Are We Doing This Right?

At The Garage, we are aiming to do far more than help students incubate their startups. While that remains a primary focus of our programming, our ultimate goal is to instill an entrepreneurial mindset and toolkit in the students we work with–teach them the skills of resiliency, leadership, networking, and creative thinking. We know that not all students will pursue their startups full time post-graduation. Whether they never got enough traction and sales, discovered entrepreneurship just wasn’t for them, or they opted for a guaranteed salary and benefits instead, we hope their time spent at The Garage still taught them the value in resilience, the importance of failure in innovation, the basics of bootstrapping and the innovative mindset to be successful anywhere.

However, the metrics of bootstrapping and the willingness to take risks are pretty difficult to track and quantify.  While we’d love for every student venture to be successful, company growth alone isn’t the only measurement of success in this environment, so The Garage partnered with Consultant Advising Student Enterprises (CASE) to drill it down to some numbers. We set out to better understand if The Garage is really teaching the skills employers desire through our innovative and experiential hands-on learning environment.

The study was conducted with a relatively small sample, but responses were high and all of the respondents are Residents, students who are incubating their startups at The Garage while students at Northwestern. A lot of interesting (and positive!) data came out of this recent study, but before we get to the numbers, here are some other exciting tidbits we discovered with CASE’s help.

First, approximately 60% of respondents indicated that their startups are their highest priority after their coursework. This isn’t surprising. The Garage is brimming with passion, and Residents are often in the space late into the night working on their ventures. We also learned that physical resources, access to a network of people and personal development opportunities were rated as the main reasons students applied for Residency–three things that we pride ourselves on providing. 

CASE hypothesized that Resident students at The Garage gain in-demand workplace skills through their experience here. Residents were surveyed on the skills they feel they’ve improved upon by working on their startups, and employers were asked to choose skills they felt were most desirable and critical to success in the workplace and with any luck, these two sets of data would show some statistical significance.

Major skills in question included communication, leadership, interpersonal and personal skills, creativity and professional skills. Under each of these major skills, respondents could then rate sub-skills (for example, managing and mentoring falling under leadership).

Overall, employers value communication, interpersonal skills, leadership, professional skills, creativity, and personal skills in that order. Student respondents reported improving upon communication, interpersonal skills, leadership, professional skills, creativity, and personal skills, in that order. Although the value placed on each skill varied from the different set of respondents within a range of 10-20%, this observation suggests that the skills that students reported as improving upon as a result of their experience at The Garage correspond very closely with the same skills that employers reported as in-demand in the workplace. This conclusion not only validates what The Garage is working so hard to achieve every day, but better helps us to understand how we can best prepare students for success, whatever it may look like. 

With CASE’s help, we also discovered that an area of improvement identified among Resident students is conflict resolution, a critical skill in the workplace. Twice as many employers selected it as a valuable skill against what Residents feel they’ve learned. And while students clearly value leadership based on their responses, employers didn’t emphasize it as much.

Together, these results show Residents are gaining valuable workplace skills and experience while pursuing their startups. More than anything, they learn resilience and what it takes to thrive in a competitive environment where the next “no” or setback could be one question or risk away. We are on a mission to enhance the experience for students interested in entrepreneurship and innovation at Northwestern through our space, community, and programming. By offering an open co-working space with future facing technology and a family of experts and mentors, we are so excited that students are learning practical and important skills that will no doubt lead to success–whatever that looks like.

Thanks to CASE for conducting this study for The Garage!