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!

Thinking like an Entrepreneur in the “Real World”

My name is Bobby, and I am 2016 Kellogg Grad and a graduate of the first accelerator class at The Garage. For me, last week marked both one year back in the “real world” and the birth of my second daughter, Fiona. I say the “real world” because after school I returned to a corporate job as a Technology Consultant for Deloitte despite majoring in Entrepreneurship and spending thousands of hours at The Garage building a business. I mention my daughters, because paying for their diapers is the main reason I decided to put entrepreneurship on hold for now. Given this inevitable career decision, during school I was forced to ask myself: “Why spend so much time and energy on entrepreneurship? What could I learn that would translate to consulting for multi-billion dollar companies?” Well, surprisingly, a lot.

I learned a lot about teaming, delegating, communicating ideas, iterating, brainstorming, prototyping, and more. But more important than the skills it developed, was the way that entrepreneurship changed my mindset. The first mindset change I adopted is best summarized by Kellogg Professor Joe Dwyer in his lectures, like this: “Your baby is ugly.”No, not my real baby. Fiona is beautiful. Your business is ugly.

If you are a new entrepreneur, you may not have admitted this to yourself yet, but soon enough your confidence will be properly beaten down. We spend so much time building our businesses (designing a business plan, perfecting the pitch, executing, etc.) that it can be hard to admit how imperfect our ideas really are. But don’t sweat it. For starters, it’s amazing that you had the courage to put something new out in the world. More importantly, admitting this ensures that your business will improve because you are open to feedback, willing to adapt, and not too proud to accept help. “Your baby is ugly” is a mindset of humility. This mindset is essential to entrepreneurship, but I have seen in consulting that this is the mindset of the best employees in any role.

With this mindset, you can have the humility to understand that your marketing plan, your financial analysis, your sales strategy, or your management approach are all flawed. Then, you can be the person in the meeting who is receptive to change. You can be the employee that is constantly learning from their mistakes. You can be the manager that takes the best ideas from wherever they come. This is invaluable, but surprisingly lacking in corporate cultures where the status quo is to sound smart, look put together, and pretend to be an expert. If you’ve never worked with a consultant, you’d be amazed at how artfully we can squirm around answering a question with “I don’t know.” But there is so much to gain from admitting that you don’t know and being the one who goes and finds the answer.

The second mindset change I underwent in The Garage, I will borrow from the TSA: “If you see something, say something.” As an entrepreneur you learn to address problems head on, because if you don’t, you get stuck. When a new challenge, new insight, new opportunity arises, an entrepreneur’s first instinct is to tackle it head on (maybe even sometimes to a fault). However, when you are a part of larger, slower moving teams and companies, the exact opposite is true. For example in my world now, if you have a team of 30 developers under you building a new app, it can be really hard to stop that momentum and pivot when you learn something new. It’s much easier to shrug off the new knowledge or a new concern and just let the train keep rolling. The problem with shrugging off problems is that little problems tend to snowball when they go unaddressed. Instead of taking a week to question your assumptions and re-design your approach, you’re missing out on thousands or millions in potential revenue. “If you see something, say something” is a mindset of action orientation. It is a mindset of taking care of problems early. It is adapting. It is iterating. It one of the entrepreneur’s greatest strengths. Granted, we can’t all be entrepreneurs, at least not all the time, but I think the real world could do a lot better if more people started thinking like them.


Bobby is currently a Senior Consultant at Deloitte Digital. He is also a graduate of the MMM Program at Kellogg where he co-founded the social venture sharEd and was a Zell Fellow and a Youn Impact Scholar. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

Summer Wildfire 2017, In Memoriam (Part II)

Ok, I got it. What does Wildfire look like over the 10 weeks?

Wildfire is designed to be both a sprint and a marathon. In the Spring, we do some light jogging to get ready for Bootcamp Week – the first, and by far most intensive week of the program. The goal of this first week is to overwhelm and to reset expectations. Many teams entered Bootcamp Week ready to build for a customer they barely knew or for an audience too impossibly large to serve, let alone notice them. So, we tore down the walls, ripped out the foundation, and began pouring a new one. We did this through a variety of workshops, mentor speed dating events, and field trips.

Over the following eight weeks, we slowly began building vertically. We want to add as many tools to the toolkit as possible in as short of an amount of time as possible. By the mid-point, as teams begin to advance at differing rates, we shift from group workshops to more one-on-one coaching through Office Hours and connecting through FounderCenter.

