Summer Wildfire 2017: myVillage

In the United States, a baby is born every 8 seconds leading to approximately 11,000 newborn babies every single day. That’s a lot of diapers, pacifiers, toys, baby formula and whichever hot new product is currently on the market. Parents buy these items trying to ensure a healthy upbringing for their newborn child. However, many moms often neglect one of the most important things conducive to a healthy child: their own health.

myVillage, founded by Dianna He, a student at the Kellogg School of Management, believes that in order for new parents to best take care of their newborn, they must first take care of themselves. In an era in where it takes a village to raise a family, the village is at a loss for what to do. myVillage is the only lifestyle management platform that enables healthy living through the support of friends and family for new moms (and ultimately, new parents). myVillage empowers the village to take care of new moms because that’s really the best way to help a mother out.

myVillage began in Carter Cast’s New Venture Discovery (KIEI-462-0) class originally aiming to prevent Type II diabetes for women post-pregnancy who had gestational diabetes. This idea initially hit a roadblock but Dianna and her team were able to pivot their efforts; thus, the birth of myVillage. Aside from, Dianna, myVillage is composed of 6 other Kellogg students as well as an undergraduate intern, Ziyi Lu, who will be working full-time with Dianna this summer during Wildfire. They are also currently seeking technical developers who share their same passion to join the team.

Founder of myVillage Dianna He (Not pictured: Intern, Ziyi Lu)

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Dianna: “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I feel like ever since I was little when people asked me what do you want to do when you grow up, starting my own company or being a CEO was always on that list. But in terms of why now, why Kellogg, and why business school, I was in a pretty bad car accident two years ago. I kept a journal of all my ideas since maybe 10 years ago and I’m always coming up with excuses for why not and why I shouldn’t do it. During the 8-month recovery process I was just thinking, why am I here? What am I doing? What is my purpose? And I realized the thing that gets me most excited about life and getting up in the morning is enabling and inspiring people to live healthy lifestyles. I really enjoy everything related to healthy living. We started with Carter Cast’s New Venture Discovery class in January. The pain point we were looking at originally was how to  prevent Type II diabetes because one in five people in the US will get it and 80% of those people can prevent it through lifestyle changes with a healthy diet and exercise. We talked to women who had gestational diabetes, a disease that occurs during pregnancy. It’s temporary but after pregnancy you’re at a high risk of getting Type II diabetes. We learned that there wasn’t much help for these moms so we began digging into it. We found that this could apply to all new moms so we ended up pivoting from diabetes prevention to helping new moms post-pregnancy.”


What problem is myVillage aiming to solve and what is your solution?

“During pregnancy, moms are extremely motivated to take care of their baby. So as such, there are things to help her during pregnancy. But immediately post-pregnancy, it’s basically a drop-off or a cliff, for things out there to help the new mom take better care of herself. It’s shocking the number of women who forget to eat because they’re not thinking about themselves. It’s like a switch flips in their brain and they completely forget about everything except for the baby. And that’s 100% of the people we talk to, it’s like a universal mom gene. If you think about the airplane analogy, when you’re on the airplane the flight attendant says to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping with someone else. The same exact thing applies here, in order for a new mom to best take care of her newborn, she needs to take care of herself first.

So, the solution that we want to create is a lifestyle management platform that connects new moms and her village, the people around her. It takes a village to raise a family but that village may not know what to do. When connected, her village can sign up to help with a list of pre-populated items that we provide based on what new moms need. By signing up they reduce the mom’s stress and she can focus on her holistic wellness, targeting her mental, physical, emotional, and nutritional health.”  


How did you decide on the name myVillage? What was that process like?

“Good question! It was very functional in the beginning. Because in Carter Cast’s class, he would say things like that’s the diabetes team or that’s the environmental team to identify and distinguish teams. So, when we moved off diabetes we couldn’t be the diabetes team anymore. So, we were like, we’re helping a mother out so, Help a Mother Out, and that was our working title. We never intended for it to be the name of our company. As we talked to more people and conducted customer interviews, moms were like, “that’s a cool tagline, but I don’t know if I want to introduce something to someone and have them constantly use it and be reminded that they need to help me out.” So, the name actually came from our first customer. She was like, basically it’s my village, and we liked that and so we became myVillage.”


What has been the most important lesson you have learned?

“I think there’s two. Your customer is everything. Never lose sight of who they are, what they want, what they feel, what their motivations are, and what drives their needs. The reason you exist is to solve a problem that they have and to do it better than anyone else can.

The second thing is related to startups in general. At the stage we’re at now, it’s all about de-risking, the idea of looking at all the problems you’re facing and testing hypotheses to de-risk the risks you’ve identified. If you find out your hypothesis is right and it’s a good thing for you, great! You just de-risked it; you quantified it and de-risked it. If you find out your answer is bad for you, it’s all relative. Bad could mean it’s so big and insurmountable that it will cause huge problems down the line, and you’re just helping yourself now by making the decision to pivot.”


Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

“Oprah! I grew up watching Oprah, and just her story, kindness, spirit, character, and willingness to help is very admirable. This is a bit biased too because I was once at a work dinner and she was at the restaurant and, like a fangirl, I ran over there and stood next to the table she was having dinner at. I didn’t want to be rude so I stood there until she said ‘Hi!’ And I was like ‘Hi, sorry to bother you but you’re amazing and you’re my hero.’ I was almost on the verge of tears because I couldn’t believe she was there. And she was like ‘Give me a hug! Do you want a picture?’ Total fangirl moment.”


