The Garage’s Pre-Accelerator Program, Wildfire, aims to develop students as both leaders and founders by introducing new ways of thinking and problem solving. 

Applications are currently open. Click here to apply. We continue to monitor the Coronavirus/COVID-19 news. As of now, we plan to proceed with an in-person Wildfire program in Evanston this summer. Check back on this page and on The Garage Updates page for current information.

The Wildfire Pre-Accelerator Program at The Garage seeks to accelerate student teams by giving them additional resources and coaching over a period of 10 weeks. We aim to help them to reach problem solution fit, and prepare them for the next phase of their ventures whether it’s customer acquisition, growth, fundraising, or applying to accelerators. Wildfire culminates with Demo Day, where students will present their proposal and gain feedback from established judges. This is a program designed to help early-stage ventures learn, grow, and overcome obstacles preventing the launch of their ventures.

Learn about Wildfire, featuring the 2017 cohort.


Wildfire is comprised of three vital pillars: development of the entrepreneurial toolkit, learning to sell yourself and your idea via pitch practice, and gaining an entrepreneurial mindset. Through thoughtful content workshops, team building activities, and one-on-one guidance, students learn the ABC’s of entrepreneurship, master the art of storytelling, and develop important soft skills like resiliency and the ability to have difficult conversations. Student teams are also offered a stipend to sustain their ventures through the summer.

After Wildfire wraps, student teams pitch their ventures at Demo Day, where a prize pool of $10,000 is up for grabs.


In order to apply, the team must include at least two members. The lead team member must be a full-time student (undergraduate or graduate, at any Northwestern school) during Wildfire. Priority is given to students that will still be enrolled in the following academic year. Teams can include members from other universities as long as all participating team members commit to the 10 weeks of the program.

To be notified when Wildfire applications open next year, sign up for The Garage’s newsletter here. If you have any questions, please contact us here.


Wildfire will run for 10 weeks, from June 22 through August 26, 2020.

Application dates for Wildfire 2020 are:

Early Applications:
Applications open on Monday, January 13 at 9:00 AM CST.

Applications close on Sunday, January 26 at 11:59 PM CST.

Teams may be asked to pitch in person during the week of February 3.

Accepted teams will be notified no later than February 14.

Round Two: 

Applications open on Monday, April 6 at 9:00 AM CST.

Applications close on Sunday, April 19 at 11:59 PM CST.

Teams may be asked to pitch via Zoom during the week of April 27.

Accepted teams will be notified no later than May 8.

Click here to apply.


Teams are offered half of their total summer stipend at the start of Wildfire, and earn the other half throughout the summer.

In order to participate in Wildfire, you must have a team. If you are a solo founder, we strongly encourage you to seek a co-founder to join your team.

Students participating in Wildfire are expected to treat the program like a full-time job, spending at least 40 hours per week at The Garage, including programming and workshops. Time off will not be granted for personal activities such as travel. 

The programming and schedule vary, and will be detailed at the start of Wildfire. Typically, two days each week are dedicated to workshops and other content. A third day is reserved for team check-ins with staff and/or mentors.  The remainder of each week can be used for pitch practice, customer interviews and other venture-related work. The 4th of July is a holiday.

No. We welcome all Northwestern students with an idea to apply.

You can use your stipend however your team likes–some teams opt to pay themselves or use their stipend for living expenses throughout the summer. You may also save your stipend or put it toward your venture.

Questions about Wildfire?

Please contact us at thegarage@northwestern.edu