The program cadence looks like this – on Mondays, we kick off with All Team Check-In where teams update the group on their progress from the last week, describe their “rock” to move for the upcoming week, and make an “ask” of the group. Afterwards, we had our Breakthrough sessions with Trish Thomas, where we talked about having difficult conversations, getting comfortable asking strangers for help, and selling tricks and hacks. Finally, in the afternoon, each team would meet with Neal Sales-Griffin and I for 45 minutes every other week.

Wednesdays were for workshops and Fridays were reserved for pitch practice. And practice we did. I wanted each team to own their story. To let the audience feel their passion. Formulaic doesn’t move the needle. It bores the audience. Passion inspires.

Every week, we challenged assumptions. We pushed each other to our breaking points. We questioned everything, including ourselves at times. It was in these moments of vulnerability and sharing that we grew individually and together. It happened slowly, but gathered pace during our weekly Family Dinners and during our Breakthrough sessions.

By the last week of the program, as the teams were preparing for Demo Day, I sat back and watched as the teams practiced their pitches with one another – often late into the night and occasionally all the way through it. They built on what we spent the last nine weeks practicing. Pushing and encouraging one another to be their best.

And then, 69 days later, the big day was upon us – Demo Day. The culmination of 10 weeks of effort. The opportunity to take the stage and show the world what they had spent the summer honing and refining.

For me, Demo Day was once again a proud papa moment. After spending the last 10 weeks grinding day in, day out, it was finally their turn to take the stage. To own the moment that they had worked so hard to reach.

Prior to kicking off the pitches, we huddled in the Makerspace for a pep talk. Words of encouragement were exchanged and you could feel the love and companionship that had built up and blossomed over our time together. Fired up, we made our way to a full house in the Workspace.

I opened the festivities, then sat down and watched with equal parts pride and joy as team after team took their position, told their story, and captivated the crowd. And then, the last pitch. The winners were announced. And the evening was over as was Summer Wildfire 2017.

After a night of celebration, I woke up the next morning feeling a little melancholy. I felt adrift. Rudderless. After hauling ass every morning to Evanston, I had nothing to do that day. While part of me was happy that the program came to a successful conclusion, I missed it. I missed the students and their unflappable energy and grit.

So, with that, I will sign off until next year. It took me awhile just to finish writing this as I wasn’t quite ready to close the book.

We became a family this summer. As a new(ish) father, watching your kids grow up is bittersweet. Part of you wants to freeze time. To keep them suspended just as they are right now. To never change. The other part is excited to watch them grow and learn. To see who they will become. Where they will go. What they will do.

And while goodbye is hard, I cannot wait to see where and how far these young men and women go. I will cherish our time together as I grew right alongside them. They made me better this summer. I hope I did the same for them.


This article is part of a three-part series highlighting the student founded startups and programming from Summer Wildfire 2017, The Garage’s pre-acceleration program.

Billy Banks is the Associate Director of The Garage, and began his career in his family business—a diversified forest products and steel manufacturer. He launched his first startup, M-Tec Corporation, in 2003, and a second one, Reach360, in 2007 after leading the successful sale of his family business. Billy works with Design For America, advises numerous startups and was an adjunct professor at Northwestern prior to starting at The Garage. Billy received his BA in history and political science from Northwestern in 1998 and his MBA in finance and strategy from Indiana University in 2003.

Summer Wildfire 2017, In Memoriam (Part I)

Wildfire, Summer 2017. And like that, poof, it was gone…

What began as an idea two years ago has now come full circle in its second iteration.

For the first year, it was an experiment. To create it, I strapped on my best and only pair of running shoes and ran all over town meeting with folks who had run accelerators or similar programs. Many miles and several pairs of shoes later, I had enough feedback and insights to take a stab at designing a program. Armed with pen, paper and lots of whiteboard space, I designed a program for students from scratch. A few weeks later, we ran with it. It was a success even as we were building the wings as we flew the plane.

For the second year, building on what we started and incorporating key lessons learned, I endeavored to find the right balance between delivering content and providing plenty of space to get shit done.

Many of the tweaks and changes to the program were based on a sample size of one. The year prior. That group needed a lot of prodding. They were great at thinking. Not so much at doing.

