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.


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. 

Being a Student Founder: Ben Weiss of Zcruit

Formerly a student founder and now working on his startup full time as co-founder and CEO  post-graduation, Ben Weiss sat down to talk all things entrepreneurial learning with the Northwestern Alumni Association. While a student, Ben and his team were Residents at The Garage, and although most of the team just graduated, they are working on Zcruit full time this summer in The Garage’s co-working space.

But the entrepreneurial journey wasn’t always easy. Ben started his predictive analytics website with barely any tech experience and next to no money, and has since grown the company into a product currently used by multiple Division 1 football programs. Zcruit allows university football programs to recruit smarter, reducing time spent in the field and the expensive resources poured into the travel and the time required, increasing efficiency. Zcruit was named one of 10 Illinois Student Startups Set to Make Moves in 2017 by Chicago Inno and was also recognized as one of the five most outstanding student startups at the 2017 EntrepreneurshipU Awards. Zcruit also took home cash after competing in the B2B track at VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition.

The Zcruit team after their win at VentureCat

What are some of the most valuable lessons learned along the way? Ben says his time as a student founder added to his overall learning experience at Northwestern (something we at The Garage are especially excited to hear). Ben became friends with other student founders, learned to perfect his pitch (whether it’s a ten minute or a 90 second presentation) discovered how hard selling actually is, and how to run an efficient company producing contracts, invoices, and handling accounting. He also told us that people are more important than numbers, and the perfect formula for building a team can be hard to find but hiring a group with complementary skills and different backgrounds can equal success.

But being a true entrepreneur requires some serious grit and the ability to deal with the rollercoaster of ups and downs. Ben says he learned to be “politely persistent,” while being empathetic and understanding of others’ time. But most importantly, a company can look like it’s on the verge of the end, nearing the end of the runway, and with that persistence and grit can take a turn for the better. Want to learn more about what the Zcruit team is up to this summer? Check out their feature in The Daily Northwestern here.

The Garage is super proud of Ben and the entire Zcruit team and all of their hard work and accomplishments during their time in The Residency Program. We can’t wait to see what’s next. But in the meantime, check out the recording of Ben’s webinar with the Northwestern Alumni Association here.

Something Educational This Way Comes

This article was originally published on the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovations News website is shared on The Magazine with permission. 
 Screenshot of Something Wicked.

Screenshot of Something Wicked.

“Once more unto the breach…”

Northwestern student entrepreneur E. B. Hunter isn’t new to the process of channeling her passion for theater into productive initiatives. Before starting her doctoral studies in Theater and Drama at Northwestern, Hunter transformed a restored blast furnace factory in Birmingham, Alabama into a stage. The furnace’s surrounding locations were used for scenery, while the rusted-out core of the blast furnace became the theater company’s unusual backdrop. Hunter explains that this dynamic venue gave audience members a sense of immediacy to her plays, and allowed them to feel like they were a part of her unfolding dramas.

Hunter recalls one moment of her blast furnace plays that she particularly relishes: During Henry V’s famous monolog before the gates of Harfleur, the titular King Henry calls on his troops to follow him into deadly battle. At the same time, in real life, a freight train was roaring by the theater. Overcome by the energy of the moment, two children in the blast furnace staging broke from the audience pack to pursue “King Henry” into “battle,” shouting and laughing as they ran. Afterwards, Hunter recalls, several audience members approached her to tell her how surprised they were to feel so captivated by Shakespeare.

“They felt that they were somehow in it, that they were enacting what was going on.” Hunter says of the episode.

From that charged moment, Hunter knew that she wanted to replicate the same dynamic of the blast furnace plays in her future work.

