Our Team

The Garage Staff

Melissa Kaufman

Executive Director

Office Hours

As founding executive director of The Garage, Melissa leads the team and vision for the space, community, and programming. She is a former Googler, startup veteran, and entrepreneur with a decade of experience at consumer technology companies in Silicon Valley. Currently, she is a committee member of ChicagoNEXT (the mayor’s technology council), a member of P33 (the Chicago Technology Initiative), and a venture partner at Chicago Ventures. She was named to Chicago Inno’s 50 on Fire in 2017 and Crain’s Tech 50 in 2018. Melissa received her BA in computer science from Dartmouth College.

Hayes Ferguson

Associate Director

Hayes manages The Garage’s programs and resources, including Residency, Propel, Wildfire and mentorship. Additionally, she leads efforts to partner with the broader Northwestern community on entrepreneurial initiatives. Before joining the staff full time in 2018, Hayes was an EIR at The Garage, mentoring myriad student startup teams. A founding member of the management team at Legacy.com, Hayes has served in leadership and advisory roles at multiple digital companies. Earlier in her career, she taught journalism at Medill after several years as a magazine writer and foreign correspondent. Hayes has a BA from Vanderbilt University and did graduate work as a Rotary Scholar at the University of Perugia in Italy and as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Image of Elisa Mitchell

Elisa Mitchell

Assistant Director of Operations & Finance

Elisa ensures smooth operations and finances to support The Garage’s programs, spaces, and community. She is an accomplished attorney and CPA with 18 years of experience in the financial securities industry, bringing new investment products to market. As a team member at Allstate, Van Kampen, Morgan Stanley, and Invesco, Elisa helped business leaders navigate a complex competitive landscape and a challenging regulatory framework. She brings strong organizational skills, attention to detail and a can-do attitude to every project. She is thrilled to be the Assistant Director of Operations and Finance at The Garage and enjoys helping each student start a unique entrepreneurial journey.

Image of Benjamin Williams

Benjamin Williams

Senior IT Manager

Ben ensures The Garage has the right physical and digital technologies to support our space and community. He is a lifelong technology enthusiast, AV systems whiz, and US Army veteran. While deployed to Balad Air Base, Ben assisted as security escort for the ASV fielding and recovery services. During his career, Ben has provided AV/IT services at sites such as The Pentagon, Securities, and Exchange Commission, Scott and Nellis Air Force Base, Chevron Headquarters, and ExxonMobil’s Houston campus.

Elisabeth Wright

Marketing Manager

Elisabeth oversees all of the marketing, branding, and communications for The Garage. She has worked in the public and educational sectors and has special interests in international relations and social entrepreneurship. Elisabeth also has extensive experience in nonprofit marketing. She’s joined The Garage with a passion for work in higher education and a love of all things student-centered. Elisabeth received her BA in Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies and her Master’s of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management from Northern Illinois University.

Mike Raab

Director, The Garage San Francisco

Mike is responsible for local operations, programming, and building a community of entrepreneurial focused Northwestern alumni, students, and faculty in San Francisco. Prior to The Garage, Mike was an investor at a venture capital firm founded by Northwestern alumni, where he provided support and mentorship. He began his career serving in a multitude of strategy-focused roles at one of the largest media companies in Los Angeles. Mike is a proud Northwestern alum, having graduated with a BS in Communication focused on TV & Film.


Sarah Ahmad

The Garage SF

Sarah is the co-founder and CEO of Mistro. Previously, she was a UX Engineer at LifeLink. During her time at Northwestern, she co-founded HotPlate, a food app to help diners find the best dishes at local restaurants. She graduated from Northwestern in 2018 with a B.S. in Integrated Engineering Studies and a double major in Economics.

Paul Burton

The Garage – Evanston

Paul started his career as an investment banking associate at Salomon Brothers in NYC in 1998 after serving as a U.S. Regular Army Commissioned Officer and finishing a JD MBA at the University of Illinois. Paul worked in corporate finance until moving back to the Chicago area in 2006. He served as CEO and Director for ResQ Pharma, Inc. Currently, he serves as CEO of Akan Biosciences, a firm seeking FDA approval for an allogenic stem cell product to treat osteoarthritis.

Patrice Darby

The Sardine Bar

Patrice is the founder and CEO of GoNanny, a B2B childcare management SaaS platform for childcare centers, schools, and programs. She is committed to revolutionizing the childcare industry by merging childcare with technology. Recent accomplishments include winning the UPS Pitch Competition, and GoNanny was chosen as a top 100 finalist for the 2017 Chicago Innovation Awards.

Matt Ehinger

The Sardine Bar

Matt leads the engineering team at AI Insurance, a company building modern claims-management software. Previously, Matt served as a technical consultant to clients in the financial sector of all sizes, and finished his consulting run as a Tech Lead of a new mobile-first bank in London, England. Matt is serving as an Engineer in Residence at The Sardine Bar.

Tom Hayden

The Garage – Evanston

Tom was an engineer on the fraud team at Facebook and built out the data infrastructure at GrubHub. Tom holds a BA in Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media from Michigan State University, and a Master of Science in Information, Incentive Centered Design from the University of Michigan. He was also a Northwestern graduate student in theoretical computer science.