So, one of the major program changes was to build in more accountability and check points in order to drive the teams forward. To do so, teams would have to earn a portion of their stipend each week and complete weekly deliverables.

I overcorrected. This batch was unlike the first. They hit the ground running and frankly, they ran me over and never looked back. By the third week of the program, I realized my role was not to assign more work, it was to remove obstacles and give them more room to run.

Moreover, at the start of the program, all but one team was pre-revenue. By the end of summer, all of the teams either earned revenue or had a clear path for doing so. This was remarkable. How did we do it? Each week, we pushed the teams to simplify. To narrow their focus. To find a paying customer.

Too often teams would dream about scaling to hundreds or thousands of users. Neal Sales-Griffin and I would grab their floating legs and yank them back to Earth – do what doesn’t scale first. We would constantly remind them, find the first market or customer segment that you can win and go conquer that. Nail the problem. Then, and only then, worry about nailing the solution.

Caraline Pham and Collin Pham, Co-Founders of Local Technologies

So, what exactly is Wildfire?

Wildfire is a 10-week “pre-accelerator.” Up to twelve teams are accepted into the summer program. Each is given $10,000 to help accelerate their respective venture. We accept teams in March, thereby enabling us to use the Spring quarter to get the teams ready to hit the ground running come June.

Wildfire is built on three pillars which are woven into every aspect of the programming. First, we teach the Entrepreneurial Toolkit. The ABC’s of entrepreneurship. This content is delivered primarily through workshops and one-on-one meetings. We believe that learning this way of thinking and doing will best prepare our students for the world in which they are going to inherit – one in which agility, creativity, and the ability to learn and iterate quickly are the skills that will propel careers regardless of whether that is at a startup or at a Fortune 500 company.

Next, we spend a lot of time pitching. Every Friday, plus a concentrated dose the week leading up to Demo Day. The art of pitching is the art of storytelling. It helps to refine thinking and find new and novel ways to connect with your customers, your potential investors, and your future employees. The lessons learned change each week and therefore, so do the stories. In addition, we often do pitch practice as a group. Seeing how another team plans to go to market can influence how another team does. Thus, we share and grow together. Finally, like the toolkit, we believe that the students who learn how to tell their story, to persuade, to sell, will go further, faster in their careers for these skills are critical in the creative economy of the future.

Shane Davis, Andrew Luckenbaugh, Megell Strayhorn of MOGO

Finally, in addition to the tools and pitching, we also teach the entrepreneurial mindset. We do this through the Breakthrough workshops and by using the Founders Agreement as a tool to have difficult conversations. As Tim Ferriss said, “You can judge the success of an individual by the number of difficult conversations they have had.” As such, we have a lot of them over the 10 weeks. Furthermore, learning the entrepreneurial mindset often entails undoing 15 years of academic learning. School teaches you to memorize and then be tested on what you can recall. You are rewarded for perfection, not for effort. As such, students spend their academic years getting perfect grades to get into the perfect school and to get the perfect internship or job. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Not today and certainly not in the job market of tomorrow. Entrepreneurial thinking requires challenging assumptions, building the minimal product and testing to get feedback. And it entails being wrong. A lot. But that is how you learn. That is how you flex and grow your resiliency. That is how you grow and ultimately, how you live a fulfilling life.


This article is part of a three-part series highlighting the student founded startups and programming from Summer Wildfire 2017, The Garage’s pre-acceleration program.

Billy Banks is the Associate Director of The Garage, and began his career in his family business—a diversified forest products and steel manufacturer. He launched his first startup, M-Tec Corporation, in 2003, and a second one, Reach360, in 2007 after leading the successful sale of his family business. Billy works with Design For America, advises numerous startups and was an adjunct professor at Northwestern prior to starting at The Garage. Billy received his BA in history and political science from Northwestern in 1998 and his MBA in finance and strategy from Indiana University in 2003.

The Lean Startup of You

After lots of friends and colleagues pushed it as a must-read, I finally read Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. In it, Ries suggests that startups need a different, more agile mechanism to create something from nothing—a suggestion that is so very true and often missed in the frenzy of business plans, networking and idea-swapping that forms the stuff of entrepreneurial cultures. While established companies have clear indicators of success, for startup companies (and individuals) that are in the process of starting something from scratch it’s a little harder to assess “are we making progress?”

