When Officer Kimberly Jung was looking for roadside bombs in Afghanistan, she couldn't help but notice a vicious cycle.
"It felt like every time we found one, a new one would take its place," Jung recalled in an interview with Bunker Labs.
She was a route clearance platoon leader, so it was a big part of her job. But constantly uncovering weapons of war made her wish they could interact with the land and its people in a more positive way.
She wasn't the only one who felt like this; several of her friends who served with her also saw the symbolism behind the seemingly unending activity. It was time to change how they related to Afghanistan.
When Jung returned to civilian life, she and her colleagues decided to start cultivating peace by working with Afghan farmers to harvest saffron.
[rebelmouse-image 19346109 dam="1" original_size="700x358" caption="Rumi (right) with her fellow co-founders. Photo via Bunker Labs/YouTube." expand=1]Rumi (right) with her fellow co-founders. Photo via Bunker Labs/YouTube.
They co-founded a company called Rumi Spice in Chicago to help make the expensive and rare saffron spice more available in the states.
For them, it's not just about turning a profit. They have hired Afghan employees and created lasting partnerships with Afghan farmers to encourage a more healthy relationship with the war-torn nation.
"What we’re doing here is laying a sustainable foundation for peace through economic empowerment," Jung explained.
By working with Afghanistan in this way, Rumi Spice is helping to infuse economic prosperity back into a country that desperately needs the boost. This, in turn, helps the farmers think positively about American businesses that want them to maintain their seat in the world's marketplace.
As of last year, Rumi Spice has been able to export 5% of Afghanistan’s total saffron available for it. It's a huge leap for such a small business, especially because they're simultaneously strengthening a key link between Afghanistan and the Western world.
Their thriving business is largely possible due to assistance from Bunker Labs — a national nonprofit that empowers veterans to become leading entrepreneurs.
Bunker Labs was founded by former veteran Todd Connor, whose own experience returning home from the Navy sparked this idea for an interactive support system for veterans interested in starting their own businesses.
"He realized that one of the main barriers to success was the resources, networks, and a connected ecosystem in which to support them," Becca Keaty, Chief Development Officer for Bunker Labs, explains in an email.
So that's exactly what Bunker Labs provides. It inspires and equips veterans through immersive workshops, active mentorships, and innovative programs both in-person and online via its Launch Lab Online. But perhaps most importantly, it helps them establish a tribe of fellow veterans who are also pursuing their business dreams.
Jung, in particular, has found that network incredibly helpful and motivating.
"Our biggest supporters have been other veterans," Jung said. "Being part of a veteran community has been key to our success."
[rebelmouse-image 19346111 dam="1" original_size="700x348" caption="Jung works with another veteran at a Bunker Lab. Photo via Bunker Labs/YouTube." expand=1]Jung works with another veteran at a Bunker Lab. Photo via Bunker Labs/YouTube.
And she's far from alone. As of February 2018, Bunker Labs entrepreneurs have helped create 1,581 new jobs and generate $67,449,544 in revenue. What's more, the organization has headquarters in 22 major cities across the country, with a three-year goal of getting one in all 50 states, so those numbers will only continue to climb.
Thanks to brands like Macy's, that goal will likely be reached even sooner. As part of its July 4 Give Back campaign, if you donate $3 at checkout in stores or online, you'll receive 25% percent off your purchase, and a portion of your donation goes to Bunker Labs. Your donations will help them expand their programs, making them more accessible to a larger population of veterans.
It can be especially hard for veterans making the transition back to civilian life to set themselves up for success in business. According to Bunker Labs, while 25% of returning veterans want to be entrepreneurs, only 4% manage to do it because they don't know where to start. But now, with organizations like Bunker Labs in place, they can avoid a lot of that guesswork and turn to fellow veteran entrepreneurs for advice when they're feeling overwhelmed or looking for assistance.
Being in the military means never leaving someone behind. That sentiment doesn't expire when their uniforms are off.
To learn more about Bunker Labs, check out this video:
Salute those who serve by donating at Macy's to organizations that support veteran and military families from June 28th — July 8th.