Resident Spotlight: MakerGirl

What started off as a project through Northwestern’s Society of Women Engineers blossomed into a new chapter of MakerGirl in the spring of 2018. This Northwestern chapter is directed by Amanda Mirande, Nancy Yao and Rika Ko. The program teaches young girls about STEM through 3D printing classes. MakerGirl is headquartered at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Garage sat down with the directors to learn how MakerGirl takes girls from pencils to prints.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

On teaching

Nancy Yao: We do a little presentation on what is 3D printing and how the 3D printers work. Based on the theme that we have, we encourage the girls to draw with pencils and paper what kinds of things they would want to design to create as 3D objects later. After that we use a program called Tinkercad. It’s like a 3D printing CAD software, but it’s targeted towards beginners and children. That’ll be where they actually get to turn the drawings that they made into a 3D object on the screen. The volunteers will send those 3D CAD files to the 3D printers, and then the girls can watch them print on the 3D printers, which they’re always really interested in doing. For the remaining time we’ll have mentors lead some themed class activities while they wait for the prints to finish.

Amanda Mirande: The lesson that they take is if you have something on paper, you can make that into something real. I think that’s pretty powerful. Also, you’re working within constraints, which I think is a big life lesson. You’re working within constraints but you can still make something super cool.

On inspiration

Rika Ko: I think about all the times I was younger and I think I definitely showed a lot of inclination towards STEM subjects. I just feel like if I had something like [MakerGirl] that my parents were aware of when I was younger, this fascination could have turned into something much deeper earlier on.

NY: The girls that we reach are around the age of 7 to 10, so they are at an age where they have a lot of potential. I think it’s really important for them to know that going into science and learning about technology is a very real possibility for them.

On reactions

RK: [The girls are] just ecstatic to show their parents when they come. They’re so proud of themselves, and they should be. I think the parents are also really, really supportive. We’ve had some repeat girls come, and every time the moms are like, “This is amazing. I’m trying to get my friends to bring their kids to it.” It’s a good way to get your child learning, but also having fun.

AM: Parents, whenever they come pick [their children] up, are super excited to see whatever they created.

On team

NY: We’ve been talking to different groups outside of Northwestern to see about partnering with different schools and organizations like Girl Scouts. It’s really a big time for growth right now. We’re trying to reach more girls than ever.

RK: We recently had applications for expanding our team at Northwestern, which is super exciting because up until a few weeks ago, it’s just been me, Nancy and Amanda trying to take care of everything. Hopefully we’ll be able to cover more ground by having more people.

AM: My team is pretty key. I feel like we all have strengths. We work well together, and that’s super important.

MakerGirl hopes to add lessons on virtual reality. The directors aim to continue inspiring confidence in young girls and teach them that they are fully capable of pursuing their interest in STEM. For more information, visit MakerGirl’s Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram.

The Propel Program + NYC 2018

We just can’t stay put.

To kick off both a new year at Northwestern, and to launch the Propel Program, we packed our bags and took off to New York City with eight female Northwestern students with an interest in entrepreneurship, innovation, and all things #GirlBoss.

But let’s take a New York minute to learn more about the Propel Program, and its inaugural participants. Thanks to the incredibly generous Steve Elms ’92 MBA, and his wife, Katherine Elms, The Garage in partnership with the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) launched the Propel Program. The Propel Program is designed to foster diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship across Northwestern by offering support and encouragement to some entrepreneurial superstars through networking, mentorship, and immersive learning experiences. To learn more about the Propel Program, click here to read the INVO News story.

The inaugural participants in the Propel Program represent five schools across Northwestern, ranging from seniors to sophomores with a diverse set of interests and entrepreneurial endeavors ranging from digital marketing, to politics and education, to nonprofits and med-tech. Let’s take a closer look at our roster of #GirlBoss Northwestern students.

Upon arrival in NYC, we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to have a private, guided tour of the iconic and historic New York Stock Exchange, nestled on Wall Street in the Financial District. We were welcomed by an associate, Jon Wright, and the current COO of Capital Marketings at the NYSE, Carolyn Saacke. We were excited to hear more about the experience of working in the financial industry, and about the New York Stock Exchange’s current President, Stacey Cunningham. Stacey is the first female President at the NYSE, after 226 years of operation. After our meeting, we were ushered on to the floor of the NYSE for the opening bell – an experience that has been closed to the public since September 11, 2001. We were super excited to see an IPO live and in person.

The rest of the day was packed with office visits and intimate, interesting, and insightful conversations with women working in NYC. We stopped by Goldman Sachs for lunch and a tour, and had the opportunity to listen to the journeys of Elizabeth Overbay, the COO of Goldman Sachs, and Chantal Garcia, CCBD Chief of Staff. The biggest takeaway? Flex your style for the job you want.

After that, we hopped on the NYC subway to stop by Arianna Huffington’s newest venture, Thrive Global. After experiencing immense burnout, Arianna started Thrive Global to promote overall wellness, and especially mental wellness, in the workplace. We learned from some of Arianna’s staff about the importance of prioritization, and being comfortable with incompletions. The mission at Thrive Global was inspiring, and we hope to take a little piece of their approach back to The Garage and our students.

Finally, our last stop of the day was The New York Times. We were welcomed by two Northwestern alumni, Erica Futterman, Newsroom Strategy Editor, Medill ’06 and Tapasya Wancho, Product Manager for Wirecutter, McCormick ’10. We really enjoyed the open and frank talk about the various paths students take after Northwestern, and learned that not everyone’s journey is linear and perfect.

