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Northwestern University

What did you do with your arts and sciences degree?

Chris Rooney ’96 laid the groundwork for a successful entrepreneurial career


Chris Rooney ran in many directions as an undergraduate, but he had one ultimate goal: an entrepreneurial career. More than two decades later, it’s clear he pursued a winning strategy. Rooney’s in-depth study of psychology, his balancing act as a student-athlete and his work in the late Aryeh Routtenberg’s neuroscience lab instilled in him “the confidence, gumption and risk tolerance to be an entrepreneur,” he says.

The Minneapolis native arrived at Weinberg College in 1992 intending to become a wildlife biologist. But he soon found himself drawn toward psychology, an area rich with questions about motivation, decision-making and action. The subject matter proved fascinating to Rooney, who learned how to “listen, observe, consume information and assess situations” through his study of behavior and the mind.

After taking two classes with Routtenberg, Rooney asked the famously precise neuroscientist if he could pursue an independent study in his lab. Rooney soon found himself putting mice through maze experiments each morning at 8:00 a.m.

“Professor Routtenberg insisted on absolute attention to detail,” Rooney says. “That experience became a differentiating factor for me, because not everyone in the real world is prepared or willing to meet such high standards.”

Discovering talents and abilities

Rooney carried that work ethic beyond the lab. A walk-on defensive back who later earned a scholarship to play on the Wildcats’ Big 10 Championship football team, Rooney hustled from locker room to study groups, devoured his meals over open textbooks and spent many nights in campus computer labs.

Rooney went on to spend the first 13 years of his professional life as a consultant, first in the field of manufacturing and then management. He found himself inspired by the founders of the businesses that employed him.

“They built their own destiny and didn’t rely on a system or structure for support,” says Rooney, who earned an MBA at Northwestern as he prepared to pursue his own entrepreneurial path.

Along the way, Rooney discovered another talent: an ability to translate complex technological concepts for others. In 2009, he made that skill the foundation of his first venture, the ecommerce agency Digital Bridge Solutions. The firm gained momentum with successful projects for the Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview, Ill. and the iconic Radio Flyer brand.

After a decade running Digital Bridge, Rooney sold the company in late 2018. Now he’s tackling a new entrepreneurial challenge: working with firms to scale their ventures.His work will draw on all the lessons he learned at the College — in class, on the field and in the lab.

“The idea of helping organizations and people navigate their growth journey appeals to me,” Rooney says. “I understand it takes thoughtful, committed action to achieve great things.”

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