Family Dinner: Ben Weiss of Zcruit

Sometimes, as a Resident at The Garage, it’s hard to envision what comes next. Do you take that job with a salary and benefits? Do you let your startup fold and close up shop for good? Do you pass your legacy on to another group of students and hope they keep it alive? What about putting your passion project to the side for a while?

We know success looks different for all of our startup teams, and while we do our absolute bestest to give entrepreneurial students the resources they need to take their ideas to the next level, we also know from doing this for a little over two years that only about 10% of students will go on to pursue their startups full time after graduation, while 90% go on to work at other startups, businesses, and big companies like Google, Uber, Facebook, and more.

But when it comes to Ben Weiss (SESP, ‘17), he opted to stick around for a while. After convincing his team including Danny Baker (Weinberg ‘17), Gautier Dagan (Weinberg ‘17), Dino Mujkic (Weinberg ‘17), Alex Cohen (McCormick ‘18),  and Yannick Mamudo (McCormick ‘18) to hang out for 10 weeks at The Garage full time in the summer after graduation, big things started to happen. Zcruit’s mission of making football recruiting more efficient through predictive analytics caught on. Zcruit’s client list exploded from single to double digits. They pushed out new products. USA Today Sports even noticed! And the best thing? They got an offer for an acquisition. The deal closed just before Thanksgiving 2017, just over two years after Ben introduced his idea to us at The Garage.

From left: Alex Cohen (McCormick ‘18), Nicholas Karzmer (Weinberg ‘17), Ben Weiss (SESP ’17),  Dino Mujkic (Weinberg ‘17), Gautier Dagan (Weinberg ‘17) and Danny Baker (Weinberg ‘17) pose for a photo at The Garage during winter quarter, 2017. 

Zcruit’s acquisition marks the first ever out of The Garage. Which is perfect, considering Zcruit was one of the first members of The Garage’s Residency way back in 2015. Ben is a perfect example of The Garage and Northwestern instilling the innovation mindset in students. Ben turned down his full time job offer to take on Zcruit full time, and boy, are we glad he did.

Today, Zcruit is part of Reigning Champs, where Ben still oversees all of Zcruit’s development and operation. While some members of his original team have opted to travel, go to graduate school, or take on jobs, the core of Zcruit is still with Ben. You can read more about Zcruit’s story and their acquisition on Northwestern News

Ben and his team were named one of 10 Illinois Student Startups Set to Make Moves in 2017 by Chicago Inno, and Zcruit was recognized as one of the five most outstanding student startups at the 2017 EntrepreneurshipU Awards.

In addition to The Garage’s Residency Program, Zcruit was a part of The Garage’s inaugural Wildfire pre-accelerator program in the summer of 2016 and Winter Wildfire in the winter of 2017. In May 2017, Zcruit took home prize money in the B2B track of VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition.

Hear a snippet of Ben’s talk at Family Dinner below.


Family Dinner is a special perk just for Residents of The Garage to meet once per week for food, community, and to hear from an accomplished founder. To learn more about our past Family Dinner speakers, click here

Sleep, It Does a Body Good.

Jeff Bezos does it, Sheryl Sandberg does it, and many successful entrepreneurs do it.  They throw in the towel and go to sleep instead of burning the midnight oil. A recent study found that 60 percent of college students do not get enough sleep. Student entrepreneurs might be thinking, “With my startup and my clubs, not to mention my classes, there is not enough time in the day. I need to finish a few more things on my long to do list before I can go to bed.” However, to be a successful student and entrepreneur, you need to be able to focus and make good decisions.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends people 18-25 years old get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Why is sleep so important? The National Institute of Health describes it this way:

“Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning. Whether you’re learning math, [or] how to play the piano […] sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.”

Paying attention, making decisions and being creative are three important daily attributes needed to be a successful entrepreneur and student. Just one extra hour of sleep can make the difference.  With sufficient sleep you won’t feel groggy or struggle to get through the day. You will feel less stressed about all you want to accomplish.

Still not convinced you should make the effort to get more sleep? Matt Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and Director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, says that the number of people who can survive on six hours of sleep or less and show no impairment is “zero.”  Yes, zero!  So if you are getting six hours of sleep instead of seven, you are coping with an impairment that can easily be addressed.  Set an alarm on your phone so when it gets to be that time in the evening, you are reminded to wrap things up and get to bed earlier to get the rest you need so you are not impaired and you can be your best, most productive, focused and  creative, problem-solving self.