James Hirchak

The Sardine Bar

James is the President and Founder of Astute Review, a software that provides an automated reviews of business presentations. Prior to founding Astute Review, James served as a Director of Corporate Development for Dover Corporation. James holds a BS in Finance and Entrepreneurship from Miami University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

Matt Kiminsky

The Sardine Bar

After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Matt headed to Chicago for an internship at Leo Burnett. Four years later he had amassed experience creating campaigns for Nintendo and P&G. Setting out to strip the unnecessary overhead he came across at ad agencies large and small, and to create a far more collaborative model, he went on to co-found Strike 2, where he currently works today.

Lilia Kogan

The Garage – Evanston

Lilia is a member of Hyde Park Angels, the most active angel group in the Midwest. Prior to shifting professional focus to angel investing and start-up mentoring, Lilia had a career spanning healthcare, consumer and technology industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and MMSS (applied math) from Northwestern and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

Cameron MacArthur

The Garage SF

Cameron is the founder and CEO of AI Insurance, which makes modern cloud-based claims management software specifically for smaller. Prior to founding AI Insurance, Cameron was a cognitive software engineer at IBM. Cameron has a bachelors degree in Communication Studies and Computer Science from Northwestern.

Jon McNeill

The Garage SF

Jon has founded and scaled six companies, led teams creating tens of thousands of jobs and delivering multi-billion dollar returns for investors. Jon was President at Tesla from 2015 to 2018. He serves on the boards of Lululemon, TruMotion, and the Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston. Jon is a graduate of Northwestern University.

Andrew Parkinson

The Garage – Evanston

Andrew and his brother Thomas founded online grocer Peapod as the world’s first dedicated e-commerce company, took the company public in 1997, and sold it to Royal Ahold in 2001. Andrew and Thomas recently founded Sifter SP, LLC, a company focused on food as medicine. Prior to Peapod, Andrew spent 8 years in marketing at P&G and Kraft Foods.

Thomas Parkinson

The Garage – Evanston

Thomas co-founded Peapod with his brother, Andrew. As CTO and Head of Product, he was responsible for their web and mobile product development, IT, supply chain and transportation systems, and R&D. Thomas holds a Masters in Industrial Design from Pratt and a BA from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He is currently working on his fifth startup, Sifter, LLC, with Andrew.

Collin Pham

The Garage SF

Collin is the co-founder and CTO of Mistro. Previously, he was a Software Engineer at Granular. While an undergraduate at Northwestern, he was the co-founder and CEO of Local, a company incubated through The Garage. He graduated from Northwestern in 2018 with a B.S. in Computer Science and a minor in Materials Science.

Denise Reynish

The Sardine Bar

After graduation from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Denise worked in business development at an outpatient surgery center in the Chicago suburbs. As a student at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, she and her team formed Curtotech, a medical device company looking to develop a novel endoscopic device, and she currently acts as the company’s CEO.

Michael Saunders

The Garage – Evanston

Michael founded Campusfood.com in 1997 and grew it to over 300 college markets before merging with GrubHub in 2011. As a senior executive at Grubhub, he oversaw its national expansion through the IPO and the initial launch of Grubhub Delivery. He now runs Blueprint, a technology studio focused on building interesting products and incubating & partnering with early-stage companies. Michael earned his BA in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1998.

Jason Weinberger

The Sardine Bar

Jason has created award-winning campaigns for Harley Davidson, Miller Lite and Sprint, while teaching intro to copywriting at the Chicago Portfolio School. After teaching, he decided to head back to school, getting his MBA at Kellogg. He is currently the co-Founder Strike 2, an ad agency that takes a collaborative approach to better serve modern day clients and their budgets.

Student Aides and Interns

Samantha Aguilar ’23

  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The amazing technology and people!
Image of Cooper Barth

Cooper Barth ’21

  • West Long Brand, New Jersey
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The community of people who share a passion for entrepreneurship.
Image of Sam Crites

Samuel Crites ’22

  • Shelburne, Vermont
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: All the technology that’s provided to Residents and staff.
Photo of Evan Epstein

Evan Epstein ’23

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The atmosphere that stimulates creativity and productivity!
Photo of Yasmeena Faycurry

Yasmeena Faycurry ’22

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The bean bag cave!
Photo of Joshua Feist

Joshua Feist ’23

  • Lafayette, Louisiana
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The Garage gives students access to the tools they need to make their ideas a reality.

Sebastian Granzio ’22

  • Belleville, New Jersey
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: Getting to see startups built from scratch!
Photo of Zander Haws

Zander Haws ’22

  • St. Cloud, Minnesota
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The extensive equipment we get to use and seeing innovation and creativity from the students.
Photo of Beth Mallon

Beth Mallon ’21

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: All the cool people who work and hang out here!
Photo of Rory Nguyen

Rory Nguyen ’23

  • Toms River, New Jersey
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: Access to cutting edge VR and AR equipment.
Photo of Charolette Oxnam

Charlotte Oxnam ’23

  • Easton, Maryland
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The Garage gives students the chance to take charge in an active way.

Devon Spungin ’22

  • Los Angeles, California
  • Favorite Thing About The Garage: The meditation room!