By Eric Dehm
There’s no shortage of advice out there for aspiring small business owners. But one organization — specializing in empowering military veterans to become industry leaders and entrepreneurs — touts an impressive track record.
Since June 2014, 363 businesses have completed Bunker Labs’ programs, and those start-ups have generated more than $50 million in revenue.
CEO Todd Connor fittingly pulled from his own experiences — both good and bad — to build the organization.
“Ultimately, I started Bunker Labs to create a place where other military veterans could show up, ask the dumb questions, hopefully avoid some of the mistakes I made and be successful as small business owners,” he says of his Chicago-based company, which now has chapters in 14 cities nationwide.
Connor, who went to Northwestern and earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, took a corporate job after leaving the Navy in 2004. He moved on to start his own management consulting business, and eventually other businesses before moving on to start Bunker Labs.
He also draws a correlation between service and building something from the ground up.
“I think the reason people join the military is because they want to do exceptional things,” Connor says. “And I think starting your own business is very much in-line with that ethos.”
Still, there’s a hesitation among veterans to actually act on this impulse.
“Even though 25% want to go into business, only 4% actually do.” Connor says. “That’s the problem we are trying to solve. After World War II, 49% of veterans came back to start or operate a business within six years.”
What can be done to raise those numbers? Bunker Labs provides information, education and training to vets via various programs both online and at its 14 locations. Its latest offering, Bunker In A Box, is a multimedia tool, aiming to get vets interested and informed on what goes into starting a business.
“It’s an online, ‘gameified’ free learning solution that’s really interesting,” Connor says. “We give you fourteen missions, challenges to take on as an entrepreneur.”
So far, Bunker Labs is happy to have assisted so many veteran start-ups, but Connor doesn’t want to take too much credit.
“We’ve had successes,” Connor says. “But I think what’s exciting is that they’re the entrepreneurs’ successes.”
Connor says Bunker Labs has no plans to slow down. Later this year, he plans to open more locations across the country to expand its reach.