I could not help but see how Ries’ philosophy parallels (or perhaps, forms the subtext of) the human dynamic for entrepreneurs. So much of what entrepreneurs battle against does not come from the marketplace but from themselves: their egos, insecurities, fears and hopes.

Here are three of Ries’ manifestos and how they translate to entrepreneurs’ particular emotional contexts.

1. Validated Learning:Companies test something in the marketplace, get feedback and derive its value to make it better. The same notion is critical for individuals as well. This means immersing ourselves in the industry or sector we aspire to be in. Don’t play into the false assumption that you need more credentials, or it has to be a paid job, or your idea has to be fully baked, before you can start doing the thing.

Case in point: A woman we were working with at The Bunker complained about her job and stated a desire to work with children. Consequently, we advised her to go work with children. Today. Not once she had a teaching certificate, not once she had a job. Today.

So, what are you waiting for? Start doing the thing. Validate your learning without expecting it to be a clean home-run before you can even start.

2. Kanban (Hypothesis Testing):Perfection is the enemy of progress, both for startups and for people.

In a manufacturing context, Kanban is a capacity management system that focuses on optimizing the right end product. For startups, it’s about setting up a system to manage the input of ideas with an intentionality about what you are working with, how you are testing the idea and what you are choosing to jettison or move forward with based on actionable metrics.

For individuals, Kanban is all the more important, yet also all the harder. Humans need a system to honestly evaluate and track the various ideas in our head; we also need to have the fortitude to know when to move an idea forward (based on validation) and when to scrap it.

3. Viral Engine of Growth:The virtuous cycle for companies occurs when they make something that, apart from the investor reaction, elevator pitches and marketing hype, actually works really well! Word of mouth is the primary growth engine for companies, and people will promote products and businesses when they feel that those companies are really good at what they do.

For individuals, the viral engine of growth comes when we hit our sweet spot by aligning our authentic selves with what we are good at and putting that out into the world. People will recognize it as excellence and spread the word.

As such, the work for you is not about looking externally for ideas, but looking internally for inspiration.

To all my fellow fans of The Lean Startup methodology, I suggest you take a page out of Eric Ries’ playbook and look inwards to find what might be impeding your progress. While we enjoy thinking about the work of businesses, the work for entrepreneurs really begins with us. Community, accountability and a good plan that starts not with the business but with you—these are your best assets.


Todd Connor is the CEO and Founder of Bunker Labs, a national entrepreneurship organization dedicated to helping military veterans start and grow businesses. Todd is a mentor at The Garage and a Northwestern alum.

Wildfire: The Showdown

With the fall quarter in full swing at Northwestern, we are so excited to see some familiar faces at The Garage again. And as the students begin to trickle in and set up their workspaces, we were busy gearing up for our first big event of the year, Wildifre: The Showdown.

The Showdown is the ultimate fast-paced, student-centered pitch off and a celebration of entrepreneurship across all of Northwestern. We invited three runner up teams from our summer pre-accelerator program, Wildfire, to go head to head in a winner takes all competition, pitching back to back to back for a prize of $2,000. And the best part? The winner was decided by an audience of peers. No judges. No Q&A. Just your favorite team taking home some no strings attached cash on The Garage.

And we had a packed house of students to cheer on our teams, so we pulled out all the stops. We’ve had tons of yummy food, our favorite Spotify playlist going, and three excited student teams ready to take the stage.

Want to get to know the three teams a little better? We did special profiles on each of the teams as part of Wildfire. Read more about each of the student-founded startups below their photos from their pitches, and check out our exclusive video with a peek behind the scenes this summer, where each of these teams got to talk about how Wildfire helped them grow.

 

Learn more about HotPlate

Learn more about MOGO

Learn more about PedalCell

After our three teams pitched, it was time for an audience vote. We had more than 150 voters! HotPlate took home the grand prize and a big check, just in time to promote their big launch across Evanston. If you want to help support HotPlate, they’re working with Evanston to co-host Big Bite Night this weekend!

Congratulations to all of the teams who pitched at The Showdown–after spending all summer at The Garage for Wildfire, this was the best way to showcase all of the hard work and dedication it takes to be a student founder. We can’t wait to see what this year brings.

#WildcatWelcome at The Garage

It’s an exciting time at Northwestern. As the leaves start to turn, we start seeing seas of purple as we welcome new transfers and the class of 2021 to campus. This year. The Garage participated in Wildcat Welcome–a week full of activities for new students to get to know each other, their new home, and find out what resources, student organizations, and opportunities await them.