To top off the busy day, we had dinner at the well-known Ivan Ramen and had the chance to meet and talk with Steve Elms in person over bowls of hot noodles. Oh, and we defintely grabbed some boba next door afterwards.

The next day, we were up bright and early to head to Rockefeller Plaza, where Northwestern has a NYC based alumni relations and development office. We had a roundtable chat with Melanie Greifer, WCAS ’93 and a pediatric gastroenterologist, Michele Ganeless ’87, Co-President of MO Studios and former President of Comedy Central, and Linnea Perilli-Minette ’09, Product and Program Management Lead at Square Capital. After introductions, our group was having such a good time networking and learning that we had to eat lunch at the conference table while talking to stay on schedule!

After a quick debrief, the group had the day in NYC to sightsee and tour.

What are the next moves these women will make? We’re sending them out into the world, armed with knowledge, mentors, and the power to make change as ambassadors to recruit the next generation of applicants and participants in this program, and others like it on campus. But for now, it’s back to work! 

The End of an Era: Goodbye Note from Billy Banks

With much deliberation and soul searching, I have decided to move on from my role as Associate Director of The Garage. The experience exceeded every expectation in terms of what I was able to do as well as the people I had the great fortune to work and interact with – both inside the university and across the Chicago entrepreneurial ecosystem. However, I am an operator and entrepreneur at heart and as much as I loved giving advice and helping students to connect the dots and reach their dreams, the itch to do, to get back in the game, was too much to ignore. I will now turn my attention back to Windsor Steel in Indiana and assume a new role as Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer at ProHabits, a new Chicago-based startup.

Luckily and with immense gratitude to the Farley Center, I also get to continue to scratch the one itch that will never die – the itch to teach. From my first opportunity to teach as an adjunct back in 2015 to my return to the classroom, I get to share my wisdom, battle scars, and network with aspiring student entrepreneurs. To illuminate a path forward and give them the courage to leap into the abyss and the conviction to follow their own hearts. It took me a long time to figure it all out – heck, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up! As such, I relish the opportunity to give back to the university in the classroom. Plus, now I can be a front-line advocate for The Garage, steering the students there after they complete my class and supporting them in their ongoing dreams and passions. What could be better than that!

I will look back fondly on my time at The Garage. I still remember the cold December day that I met Melissa and she offered me the opportunity to come home to Northwestern. One of our first conversations, she told me that the university wanted an accelerator. “Great, I replied. For when, this summer?” To which Melissa replied, “nope, now.” I sprinted home to get a new pair of underwear and then spent the next few weeks bouncing all over Chicago and talking to anyone who would take my call trying to figure out how to build and run a student accelerator on the fly. From those early days and efforts, Wildfire was born. I ran it for the first time that winter and then over the course of the next three summers. It is the thing I am most proud of and grateful for having the opportunity to create and run during my tenure at The Garage. I am excited to see where the students and teams that have passed through end up and I look forward to supporting it next summer and beyond.

I count my lucky blessings to have been a part of the team who built The Garage. We put everything we had into it and based on the letters and emails received, I truly believe we made impact and changed lives for the students who walked under the garage door. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but I leave proud of the things we did and with great confidence in the team to continue impacting the lives of student entrepreneurs.


Wildfire 2018: WingDing

WingDing is the ultimate suit for the modern man. Their motto is that you don’t have to be serious to wear a serious suit. People are still wearing suits designed for their father’s generation, and WingDing is here to change that. It’s the perfect suit for people with active lifestyles – they look great, and feel even better.

The Garage sat down with WingDing founders, Logan Peretz (Weinberg ‘18) and Jonathan Reimer (Weinberg ‘18), to learn more about WingDing and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is WingDing and what was the inspiration for your startup?

Logan: We make suits that are capable of keeping up with the lifestyle of the modern man. It all started when one of our co- founders was at a formal in a traditional men’s suit. He was with a beautiful girl, with great music, great friends, and great drinks. It was his first fraternity event and he wanted to leave a lasting impression on everybody. He was really having a good time until he went to sit down with all of his friends, and his pants squared up on him. And that is when we sort of realized that traditional suits just aren’t capable of handling anything that men throw at them these days. So we set out to build a suit that would be lightweight, breathable, stretchy, and completely machine washable. We like to call them “Boardroom to Beer” suits because the theory is that whether you’re a college student or a working professional, you should be able to leave work on a Friday and head straight to the bar, and not have to worry about changing your clothes.

How did you come up with the name WingDing?

JR: So WingDing is synonymous with big events or parties and that’s where we got the original idea from. Today, work culture and fashion are leaning towards business casual, and we think that this is a perfect time to leverage this change in consumer behavior. So we want to create a suit that our customers feel comfortable and confident in, whether it’s in the office or on the dance floor.

What has been the biggest challenge that WingDing has faced?

Logan: It’s really hard to create a product that customers will enjoy and that can also be mass produced. The biggest setback really has been the manufacturing side of things, because we’re doing something that has not been done in the suit space before. We’re working one on one with our manufacturers to get them to adapt what they do to make our dream possible.

What sizes does the suit come in and what modifications have you made to make it fit well?

JR:  We’re going to be doing the standard sizing like 38-40-42, with S sizes as well. But what makes our suits feel and fit so great is the fabric that we’re working with. We’re working with athletic fabrics that look formal and fit great. The materials will just lay on your body. It’s not necessarily structured and formed like a traditional suit; we’re taking out the chest piece, heavy shoulder pads, and arm rims. Making these modifications not only makes the suit machine washable, but also makes it fit better.

Logan: And while we’re doing some unconventional things with the structure of the suit, it will visually have the same look as a well fitted professional suit that has added comfort.

