve got to if you want to keep up. You’ll never hear me say ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ That’s not a sufficient reason to do anything unless it is truly the best way given your constraints.”

If you would like to learn more about Bunker Labs, Bunker Brews, or how to get connected with their Omaha chapter, click here to visit their website. If you would like to speak with one of the experienced business law attorneys at Berry Law – call us today at 402-215-0979 or click here to fill out a contact form and someone will be in contact with you as soon as possible.