First, we headed to the Resource Fair, held at Norris on Thursday, September 14. We had nearly 1,000 freshman and new transfer students stop by The Garage’s table to learn more about what we do and how to get involved in the entrepreneurial and startup community at Northwestern. We also partnered with Resident team Brewbike to offer free cold brew coffee, which may have helped our cause just a little considering the fair began in the morning.

On Friday, The Garage (which is 11,000 square feet by the way) was crawling with purple! We had between 350-400 freshmen visit The Garage to hang out, eat a Chipotle burrito, try out our AR/VR lab and meet some student founders. New students got to see our modern and innovative co-working space first hand, try out the newest future facing technologies, see our state of the art Makerspace and learn about how to get involved.

Here are the five ways new transfers and incoming freshmen can get involved at The Garage.

  1. Join a club. There are so many student organizations dedicated to innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech at Northwestern including EPIC, Global Engagement Summit (GES), Design for America (DFA), the Institute for Business Education (ISBE) and Women in Business (WIB), many of which meet at The Garage. Head to our website to learn more.
  2. Join a startup. Residency application might be closed for this quarter, but you can join an existing team and get perks like 24/7 access to The Garage and an invitation to Family Dinner. Get to know some of our Resident teams here.
  3. Take a class. The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation focuses on curriculum, and ENTREP 225 is the perfect introduction to the principles of entrepreneurship.
  4. Sign up for Office Hours. We have a network of vetted experts to help you get your idea off the ground. Sign up on our website to talk to a staff member or an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) about your startup idea.
  5. Follus us. Become a part of The Garage family and keep up with what we’re doing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even our monthly newsletter where we highlight our favorite things, like Chicago startup news, student founders, and upcoming open events.

We can’t wait to meet you.

Love,

The Garage

Summer Wildfire 2017 Wrap Up: Demo Day

On Thursday, August 24, more than 175 Northwestern staff and faculty, community members, and interested investors stopped by The Garage for our annual Demo Day, the culmination of the Wildfire Accelerator program.

For the last 10 weeks, while so much of the Northwestern campus is quiet, The Garage has been bustling with our Wildfire teams. Whether it’s pitch practice in The Workspace, a meditation class, or weekly Family Dinner, it’s been nothing short of a blast to hang with these bright student entrepreneurs all summer long. Not to mention, many of the teams made some pretty big progress during the summer. Head to the recap of the halfway point here to find out more. No matter what the students were up to, all of them spent the last week of Wildfire perfecting their pitches in preparation for Demo Day.

Take a quick peek inside how this year’s Wildfire program went in the video below.

We were excited to welcome three esteemed judges, all experienced entrepreneurs and startup superstars: Michael Alter, Claire Lew, and Noah Mishkin.

In total, we had 11 teams pitch at Demo Day. Here was the running order and a little more info about each of our teams:

BOSSY Chicago exists to celebrate women-owned businesses and help them grow.

Community Currency is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that fights for equal opportunity – for every child in every neighborhood – by collecting wasted foreign currency from international travelers.

Bundles of Health offers bundles of products and experiences that help a new mom during the postpartum period.

ORI HD seeks to provide endless fresh air through a portable, wearable air purifier.

Eden is a gamified community and platform for indie music lovers to discover and share new music with others.

Unruled. empowers visual thinkers to challenge convention and achieve their best selves through environmentally responsible product design.

MOGO is a social network that enhances the world of viral video challenges by creating an interactive, competitive, and socially aware platform for users.

Local connects college students interesting in earning money with community members interested in getting tasks done.

HotPlate enables users to find the best dishes at restaurants through individual dish rating, reviews, and recommendations.

PedalCell addresses the alternative energy crisis through convenient and powerful measures, starting with the ubiquitous bicycle.

Pryde VR: Present yourself. Present VR.

After a short deliberation and a chance for the audience to go online and pick their favorite pitch, it was time to pass out the checks! Here’s how it went down.

Taking third place, and a check for $2,000 was Unruled. The judges loved their focus on mission, brand, and environmental responsibility.

Next, taking second place and a check for $3,000 was BOSSY Chicago. Judges noted their exciting progress over the summer, alongside their dedication to their mission to celebrate women-owned businesses and hitting multiple major milestones.