Do you have women’s suits as well, and how much do your suits cost?

Logan: Right now we’re just focusing on men’s suits. But we are planning to expand our lineup to include women’s suits as well. Based on research and conversations that we’ve had with many women, there’s definitely a market for women’s suits and women are just as interested in having a suit that fits their lifestyle. But for now, we want to master men’s suits before expanding to women’s suits.

On pricing, we plan to have our pre-order price at $299, but we’re still working on finalizing the exact details. And once we have our initial run and expand past the pre-order phase and move into regular cycles of inventory and production, we’re going to increase our price to around $349. So we really want to reward the people who buy into this early.

JR: We’ve even talked about bringing a tailor on for the initial pre-order sale, to do free tailoring for the first few people who order our suits. And in the future, we’re considering either entering into a strategic partnership with a tailoring company or potentially throwing in an official Visa card with the suit, so that it incentivizes our customers to tailor the suit to fit exactly to their body. This won’t take away from the price point, but it’s an additional incentive that comes with the suit to make sure it feels good and fits well.

How has The Garage helped you?

Logan: We’ve been Residents at The Garage for over a year now. We started WingDing as part of an entrepreneurship class. Without the support of The Garage and Northwestern, we would not be in business right now. Billy and Melissa, and everybody here, has helped get us off the ground. The Farley Center and professors there have worked in tandem with us at The Garage to find industry experts that we would never have been able to connect with without them.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

JR: Personally, I would say Gregg Latterman, who teaches here at Northwestern, is someone who has inspired me. He has been an awesome mentor for me, and I’ve been extremely lucky to have taken a class with him. He really loves what he does and his passion is infectious. He is not afraid of going against the grain. And, I think that we are trying to emulate his way of doing things in the suit industry. We’re trying to be ahead of the curve and do things that people are not thinking about – creating a machine washable suit that would be just a one time investment, where you don’t need to invest more money in it through expensive dry-cleaning.

Logan: Billy Banks at The Garage has given us so much support and advice. In fact, it’s to the point where his feedback is intertwined within the culture of our startup. Hearing his experiences with startups and his journey has been extremely inspirational, and it has taught us about the culture within the larger entrepreneurship community of collaboration and support. In the startup space, it’s all about making sure that everybody succeeds, and I really like this attitude of giving back.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.

Wildfire 2018: CoCo Health

CoCo Health provides on-site mental wellness support for employers and employees by bringing counselors and providers to the workplace, breaking down barriers for stressed employees to manage stress effectively, and to help reduce the costs of absenteeism and burnout.

The Garage sat down with CoCo Health founder, Jonathan Bateman (Kellogg, ’19) to learn more about CoCo Health and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the problem you’re working on and what is your solution?

Jonathan: At CoCo Heath, we do one-on-one on-site counseling for employers. For way too long, we’ve ignored our own mental wellness, both in and out of the workplace. Ignoring it comes with really high costs in terms of turnover, absenteeism, and lost productivity. If you look at it, a CDC study found that in an eight hour work day, we get less than three hours of productive work done, which is crazy. One reason we’re stressed is that we don’t know how to be more productive or more engaged at work. CoCo Health is designed to help people come up with tactical plans to be more engaged and better at being themselves both inside and outside of work. We do the counseling in-person because we believe that it is a key barrier to knock down in order for people to actually take care of their mental wellness. We do it in the workplace because it allows people to get engaged and do it in a way which is non-stigmatizing, not invasive in their lives, and doesn’t take as much time as trying to go to a counselor or someone outside of the workplace.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Jonathan: There are a couple of things. First of all, my family has a very long history of mental health issues. Unfortunately, I have been able to see what happens when things go wrong with people, and it can sometimes be too late to help. CoCo Health is designed to help people before things go wrong. It aims to keep us at our best and allows us to flourish and be happy, which is not always an easy thing to do if you’re not paying attention to your mental health. I mean, think of this. We go to the doctor every year to get a preventive screening. We go to the gym to take care of our bodies. But very rarely do we ever focus on what’s going on in our brain and with our mental wellness. There was a time in my life when I hadn’t been to the doctor in almost three years because I was traveling every week and working long hours. What we’re trying to do with CoCo Health is to help break down those barriers so that people can get what they need and the care and treatment they want. In short, observing personally the effects of burnout and stress on people’s performance and on their own personal lives when things bleed over into the space, as well as seeing that no one ever had time to take care of themselves, either physically or mentally, is what lie at the origin of CoCo Health.

Why do you think mental health is such an important issue?

Jonathan: Part of it is our work culture and part of it are the expectations that are being placed upon ourselves. It’s hard. The challenging thing is that people historically haven’t understood that mental health matters. Your mental health is linked not only to your professional life, but also to your personal life. Your professional life oftentimes causes so many issues which spill over into your personal life, as well. If we can address it in the place where many of these things are coming from, CoCo Health can be extremely helpful to a lot of people.

How did you choose the name “CoCo Health”?

Jonathan: CoCo Health is the short for Continuous Conversation Health. The idea is that our mental health and our mental wellness shouldn’t be a one-off thing where you pay attention to it when something goes wrong or once in a while. It should be a continuous conversation between you and either yourself or someone else who can make sure that you’re expressing yourself in a way that’s tangible, constructive, and helpful for building your own life.

What has been your biggest failure so far? What did you learn from it?