How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

“The Garage has been the catalyst for a lot of the stuff happening this spring and summer. I applied to Wildfire and that was going to be my indication and outside validation. I saw Wildfire and The Garage as an unbiased opinion of my idea. If they think that our team is worth investing in and we are at a stage in development worth working on full-time this summer then we’ll be a part of the Wildfire accelerator. And if they don’t, I’ll take that as an indication that it’s way too early and I need to pick up another skill or pursue something else this summer. It was a huge early validation point and from there it lit a fire to go find more team members and try to hustle even more. I can’t wait for the summer!”


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

VentureCat 2017: Meet the Semifinalists

VentureCat is Northwestern’s annual student startup competition showcasing and celebrating the best of the best student founded ventures. The event culminates with a pitch competition, where more than $100,000 in prize money will be distributed by an esteemed panel of judges. After reviewing submissions, the team behind VentureCat has selected 25 teams to advance to the semi-finals!

VentureCat is an evolution of the Northwestern University Venture Challenge (NUVC), which was originally introduced in 2007. From inception, NUVC has distinguished itself from other pitch competitions around the globe by organizing competitors in industry-specific tracks, which leverages the rich expertise of distinct schools from across the university in both graduate and undergraduate programs, and awarding top teams with non-dilutive capital.

Kicking off on Monday, April 24, the 25 semifinalist teams will participate in a four week Semifinalist Pitch Prep Program, supporting the teams with pitch coaching, advice from industry experts, and professional graphic design support.

On May 24, those 25 teams will compete in one of six tracks: Business Products and Services, Consumer Products and Services, Green Energy and Sustainability, Life Sciences and Medical Innovations, Social Enterprises and Nonprofit, and Transportation and Mobility. The 1st place winner of each track will take the main stage to compete for the grand prize at the Finals. Be sure to grab your spot for the event and check out the list of the semifinalists below.


Business Products and Services (B to B)

Dotbound: The habits of golfers have changed, but golf instructors haven’t adapted. Golfers are looking to find and purchase golf lessons online, yet no good solution has enabled instructors to meet this need. Dotbound is a website and marketing platform for golf instructors providing the tools and services golf instructors need to sell more golf lessons online.

Tadpole: The only platform for pre-launch apps to gather user generated content. Using Tadpole’s web platform, publishes define their target market, outline the content they need, deploy projects, monitor progress and gather data-driven insights. The mobile application gathers demographic and behavioral information about the “tadpoles,” and sends targeted, contextual push notifications to users. Tadpole is a current Resident Team of The Garage.

Quickpulse: Despite spending 40 billion dollars on development programs every year, turnover has increased in China’s service industries as millennial crave meaningful work, recognition, and development. Corporations in China lack the right systems to listen and respond to these needs. Quickpulse is the answer: because every person matters.

Zcruit: At Zcruit, the team realized that there is more to football recruiting than scouting and evaluating talent alone. That is why they have developed statistical solutions to help university programs target the right players at the right time, ultimately improving the identification and decision making processes. Zcruit is a current Resident Team of The Garage and a participant in the Wildfire Pre-Accelerator Program.


Consumer Products and Services (B to C)

eRetirements: is a website that helps baby boomers determine their ideal retirement destination and provide resources to help them successfully relocate utilizing a unique, data-backed algorithm to recommend three ideal locations based on an individual’s interests and needs. eRetirements is currently a Resident Team of The Garage.

JitsLab: JitsLab is a personal sports analytics platform that shows athletes stats about themselves for any sport or activity. Using information provided, Jitslab can tell how long an athlete’s stamina lasts before dropping, what moves have the highest success rate from the athlete, and what the normal pattern of behavior from an athlete is.

RE-Bucha: Unleash the power of kombucha to improve your wellbeing and the health of the world around you. Each bottle of RE-BUCHA brings to the table a premium kombucha that you would expect while also recovering and re-harvesting imperfect produce streams. So, sit back, enjoy your kombucha, and do so in knowing that you are making a difference. RE-Bucha is a current Resident Team of The Garage.

The Right Hook: The Right Hook is redefining the bra shopping experience. Why shouldn’t women be able to shop for bras from the comfort of their home? The Right Hook’s comprehensive measurement system and personal stylists allow the customer to feel confident they are getting a personalized service and the best fit, without stepping foot out of the house. The Right Hook is currently a Resident Team of The Garage.

Welltended: Welltended is the houseplant selection & delivery service for city-dwellers. The user selects a gorgeous houseplant & beautiful, modern planter, and then Welltended will pair it with potting soil, plant it, and deliver it. Welltended provides easy-to-follow care instructions, taking the hassle and stress out of tending well to houseplants. Welltended is a current Resident Team of The Garage.


Energy and Sustainability

Aerospec Technologies: Aerospec’s unmanned aerial system (UAS) efficiently identify, analyze, and predict equipment failures to maximize asset performance in the renewable energy industry.

Gibbs Lighting: Gibbs provides energy efficient LED lights at no cost to commercial and industrial buildings in exchange for a portion of energy savings. This eliminates barriers to installing efficient technology, lowers energy consumption, and saves money.

