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Empowering veteran entrepreneurs


Announcing our partnership with Bunker Labs

This Veterans Day, U.S. Bank is proud to announce its partnership with Bunker Labs Minneapolis as the organization’s founding sponsor. Launched in September 2016, Bunker Labs Minneapolis is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that provides resources and opportunities to help military veterans start businesses.

After participating in a sponsorship for Bunker Labs’ first chapter in Chicago in 2014-2015, Mike Ott, President of U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management and a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Colonel, and Dan Farley, Twin Cities Market Leader for U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management and a former Army officer, saw the aspirational overlaps between U.S. Bank and Bunker Labs. “Bunker Labs connects to the core values of the bank, connects to community, connects to innovation – which is the middle name for U.S. Bank these days – and it connects to our veterans and the Proud to Serve business resource group,” Ott says.

When Tim O’Neil, former Infantry Officer in the Marine Corps and Executive Director of Bunker Labs Minneapolis, left active duty in 2013, he began his own business. Through that experience, he found that his career path, entrepreneurial zest and business challenges were far from unique among military veterans. Soon after starting his business, he partnered with the national Bunker Labs organization and began exploring the impact that a chapter in the Twin Cities could have.

For O’Neil, “It’s really about providing a community for veterans when they leave active duty. For so many of them, they need to get plugged in to folks who can help them build and grow their businesses.” Bunker Labs achieves this through four specific initiatives: Bunker in a Box, Bunker Brews, CEOCircle and Launch Lab.

Bunker in a Box is an online, gamified e-learning platform designed to provide veterans with a self-paced entrepreneurship education. To make the program more appealing, the coursework uses a vernacular that’s familiar to veterans. For example, there’s a leaderboard, ribbons are earned for completing levels and, rather than “lessons,” the course uses terms like “mission” and “objective.”

       Todd Connor, Bunker Labs CEO and Founder,
announces the opening of Bunker Labs Minneapolis
in September 2016.

Bunker Brews is a monthly social gathering where a featured thought leader from the community, who is often in the middle of building and growing a business, provides guidance. This allows veterans to meet someone out of their network who can help show them a path to start and grow their businesses.

CEOCircle serves as a resource to veteran entrepreneurs who have a separate set of needs from those in the ideational phase of their business. CEOCircle operates to serve those needs by bringing in veteran CEOs who have seen some success and turning them into peer resources.

Launch Lab is a 12-week course offered twice a year. During each term, around 10 companies enroll in the course with the goal of going from “idea” to “invoice” and exploring early-stage business opportunities. Students work through a curriculum prepared by Toby Nord of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Those who take the course can take advantage of guidance from best-in-class thought leaders from the community, including some of U.S. Bank’s own employees.

The goals of Bunker Labs Minneapolis and the U.S. Bank Proud to Serve veterans business resource group align in a way that makes this partnership fit like a glove. “We believe this partnership will really deepen our support of veterans,” O’Neil says. “We’ll be able to pull a lot more in, in terms of resources and opportunities around them, particularly those who are going through our Launch Lab course. I’m really excited about partnering with U.S. Bank because of their expertise and their commitment to building, growing and supporting sustainable businesses.”

Ott shares O’Neil’s excitement and believes the partnership will result in mutual benefits. “The benefit for our employees is gaining new perspectives through these young veteran entrepreneurs as we help morph their ideas into tangible companies that are capable of drawing in capital,” Ott says. “The sponsorship makes good business sense for both parties.”

For veterans who don’t have access to a local chapter, Bunker Labs has digital resources at the ready. Access Bunker in a Box online at bunkerinabox.org and download the Bunker Labs’ mobile app on iOS and Android to connect with the nationwide community and stay up to date on events.


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