Finally, taking first place and a check for $4,000 was Local. The judges pointed out their traction at a small scale, and their positive positioning to scale up.

Next, we handed out the check for $1,000 to the audience favorite! This went to the only nonprofit starutp in the summer cohort, Community Currency.

Congratulations to ALL the teams that pitched at Demo Day. We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Summer Wildfire 2017: Half Way Home

We can’t believe it’s already the end of July, and that we’ve officially got six weeks of Wildfire awesomeness under our belts at The Garage.

Twelve teams were accepted into this summer’s pre-accelerator cohort, and it’s an understatement to say that we’ve all grown pretty close in the last month and a half. These dedicated students are here bright and early each morning with the staff, setting up their workspaces and brewing their coffees. Whether it’s a workshop, all-team check in, or pitch practice going down in our Workspace, we are seriously digging the summer vibes at The Garage and think it’s about time we share what we’ve been up to.

During week one of Wildfire, the excitement was palpable. Students were here early, ready, waiting. After rushing through some housekeeping, we got right down to business and welcomed Dotank to spend the day with us, teaching how to use the Business Model Canvas to capture a hypothesis to test with potential customers. After tweaking one liners, teams had the chance to use them during a few rounds of “speed dating” with more than 40 mentors. Then, in (what is now) Wildfire tradition, The Garage took on downtown Chicago stopping by the DPELC for a visit and of course, Millennium Park and The Bean.

And the momentum hasn’t stopped. We’ve held meditation and improvisation workshops, had breakthrough sessions and learnings with mentors of The Garage like Trish Thomas and Neal Sales-Griffin, and took a sales journey with Craig Wortmann on entrepreneurial selling.

Not to mention, we are still hosting Family Dinner every Wednesday night for our Wildfire wonderfuls and even caught a little bit of B-roll footage of them in action for an upcoming project at The Garage.

Since day one of Wildfire, lots of exciting things have happened for our teams.

MyVillage has been rebranded to Bundles of Health. After conducting more than 200 interviews, the team has drilled their mission down to four important words: they offer products and services that help a new mom better eat, rest, recover and feed.

Bossy Chicago launched their directory two weeks ago, and has since had more than 1,500 unique visitors. They’ve also had over 100 submissions to their map and started up a newsletter which already has more than 120 subscribers. You can keep up with Bossy and subscribe, too!

Unruled has shifted their focus to sales and customer relationship management. When Unruled started in Wildfire, they were wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign and busy mailing out their unlined notebooks to backers. Since then, they’ve learned retail and wholesale is complicated decided to shift their focus to the importance of just making sales before anything else.

Team Local relaunched a newly designed website, has turned a profit, and has accepted their first online automatic payment.

HotPlate launched their app in the App Store, and has a fun marketing challenge in the works launching soon. Stay tuned!

OriHD keeps growing. Now with a robust global team of 16, including an intern in Beijing, this startup is working on filing their patent and has a prototype version of their app developed.

At this point in the Wildfire program, we’re taking off the training wheels a bit and letting our teams push forward while supporting them in any way we are able to by removing obstacles and opening doors. There are less workshops and more one-on-one strategy sessions, pitch practices, office hours, and getting out into the world to talk to customers.

Want to find out the the rest of our teams have accomplished in Wildfire? RSVP for Demo Day on August 24 and see all twelve teams pitch in front of a panel of judges for a prize pool of $10,000!

Want to get in the conversation? Follow us on Twitter and be sure to use the hashtag #SummerWildfire2017!

How My Failed Startup Inspired Success

My startup failed — now I help other students make sure theirs don’t.

I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur — I grew up with it. My dad founded his first company the year I was born and went on to start three more. I love to learn new things and I embrace an action-oriented mindset by diving into opportunities headfirst. It is this mindset that attracts me to working at startups and inspired me to start my own. I now run a program that helps other students pursue their entrepreneurship goals.

To me, entrepreneurship is a mindset focused on resourcefulness, rapid iteration and customer-first thinking that is teachable and applicable in any industry. It has complimentary skill sets, from big-picture decision-making to technical skills like coding and organizational processes.

But how can I, an undergraduate college student, teach other undergrads how to start their own companies? By drawing upon my own successes and failures, I’ve created a program that fosters a peer-leader relationship between students with similar goals. The concept started with my own story.