Research has shown that sleep is so important that many startups are focusing on data analysis and innovative wearables to enhance sleep. Headspace, a meditation app, has expanded its offerings with a sleep single to help people sleep. In 2014, Northwestern University alumni Jeff Kahn, Jacob Kelter and Leon Sasson founded Rise Science, a comprehensive sleep-coaching program for elite athletes that coordinates everything needed to improve sleep behavior and consequently performance. Jeff describes sleep as, “The most potent performance enhancing activity that exists.”

Here are some tips taken from Northwestern Human Resources for how to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Try to maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule. During the quarter, this should be doable, since you have classes on a set schedule.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bed. For example, read a book instead of looking at a screen (phone or computer, even with the filtering on) for the last 30 minutes before you go to sleep.
  • Avoid eating and drinking, particularly drinks with caffeine, two to three hours before bedtime.

Getting that extra hour of sleep will help you to work more efficiently the next day and thus be more productive.  Give it a try and good luck catching those extra zzz’s–you’ll be happy you did.


Elisa Mitchell is the Assistant Director of Operations and Finance at The Garage and enjoys helping each student start a unique entrepreneurial journey.  She is an accomplished attorney and CPA and brings strong organizational skills, attention to detail and a can-do attitude to every project. She is thrilled to be a part of The Garage.

Why You Should Be an Entrepreneur Right Now

We know, you have a lot on your plate. You probably forgot to eat more than once while cramming for midterms and dealing with a dysfunctional, non-responsive people for your group project. Starting a company probably seems lofty, big, unattainable, and a great way to waste precious time you should be spending trying to maintain a social life.

But think again.

Your idea has value. Your solution to that every day problem has merit, and instead of sleeping on it while other people are out there building their own futures, eating up all of the available resources at Northwestern, it’s time to make it happen. Because now, as a student, is the best time to get your startup off the ground. There are more resources available now than ever before for students interested in tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship at every level and in every school. As a Northwestern student, there is a network of people both inside and outside the university who you are connected with and need no introduction to.

More important than all of those resources though, college is a place where it’s okay to experiment, learn, grow, and yes, even fail. It means you’ve tried something new and learned something from it, and here in our entrepreneurial bubble, it’s also fuel to get up and try again with the support of fellow student founders and mentors to guide you. We know from working with students for a while that entrepreneurship isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

When you leave the comfortable cradle of the Northwestern family, things may change. You might find yourself losing eligibility to get non-dilutive capital through university based business competitions. Maybe that full time job will eat up a lot more time than you anticipated, leaving you with just late nights to keep your venture up and running as a side hustle.

Because the last thing you want to become is a thoughtrepreneur: a person who sits on their idea and never executes. Being an entrepreneur requires serious grit, dedication, and expertise and it’s our goal at The Garage to give you a toolkit you can reach into for years to come. Part of the success of a student startup ecosystem at any university is the realization that it’s just as important to discover you don’t want to be a founder or entrepreneur as it is to discover that you do. And you’re far better off doing that now, while you still have the comforting arms of Northwestern hugging you tightly.

Be exuberant. You have an unparalleled opportunity as a student with an idea to take advantages of resources across Northwestern and at The Garage. Need some inspiration? Check out the Dorm Room Fun 5-Year Report.

Make moves. Now. Build your network and schedule office hours with our staff or visiting experts.

Make memories. When things don’t go well, and you fail, which you inevitably will, it’s an experience giving you insight.


Elisabeth is a marketing pro with experience in the public and educational sectors, with a special interest in international relations and social entrepreneurship. She joins The Garage with a passion for work in higher education and a love of all things student centered. Elisabeth received her BA in anthropology and her MPA from Northern Illinois University.

The Garage Gift Guide 2017

The holidays are here, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in this year’s gift guide, we’re supporting Northwestern entrepreneurs (again). Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite gift ideas for your besties and family, including both current student founded products and companies, alongside some of the best of the best Northwestern alumni companies. We’ve got something for everyone, from cold brew coffee to pre-packed healthy lunches, to the infamous RompHim that broke the internet in 2017, all Garage-approved.   