Jonathan: I would say our biggest failure so far is understanding the sales cycle for wellness benefits. When we first started, we didn’t understand how to sell, who to sell to, or where to sell. We’ve started to narrow in on who are the right targets in order to avoid going after the wrong people such as companies that aren’t ready to have those conversations in the workplace. We also focused on how to create some urgency for people to understand that this is a problem that you cannot just address in a year or two. Therefore, we’ve been working hard to create that platform of urgency and make sure that we’re talking to the right companies. This way, we make sure we’re not wasting our time and not wasting their time.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?

Jonathan: I think the most important lesson would probably be that it is crucial to ask. You never know what people are going to say unless you ask. The reason is because while mental health has always been a passion for me, I initially didn’t think people were ready to have this conversation in the workplace. I didn’t think employers were ready to spend money on their employees’ mental health. I thought maybe we should do something with primary care, preventive medicine or things that are related to physical health. However, when I started conversations with my first ten employers, they thought the idea was interesting but highlighted that the main issue was mental health. I was shocked to hear that people realized the importance of it. We got lucky that people brought it up, because we were never going to ask the question because we didn’t think they wanted it. It turns out that was what they wanted all along. Therefore, from my perspective, it all comes back the importance of asking. If you don’t ask and if you don’t have confidence in your convictions, you’ll never get to the key insight.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Jonathan: I’m from Vermont so this is kind of a goofball Vermont answer. I have to admire Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s. Because when they built their company from scratch, they never wavered from their initial convictions and their values. They built a company to align with those values and no matter how much money they were making or losing, they never deviated from those. They understood that they didn’t want to run a business with which they weren’t aligned with emotionally and mentally. So often you see people starting a business and then turning it into something else which no longer has those initial values. Uber is a prime example. The initial play was to connect the world and to get people around easier in an era where the taxicab industry is broken. Over time, it turned into this behemoth of a negative culture and a terrible attitude. That is because they didn’t have values they stuck to. They didn’t have values at their core. I think as you build a business, you always have to look back to what you stand for and focus on what you really care about. If you don’t understand what your values are or if you don’t stand by them, you’ll end up in challenging situations even if you’re wildly successful. I would rather be less successful, but be able to say “Look, I stood by what I believed in, and what I believe to be true”, as opposed to just going after the money.

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Jonathan: There are a couple things. First of all, The Garage is an awesome network of the Northwestern entrepreneurs, who are helpful and supportive. Even more than that, it is a great opportunity to start to connect beyond the Northwestern community. The Garage is an epicenter for entrepreneurship around the Chicago and Evanston area. The resources offered allow you to have conversations with people you never would have been able to talk to before. I’ve found mentors, partners, and students who are passionate about both entrepreneurship and mental health through the Garage, and the staff have been incredibly supportive in helping me find those connections and foster them, through both formal and informal programming. It’s a critical resource because it connects disparate groups who might not have otherwise come together.

Where do you see your startup going in the future?

Jonathan: I would love to have every startup and every kind of professional service firm have some on-site support for their employees’ mental wellness, because I think it is something that is not going to go away or change. I really hope that we’ve got the timing right and that people are ready for this conversation. I would love to eventually be able to expand this beyond Chicago to a point where our value add is a platform that connects talented people with opportunities for extra hours. The demand exists but it is difficult to match it with the supply in the marketplace. Right now, our expertise is about finding the right match between a company and a counselor. It would be great if we could do it at a much larger scale. However, we’re still testing out the initial concept so it’s hard to say where we’re going to go. Being able to help in a variety of different ways will be an awesome outcome.

What do you hope to get out of Summer Wildfire accelerator?

Jonathan: I think there are a few different things. The first one is to accelerate our acquisition engine and start to grow our pipeline aggressively.  The second one is to develop our content and digital expertise, so that when people are starting to search for these types of mental wellness concerns in the workplace, CoCo Health is the thought leader in the space. As alluded in the previous question, our third goal is to think of other ways we can be helpful to startups and professional services firms in order to become the first call when human resources has an issue. It is also a great opportunity to connect us with the community of entrepreneurs in a thoughtful way. I know Billy is spending a lot of time making sure to find invaluable resources and build strong connections for CoCo Health for this summer and beyond. On a personal level, I think Wildfire is a great opportunity to continue to develop my own entrepreneurial skill-set and start to understand what truly makes me tick and productive in a very different type of work from what I used to do. At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about so much more than the company that I’m working on, and much more about the approach, personal style, and tenacity that are critical for success.

Is there a final thought you want to share?

Jonathan: I would just say as a concluding note that for a long time, people have overlooked mental health and mental wellness. It gives me a lot of hope that people are finally starting to realize that it really matters. It is not just a bottom line impact; it is a person to person impact. At the end of the day even if we only help one or two people out there, it means we’ve already done something that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. At its core, it comes down to “are we making people’s lives easier or better?” I think that if we can do that, even one time, that means we can do it more than one time. I’m excited for where we’re going. I think it’s going to be an exciting summer!

You can stay up to date with everything CoCo Health is up to at or by email at

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.

Money Moves: This Year’s Biggest Wins

There’s a lot happening on any given day here at The Garage. Whether it’s prototyping a new piece of hardware in The Makerspace, a brainstorming session in the bean bag cave, or a class in The Workspace, we know that it can be hard to keep up. And even though we do our best to keep up, too, we’re losing track of current Resident team accomplishments and alumni team accomplishments. So, in case you missed it, here’s a roundup of some of the biggest moves our startups have made so far this year.