In high school I began my own ventures: I founded a non-profit, school organization and led my high school’s business club. And yet, when I started at Northwestern University I was a freshman with no direction. So what did I do? I joined everything: two business clubs, two club sports teams and a fraternity, while also marketing three major campus events and consulting two emerging businesses. And all while trying to adapt to the new campus, make friends and survive Chicago winters! It’s safe to say I was overwhelmed.

Although I learned from those activities, few of the positions stuck. The most impactful experience actually did not come from student groups or campus events. It came from one small idea from my friend Ahren Alexander: He wanted to revolutionize the music-listening experience by building a custom modular speaker system.

Admittedly, I was skeptical at first. But joining that project ended up being one of my best decisions. With a vision and a lot of passion we co-founded Audiovert, my first official company.

The next two years were a roller coaster, but working on your own startup does not feel like work. Every day I was following my passion, and it led me to do some incredible things.

I traveled the country pitching and selling my product while raising over $40K in funding. I met incredible people throughout the Chicago entrepreneurial community. I pitched on stage with Kyle (you know, the guy who raps iSpy), was named Northwestern’s top undergraduate startup by winning a competition called Northwestern University Venture Challenge (NUVC) and was featured in Forbes Magazine. We expanded our team to five people and launched a pre-order campaign.

But it did not last. Audiovert came to a halt when my co-founder graduated and moved halfway across the country while I studied abroad halfway across the world.

Although Audiovert died young, I am proud of our work. I created a product that adds value to people’s lives, all while learning how to start and operate my very own company. I expanded upon my passion for entrepreneurship, and decided I want to help other students share similar experiences.

That’s how I determined my next move: I went on to co-found and direct a program that helps students start their own companies. The program is called Launch, and was established through an entrepreneurship club at Northwestern called EPIC with Ahren and Garrett Goehring. In the last two years we’ve helped 70+ students start 15 companies.

Launch’s entrepreneurial curriculum was crafted based on our experiences with Audiovert. We teach everything from ideation to execution, helping turn students’ napkin sketches into real, scalable businesses.

From my first-hand experiences with startups (watching my dad start a few companies, consulting with a few more, working full-time at a couple over the summer, starting one myself, and being around tons more at maker-spaces, events, and competitions) I believe that entrepreneurial minds time and time again create innovative solutions and help solve big problems. And that’s what I want to teach to other students.

Our goal is to both lead and inspire first-time entrepreneurs; many of our students never initially thought about starting their own companies. As Launch director I see myself more as a peer than teacher of the cohort we lead.

But seeing the impact of Launch has also inspired me; I could not be prouder of our success. One company has sold thousands of product, grown its team into the double digits and become the largest undergraduate startup at Northwestern. Students from our cohorts now make up a majority of leadership positions in Northwestern’s entrepreneurial student group, and this year we won Entrepreneurial Club of the Year at the EntrepreneurshipU Awards!

Through Launch I have learned that strong interpersonal skill, honest feedback and sincere desire to help others succeed can more than make up for lack of experience or age.

I have met incredible people and gained close friends from Launch and other teams that I constantly learn and grow from. I started a company with a Launch member. I pitched in front of scary crowds. I watched and coached as friends did the same. The experiences I gathered through Launch have undoubtedly helped me become a more confident leader and supportive friend. I have grown to quite like this crazy group of people around me, and I would like to help us all learn and grow together even more.

Here are a few of my top takeaways:

  1. Default to Action: For me, learning by doing is the most exciting and effective way.
  2. Learn From Others: Surround yourself with people smarter than you, and you will leave every conversation a little bit better.
  3. Perseverance > Skill: As my dad used to say, “Never give up! Never surrender!”
  4. Share What You Know: The only way to really learn something is to teach it. It is this process of reflection and explanation that hones in the skills you developed.
  5. Help Others Succeed: Helping others pursue their dreams is extremely fulfilling, but it also selfishly helps you in the long run. Expanding your network in this way makes people eager to help you in the future.

I am not sure what I will do when I graduate and leave Northwestern next spring: All I know is that I am happy with how I will leave it. Being able to say that I played even a small role in empowering the next generation of Northwestern entrepreneurs is more than I could hope.

Justin Fleischmann is an economics, business, and entrepreneurship student at Northwestern University and a guest writer for ProMazo’s Millennial Voice. This article was originally posted on Justin’s LinkedIn profile and has been republished with Justin’s permission.