1. Something local through BOSSY Chicago

Isabel Benatar and Samantha Letscher (Photo Credit: Chicago Reader)

Co-founded by Northwestern students Samantha Letscher (McCormick, ‘18) and Isabel Benatar (SESP, ‘18), BOSSY Chicago is empowering women business owners and encouraging us all to not only shop local, but to support women owned businesses through their online directory. They’re also storytellers, sharing the entrepreneurial wisdom and challenges of female entrepreneurs all over Chicago. You can also keep up with all things BOSSY and sign up for their newsletter here.

 

2. A BrewBike Gift Card

(Photo Credit: @brewbikecoffee)

Now a popular coffee spot on campus, BrewBike is providing Northwestern its caffeine fix in the most convenient way, every day. Founded by Lucas Philips (SESP, ‘19), BrewBike has mastered cold brew coffee, and operates not just a mobile coffee shop during the warmer months, but a real life coffee pop up shop in Annenberg Hall, frequented by staff, faculty, and students alike. Now, you can give the gift of yummy cold brew with a BrewBike gift card. 

 

3. An Unruled. Notebook

(Photo Credit: @beunruled)

Founded by a group of students in an entrepreneurship course in Fall 2016, Unruled. has turned into a full blown retail operation, offering their products around Evanston and online. Give the gift of visual thinking and endless possibilities with their flagship product, the Unruled. Notebook.

 

4. One less thing on a to-do list from Local

(Photo Credit: @local.technologies)

Co-founded by brother and sister team, Caraline and Collin Pham (McCormick, ‘18), Local helps you get things done by hiring college students to help with practically anything. Give the gift of some housework, yard work, or even running errands to someone you love. We’ve got our eye on shoveling snow.

 

5. A super fly outfit from Bonobos

(Photo Credit: Bonobos Guidebook)

Andy Dunn (WCAS, ‘00) co-founded Bonobos, one of the fastest growing online men’s clothing retailers, in 2007 because it was so hard to find pants that actually fit. Now, Bonobos has expanded their playbook, offering shirts and suits making shopping for guys painless and maybe even a little bit fun.

 

6. Wise Apple lunches

(Photo Credit: Wise Apple)

Co-founded by two Kellogg alumni while they were students, and former Residents of The Garage, Rebecca Sholiton (Kellogg, ‘16) and Nathan Cooper (Kellogg, ‘17) are offering busy parents a new way to give their kids healthy lunches through pre-packaged meals delivered directly to your door. Food is fun. Packing lunches isn’t, so give the gift of quieter mornings, less last minute trips to the grocery store, and nutritious, yummy food.

 

7. A RompHim

(Photo Credit @originalromphim)

Why romp alone when you can romp together? Founded by a group of Kellogg students (ACED Design) in 2017, these dudes broke the internet with their fully funded (and then some) Kickstarter campaign, with more than 3,000 backers pledging over $350,000 to bring RompHims to men trying to break fashion stereotypes everywhere. And don’t worry, they’ve expanded their line to include the RompSuit, so you can romp all winter long, too.

 

8. A little greenery from Welltended

(Photo Credit:  @welltended)

Founded by Carolyn Snider (Kellogg, ‘17), Welltended is a former Resident of The Garage, changing the way we buy and care for plants. We spend a ton of time indoors, so WellTended believes it’s important to cultivate a home that’s bright, fresh, and happy by bringing a little bit of nature inside. Welltended’s website is sleek and fun, and their planters and plant options can give any indoor space a vibrant makeover (plus, you can even sign up for watering reminders, helping even those of us who don’t have a green thumb live a Welltended life).

 

9. A yummy lunch at Viet Nom Nom

(Photo Credit: Viet Nom Nom)

Anyone who knows us knows our obsession with food. And Viet Nom Nom is one of our local favs. Co-founded by Noah Bleicher (Kellogg, ‘15), Viet Nom Nom is helping us to eat some seriously flavorful, healthy Vietnamese cuisine right here in Evanston.

 

10. A tin of tea from Bigelow Tea

(Photo Credit: Bigelow Tea)

Cindi Bigelow (Kellogg, ‘86) is president of one of the warmest gifts you could give this year, not to mention something everyone loves, Bigelow Tea. At The Garage, we’re stocked with Bigelow in our Cafe, so obviously we think everyone should have their own. Personally, we love this Merry and Bright Holiday Tin of Tea.