PedalCell: PedalCell harnesses a wheel’s rotational energy into usable electricity and is designed for the bike share market. PedalCell utilizes the most advanced charging technologies provided by Qualcomm and the USB standard; ensuring consumers that, no matter the phone, their device will charge at blistering speeds. Furthermore, our wheel-hub generator is complemented by a phone mount that’s placed on a bicycle’s handlebars.

Rezilncy: We’re on the brink of a clean energy revolution. All the technology for solar, batteries, and microgrid controls are there, but the know-how required to use it lags behind. Rezilncy is a team of microgrid systems integrators—enabling the clean energy revolution.


Life Sciences and Medical Innovations

ActiWit, LLC: ActiWit is a wearable biofeedback device that delivers a personalized behavioral treatment plan for children. We share the concern of many adults who are on the frontline of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) treatment: too much ADD information is “out there,” and yet too little is known about how to choose effective, customized treatments for children.

Actualize Therapy: Our treatment solution will offer university counseling services another option to address the behavioral health of their student population by specifically targeting depression and anxiety in a way that is most convenient to students aged 18-26.

LifeMotion Technologies, LLC: LifeMotion Technologies LLC has designed an

ergonomic “headphone” device with a series of motors to actuate the jaw. These motors contain sensors, which also collect position, velocity, and force measurements for oral-cancer and stroke survivors. LifeMotion Technologies is currently a Resident Team at The Garage.


Social Impact and Nonprofit

Kheyti: Kheyti designs, adapts and implements low-cost farming solutions that help small farmers increase yield and predictability of produce. They combine these technologies with end-to-end support to give farmers a seamless path towards income increase. Kheyti has developed a “Greenhouse-in-a-box” – an affordable, modular greenhouse bundled with full stack services that uses 90% less water, grows 7 times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income.

Sidekick: Sidekick is a digital assistant that makes it easy for high school teachers to turn current company problems into engaging in class projects their students will love and learn from. Sidekick is currently a Resident Team of The Garage.

Spring Slam: Spring Slam brings its signature basketball tournament and outreach efforts to college campuses across the country with the mission of fighting cancer while bringing communities together through sport. Spring Slam is currently a Resident Team of The Garage.

Tiltas: Tiltas is a web-based platform aimed at easing the re-entry process for returning citizens and reducing recidivism. Tiltas has a two staged proposal to reach this goal. First, Tiltas serves as a social network and online resource for returning citizens. Second, Tiltas connects returning citizens with employment opportunities. Tiltas is currently a Resident Team of The Garage.


Transportation and Mobility

EaseDrive: EaseDrive is committed to empowering a new way to use the car by providing to the drivers the opportunity to enhance their health while driving.

Intelligent Flying Machines, Inc.: IFM is a Data Analytics Company that uses Machine Learning, Computer Vision, and Robotics to automate indoor data capture. With corporate partners such as BMW, NVIDIA, SAP, Honeywell, and Here, as well as customers spanning the leaders of automotive manufacturing and logistics providers, IFM uses its technology to improve the operational efficiency of enterprises and unleash productivity in the workforce. IFM is currently a Resident Team of The Garage.

SHURPA: SHURPA solves the last mile of parcel delivery by serving ecommerce partners from order to delivery. SHURPA targets small, medium, and large online retailers that sell tangible goods, with an estimated total addressable market of nearly $6 billion.

TravDel LLC: A shipping company that uses travelers to deliver products. With 15 million people taking international flights every day, people can beat Fedex with both speed and price offering a cheaper way to ship and an opportunity for travelers to make money.


Currently, these 25 teams are working hard in the Semifinalist Pitch Prep Program. Want to see how it all goes down at the finals? 


AI is Not Eating the World (Yet)

Ray Kurzweil has a fun chart in his book How to Create a Mind; It’s a typical exponential-growth looking chart with various labels on it for types of “minds” – insect, mouse, human and then eventually, all humans. A colleague of mine and I routinely poke fun at this when deploying a machine learning, asking ourselves, “Have we reached insect status yet?”, which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

Artificial Intelligence is slowly iterating its way up Kurzweil’s exponential curve but given all the tech hype around it, you would think we’re only a few years away from reaching the pinnacle: full human cognition. There have been tremendous improvements in some AI algorithms, particularly reinforcement learning and expert systems. We’re barely to specialized insect level and perhaps many decades or longer away from full human, but from reading the tech press, you wouldn’t think so.

Take this claim from a recent TechCrunch article:

It now appears that we will be able to achieve Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) sometime around 2025. Technology is clearly expanding at a faster and faster pace, and, by many accounts, most of us will be caught off guard.

They also cite that AI’s have been beating humans for some time—remember Deep Blue? Remember Watson?

Or, take this recent Wall Street Journal op-ed on Universal Basic Income:

…it [the list of ______] also includes millions of white-collar jobs formerly thought to be safe. For decades, progress in artificial intelligence lagged behind the hype. In the past few years, AI has come of age.

The journalist cites Google’s Go-playing AI as example that we’ve “come of age.” but the technical leap to go from a Go-playing AI to say, an AI that could construct a building or even solve simple math equations is tremendous. These are specialized AI algorithms designed to solve a specific problem and are not yet easily extensible to other problems.

So if we can’t take Watson or the Go-playing AI and extend it to solving human cognition-like problems, what kinds of problems are we solving? One way to answer this is to look at the tools various big tech companies are using and in some cases, open sourcing.

