Todd Connor, CEO of the Bunker at 1871, at 1871 in Chicago on Friday, January 16, 2015. (Andrew A. Nelles/ For The Chicago Tribune)

Todd Connor, founder and CEO of The Bunker, recently told me that after World War II, 49% of veterans came home and started businesses and today, only 6% will. That’s a problem not necessarily for our veterans, he said, but for American society as a whole.

I think society is at a time now where we need that entrepreneurial leadership and, like previous generations, we ought to be looking to veterans as a population that can deliver it,” Connor said, “They understand entrepreneurial risk-taking, they’ve done it in another context and we need their skills and potential to come back and grow our economy.”

The result of this idea was The Bunker—an incubator for veteran-owned tech companies whose main goal is to bridge the gap between military veterans and entrepreneurism. Not even a year old, the idea for The Bunker was conceived in only June of last year. Today, they help tons of veteran owned companies with access to space, talent, an exclusive network of fellow entrepreneurs, mentorship and professional development, and capital. Tomorrow, May 28th, they’ll be hosting their first annual Muster Conference, an event to kick start all of those things.

Connor, however, noted that calling it a conference doesn’t really do the Muster justice because it focuses on fun and action-oriented flare to bring entrepreneurs together. Three big things will be happening throughout the day:

  1. A main stage with keynote speakers and panel discussions with a range of topics
  2. A pitch stage with about 35 veteran companies that are going to be pitching their business ideas
  3. The “Comcast Connection Lab”

One of the companies that is in The Bunker was started by a group of Navy Seals and does “mindset development” for youth and corporate clients. They basically help you find your “inner awesome,” as Connor called it, through a set of mental fortitude exercises—all that they’ve learned from their Navy Seal training and applying it to the business context.

Every hour on the hour in the Comcast Connection Lab these guys are going to pull in groups of thirty or so people and run them through mental exercises at the end of which they’ll be laughing, opening up, getting to know each other, and facilitating human connection. They are essentially facilitating this whole human connection experience every hour on the hour.

1871-coworking-space

1871 Co-working space. Photo.

“What we initially were thinking for this concept was a resource room where veterans could go get jobs. It’s a very out of date model as a place to go get brochures and pamphlets,” Connor said of the Lab, ”our generation doesn’t even do that—it doesn’t even feel relevant. So instead of employers just standing there and saying “here’s a brochure” or “give me a resume” we said let’s just really make this about helping people get to know each other.”

Like Connor said—it’s all about having fun and getting out these innovative businesses out there. The daylong event will conclude with a happy hour from 5-7pm on the roof of 1871, the space where the conference will take place. It sounds like it’s going to be a great time with a lot a good ideas and connections blossoming.

Todd Connor’s big idea? The new and generationally relevant model for young veterans with aspirations and a desire to network is no longer the VFW, its The Bunker.

Find more information about the Muster Conference here.