Way back in mid-February, Resident team PedalCell traveled north to the University of Michigan for the annual Michigan Business Challenge. While PedalCell calls Northwestern home, specifically its co-founder and CEO Vishaal Mali, McCormick ’20, some of its team members, like COO Adam Hokin, are currently based in Michigan. After four months of competing alongside 80 other companies, PedalCell was awarded $15,000 for first place in the Impact track. The Impact track valued businesses that “best pursued a mission-driven goal through its product offerings and underlying operations of the firm.” PedalCell also took home a second check for the Outstanding Presentation award, given to only two companies in the competition. The momentum didn’t stop there. PedalCell went on to compete in VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition, and took home second place in the Energy + Sustainability Track, racking up $20,000 total since February 2018, not including additional funding through Northwestern’s Sustainability Fund

PedalCell co-founder and CEO Vishaal Mali, McCormick ’20

February was a big month, not just for PedalCell, but Aerospec, too! Born out of Northwestern and lead by Lance Li, Kellogg ’17, Aerospec competed along with only seven other cleantech student founded startups at Clean Energy Trust’s annual business plan competition. Judged by a panel of experts and VC’s, Aerospec took home the grand prize of $50,000. Aerospec was said to “[impress] with their patented infrared imaging solar inspection technology and initial progress with their first customers.”

Business to business startup, The Graide Network, lead by Blaire Pircon, Kellogg ’16, also just raised a successful seed round of more than $1.2 million. With an award-winning, innovative model, The Graide Network, based in Chicago, provides on-demand, formative feedback on student writing via remote teaching assistants. They also welcomed a few more additions to their investor group, including the well-known impact fund, Impact Engine.

L to R: Karl Hughes, Zachary Garwood, Becca Lett, Liz Nell and Blair Pircon, Co-Founder and CEO, Kellogg ’16

In recent news, Northwestern’s very own BrewBike has had a major month of May. BrewBike took home first in the Food + Beverage track at VentureCat, making its way to the finals stage. They ended up with second place overall, racking up $20,000 in non-dilutive prize money. But the hustle never stops! Co-founder and CGO Lucas Philips, SESP ’19 has recently brought on some new team members based out of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and the new collab competed in the University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge just one week after VentureCat. Our fav cold brew coffee startup took home $45,000: $20,000 for their acceptance into the Pritzker Group Venture Fellows Program this summer, $12,500 from the Polsky Center, and $12,500 from the UChicago Innovation Fund.

Lucas Philips, SESP ’19, pitches at VentureCat 2018

And that’s not including an additional $17,000 in winnings by Resident teams during the VentureCat semifinals.

VentureCat 2018 finalists

And then Stephen Lane, Kellogg ’16 and Tushar Garg, Kellogg ’16 changed the game completely, announcing that their startup, FlyHomes, landed a $17 million funding round to finance its newest program, Cash Offers, where “the brokerage will purchase houses directly with cash and then hold onto them until the startup’s buyer clients secure financing. The goal is to present its clients as the equivalent of cash buyers, which in turn helps sellers get the most for their property.

That’s right. More than $18 million raised and won by Northwestern founded startups, from here at our very own stage at Kellogg to conference rooms around Chicago. And that’s just this year. There’s so much more to come. To see all of the results of VentureCat 2018, click here. And don’t forget to keep up with all things Northwestern entrepreneurship, and sign up for our monthly newsletter

Wildfire 2018: CEMarketing

CEMarketing is one of the latest startups coming out of The Garage that allows businesses to gain access to budding student marketers who can curate and manage all their marketing, social media needs and other project launches.

The Garage sat down with CEMarketing founder, Kristen Sanders (SESP ‘19), to learn more about CEMarketing and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does CEMarketing do?

Kristen: We strongly believe that people need other people to succeed, and from that ideology, we decided to create a new marketing company to help businesses, entrepreneurs, and student content creators. We’re a design agency, a marketing agency, and a consulting agency, all in one. We mainly work with businesses and have a database of student content creators- videographers, photographers, graphic designers, copywriters-  and we work together to help make marketing strategies more accessible for everyone. The business is really founded on my core value system, which are accessibility, community, and creativity. There are so many ways to make technology a force for change and use it to make businesses come to life. I’ve always believed that marketing strategy is all about being your authentic self, and you don’t do that by posting stock photos. You do that by posting either curated content of other people and their experiences, or your own experiences.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Kristen: I’ve always wanted to do something in marketing and have been creating art my entire life. I was a freelancer for years, and it was really hard for me to get a paid internship, as most in digital agencies are unpaid. On the flip side, in the summer of last year, I was walking down the street outside my house and I saw this restaurant called Ovo Frito Café. I realized I couldn’t find them online, even though we were living in 2017! I contacted them and told them that I couldn’t find them or their menu anywhere online. From that I started to see that there was a need on both sides for a marketing platform- for businesses who just didn’t have the time or resources to create content for themselves, but also for students like me who’ve taken an interest to creative work and direction, but didn’t have the opportunities to work with real companies.

Who do you have as part of your team?

Kristen: I have two sides to my team. The first, as you know, is the team of content creators and we have almost 40 of them now. In terms of the C-suite, we have marketing strategists who take the content that’s been created and then they make sense of it all. Rachel Cantor and I will mainly be working on that this summer. Brian Meng will also be joining us this summer- he’s extremely talented and will be our resident photographer and videographer. We’re also looking at interacting technology with user centered experience inside an actual storefront, instead of just the traditional online presence. There’s this joke in the startup world that everything should be “X but better”. We’ve really embraced that and we are creating new technologies and applications where we can have an in-store tablet that will let our clients understand their customers better. This would also help the customer review their experience with our clients immediately in store versus going online on Yelp and writing something hours or days after the interaction.

What’s the biggest failure that your startup has faced, and what have you learned from it?

