Wildfire: The Garage’s Pre-Accelerator Program

The Wildfire program aims to develop students as both leaders and founders by introducing new ways of thinking and problem solving.

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.



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. This year, Demo Day was held on August 28, 2019. See the recap on our website here

Current Teams

Team will be announced at the end of the Spring 2020 quarter!


Early applications for Wildfire will open on January 13, 2020.

Up to 10 teams are accepted. Although Wildfire is primarily focused on Northwestern students, teams can have members from other universities as long as all participating team members commit to the full 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 teams go on to compete in business competitions, fundraise, or even get acquired.

To learn more about past Wildfire participants, click a photo below.


When do I get money? Teams are offered half of their total summer stipend at the start of Wildfire, and earn the other half throughout the summer.

Do I need a co-founder? 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.

How much time do I need to spend at The Garage? 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. 

What is the programming and schedule like? 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 first week of the program is a fully immersive boot camp, with intensive days of content M-F.  The 4th of July is a holiday.

Is there free food? Tons.

Where should I live this summer? Residence Halls will be closed over the summer, and you’ll need to find housing. For more resources on off campus housing, click here.

What is Demo Day? The Wildfire program builds towards Demo Day where each team pitches their startup to a diverse audience and a panel of judges. The judges are a mix of seasoned entrepreneurs and investors. It’s an opportunity for you to present your plans for the future and to make an ask of the audience. $10,000 in non-dilutive prize money will be distributed to the top three teams at Demo Day.

Do you have to be a Resident of The Garage to apply? No. We welcome all Northwestern students with an idea to apply.

How can I use my stipend? 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.