“But only vaulting ambition…”

Something Wicked, Hunter’s ambitious repackaging of the 400-year-old Macbeth text as a video game, is her digital attempt to make Shakespeare approachable for modern audiences. Named in a nod to a famous line from the classic tragedy and modeled after the same tragedy’s violent events, Something Wicked aims to balance its role as an immersive, entertaining game with its role as an educational tool for school-age audiences -—while maximizing players’ comprehension of the source material. In order to beat Something Wicked, players must know the text and carefully guide the game’s sequence of events according to that knowledge. Hunter hopes that through this specific process of becoming familiar with Macbeth’s plot and characters during gameplay, players will discover a newfound level of intimacy with an Elizabethan-era manuscript that often daunts and alienates modern readers.

“It will have blood, they say”

Though the play features excessive violence and a ruthless main character, Hunter notes that diluting the violence and emotionally mature themes in Macbeth would compromise the game’s faithfulness to its origins. Something Wicked’s simple, yet refined 2D side-scroller design, meets demands to be faithful to Shakespeare’s text and visually appealing for school-age audiences — players advance from artful level to level (and from plot point to plot point), by commanding a Macbeth avatar through scenes filled with a palatable, stylized violence. Visually, Something Wicked is an homage to the Bayeux Tapestry, the famously gore-free embroidery that depicts the bloody 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Bayeux Tapestry detail of soldiers on horseback during battle.

Bayeux Tapestry detail of soldiers on horseback during battle.

Hunter says the design of her game “creates a distance between the player and the depiction of blood,” while effectively mirroring the actions of Macbeth.

“The very firstlings of my heart shall be… The firstlings of my hand.”

Something Wicked began as a final project for Serious Games, a seminar Hunter took during the first quarter of her graduate studies in the fall of 2013 that focused on developing games that had a primary purpose other than entertainment. Having found success in the classroom, Hunter sought to bring her idea to a wider audience. During the winter of 2015, Hunter applied for and received a Segal Design Cluster Fellowship, an interdisciplinary doctoral cluster program jointly sponsored by Segal, the McCormick School of Engineering, and The Graduate School at Northwestern. This fellowship allowed Hunter to prototype Something Wicked. Shortly thereafter, Hunter enrolled in the spring quarter of NUvention: Arts, taught by veteran music industry entrepreneur and successful investor, Gregg Latterman. The following summer, Hunter started a successful crowdfunding campaign to supplement financial resources and accelerate project development.

“When shall we three meet…”

Driven entrepreneurs like Hunter know that funds alone are not enough to make ventures viable. Building a supportive and technically adept team became the next vital step for ensuring Something Wicked’s success. By connecting with Chicago’s robust independent game development community, Hunter received support from its tight-knit group of women in design and eventually met DePaul University researcher and game designer Doris Rusch. Rusch, in turn, introduced Hunter to her Play for Change lab at DePaul. Eager to help Hunter realize her concept, the Play for Change team began collaborating with Hunter to produce a working demonstration of Something Wicked immediately.

“Something wicked this way comes.”

Progress on Something Wicked has been swift and steady — the game is currently slated for a beta release for July 2017. Hunter’s ambitions to bring the appeal of literature and theater to a world engrossed by digital technology will not end there. Something Wicked is just the beginning of her digital ideas — a proof of concept — Hunter says. Recently awarded a grant by CIRA (Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts), Hunter already has her sights set on her next digital project; Bitter Wind, a retelling of the Greek tragedy, Agamemnon. Hunter says Bitter Wind will adapt Aeschylus’ tragedy for the Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed reality headset, and will utilize the full extent of modern gaming technology to further immerse players in the world of classical literature.

“Whole as the marble, founded as the rock…”

At Northwestern, Hunter’s enthusiasm has been transformed into tangible products. “The kind of facilities, the kind of connectivity, the people that I am able to engage with here, the strong alumni base here, were requisite to the creation of Something Wicked,” Hunter says.

Ph.D. Student Elizabeth Bradley Hunter.

Ph.D. Student Elizabeth Bradley Hunter.

Taking full advantage of the facilities available at Northwestern like The Garage and tapping into the resources made accessible by The Farley Center, Hunter has been able to turn one of her visions into reality. Now, Hunter is more motivated than ever to do so again.