  • Alphabet – Tensorflow – A dynamic platform for building and training all sorts of models, particularly optimized for GPU intensive tasks such as neural networks. They’ve also built some customized hardware.
  • Facebook – FBLearner Flow – An internal tool for engineers to plug in datasets, train models and deploy them into production for specific workflows. Additionally, their AI Research team has been open-sourcing packages related to speech processing and image recognition.
  • Microsoft – Cosmos – Almost identical to FBLearner Flow, though Microsoft created Cosmos before FBLearner Flow. Engineers can plug in datasets and pick models to build and deploy AI.
  • Amazon – Machine Learning – Essentially fblearner flow/cosmos for the general public. Amazon is working on integrating it with iot, and I expect more developments on this product in the near future.
  • Tesla – Highly optimized AI models — Part of the “Master Plan” to create a self-driving car 10x safer than manual via “fleet learning.” In other words, Tesla is collecting massive data and using it to build highly optimized AI models.

What do these all have in common? They’re all tools for humans by humans to automate domain-specific workflows (driving a car, identifying a fraudulent transaction, converting speech to text, etc.) We need, at least for the foreseeable future, engineers and domain experts to make this all work.

In a space where AI is domain specific and tailored to simple repetitive workflows, who has the advantage?

  • Big Tech companies that already have the machine learning workflow technology and can extend to more general cases. See above list.
  • Cloud Tech companies who can build and support the layers required for this to work. I wouldn’t be surprised to see AWS drop some big products in this space before November.
  • Consultants who automate workers by implementing some form of Machine Learning. This isn’t all that different from what has already been going on for the last 40 years—consulting firms have long sought to automate expensive workflows for big clients (remember the movie Office Space?) This is just another tool in their arsenal, which includes things like offshoring, robotic automation, etc.

Unless there is a serious breakthrough in the algorithms for generalized artificial intelligence or we find a way to extend the tools out of domain specific fields, I don’t yet see a world where AI can surpass the insect.


Tom Hayden was an engineer on the fraud team at Facebook, and built out the data infrastructure at GrubHub. Tom holds a BA in Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media from Michigan State University, and a Master’s of Science in Information, Incentive Centered Design from the University of Michigan. He was also an NU graduate student in theoretical computer science. Tom currently serves at an EIR at The Garage at Northwestern. 

IFM Wins $45k at Pitch Competitions

Time and time again, alumni of Northwestern and former student entrepreneurs have visited The Garage for Family Dinners and shared this advice  with our Resident Teams: take advantage of the multitude of resources available to student founders including access to pitch competitions around the country.

Just take it from recent Family Dinner guest speaker, Samir Mayekar, founder and current CEO at Sinode Systems. Samir is a Northwestern Kellogg School of Management alum (2013) and a true Wildcat. As a student at Northwestern, Samir won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition; raised over $1M, and reminded our own students that there’s even more money out there.

So, last week, The Garage was excited to keep track of Resident Team Intelligent Flying Machines (IFM) as they made the rounds at two recent pitch competitions. IFM is a Data Analytics Company using Machine Learning, Computer Vision, and Robotics to automate indoor data capture. 

Founder and CEO of IFM, Marc Gyongyosi took his team on the road and raked in some serious cash at two competitions, just one week apart!

First, the team headed to Houston, TX for the famed Rice Business Plan Competition taking place April 6-8, known as the “richest student startup competition” where more than $1.5M in prizes are distributed. Marc competed alongside 41 other student founded ventures (including fellow Northwestern founded startup Lilac Solutions), and pitched to make it past the semi-finals cut.

Even though IFM didn’t make the finals of RBPC, they didn’t walk away empty handed. IFM were fourth place of the semi-final round, flight 1, and took home the Rice Brown School of Engineering Tech Innovation prize of $25k! Want to see how the rest of the prizes were distributed? Check out the list of winners here.

Just one week later, on April 13, Marc and Team IFM were off to the University of Oregon New Venture Championship (NVC)! Marc pitched along with 15 other teams. Check out Marc’s, and the other semi-finalists’ pitches on the NVC website.

Sushobhan Ghosh, IFM Team Member; Marc Gyongyosi, Founder and CEO

Team IFM walked away from NVM with first place overall and $20k! Not to mention a giant trophy!

IFM is just one of 60 Resident Teams incubating at The Garage at Northwestern, and one of our favorite things is watching our teams develop that entrepreneurial grit necessary to compete with the best of them. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to stay up to date with all of our teams!


Heating Up for #WinterWildfire2017

Winter Wildfire Demo Day is coming to The Garage, and we couldn’t be more excited. Five student teams are heating up and rehearsing their pitches after participating in the Winter edition of ENTREP 395, combined with The Garage’s Wildfire Pre-Accelerator Program. Want to learn more about what Wildfire is all about? Click here for an article featured in Northwestern Now.

For the first time ever, Wildfire was offered in conjunction with the Radical Entrepreneurship course for credit. Five teams participated in the course, and worked to develop as both leaders and founders by being introduced to new ways of thinking and problem-solving. Student-founded startups are offered mentorship, coaching, and additional resources and funding to catapult them to the next stage of their venture.

Wildfire culminates at the end of the program with Demo Day: a Shark Tank style experience in which all the participating teams present their pitch and compete for a pool of cash prizes, sponsored by Exelon. This year, students are competing for a prize pool of $10,000!

This year, we’ve invited an elite panel of judges to the table to hear five pitches including tech industry vets and one of The Garage’s own Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Be sure to head to our event page to get the details on who will be handing out $10k!

