Photo of Todd Connor at Bunker Labs
Connor’s Bunker Labs, located in Chicago’s 1871 coworking space, helps military veterans start or grow their own businesses. Photograph by Chris Strong.

A Workday With Todd Connor, ’07

The cofounder of Flank 5 Academy and CEO of Bunker Labs is on a mission to provide space, resources, and positive community support for entrepreneurially minded veterans.

According to Todd Connor, ’07, about 25 percent of the 250,000 active duty service members who get out of the military each year want to start their own business. In March 2013, Connor cofounded Chicago-based Flank 5 Academy, a personal incubator aimed at helping people launch a new career or business. The following year, he founded Bunker Labs, a Chicago-based organization that helps military veterans start and grow businesses. Military veterans and entrepreneurs like Connor now helm the 12 active Bunker Labs chapters throughout the United States, focused on expanding an ecosystem to support military veteran entrepreneurship in their communities.

5:15 a.m. I wake up early every day without an alarm. It’s a habit I learned in the Navy. I check the news while I drink my first cup of coffee. I pretty much operate from my mobile device, checking email and looking at the feeds I follow. The only thing I read in print is Crain’s Chicago Business.

6 a.m. Head downstairs for a run, indoors in the winter and outside in the summer.

6:45 a.m. Shower, get dressed, drink my second cup of coffee, and check more email. My partner, Andrew Tourney—who is chief compliance officer for Chicago-based PEAK6 Investments—gets up around this time, and we drive to work together every day

Photo of Todd Connor speaking to Tammy Duckworth Connor speaks with fellow veteran US Representative Tammy Duckworth at a campaign event for Duckworth’s run for US Senate. Photograph by Chris Strong.

8 a.m. I’m usually among the first people to arrive at Bunker Labs in [coworking space] 1871. I start by spending an hour cranking through email. I carve out blocks where I just respond to email, so I can be present for other activities throughout the day.

9–11 a.m. I film interviews with successful entrepreneurs, create new modules, and regularly update the content for our online platform, Bunker in a Box, to connect with the men and women who are going to get out of the military this year.

11 a.m. Have coffee with someone seeking support. I talk to a lot of transitioning military service members or veterans looking to start businesses, and I love talking to these men and women that I care about.

Noon Lunch with a partner, client, or sponsor. Chicago has a lot of corporate and civic activity, and it would be easy to fill the week with luncheons, learning, and networking, but I focus on key relationships. I take my team out for lunch usually once or twice a month.

Todd Connor: Building to Serve

Serving in the US Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom was a lesson in leadership for Todd Connor. Now, the founder of Bunker Labs is empowering fellow veterans to apply their skills to the innovation space. “It has just been an amazing thing to realize how many military veterans want to start their own businesses,” he says. “They are built to serve. They want to lead and this is what entrepreneurship is all about.”
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1 p.m. Conference call with the national Bunker Labs team. The 12 Bunker Labs chapters nationwide talk weekly about what we call “pains and gains.” Each city leader gives an update on their programming, fundraising, events, and other key initiatives. I listen, usually in awe, to all of the amazing work that these military veterans and entrepreneurs are doing in their local markets.

3 p.m. Meet with my seven teammates at the Bunker in Chicago. We follow a strict meeting protocol. Each person identifies the three things they aim to get done for the week. It’s easy to be busy, but identifying our “big 3” publicly ensures we are progressing toward focused goals.

4 p.m. Check-in with Emily Drake, the CEO of Flank 5 Academy, the company that I cofounded in 2013 that continues to grow and be of service to lots of people in Chicago.

5 p.m. I return phone calls from the day and spend another hour on emails, and review my schedule for the coming two weeks.

6:30 p.m. Drive home to cook dinner with Andrew. We don’t talk work at home—we talk about our family, trips, plans, but we like the break from work at night.

9:30 p.m. I usually fall asleep reading. I’m currently rereading Mindset by Carol Dweck.

—As told to Melissa G. Lamkin