 

11. A Pinch & A Dash

Written by Sherry Katherine Vernon (Weinberg, ‘15), who now works with Alumi Relations and Development, this cookbook brings a little bit of gourmet to every meal. From blackberry sage pork chops to nectarine caramel upside-down cake, there’s something in this book for new chefs and seasoned home cooks alike.

Being a Woman in Business: A Student’s Perspective

“Who decides the expiration date of a woman’s dreams?” and “Can a woman be both a mother and a businesswoman?”…questions that I have heard posed over and over in articles, in workshops, in classes and on the street and have still yet to be answered despite having so much growth in gender equality over the years. As noted by psychologist Faye Crosby, “Most women are unaware of having personally been victims of gender discrimination and deny it even when it is objectively true and they see that women in general experience it”, and in knowing that, it is imperative to open up a channel of discussion on the topic. As a young woman in business faced with a lifetime of challenges ahead of me, I often ruminate over what it means to be, and how to be both feminine and professional in the workplace.

The desire to raise a family, although not exclusively a feminine trait, is often associated with women and becomes a hurdle that they must deal with when in the workplace. Granted, while we have made great strides towards gender equality in businesses, there still remains a sense of role allocation due to pervasive stereotypes that have not yet been eradicated. Society has seemingly forgot the popular saying “it takes a village to raise a child” and rewritten it to read “it takes one woman to raise her child”. In doing so, we remove the men who want to actively partake in the care of his child and create a strange, unnecessary dichotomy between the man and the woman in the home. Women often feel compelled to choose one or the other when it comes to business and family, and even when they have the chance to do both, the argument that “one will always suffer!” arises. As a result, it has been found that “43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time”. A study done by the Harvard Business review concludes as follows:

“When it comes to career and fatherhood, high-achieving men don’t have to deal with difficult trade-offs: 79% of the men I surveyed report wanting children—and 75% have them. The research shows that, generally speaking, the more successful the man, the more likely he will find a spouse and become a father. The opposite holds true for women, and the disparity is particularly striking among corporate ultra-achievers. In fact, 49% of these women are childless. But a mere 19% of their male colleagues are. These figures underscore the depth and scope of the persisting, painful inequities between the sexes”.

Girls are taught from an early age about motherhood and how women are natural, instinctual caretakers which can prevent further talents from developing in fields such as STEM or entrepreneurship. In encouraging them to explore a multitude of opportunities by allowing women to dream, society can open up the doors to having more qualified, highly educated, visionary women that can act as great examples to their children and others.

Women must take it upon themselves to make the changes they want to see and be their own knights in shining armor. Fundamentally, men and women can work together to develop a more inclusive environment and provide support for each other to reach their goals, whether it be to become a powerful CEO, a loving parent, a compassionate doctor, or an inspiring musician. Rather than boxing women up and giving them ultimatums, society should foster their expertise and allow for them to become highly functional members of business communities, where they can do just as much good as they could do with their children. We can help women learn how to “establish credibility in a culture that is deeply conflicted about whether, when, and how they should exercise authority”. There’s more to any man and woman than meets the eye, and setting limitations on them does not do any service to anyone. One does not need to sacrifice their femininity for the sake of a job, because at the end of the day, it provides a unique platform from which to solve problems and provide prospective. There is always a way for the two things to go hand in hand if we band together to make a change and bring a positive attitude to the workplace to make it better for everyone. As Laura Dunn of Huffington Post says, “I’ve met too many people along the way who expect someone else to tell them and that just doesn’t stack up. It’s down to you to work it out”.


Bree Aikens is a senior double majoring in Opera Performance and Music Business with a Religious Studies minor, and hails from LaGrange Park, IL. Having maintained a passion for singing and entrepreneurship, she decided to combine the two and has since worked and performed in Chicago, New York City, various cities in Northern Italy and Melbourne, Australia.

The Epidemic

I wholeheartedly believe in the positive and prolific impact of entrepreneurship, design, and a gritty disposition.  To all aspiring Northwestern entrepreneurs:  I don’t have all the answers, but if you need suggestions or feedback beyond the scope of this article (or just want to chat), please reach out to me at ahren.alexander@gmail.com. I’m happy to help!