Five teams have been working hard all quarter. There were 15 applications for just five spots. Each team was assigned a growth coach throughout the Winter quarter, and were supported by students from the Legal Design Institute EDI program. Let’s get to know each team a little better.

Zcruit optimizes the college football recruiting process through predictive analytics, saving college football programs time and improving the quality of recruiting classes.

HearYe: Plan less, do more. HearYe is a mobile application that’s designed to organize casual group outings in an efficient way by allowing users to create, share, and communicate outing details on a central platform.

VertigōMetric Dx has developed a retinal-imaging medical device that rapidly helps an ER physician differentiate between a diagnosis of a non-life threatening issue and brainstorm stroke. Diagnosing this issue quickly will lead to tremendously better health outcomes for the patient while saving hospitals nearly a billion dollars annually. VertigoMetric Dx is led by an accomplished physician, a bioengineer, and a Kellogg MBA student.


HotPlate is an app designed to help you decide what to order at restaurants. Users can rate individual menu items, so that it is quick and easy to see the best dishes. HotPlate also allows users to see friends’ ratings, search by specific dish item, and receive tailored recommendations.

NewMoon Chicago provides Spectacle Services that pair performance art, mechanical contraptions, and the fundamental elements of an event —from serving food to musical performance— to create new elements that redefine ultra-premium, cutting-edge aesthetics and transform perceptions. From Drones flying guests appetizers to Aerialists pouring champagne, NewMoon provides the fantastical experience guests are seeking and creates memories they never forget.

Want to get in on the excitement of Wildfire? There’s still time to RSVP here!

Be sure to follow TheGarageNU on Snapchat for a peek behind the scenes of the event, head to our Twitter where we will be live tweeting during pitches, and check out our Facebook page for the Demo Day results!  

Family Dinner: Oliver Leopold

Each week at Family Dinner, we’re excited to welcome an accomplished entrepreneur to share their founder story and tidbits of wisdom with our Resident students. And this week, we had an extra special guest stop by (with his parents). Oliver Leopold, local “kid entrepreneur” of Evanston, is just 14 years old but packs the punch of an entrepreneur with some serious experience.

Oliver’s journey started at just 10 years old, when he became interested in investing but had trouble finding easy to understand resources on the subject, and was interested in investing his weekly $10 allowance. So (naturally), he penned his own online newsletter titled, “The Investment Times.” At just 10 years old, Oliver was soaking up knowledge from his grandfather and former Bank of America Corp. private banker, Tom Leopold and even attended investment conferences. Oliver’s newsletter was picked up by the Wall Street Journal! Oliver, who is incredibly self-driven, shared with The Garage Residents that he authored about 6 or 7 issues of his newsletter before moving on to his next project.

Oliver described one of his first entrepreneurial ventures very simply: with gum. Gum was popular at school, and often traded or even bought between students. Oliver realized he could buy larger packs of gum online, sell them at a lower cost than they were already available at, and make a profit. What’s more? He applied the same idea to a small spinner toy. Oliver knew it was being marked up so much, that he could make his own, sell them for less, and still make some extra cash.

Oliver has coded a few of his own apps that made it to the App Store, including “How Rich?” which analyzed and compared salary data from around the world.

Aside from some apps, Oliver’s most recent and popular project is his YouTube channel, which has garnered more than 5,300 subscribers. Oliver is most often reviewing products sent to him by companies, where he can earn as much as $100 per review. Oliver has even shared his YouTube wisdom and wrote The YouTuber’s Handbook, available on Amazon, which has generated some real revenue for Oliver.

Most importantly, despite his young age, Oliver was able to share some useful entrepreneurial advice with our students, like doing what you really love and loving what you do. He even shared his love of cockatoos, some challenges associated with wanting to run a business at 14 years old, and where he thinks he’ll be in ten years. What’s next in Oliver’s journey? An app to make neighborhood babysitting simpler for both sitters and parents.

Business Credit for College Students: How to Find the Card & Successfully Fund Your Startup

As great as it is to have an idea for a new company, it’s never quite as easy to figure out how to initially fund that business, especially if it won’t immediately return a profit. That goes double if you’re still in school or have student loans to repay.

The truth is, the average graduate from the class of 2016 had $37,172 in student loan debt, which is about 6% more than what the average class of 2015 graduate had. That can be a serious hurdle to overcome, especially for those trying to turn start-up dreams into entrepreneurial realities.

“Many college students have already put themselves deep in debt to cover the opportunity cost of higher education,” Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, said. “Students who are wishing to start a business under those circumstances should take a step back and examine the reality of launching a startup, and how that might influence their ability to manage their financial obligations.”

So, whether these include student loans, a cell phone bill, rent, car loan or anything else, it’s important to make a list and a strategy to keep them under control while you focus on your career goals.

Once that’s all in order, you can begin thinking about where you’ll get the funds for your startup. Don’t have a backer? Perhaps a new credit card is the way to go.

“A startup may need to rely on the founder’s personal credit initially — although they should work toward separating personal and business finances (and credit) as soon as possible,” Thomas Nitzsche, media relations manager for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, said. (More on this in a minute.)

Got It. Now, How Do I Choose the Right Credit Card?

There are a lot of credit cards out there for you to pick from. But finding the right plastic for your wallet comes down to more than simply choosing an issuer. Here are three major things to consider as you narrow down your options.

