When Todd Connor, ’07, realized he wanted to work with veterans, he decided to focus on the skills they bring home rather than the challenges. “There are already a lot of great nonprofits that deal with problems such as unemployment and PTSD,” he said. “I said we really need something that is about capitalizing on their significant leadership potential.”
The result is “the Bunker,” an incubator for veteran-owned technology companies that in October will join 1871, the downtown Chicago shared work space for digital start-ups.
Connor’s involvement in the military stretches back to his freshman year at Northwestern University, when he signed up to be an ROTC service member. After graduating he was stationed on the USS Bunker Hill in San Diego until the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, sent him to the Persian Gulf. There in 2003 he shot Tomahawk missiles as a Navy officer for the “shock and awe” campaign, part of the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2004, Connor returned to Chicago and worked in various management positions while studying in the Booth Evening MBA Program. But he started to miss national service and eventually left a consulting gig at Booz Allen Hamilton to explore ways to reconnect with his military past. Most recently, Connor worked as director of Chicago’s military academies, a group of six high schools within Chicago Public Schools.
After brainstorming ways to serve the Chicago veteran community last spring, Connor approached 1871 about starting an incubator exclusively for former service members. CEO Connor and his team, which includes current Booth student Brandon Bodor as COO, will provide knowledge and support for their entrepreneurs, especially by helping them navigate the bureaucracy behind government resources for veteran-owned businesses.
1871 will incorporate the Bunker as part of a 25,000-square-foot expansion in the Merchandise Mart downtown. Booth has been an 1871 partner since the hub’s start in 2012, and Connor plans to take advantage of that connection. One of the businesses tentatively signed up for space in the Bunker is CreditServe, a credit-lending model for members of the military, which placed third in the 2014 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. “We want the University of Chicago to be a pipeline of talent for our businesses,” Connor said. — Celia Bever