I found my conversation with Mike inspiring; 15-minutes into our interview, I donated to IRONBOUND Boxing. Mike is a great example of an entrepreneur - his passion, determination, and resilience come through in everything he says. His company is also a fantastic example of a hybrid organization that is both for-profit and socially driven. If you are considering entrepreneurship, or just want to hear about an incredible Military Veteran who is doing good in the world after his military service, this is the interview for you. If you are interested in supporting IRONBOUND Boxing, you can donate to their organization, or support them through introductions to companies (Prudential in particular) or by providing technical assistance.
Mike is the Founder of IRONBOUND Boxing, which helps employees get fit, have fun, and support a great cause. They provide on-site boxing classes to corporations of all sizes in order to improve participants' self-confidence, morale, and health. IRONBOUND Boxing is also a fundraising tool for the IRONBOUND Boxing Academy, our nonprofit boxing gym which provides free recreation to Newark youth & young adults. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served as a Marine Corps Officer for five years. He is in the process of earning his MA from Rutgers University, and graduated from the Stanford Ignite program.
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
BTU #139 - Founding Bunker Labs (Todd Connor) - https://www.beyondtheuniform.io/blog/btu-139-founding-bunker-labs-todd-connor?rq=bunker%20labs
BTU #88 - Mike Benedosso - Army Boxing National Champion to LinkedIn & Google - https://www.beyondtheuniform.io/blog/btu-88-mike-bendosso-army-boxing-national-champion-to-linkedin-google?rq=boxing
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Newark, New Jersey is Mike Steadman. Mike is the Founder of IRONBOUND Boxing, which helps employees get fit, have fun, and support a great cause. They provide on-site boxing classes to corporations of all sizes in order to improve participants' self-confidence, morale, and health. IRONBOUND Boxing is also a fundraising tool for the IRONBOUND Boxing Academy, our nonprofit boxing gym which provides free recreation to Newark youth & young adults. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served as a Marine Corps Officer for five years. He is in the process of earning his MA from Rutgers University, and graduated from the Stanford Ignite program.
How would you explain to people what you do for a living?
I tell people that I’m a boxing coach. That encompasses who I am and what I do. All of my entrepreneurial endeavors are built around that.
How did you get involved in boxing?
At the Naval Academy, I was a three-time national champion boxer at the 185-pound level. I had never boxed before the Academy but I really fell in love with it. I relied on it heavily throughout my time in the Academy and in the Marine Corps and because of that I always wanted to use boxing as a way to give back to my community, especially young men and women of color.
One of the things I noticed at the Academy was that we were going to all these different inner city boxing facilities. After the Academy, we were all going on to do amazing things as military officers but the kids at the gyms that we went to didn’t have those same opportunities.
So with IRONBOUND, I wanted to mirror the experience of the Academy through a community boxing gym.
When did you decide that you were going to start this business?
When I was in the Marines, I had a stint with the Marine Corps boxing team. In Okinawa, Japan, I started a boxing club with Marines that were deployed. I was always training Marines but people were constantly coming and going and I wanted something that I would be able to commit more time and energy to.
In the Marines, I started a business called Fighting Mojo and that was my first stab at marketing my concept. IRONBOUND is really just and evolution of that. Eventually my partner and I started the gym in Newark, New Jersey along with our non-profit arm - IRONBOUND Boxing and Education.
So I’ve always been doing it but I’ve had to learn some lessons along the way to get the company to where it is now.
That’s really interesting that you’ve been able to combine both for-profit and non-profit functions in your operations.
Yes that’s where the entrepreneurship mindset comes in. I met with city leaders and got a space in Newark to outfit it as a gym. I learned about how to fundraise for the gym and build a sustainable plan. That’s how the hybrid business plan came in where we have both for-profit and non-profit concepts.
Can you talk more about the Stanford Ignite program?
I was picking up a friend at the airport to go to a bachelor party and he was coming back from Stanford Ignite. On the 3-hour drive to the bachelor party he was telling me all about the program. He sent me the link to apply and I submitted an application. The experience has been life changing.
What did you learn there that you’ve applied to IRONBOUND?
The biggest thing I took away from Stanford Ignite was having a framework and pitching your business. I really had no idea what they were talking about at first but what I found out was that no matter what your venture is, there are certain things you need to focus on in order to get it off the ground.
I would advise people to not have an idea in a bubble. You have to get out there and put your idea out there so that you can get feedback on your idea. I’ve made many pivots with IRONBOUND based on feedback from other people.
What have some of the more challenging times been like during your entrepreneurial journey?
One is the environment I operate in. IRONBOUND is located in an inner-city - it’s very street and very gritty. Newark can be difficult place to operate in and I have to marry together the personalities in Newark to people in places like New York that will help us make our concept successful.
What is a typical day like for you?
I had a full-time job up until recently. I was living in a residence hall with all boys - it was 70 boys living in a residence all. I was managing that with my girlfriend but I gave that up to focus on IRONBOUND full-time.
So now I live right downtown. I wake up and then go workout. I don’t have an office space in Newark yet but there’s a workspace in my apartment building so I use that to catch up on emails and make phone calls. At 3:30 I open the gym and I’m there coaching and working with volunteers. I try to get an evening workout in as well. After that I try to get out of there and go home to catch up on some emails.
How can people support you?
I try to connect dots that don’t exist. Through the veteran community, I’ve been able to connect with WeWork and Bunker Labs. Connecting us to people that can help us do what we’re doing is extremely appreciated. Technical assistance is also great. By that I mean people that are willing to do marketing and social media work for us or pro-bono law work.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The first thing I would say is don’t be afraid to work for free. I’m involved with Bunker Labs, an organization that helps veteran entrepreneurs. We have a variety of different events and access to free working space. But a lot of skills that I’ve learned to move IRONBOUND forward has been through Bunker Labs. On the job training taught me so much. Education is also important. Taking a class here and there to learn about entrepreneurship and business.
Can you discuss a little bit more about your work with Bunker Labs?
I got connected to Bunker Labs through one of my Stanford Ignite classmates. I was not connected to veterans at all until I got involved with Bunker Labs and Stanford Ignite because I didn’t want to be defined by that. It’s an aspect of who I am but not how I define myself. But after I went to Stanford Ignite, I got involved with the Bunker Lab group in New York City. I got the opportunity to run the residence program at WeWork and was able to get exposure for IRONBOUND through that.
As a Bunker Lab city leader, I’m responsible for pulling veteran entrepreneurs together to share ideas. If you think of top business schools, they’re buzzing. We wanted to bring that to the veteran community. You don’t have to go to a high speed MBA program to connect with the entrepreneurship community.
We host Bunker Brews once a month to pull veterans into our ecosystem. We also have an online portal that leads veterans through the entrepreneurship process. And we also have the residence program which provides entrepreneurs with working space for free. This is also a great opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs.
Also, when people give you introductions, you can’t be afraid to follow up on those. That’s been huge for me in New York City. People keep their Rolodex pretty tough and if they’re willing to make an intro on your behalf, you need to jump on it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
The idea of being an entrepreneur is new to me. I’m just trying to provide this gym for the community and provide access to free boxing for kids in Newark. So if people are willing to help, we’re extremely grateful.