  1. Eligibility: Find out what cards you qualify for based on your credit scores.
  1. Compare Interest Rates: “Interest rates on credit cards are higher than other forms of financing for your business, so review all offers carefully to ensure that you are selecting the most affordable deal if you do decide to open an account,” McClary advised.
  1. Consider Fees: These can include everything from annual fees to balance transfer fees, so make sure to factor those into your budget, if applicable.

Ultimately, you will know what your needs are better than anyone, and chances are, there is a card out there that can meet most (if not all) of them.

Of Course, There Are Risks Involved

Remember earlier when we mentioned that it is wise to get your personal and business credit separate once you can? Here’s why: “If the company fails, the debt cannot be written off as easily as it would if it were in the name of the business,” McClary said. In other words, if your business goes down and you haven’t set it up as a limited liability corporation or other type of entity, you’ll go right down with it.

McClary also noted that “credit cards should only be used for short-term needs, not for ongoing business expenses like utility bills and employee salaries” as this isn’t sustainable and can lead you toward a land of extreme debt.

And Once Your Business Is Up & Running …

You don’t have to say goodbye to credit cards, as they’ll likely be a helpful tool as you continue to grow your business. “Cards that offer rewards points or cash back on purchases are appealing, especially when there is travel involved in the operation of the business,” McClary said. But you’ll want to make sure you’re using them responsibly and stay consistent about paying your statements on time.

“Paying on time, keeping balances low in relation to credit limits and avoiding too many open lines of credit are some of the things business credit card users should do to avoid financial setbacks,” McClary said.

These are some of the finer details that come along with starting a business, but don’t let them stand in your way of accomplishing your goal. After all, no one thought Northwestern’s Wildcats would make it to the Big Dance, but this team sure proved them wrong, not only making it but landing their first ever NCAA victory.


Brooke Niemeyer is the Deputy Managing Editor — Syndication for She writes about a variety of personal finance topics, with work featured on CBS, TIME, The Huffington Post, MSN, FOX Business, and others. She has a Master’s degree in Journalism from New York University and was a reporter for NBC before joining the team. You can follow her @RNYBrooke.

Learning Through Challenges: NoteShark

I was the Marketing Director for NoteShark, a student-run venture in The Garage at Northwestern, in addition to being a junior studying Spanish and Marketing. NoteShark was Northwestern’s online marketplace where students could buy and sell notes for their classes. Co-Founders, Wyatt Cook, Derrick Lee, and I had wanted to make Northwestern a more collaborative environment by sharing materials for classes. We used money as an incentive for students to share their note-taking skills with other students who either missed a class or wanted to supplement their own notes. Students who submitted their notes would make 50% of the proceeds of any sale of their notes. The pricing model was based on content and page loads, and the minimum cost was $3.00. Overall, we thought that our project would revolutionize learning on campus. So many students, like myself, took notes and then stored them in the depths of their drawers or, more likely, simply threw them away. With NoteShark, however, students could be paid while going to class. We were sophomores excited about our idea and expecting success. But, a year later, we suspended our operations.

We faced many challenges, some of which we couldn’t overcome, and we ultimately failed to turn our project into a profit. One of the biggest challenges we faced as a company was not actively communicating the legality of our company and our company’s goal to the Northwestern faculty. Before launching, we underestimated the backlash we would receive from professors, who didn’t want classroom notes to be traded in a marketplace. Our marketing campaign was directed at the student body, rather than all of Northwestern; therefore, we missed an opportunity to control the narrative with an important constituency. Before launching, we should have consulted with a more diverse group of faculty, from a range of departments.

Additionally, our website stated in big letters “stop wasting time on verbose readings,” encouraging students to use our study guides rather than complete the readings for the class. At the time, I thought this was a good idea because it would catch the attention of the student body–which turned out to be true. Within the first 24 hours of launching our website, over 40 students created accounts on NoteShark. At the same time, we were still uploading notes onto the website ourselves, so while we didn’t generate many sales that first day, it was an encouraging start. During the first week of our launch, I was interviewed by the publication North by Northwestern and The Daily Northwestern to talk more about NoteShark and our goals. We were creating a buzz on campus, and Derek, Wyatt and I were very confident that NoteShark would be a success.

However, while everything was going smoothly from the perspective of our targeted market (the student body), the Northwestern faculty began actively opposing our project. After our launch, I received e-mails from professors, asking that we remove their notes from our website. The faculty claimed that our website was violating intellectual property rights. Even though IP attorneys that we consulted with concluded that our site did not, in fact, violate IP laws, the backlash continued, which I found to be a distraction and very frustrating. We were forced to remove notes from our website, since we had not yet incorporated, which was a momentum killer at a critical juncture of our growth. After an attempted pivot to more of a textbook-note model, we decided to shut down operations in December 2016.

Even though we failed as a business, my year in The Garage was still an incredible experience. In fact, at The Garage, failures are embraced alongside success. That was the most impactful lesson I learned from The Garage. Every week, Melissa Kaufman (The Garage’s Executive Director) hosts Family Dinner where we held a discussion about the week’s successes and failures. And while the successes were sweet, we paid more attention to our failures. It was difficult to admit to failure in a room filled with other entrepreneurs. Melissa would give out party poppers to celebrate our failures, teaching us not to be afraid of failure, but rather to embrace it and learn from it. I nervously announced two failures while I was a Resident. However, rather than feeling ashamed and embarrassed of my failures, I moved on and learned from them, after popping the requisite bottle of confetti. These lessons proved to be impactful when it came to interviews for summer internships. In fact, my final interview question for my application for a summer internship at IBM was: “What has been your biggest failure, and what have you learned from it?” Rather than talking about doing poorly in a class or avoiding the idea of failing, I talked about NoteShark and our failures as a company. After my response, I was given a verbal offer for the job. Learning how to accept my failures was one of the most impactful lessons I learned from The Garage.

