RideScout CEO Leads the Bunker to Austin For Veteran Entrepreneurs
Joseph Kopser wants to bring his fellow veterans back into the bunker.
This one, however, will be focused on raising capital and business plans rather than battlefield tactics. Kopser, the founder of transportation app RideScout, has launched a new outpost in Austin, TX, of the Chicago-based Bunker incubator program aimed at veteran entrepreneurs.
“It was hard for me to build this company, RideScout, and I’m an aerospace engineer,” the West Point graduate says. “So, what do you think it’s like for the 26-year-old sergeant who gets out of the army and wants to build a company? How does she raise the money?”
At the Bunker Austin, the veteran-led startups will have access to mentorship, a network of veteran entrepreneurs, and help to find venture capital. Its first class begins Jan. 21 and lasts six months. (The Bunker is seeking corporate sponsorships as well as private funding to pay for its programming, organizers say.)
The Chicago program was started out of the 1871 co-working space and launched its first class of 19 businesses in November. At the same time, the Bunker announced that it would expand to Austin and six other cities: Los Angeles; Tacoma, WA; Colorado Springs, CO; Kansas City, MO; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia.
The Bunker’s Austin branch came out of Kopser’s experience at 1871 as he worked on expanding the reach of the Austin-based app. “I was always seeking mentors to guide me along,” he says. “You can be what you can see.”
Austin’s Bunker will be located at the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas at Austin, which is where Kopser ran RideScout in its earliest stages. “We have a successful company, and it’s time [to] pay it forward,” Kopser says.
Kopser founded RideScout in 2011, raised about $2.5 million in funding, and employed 16 people before it was bought for an undisclosed sum last September by a subsidiary of Daimler AG, maker of the Mercedes-Benz. When I first met Kopser in the summer of 2013, the app—which he pitched as the “Kayak of ground transportation”—was only available in the Texas capital. Now, RideScout is in 70 cities.
Next month, the Bunker will host its first Austin event, a veteran entrepreneur pitch event, in which startup executives will literally ride an elevator with a couple of investors, drumming up interest in their companies. (The building in downtown Austin is still being determined.)
In addition to championing an Austin-based Bunker, Kopser and RideScout partner Craig Cummings have earmarked $70,000 of their own money for the Student Veteran Entrepreneurship Endowment they established in November. The first award will be presented to the most promising startup in the Texas Venture Labs and be named after James D. Pippin, a retired command sergeant major with whom Kopser worked.
He expects the first Pippin award of about $2,000 to be given next month and sees it as a way to augment funding available to veterans through the GI Bill.
“It’s not just giving them the capital, but how we coach and teach and mentor them to make best use of it when they have it,” he added. “And it’s the network and connections. I built RideScout one beer at a time.”