MINNEAPOLIS - In the Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis, a group of military veterans sit in a shared office space exchanging ideas related to their businesses.
These veterans, seven in total, are the first in Minneapolis to be a part of the Veterans in Residence program. The co-working giant WeWork has partnered with the nonprofit Bunker Labs to help veterans as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Since incubating the program in Denver, they've expanded the program nationally.
"Having the other veterans and other entrepreneurs has been a great support system for me," said Calinn Green. Green served in the United States Air Force as an aircrew flight equipment technician.
"After the military, I knew that I wanted to do something I loved for a living," Green said.
Green started a videography company and a photography company. Her photography business, My Legacy, was inspired by her mother who died from ovarian cancer.
"I knew that I had to focus on women because I didn't have a big, beautiful portrait of my mom after she passed away and I wanted to make sure nobody was ever in that situation again," Green said.
It also inspired Green to get a sleeve tattoo in memory of her mother. Green's daughter then said she wanted a tattoo like mommy. That led to Green's third business, BratTats - temporary tattoo sleeves for children.
"Even though it's not ... always easy, it's not always fun ... all the people, the veterans here, are here to remind me that it's absolutely worth it," Green said.
The Veterans in Residence program provides veteran business owners six months of free office space at WeWork. Bunker Labs also provides these vets with extra training and resources to grow their businesses.
"The hope is while they're here they get plugged in to these greater communities and can expand that and then continue to give back to future Veterans in Residence but also the WeWork community, as well," said Marcus Bolen, Bunker Labs city leader for Minneapolis.
Edna McKenzie will celebrate her company's fifth anniversary in November. McKenzie runs Midwest Select Contracting - a building construction and environmental consulting firm.
"Everyone has a vision ... but you're just one person and normally that vision is bigger than you are. So you have to involve others. You need people to invest in your vision, to carry it forward and join and say, 'Yes'... so that's what this space is for me," McKenzie said.
According to WeWork, over the next five years the program will grow the businesses of at least 100 Minneapolis-based veterans and at least 1,400 veterans around the country.
WeWork is also expanding in Minneapolis with a second location opening in Uptown this December.
Thursday, November 8, a Veterans Opportunity Fair will be held at WeWork Capella Tower on the 39th floor. It runs 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.