Not only did Elisa Mitchell, Billy Banks, and Melissa teach me how to embrace my failures, but they taught me how to properly communicate our product. I believe that this was the most impactful skill I learned from The Garage. Pitching and communication are essential because everyone is constantly “selling” to those around them, be it arguing a thesis for a paper or during a job interview. We live in a world where our social interactions involve marketing products, ideas, and people, oftentimes ourselves. With the help of The Garage, I have been able to learn this skill and master it. It has proven to be handy, not only during my time as a Resident, but also when I was interviewing internships.

Though our company did not succeed, NoteShark was a life-changing experience for me. While I am not a Resident anymore, I am still involved in the Northwestern community through my work for Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) and I’m an extended family member of The Garage. I recently accepted a position at IBM as a Client Relationship Representative Intern for Summer 2017. I am excited about this opportunity and the chance to learn more about marketing and sales in the technology field. Upon graduation in 2018, I don’t know what my future will hold, but I feel so prepared for whatever I end up doing after my experience with NoteShark and The Garage.

Launching @ Northwestern: Optimail

While the transition from academia to industry is always fraught with uncertainty and unique challenges, two recent graduates from Northwestern’s Psychology department have discovered that the demands and toolset of entrepreneurship closely parallel those of their Ph.D. training. Since completing their Ph.D.’s, Brock Ferguson (Northwestern ‘16) and Jacob Zweig (Northwestern ‘17) have gone on to form two new ventures in the industry: a data science consulting and development firm, Strong Analytics, and a product that uses AI to make email marketing campaigns more effective, Optimail.

Co-Founders of Optimail; Brock Ferguson (’16) & Jacob Zweig (’17)

The team’s interest in data science was fostered at Northwestern. They first collaborated on a data science project when competing in a Datathon hosted by the Computational Social Science Summit at the Kellogg School of Management. Applying the experimental and statistical techniques they used extensively in their graduate work, they won second place and unlocked an excitement for data science that would ultimately lead them to their two ventures.

Following this experience, they began to seek out new opportunities to hone their skills — from building a ride-sharing sharing optimization algorithm over coffee breaks in Food for Thought to competing in numerous Kaggle data competitions and meeting weekly to discuss the newest machine learning papers. Brock Ferguson also jumped at the opportunity to develop his business skills with a Certificate in Management for Scientists and Engineers at Kellogg.

Since first launching Strong Analytics, the team has enjoyed the challenges of translating their academic training into valuable business offerings. “We had a ton of fun applying what we’ve learned through a different, more applied lens,” says Brock. “When we began to see potential for this to turn into something, it was an easy next step to start a business doing this for other people!”

Moreover, their excitement around learning about new problems and about the statistical tools used to address them have only grown in industry. “Consulting in different industries and with different organizations means you’re always learning something new. It’s challenging but, at the same time, it can be just as energizing as learning in a more academic setting.” This excitement about new ideas has led the team to build a new product based on a recurring problem their clients were experiencing.

They noticed that many of their customers weren’t getting the most out of their email marketing campaigns, and decided to build a solution for the problem. Their solution, Optimail, uses artificial intelligence to automatically adapt and personalize email campaigns based on a customer’s behavior and preferences. It learns what and when to message clients based on what they’re likely to respond to. Optimail was just launched in February 2017 and Brock says they’re continually working to learn from their customers and improve the platform.

“It’s been a really rewarding and challenging experience,” says Jacob. “Doing a Ph.D. requires the ability to be self-motivated and to learn at a really rapid pace. Building a business requires so many of the same skills – I can’t think of another training program that would have prepared me better!”

Team Spotlight: Unruled.

Classes and universities are devoted to teaching and fostering creative growth. While some people enjoy some structure in their learning, others need a blank canvas to connect ideas in whichever way they see best. When the Unruled. team met in ENTREP 225: Principles of Entrepreneurship, and had to develop a business idea, their course project grew out of a personal need.

As Bennett Hensey, a McCormick sophomore, puts it, “Students use note taking to understand the material they learned in class, but when I came to Northwestern I realized that there’s a huge problem with my note taking experience and that’s because I don’t think in lines. When I think and take notes, I take complex ideas and I break them apart, play around with them on the page. Lines were just limiting. Notebooks are a tool I use everyday that go against the way I think.”

“So I had this idea to take the fundamental note taking tool, the spiral notebook, and remove the lines, which were distracting. Talking to other people, I realized that there’s a relatively large segment of the population that feels the same way. And now we’re at The Garage, we’re at the edge of a Kickstarter, we have samples, and we’re talking to manufacturers. Things are going really well.”

The Unruled. team demonstrates what it takes to transform a class project into a full-time entrepreneurial venture. Want to support the Unruled. Team? Head to their Kickstarter campaign!

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do users care about your product or service? What makes people so interested in it?

