Meet Greg Jumes & Weston Polaski
LF/LB Chamber: What was your inspiration for launching Victor App?
Greg Jumes: When my USMC deployment ended in 2008 and my Marine Corps enlistment ended in January of 2010, I had a really tough time adjusting to life back home in Wisconsin. It was definitely the low point of my life. After a couple years, I spent some time back in the Middle East and Asia doing security work for private companies and government agencies which was kind of like being in the military. But, as a civilian I got to go home every couple of months, but that just wasn’t sustainable. I didn’t see myself retiring, so I had to come up with something different [to do]. After having a corporate job in Chicago in 2015 I was introduced to some veterans who were involved with an organization called Bunker labs. It’s a non-profit that helps veterans become entrepreneurs. So, after getting into contact with them I realized I could be an entrepreneur if I [could] solve a problem. I went into the most real problem that I’ve ever had, and that was being in combat, then being out of the military. So, I wanted to build a piece of technology that would help veterans and their families feel a sense of community, [access] health and wellness resources and find career opportunities in the area.
LFLBC: What has been its impact on the local military community?
Weston Polaski: So the thing we found right away was that our founding partner, Rush University, has the Road Home Program. It’s an excellent program at Rush where they actually fly veterans’ entire families here and put them through a three-week intense inpatient program. They fund it all. We also saw that there is an overload here in Chicago. We were connecting with a lot of veterans in the community and heard about their experiences at Jesse Brown, [Edward] Hines [Junior Veterans Administration Hospital], the VA up in Lake County. And the number one thing was just the long wait. And so, we have it pretty simple on our app where you just go on and request an appointment. I went on [the app] on a Thursday, requested an appointment, they called me the next day, and I had an appointment on Tuesday….just unheard of [before]. We have a Marine on board now as well who is a patient at Road Home and he said he couldn’t believe how easy it was to go through our app and get the service that he needed.
LFLBC: What kind of help can veterans get through your app?
WP: We’re looking for anything community-based, whether that’s the American Legion, the VFW, or even just a local small business like a restaurant where [veterans] can save some money. Anything that is going to provide support and make them feel welcome in the community.
GJ: So, some of the resources that we currently range from financial assistance to mental health care to free gym memberships. We try to provide as much curated resources to our users in the greater Chicago area [as we can]. We try to hit on every one of those life resources …whether it’s money, childcare, or more. If you want to start a business, grow a business we can connect you with those resources. If you are looking for mental health care, we can connect you there. If you are looking for fun activities or some place to save money, we can do that too. A lot of our businesses provide a lot of different resources. Some will have job opportunities and also a discount. Some of them are just hiring. Some are just offering a discount. Then we have Rush University that offers their programming for veterans, their job opportunities and also their events and activities they provide to the veteran community here in Chicago.
LFLBC: How many partners do you have?
GJ: Currently we have Rush University as our main partner. We have been working very closely with LinkedIn and WeWork to provide events and also feedback on their current veteran initiatives.
LFLBC: How do veterans learn about you?
WP: Right now, were doing a lot of social media, and our team have all been in the veteran community for a while and we have our connections. So, it’s [us] going to the VFW’s, American Legions and getting the word out. And we put out a lot of fliers.
GJ: The best way is for veterans to find us through our website and social media channels.
LFLBC: How was 2017 after your initial launch?
GJ: We had a really great 2017. We raised $26K though a crowd-funding campaign which was really great because that allowed us to start development on our prototype that was launched in May of last year. A couple weeks after we launched we won an award for $72,000 at a pitch competition. That was super great. [We’ve had some ups and downs] and learned a lot, and now we are at a stage where we are raising more capital through private investors.
LFLBC: How has developing the app changed your mission in bridging the military and civilian communities?
GJ: It’s [been] eye-opening, because we have identified that there are a lot of existing veteran organizations that are all trying to do the same thing. And at first, I was kind of discouraged and hesitant about doing this whole venture, but as we continued to research and connect with other organizations, we found that we’re doing something that nobody else has really tried to do. There have been some mobile applications for veterans, but they didn’t last because they didn’t find a way to provide value to both sides of their market. [They were just saying they were going to help veterans], but that was only going to go so far. So, what we found is that not only is it very important to focus on helping the veterans, but also [to help] the organizations and businesses through a sense of a return on their investment. If you’re going to give us $200 a month for our service, we want to make sure we are providing you $10,000 in value. Whereas our competitors weren’t really doing that. We found that as we kept going deeper and deeper into this we found that we were on to something and that there was a big gap that needed to be filled the right way.
LFLBC: How has your connection with the Chamber of Commerce and the communities of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff helped you?
WP: It’s been great to get to know the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff communities. They have been amazing. The people who I have met through the Chamber and at the events, have been great. We are a tech company in downtown Chicago and I never really see tech startups leaving the city area and getting out to the communities where their users and customers are.
GJ: [We’ve been able to make a lot of] connections…and having people in your corner. Having a network up there, both with the business side and the veteran community. We’ve been up there to have dinner at some of the restaurants who are on the app and have met the owners which has been really cool. I keep running across people in the downtown [Chicago] area that I find are also members of the Lake Forest Chamber.
LFLBC: What can the communities of LF and LB do to help support your initiatives?
GJ: Two things: One, we’re raising capital…so anyone who might be interested in investing and being part of our business would be great. And secondly, think about what your business can do for the veteran community, and the value [associating with us] can bring to you. Veterans are 90% more likely to shop at a business that openly supports the military over the competitors. We try to educate a lot of small business owners about that…when we ask them to post a discount or offer, they sometimes think we’re just asking them to give something away, where if you give something, you’re really getting a lot more. If I get a free beer by coming into your restaurant, I’m not just coming in for a free beer…I’m going to eat there, or I’m brining a date, or my family. So, giving these little perks isn’t a charity case. It’s a marketing angle and our goal is to get those 60-some thousand service members in the Lake County area to come into those business and be regulars. Or even get employees from the veteran community.
LFLBC: Anything else you’d like to share?
GJ: If any veteran has a suggestion, we would love to hear it. [We’d love to hear their] stories, and experiences they have had. Any issues they have had separating from the military. They can contact us firstname.lastname@example.org We’d love their input.