During my four years at Northwestern, a pervasive obsession afflicted the student body:  the incessant desire to appear as competent and hard-working as possible in the face of our peers, superiors, and mentors.  To always look like we know what we’re doing.  

This obsession often manifested as passive-aggressive one-upmanship battles between students commiserating about the lengths of their to-do lists.  For example, one student would dismissively complain, “Oh wow, two finals tomorrow?  I’ve got a paper to finish, a presentation to prepare, and work study all afternoon.  Sucks, right?”

Alternatively, in a conversation between two different students, one breezes over a topic the other doesn’t fully grasp.  Instead of asking for clarification, the other student nods and uncomfortably asserts, “right, right.”

Both cases illustrate the same phenomena:  we were allergic to vulnerability, a condition I call insecuritis.   

Its side effects might help you painlessly navigate social situations and spare your ego in a pinch, but I believe maintaining the front of an astonishing work ethic and infallible expertise is dangerous–and exhausting–to employ when building a startup.  The more malignant side effects of insecuritis, such as the fear of looking stupid and unchecked overconfidence, are detrimental to your venture’s product design and pace of development.  

In this article, I’ll demonstrate how insecuritis can lead to failure, pulling from the experiences of some familiar names and my own experience building a company in school.  I’ll describe symptoms to look out for, and I’ll close with specific actions you can take to immunize yourself against insecuritis.

One of the most ego-threatening activities of starting a company is collecting feedback on your ideas and prototypes.  We develop an attachment to the things we worked so passionately to create, and negative feedback can feel like a personal affront.  Customer interviews introduce the possibility of being wrong, and it’s easier to cover our ears than to shatter the illusion that we’re building the right things based on our own aptitude and intuition alone.  Some startups choose to develop in “stealth mode,” ostensibly to attain first-mover advantage. But for most new startups, I believe first-mover advantage is a convenient excuse for intentionally avoiding the likely reality that the dream product they wish to build isn’t what customers are looking for.  

The Segway is the quintessential example.  Led by prolific inventor Dean Kamen with the support of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, the product was developed behind closed doors and launched with world-revolutionizing expectations.  Instead of selling 10,000 units a week as Kamen predicted, only 24,000 Segways were sold in five years.  Research into what the intended users wanted from the product, what they were willing to spend, and the viability of the product in its intended context was scarce, and the Segway flopped.  The Segway demonstrates the necessity of interacting with your intended customer base and stakeholders throughout the development process and understanding their root problems and aspirations. Tech giants, fledgling entrepreneurs, and everyone in-between all need feedback.

In addition to avoiding feedback, founders afflicted by insecuritis often prioritize appearing fantastically capable over their venture’s success.  Confronted with an impossibly long list of responsibilities, they take on the misguided mentality of  “don’t worry, I’ve got this.”  They forego building a team of complementary skillsets and cynically hoard duties and functions. Ultimately, these founders are left to construct their products without the proper support nor the willingness to accept it.

My startup, Audiovert, and my naive efforts in school epitomize the consequences of hesitantly seeking and accepting support.  I too, fell ill to insecuritis.  Caught up in the idea of “cool, I’m building a startup” and the personal enjoyment of building loudspeakers, I lost track of the mission of spreading impactful music experiences.  Instead, I toiled away ill-equipped to overcome the engineering and manufacturing challenges of building our products.  I selfishly fantasized and focused on being able to say “I built this for you, personally” when delivering the products to our customers.

Upwards of forty people were directly involved in Audiovert’s development–efforts I am forever thankful for.  Regrettably, I was unwilling to accept that I personally could not solve our most critical problems, and I seldom asked for help or delegated tasks related to these issues.  The engineering and manufacturing challenges eventually derailed fulfillment of our successfully-funded crowdfunding campaign, and very few people ever received an Audiovert product.  By the time I truly opened up to accepting the help we needed most, it was too late, and I graduated without the necessary momentum (or income) to justify further development of Audiovert.  My insecuritis plunged the venture into limbo.

My window of opportunity to build a startup in school closed with Audiovert’s task list incomplete.  College is a unique, finite period devoid of the risks and responsibilities of post-college adulthood.  For that reason, it’s important to spend the time wisely.  Continuing a venture beyond school is typically viable and sensible only if some semblance of runway is achieved, whether it’s recurring revenue, investment, or acceptance into an accelerator.  At Northwestern, you are surrounded by extremely capable peers and mentors.  You have access to a expansive network of accomplished alumni.  If you want to continue to operate your startup beyond school, don’t reach the finish line without first having rallied others and developed value worth investing in.