Bennett: “There’s a lot of people who think visually, that don’t have an outlet for that. Whether you’re the physics student who staples together online notepaper, or you use a small journal to take notes, or if you use a large sketchbook. Just by reaching out to friends, I realized that there was a large amount of people who said, ‘Yeah this is a problem, but I settle.’ ”

Jacob: “We’ve also seen a large problem in the stationary space as a whole, being that people won’t even buy paper products anymore because of the environmental impact. We see that as a big problem because digital options aren’t perfect; people like having physical pen on paper. We’re trying to alleviate the pain of environmental impact, while still providing this physical product, so we partnered with One Tree Planted. Every time anyone buys a pack of our notebooks, which we’re going to be selling in packs of 3, we’re going to donate to this company who’s going to plant a tree in South or Central America for us. This is something we’re going to be continuingly trying to further in our product, so we’re going to be reaching out to manufacturers see if we can get recycled products or organic products. Just whatever we can do to alleviate that distraction from the buying experience. People who take their note taking seriously and the way they think seriously, usually take their everyday things very seriously. So we’re trying to bring those together and give people a product that they can be proud of.”

What is your motivation?

Bennett: “It started as a personal problem, but it’s turned into wanting to help the people around us. We see people with a need and we think that we have the ability to alleviate that need.”

Ellen: “We’ve been getting feedback from people in our class asking when they can get these, that they want one now. So that’s been motivation to get the product down and get it in their hands.”

Cristina: “I think that’s especially true for Ellen and me because we never really had that pain point; both of us take very structured notes so lined paper works for us. So seeing their pain point kind of started that motivation, but then seeing other people, seeing them come up to you and say, ‘That’s such a cool product!’ is really motivating at this point of the project.”

Jacob: “I think moving forward our goal is hopefully designing other products that fulfill similar needs and that fit into people’s lives in a way that they don’t have to think about what they’re using. Instead, they have the complete freedom to unleash their thoughts, unleash their creativity, and not be distracted by what allows them to get it down on paper.”

What is your biggest failure so far? And what have you learned from it?

Jacob: “That it is not easy, there are a lot of steps involved. I know one that that’s been kind of hard for us to figure out is logistics: ordering from the manufacturer, shipping from the manufacturer, fulfilling. That’s something that none of us really wants as our primary task because we’re all really invested in other parts of the project, but that’s something that needs to get done in order to actually ship our product. It’s been hard to work all of these tasks into our roles, especially coming from the classroom where we’re all working together. Now we don’t have that structure in our lives, so we have to figure out ourselves how we delegate the different work so we can run efficiently.”

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

Bennett: “I think for me it’s been that there’s only one-third of the population that is even remotely interested in our idea. So two-thirds of people that we talk to will probably come in with a negative idea and try to shoot us down. Since this is a really simple idea, it’s amazing to a lot of people that it hasn’t been done before, it’s amazing to even me. Just having the confidence that you do know your idea inside and out, being humble and listening to people and their concerns, but also trusting your intuition, trusting the people you’ve talked to and realizing I only need to reach a tiny fraction of these people. So the people that support you need to mean a lot more to you than the people that were really never on board.”

What do you think are your biggest barriers?

Jacob: “I think it’s what I said before: there’s just so much to do right now and it’s hard for us to figure out what needs to be done and who needs to be doing what in order to maximize our efforts, which we’ve figured out recently. But for the first two weeks of this quarter, we felt like we were doing nothing, even though we were meeting around four times a week, just trying to figure out who we are, what we do and how we operate outside of the classroom. When we were in the classroom, we thought we were treating it like a real project and we definitely were a lot more than the other groups in the class. But we realized that there’s a lot of things to do that we didn’t consider. So it’s been a lot of talking to other teams, other founders, talking to Melissa (Executive Director of The Garage), and people in The Garage to figure out how other teams do this and realize that other teams go through this.”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Jacob: “A big one for me is Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia because he set out to do something he loves. He didn’t try to make a business or this huge outdoor apparel company. He just wanted to make better clothes for climbing because he wanted to climb better. If you listen to him talk, he still talks about fly fishing, rock climbing, and taking months off at a time to go out and do what he loves, even though he owns this huge multimillion dollar business. I really admire that because that’s what draws me to entrepreneurship; that you can follow a passion of yours and make it into something that other people can get on board with, as well.”

Bennett: “It’s probably pretty cliché but Elon Musk is pretty amazing; my reason for that is that I like having an idea, realizing it’s feasible and then doing it.”

Ellen: “I really like the founder of Under Armour, Kevin Plank. I like him because he was really scrappy and started it with a few pieces of clothing in his mom’s basement. Then, he was able to develop all this fabric technology on his own without any structure and create this huge company out of it.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Jacob: “It’s great having an office space to meet in. It’s definitely a lot better than meeting at Panera every Sunday, so that’s helped us a lot. Also I feel like my circle of entrepreneurs has grown so much since being here. Just being around other people who are likeminded and doing similar things has really helped by showing us what we’re capable of and how we can do things the same or do things differently from other groups.”

Christina: “The mentorship has been very helpful for us going through this process. It’s really nice to talk to Melissa and hear her ideas; she’s so willing to help us with our project. It’s a very supportive nature and I appreciate that.”

Bennett: “Definitely the support. Also, we only work on our business when we’re here so it is an office for us. It’s like a trigger and it makes us take it very seriously.”

Unruled. recently launched their Kickstarter campaign! Head to their website for updates and to support the team.