Kristen: I think the biggest failure we’ve ever faced was when we were not building systems to handle the volume of work we were getting. As a marketing company if anything ever goes out and there’s a mistake on it, that is a really big failure because our clients are depending on us to make sure that everything is perfect. So there was a time when we had this client, and we had this big strategy plan for them. It was going great, except we didn’t have materials from them to continue our marketing strategy. We began to deviate from strategy and in doing that, I think the things that we put out just weren’t as nice or put together. And that taught me that if you’re not ready to push go and if you don’t have all the resources that you need to complete your work, it’s ok to push pause.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Kristen: There are a couple of entrepreneurs whose books or articles I have read as I was going through my entrepreneurship journey. Reading articles by Arianna Huffington, Peter Thiel, and Bell Hooks have been really interesting on the level of my personal brand. As a black woman, I was really inspired by Jackie Aina, who was one of the first women that I saw on YouTube who was able to turn her personal story into a strong brand. And of course Beyoncé- she got rid of her managers, and she started managing her own content. The way that she managed all this was really inspiring.

On the local level- Neal Sales-Griffin, the CEO of Codenow, was one of the first people that I spoke to about my business, and I remember he was the first person who told me that I would be fine and that I should pursue starting CEM. Heather Aranyi (Lyric Opera) is another professor here that has greatly impacted me through her support. Both her and Genevieve Thiers, Founder of Sittercity, are inspiring because they’ve been able to continue being a creative while also being a successful entrepreneur at the same time.

What has The Garage done for you and what do you want to gain out of the Wildfire program?

Kristen: I think the most impactful thing for me has been the office hours and the ability to run ideas by the mentors here at The Garage. Melissa and Billy were the first people I had met to talk about my startup idea, and what business model I should follow.

By the end of Wildfire, we want to have built out a client list, and have done a lot of case studies and research. I’m also looking to gain access to a community of entrepreneurs and understand what they are going through, and how I can use their experience and expertise to improve the business. Finally, we plan to launch on other college campuses as well, starting with The University of Chicago.

You can get in touch with CEMarketing by email, or check out their website.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.

Wildfire 2018: Smartmove

Smartmove is the future of athletic training. It gives athletic trainers and coaches the ability to create smarter workout routines for their athletes, while keeping in mind the importance of both preemptive and post-injury care. The company has created smart apparel alongside a mobile application. The smart apparel senses muscle imbalances in an athlete, and the app can synthesize large amounts of data to recommend better, more effective workouts.

The Garage sat down with Smartmove founder, Brent Chase (McCormick, Masters ‘20), to learn more about Smartmove and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is Smartmove?

Brent: Smartmove is a smart apparel and mobile application service company that powers fitness professionals, or more specifically, athletic trainers and strength conditioning coaches in collegiate universities to make more individualized training decisions. We do this through our robust mobile application and smart apparel. The smart apparel itself monitors muscle imbalances and you can track this through the mobile application. Additionally, with the mobile application we provide athletes recommendations on workouts, but also recovery training from injuries, and preemptive care to prevent future injuries.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Brent: I think what is cool is that you will get different answers from each person on the team, but all their stories will stem from the same thing- people getting injured and overdoing it during the recovery and training, causing them to get injured again. That is why our tagline is “train smarter, not harder.”

Personally, I’ve always had an active lifestyle. I ran track and played soccer, where I played in top leagues, so I got the chance to go all over Europe to play tournaments. In my final year of high school, I was recruited by Virginia Tech, but ended up breaking my spine from a series of unfortunate events. I was training every single day, three times a day, and I kept on pushing myself because I was under the impression that I had to keep on training harder even though my body was telling me otherwise. Eventually, a stress fracture turned into a complete fracture, which resulted in me being in a back brace for a year and a half. After that, I ended up transferring out to the Rochester Institute of Technology, a division three school. And since then, I have been passionate about creating technologies that could not only have prevented my injury, but prevent other athletes from getting injured as well.

What has been your biggest failure so far and what have you learned from it?

Brent: I think the biggest failure when we were developing Smartmove was that initially, we had the wrong idea about what the company should be. We thought that we could quantify muscle imbalances for athletes, and we made many pitches explaining our company as something necessary for the workout session. We ended up doing more than 200 interviews, and eventually realized that our product was more of a nice to have rather than a necessity. So we pivoted slightly by taking a deeper look and figuring out what were the real issue was that we could address. Now, we address athletes preemptive and reactive rehab needs (post injury and pre injury states), where we help athletes with innate muscle imbalances that have formed from improper biomechanics while they were growing up. These imbalances translate into an athlete’s game, so we can identify this early on and put together an entire workout plan to help address these issues.

Where is the company in the business cycle?

Brent: Smartmove is a subsidiary of a larger group that I founded called gaia. gaia houses a platform technology, and currently we have two projects going on. The main one is PAL- Products for Autism Lifestyles, and the second is Smartmove.

So, we have these two different markets and all have come through this core invention that my three co-founders and I had made during our time at Rochester Institute technology. We were originally tasked with developing smart apparel that monitors muscle imbalances. And from there, we ended up developing this core sensing unit and comprehensive mobile applications that could have multiple uses.

For Smartmove particularly, we’re looking at a late 2021/ early 2022 release for our smart apparel. However, we are targeting to have our mobile application finished by December 2018. The mobile application will not only have all the basic athletic workout application features, but will also give a voice to strength conditioning coaches and trainers, who will help athletes with preemptive care and recovery care from an injury. This feature is especially important as modern athletes go on internship/co-op programs, where they might end up in the middle of nowhere and will not have access to top coaches. Ultimately, all the data that the app receives through a Fitbit or more specialized tracking devices, gets synthesized and sent to the trainer so that they can make better, more informed decisions about an athlete’s workout routine.