“Support from places like The Garage and initiatives like Farley are necessary for the continuation of the arts, and the arts are necessary to a functioning society. That’s why I’m here.”

Additional Resources:

• View a short video of Something Wicked gameplay

• View a video of E.B. Hunter discussing her Something Wicked project


Summer is in full swing at Northwestern, and while we’re busy working with 12 on-the-rise teams after the first week of The Garage’s pre-accelerator program, Wildfire; summer is always bittersweet for us as we say goodbye to graduating Residents (who we then fondly refer to as our extended family).

At The Garage, we aim to instill an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset in Northwestern students by teaching grit, resilience, and encouraging thinking in new and innovative ways. We know this entrepreneurial toolkit will take students far beyond their startups, as we are on a mission to build billion dollar people, not just billion dollar companies. The ability to get up again after a failure, seeing a new solution to a unique problem, and taking risks to succeed all happens at The Garage every day through experiential learning and programming, an innovative space, and a supportive community of mentors.  

Many of our graduated Residents are pursuing full time careers around the country at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Uber, Formlabs, and Instagram, and we’re so excited that The Garage is represented in the tech community. We’re also excited that some of our extended family (which continues to grow) will be pursuing their startups full time after graduation. We can’t wait to keep track of what happens after The Garage.

Just in case you want to keep up with those who are continuing their entrepreneurial journey and pursuing their startups after this year’s recent graduation, here’s a short list to get you started.


EatPakd: Founded by Nathan Cooper, Kellogg ’17 + Rebecca Sholiton, Kellogg ’16

Rebecca and Nathan are on a mission to find a better way for kids to enjoy their lunches with healthy (and yummy) options that satisfy both child and parent. Rebecca spent her earlier career working in management consulting and building business education programs in Latin America to empower female entrepreneurs. Nate grew up in the food industry, and after nearly a decade starting and building a national restaurant chain, Nate has brought his expertise to EatPakd, and is eager to share it with millions of children nationwide. EatPakd is currently based out Humboldt Park in Chicago, and is serving seven midwestern states.


eRetirements: Founded by Jared Scharen, Kellogg ’17

Millions of retirees deserve to know what retirement place best suits their needs, and not rely on a random source that generates a general list. Through various studies, eRetirements  learned most take retirement relocation advice from friends and family. Why? Because friends and family know your interests, preferences, and priorities, and therefore give the most knowledgeable advice. eRetirements worked tirelessly to recreate that exact “friends and family” experience.


IFM: Founded by Marc Gyongyosi, McCormick 17

IFM uses robotics, computer vision and machine learning to automate indoor data capture, with a focus on warehouse inventory tracking. IFM’s autonomous robots fly up and down warehouse aisles scanning barcodes, tracking inventory 400 times faster than current methods, according to the startup. The IFM team recently relocated to their new headquarters in Chicago.


Tiltas: Founded by Tiffany Smith, Kellogg ’17

Tiltas aims to use technology to improve re-entry into society following incarceration by highlighting the stories and paths of those who have demonstrated success through various methods. This is a new type of social network that provides support and information to those who need it.


Welltended: Founded by Carolyn Snider, Kellogg ’17

Welltended is the houseplant selection & delivery service for city-dwellers. The customer  selects a gorgeous houseplant & beautiful, modern planter, and then Welltended will pair it with potting soil, plant it, and bring it to you and also provide easy-to-follow care instructions, taking the hassle and stress out of tending well to your houseplant.


Zcruit: Founded by Ben Weiss, SESP ’17   

Zcruit wants to bring football recruiting into the 21st century. With the help of Zcruit, school programs will find and recruit the right players earlier, improving recruiting efficiency and generating stronger recruiting classes. Zcruit’s team is currently co-working out of The Garage.


To keep up with what our current Resident teams are up to, subscribe to our monthly newsletter here.