For those familiar or curious, the Audiovert dream lives on.  I’m currently exploring how to employ these lessons in revivifying it.

But enough about Audiovert — how else can you avoid the aforementioned consequences and protect yourself from insecuritis?

  • Reach out to potential mentors about setting up regular discussions of goals and how to achieve them.  The Garage hosts a sea of people especially empathetic toward the challenges of starting a company who will readily assist you.  Pay it forward.
  • Regularly assess what gaps need filling or assumptions need testing in your venture and what can be done to alleviate them promptly.  Remember that you are not the answer to all of your problems.
  • When people talk about something you don’t understand, don’t pretend that you do — especially if that something is vital for you to grasp. When appropriate, stop them and ask them to elaborate on unfamiliar topics.  Take advantage of the opportunities you have to learn something new.
  • Avoid feeding the collective stress and negativity that can put a damper on your — and others’ — Northwestern experience.  Assess what you can control, accept what you cannot, and make change instead of complaints.

Above all else, be vulnerable.  

Admit what you don’t know, be honest about your personal capacities, and welcome opportunities to grow.

Students — chances are, sometime very soon, you will be confronted with the option to pretend like you know more than you do or to set your ego aside and learn.  In that moment, in all those like it, I urge you to choose the latter.  For both your sake and the sake of whatever you’re working on — whether it’s a new company, classwork, or a personal project — I urge you to reveal the chinks in your armor and actively seek how to repair them.  

There are few places more rich with knowledge and enthusiasm for positive change than Northwestern.  If those in your immediate network do not have the answers or “repairs” you need, chances are they know someone who does and who is willing to help you. Through being honest with your needs and being open to others’ feedback — through making yourself vulnerable — you can make your Northwestern experience one of fruitful relationships, meaningful discoveries, and momentous achievements to be proud of.

How Practicing Meditation Enhances Resilience

See if this resonates:

You made a pitch that was turned down, or lost a close tennis match, or lost your temper in an emotionally charged discussion with your co-founder.

Whatever the scenario, you failed to achieve your objective. That night, instead of falling asleep, you tossed and turned as you replayed the event in your mind. Your internal dialogue included phrases such as, “If only I had,” “If only I hadn’t,” and “Why did I do that again,” and on and on until the early hours of the morning. The next day you were irritable, unable to focus at work, and emotionally exhausted.

Probably everyone has had at least one such experience, ruminating over a loss or failure. Reflecting upon and learning from a mistake is necessary for our personal and professional growth, but the endless negative looping of the mind is not productive. It drains our energy and actually impedes our ability to move forward, to be resilient.

The word resilience comes from the Latin resili, meaning “to spring back” or “to rebound.” We all make mistakes, but some of us are more resilient than others. In fact, many of the most successful entrepreneurs are the most resilient. Thomas Edison tried more than 10,000 times before he invented the light bulb; Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Jobs were all fired at one point in their careers but achieved great professional success.

Meditation is a practice that can help you develop resilience.

The practice of focusing on your breath calms your mind and helps you create distance from the thoughts and emotions that you may be experiencing. Practicing meditation helps you recognize that your thoughts and emotions are transient, that they arise and fall away, and, even more important, that they may not even be true! When Steve Jobs was fired from Apple Computers, he was quoted as saying, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Because of MRI studies by neuroscientists such as Richard Davidson, we now know that practicing meditation actually changes how the brain responds to negative experiences. In situations where we experience negative emotions and anxiety (such as the sleepless night), a part of the brain called the amygdala is active. In comparing the brain activity of meditators with non-meditators, Davidson found that the amygdala in meditators had a faster recovery time after being activated by exposure to a negative emotional event. Their brains are literally more resilient.

How much meditation do you need to develop more resilience? As of now, there is no exact formula. What is clear, though, is that any amount of consistent daily practice (even ten minutes a day) will be beneficial. You have the power to choose how you respond to, rather than react to, life’s challenges. Start meditating today.


Cindy Conlon is an adjunct professor if the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern. She teaches mediation classes at the Wellness Center. Learn more at www.nurecreation.com.

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.