How has The Garage helped you with your startup and what do you aim to get out of the Wildfire program?

Brent: The Garage has really helped us out with the business development portion smartmove. It has helped us get access to so many excellent manufacturers. This was really important to us, as we had so much knowledge on the technology side of it, but less on the business side. Through The Garage, we are now working with manufacturers from Canada and China. These manufacturers create the conductive polymers, hardware, and apparel but they don’t necessarily put it all together to create the final product. So we are working with them on trying to solve that problem. And we’re even designing our polymers to be machine washable.

For Wildfire, we’re really focusing on business development and the customer discovery portion. We want to conduct new customer interviews as we like to continuously question our assumptions and our understanding of the problem. So we’re hoping to further develop that to get a better understanding of the market and where our product would fit right in.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire, and what advice have you received from them?

Brent: I was really inspired by the CEO of Datto, Austin McChord. He was a dropout from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I was an undergrad student as well. He started his own company in his parent’s garage. He created this hugely successful database company, Datto, and just sold off his company for $1.5 billion almost six months ago. He was the commencement speaker at my graduation last year in May, and I tried to run up on stage after the ceremony to get his attention. I ended up calling his secretary and told her that I really wanted to talk to him. And almost five minutes later, I got a call from some random number on my phone and he’s like, “Hey, this is Austin. What’s up?” We had a really nice chat for like 45 minutes, and he ended up roasting my business plan. He told me that this was a terrible idea, but told me not to listen to him- “Just because I don’t think it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean that it’s not a great one.” He told me to ignore everyone else and always pursue what I believed in, but warned me to know who I was selling to first, and that if I wasn’t solving a problem, I’d just be a nice to have- and that wouldn’t make it a successful business.

You can stay up to date with everything Smartmove is up to on their Facebook or their Instagram.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.

VentureCat 2018: The Results

It’s officially a wrap on VentureCat 2018, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition. We had a full day of pitches from 29 of Northwestern’s best and brightest student founders from across the entire university. Semifinalist teams represented almost every school at Northwestern and consisted of both graduate and undergraduate students.

Six teams took the finals stage in White Auditorium at the Kellogg Global Hub on May 23 to pitch to an audience of hundreds, including a panel of esteemed judges. Students pitching had seven minutes to make their case, followed by five minutes of Q&A with the judges.

VentureCat is a collaborative effort, not only in planning, but also in a diverse set of startup teams. To ensure there’s room for everyone, VentureCat has six industry tracks that students startups compete within at the semifinals.

Business to Business

Business to Consumer

Energy and Sustainability

Food and Beverage

Life Sciences and Medical Innovation

Social Impact and Nonprofit

The 29 semifinalists teams this year were nothing short of impressive and included members of The Garage family like PedalCell, BrewBike, BOSSY, Facilikey, Unruled. and many many more. The Kellogg School of Management was also well represented with teams like reBLEND, 2nd Kitchen, LineShift and Commit turning out for the semifinals. Overall, semifinalists teams consisted of student entrepreneurs from Kellogg, Medill, Weinberg, the School of Communications, the Pritzker School of Law, McCormick, and SESP.

After semifinals pitches took place behind closed doors, first and second place in each track were awarded non-dilutive prize money. First place in each track took home $5,000 and second place in each track took home $3,000.

Business to Business

First Place: Facilikey

Second Place: RideLink


Business to Consumer

First Place: Cariset

Second Place: Unruled.


Energy and Sustainability

First Place: NUMiX Materials

Second Place: PedalCell


Food and Beverage

First Place: BrewBike

Second Place: reBLEND


Life Sciences and Medical Innovations

First Place: Rhaeos

Second Place: BackWave Technologies


Social Impact and Nonprofit

First Place: Brave Initiatives

Second Place: Poppy

After a (very short) break for the teams, the first place winner from each track took the finals stage to pitch. All of the pitches were super impressive, and as each VentureCat year passes, it’s obvious that the bar continues to be raised by Northwestern students.

During the judges’ deliberation, for the first time ever, we asked the VetureCat audience who their favorite was! Hundreds of text votes were tallied by our team, and Rheos took home the audience vote prize of $1,000.

Then, we hauled out some very big checks (even taller than our MC, Melissa Kaufman, Executive Director of The Garage) for the top three pitches of the night. Third place, and an additional $10,000 was awarded to Rhaeos, a Life Sciences and Medical Innovations startup that has developed a noninvasive, wearable biosensor capable of diagnosing ventricular shunt malfunction.

Second place, and $15,000, went to Business to Consumer competitor BrewBike: BrewBike fuels college students with cold brew coffee.

And first place, and the grand prize of $30,000 went to NUMiX Materials, an Energy and Sustainability startup that manufactures and supplies Northwestern University-patented materials to remove heavy metals from aqueous streams at ten times the efficiency of competing materials on a per-volume basis.  You can learn more about NUMiX and their mission on Northwestern’s ISEN website here.

Thank you to all of the VentureCat sponsors, including both general and track sponsors. Without your help and support, we wouldn’t have the ability to help Northwestern founders turn their ideas into reality. You mean the world to us.

And a big thank you to all of the Northwestern units that are vital in the execution and success of VentureCat every year: The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, The Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center, The Kellogg School of Management, and all of your best friends here at The Garage. See you next year!

