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From battlefields to business plans

Northwestern alumnus Todd Connor helps fellow vets build businesses

With a million military veterans returning home from active duty over the next five years, Northwestern alumnus Todd Connor wants to clear a path for that massive influx of talent and leadership in communities across the nation.

Connor founded The Bunker (video below), a startup incubator to help veterans become entrepreneurs, for the same reason he joined the Navy. When you see a problem and you’re in position to help, he says, you don’t think twice.

"This isn’t just about what veterans need, this is a lot about what America needs." - Todd Connor

He points to statistics showing that while half of World War II veterans returned to own or operate a business, only about 6 percent of today’s new ventures are started by veterans.

We refer to World War II veterans as the “Greatest Generation,” according to Connor, not only for their contributions in battle but because of what they did when they came home to rebuild the nation’s economy.

Connor, a graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences who learned leadership and service skills during his time at Northwestern as a member of the Naval ROTC, says veterans have a natural skill set for success in business.

“Veterans know how to take on a mission, get past obstacles, pivot when it makes sense and make quick decisions in an ever-changing environment,” he says. “That capacity is learned in the military, but it has significant application in entrepreneurship.”

The Bunker helps fuel existing veteran-owned technology startups and aspiring entrepreneurs by providing a launching pad for ideas, strategy and networking. But it’s not about simply giving back.

“This isn’t just about what veterans need, this is a lot about what America needs,” Connor says.

The Bunker launched in 2014 at 1871, the digital startup hub based in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Since then it has expanded to several other cities, including Los Angeles, Austin, Kansas City and Philadelphia.

“Companies need very different things depending on the life stage they’re at, depending on the industry they’re in,” Connor says. “And our job is to sit and listen to the companies and ask ‘What do you need right now?’ It’s about all the people in the room that say, ‘Hey, I know somebody at that company. I can get you an introduction.’ That’s the power of The Bunker.”

Veterans interested in entrepreneurship and new business opportunities can get involved by visiting The Bunker online.

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