Wildfire 2018: FanHome

FanHome is the Airbnb for media and content viewing experiences. It brings together users who want to host watch parties at their home for their favorite content and meet new people, with users who are looking for a living room full of fellow fans to enjoy the same content with. Most recently, FanHome has been targeting the gaming and eSports market.

The Garage sat down with FanHome founder, Lucas Pasch (Kellogg ‘19), to learn more about FanHome and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Lucas: It all started from a personal need. My brother and I were big sports fans and we were transplants in the cities that we were in. When you’re a transplant and you don’t have fellow fans to watch with, you’re stuck with two real options to watch your team: you could either watch by yourself or crowd into a sports bar, where sometimes you might have to go a couple hours before kickoff just to get a barstool next to an aggressively drunk fan. I felt both of these options lack the tangible human connection that I think people are looking for when they watch their favorite teams or favorite content. So, it started out as a sports thing and then over the last 10-15 weeks it’s evolved to include all kinds of viewing content. We’ve recently had a lot of success with The Bachelor watch parties and are now trying to enter the eSports viewing market.

What has been your biggest failure so far and what have you learned from it?

Lucas: When we first started, we didn’t even have a website, and we needed to test the critical hypothesis which is that people would go to a stranger’s home to watch their favorite content. We didn’t know if the answer to that would be yes. So we started testing our hypothesis by hosting a couple of watch parties for NFL playoffs and The Bachelor, and we did this through Facebook and Instagram ads that were driving people to Eventbrite pages.

We had a good amount of people come and that was really exciting. Finally, for the Super Bowl, we decided to throw a big party and we charged a bunch of money for it. And we tried to run a test through this event, but it failed because we were testing too many variables at one time. First of all, the Super Bowl is going to be enigmatic for a lot of reasons, and we decided to test customer’s willingness to pay when we charged money for signups. We were also testing a brand new website that we hadn’t shown to the public before. And we also tested different geographies, as we hosted Super Bowl parties in Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. And when you’re testing too many variables at once, and the test doesn’t go well, it’s hard to know where exactly you went wrong. So, I think we learned how to not get ahead of our ourselves, and make sure that every test that we run is tailored toward a specific variable so that we actually know what we’re learning. And I think that it was an important thing to fail on pretty early on!

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Lucas: We’re trying to build a two sided marketplace, and we’ve learned that that is really hard. Until now, we have been hosting and planning our own events or friends of ours have been doing it, but we’re not really trying to get into the event planning business. We want to create a platform that empowers people to find and host events, but we haven’t gotten any of those organic hosts yet. So I think the most important lesson is understanding how hard that’s going to be and really trying to tackle the problem head on.

How did you come up with the name FanHome?

Lucas: My brother (my co-founder) and I were brainstorming a lot of ideas, but whatever the name was, we wanted to convey that this was a place for fans to come together in an intimate setting. We also realized early on that it shouldn’t be a sports-oriented name because we thought we might play around with non-sports events (which we have). So I think FanHome just came together. We’re literally bringing together fans in a home setting. It took us some time to get to the name, but once we did, it was an obvious choice. I think it’s got a nice ring to it too. And we’ve also put out a logo that has the same feel, of fans together watching something in a home.

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Lucas: There are a lot of things that The Garage has done for both me and FanHome. First and foremost, when you’re a student working on a startup, it can be a lonely experience, especially when you’re at Kellogg because everybody’s going out to recruit for top tier banks and consulting firms. There’s only a handful of students that are trying to do their own thing. So it’s important to come together in a community, and we really inspire each other as well.  School gets busy, so it’s hard to make progress on your startup, and I rely on others in The Garage, as well as the other Kellogg student entrepreneurs, to hold our feet to the fire to make sure that we’re making progress every week.

Secondly, I love this workspace. The family dinners are awesome too, we have great speakers come in and inspire us every week. And lastly, Billy and Melissa are phenomenal leaders, and I bounce ideas off of them all the time.

What do you want to get out of the summer Wildfire accelerator program?

Lucas: I think that if I tell you that we have a very distinct plan of what we’re going to do over the summer at The Garage, then I’d be lying, because that’s just not how startups work! There could be a major pivot between now and then. That being said, I have some clear goals:

We want to build a couple of strategic partnerships to enhance customer acquisition. I want to find my first organic host. I also want to pick a medium that we’re going to target, because we’ve kind of been flip-flopping between pop culture TV, eSports, and traditional sports. I’d also like to spend time on marketing and really figure out who our customer is. We’ve been making good headway in each of these objectives, but once they are accomplished, we will have established a great runway for growth.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and what advice would you give to other student entrepreneurs?

Lucas: I listen to “How I Built This”, an NPR podcast where they interview entrepreneurs, a fair amount. And a while ago they had the Airbnb co-founder, Brian Chesky, on it. I listened to this one particularly close because they built an uber successful two-sided marketplace that involves going into the homes of strangers, which is what I’m trying to build as well. So, it was a really inspiring podcast and I highly recommend any aspiring entrepreneur to listen to it. He spoke about the highs and lows of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. There was a time when they had no funding and they had maxed out all their credit cards. They were also in this period that a lot of entrepreneurs call the “trough of sorrow,” which he talks about in the podcast. It was when they had some usage in the beginning, but then all their KPIs just flatlined and they had this great beautiful product but nobody was using it. And he talked about how frustrating that was and what it takes to persevere through that. So that to me was just really inspiring!

For Northwestern students, I would just let them know that they have an incredible amount of resources at their disposal here, and that the Wildcat network in the Chicago area is really incredible. If you’re trying to launch a startup in this area, and you are a Northwestern student, then you have to tap into this network and there’s no reason not to.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.