Family Dinner: Andy Friedman of SkinnyPop

What’s one of the best parts about being a Resident at The Garage at Northwestern? Well, besides the access to resources, mentorship, and The Garage’s network, the answer is easy. Students at The Garage love the free snacks. To help bring some Silicon Valley vibes, we offer Residents access to free snacks, all day, every day. And, one of the most loved snacks is SkinnyPop Popcorn. So when SkinnyPop Co-Founder Andy Friedman stopped by Family Dinner last week to share his own founder story, we couldn’t have been more excited to meet the man behind our favorite snack. 

The SkinnyPop story starts with Wells Street Popcorn, which still has three locations in Chicago. Interested in hopping on the healthy snack train, Andy and his Co-Founder, Pam Netzky, began experimenting with healthy for you oils, seasonings, and kernels before landing on some popcorn magic. In the early days of SkinnyPop Popcorn, Andy and Pam were popping the popcorn themselves, sealing up and selling 25,000 bags in their first go in specialty stores right out of their cars. Andy demonstrates the true meaning of bootstrapping, recounting his memories of sharing an office with his Co-Founder, working nearly 24 hours per day before finally hiring a sales team.

Today, at five years old, SkinnyPop has taken over the one billion dollar ready-to-eat popcorn category, with just three ingredients. Now a part of the Amplify Snack Brands family, sales of SkinnyPop have grown 300% in the past two years, propelling to number four in the popcorn market. Hear more of Andy’s story to our students below.

Interested in getting in on the free snacks at The Garage?

Join us for a special event or learn more about The Garage’s Residency Program.

Family Dinner: Jennifer Fried

Jennifer Fried’s (NU, ’10) journey, like many entrepreneurs, was a winding one. After recently receiving her MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, she started her career as a venture capitalist and most recently served as the Vice President of a healthcare venture capital fund. Unsure if her own big idea would ever gain any traction, she continued to nurture it part time before making the plunge into being the CEO of her company, ExplOrer Surgical.

ExplOrer Surgical offers the operating room a revolutionary platform reducing disruptions and improving communications among staff, resulting in optimal teamwork, high performance, and increased efficiency.

Jennifer shared some tidbits of wisdom with The Garage Residents when she stopped by for our weekly family dinner. She described the hardships of potential clients turning her down when trying to make a sale and the process of moving on to the next one. She also recounted the struggles of assembling the perfect team after discovering she couldn’t do it all herself. Sometimes, you have to seek someone who is better at something than you are to get your idea off the ground. Jennifer also challenged students to take advantage of the many resources available in a university setting.

See a snippet of Jennifer’s talk below.

Family Dinner: Samir Mayekar

The Garage is back in full swing for the Winter 2017 quarter, bustling with Northwestern student entrepreneurs, flying drones, new prototypes, and exciting builds. To get the quarter going for returning Garage Residents, and to usher in more than 20 new Resident Teams, students were welcomed back with the first weekly Family Dinner and special guest speaker, Samir Mayekar.

Samir is a Northwestern Kellogg School of Management alum (2013) and a true Wildcat. As a student at Northwestern, Samir won the Rice Business Plan competition and raised over $1M. Prior to founding Sinode Systems, where he is the current CEO, he served in the Obama Administration at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the White House. Samir is also the President of the Northwestern Alumni Association and met his wife at Northwestern.

Samir shared candid stories of his time as a student founder alongside five important lessons he learned along the way.

  1. Never give up. He learned this after winning the Rice Business Plan Competition. Entrepreneurship is relentless, and takes grit and giving up is not an option. He encouraged student founders to take advantage of pitch competitions and to travel all over and always give them a shot, no matter how small or big the prize.
  2. Pivot if you need to. Samir learned that providing what a customer wants is crucial, and if it means being flexible, so be it.
  3. Widen your market. Samir attributed some of his success to penetrating international markets through local contacts, and encouraged students to avoid being US-centric.
  4. Use the alumni database. As a student at Northwestern, students have leverage and a network at their disposal.
  5. Know your competitive landscape and own it. Samir described calling his competitors himself to find out what they did right, what they did wrong, and gain any insight into the market from anyone who would talk to him.

Samir engaged with the Residents by not only sharing his successes, but also his struggles, and recommended students check out The Struggle According to Ben Horowitz. Check out part of Samir’s talk below. 

“The Struggle is where we turn adversity into opportunity.”

Family Dinner: PartySlate

Julie Novack, CEO and Co-founder of PartySlate, stopped by The Garage weekly Family Dinner to share her insights into the world of digital startups. PartySlate launched in 2015, and offers party hosts of all kinds new and fun ideas and access to top local event professionals who want to share their visions with the world. Unlike other inspiration platforms, PartySlate is designed specifically to give event professionals a better way to showcase their work, build their brand, and collaborate with their clients.

Julie also shared a few key points with the group, including the importance of building valuable relationships in-person (vs. over the phone or e-mail) and how it has helped her raise more capital. Julie also shared her biggest challenge now is staying focused on her vision for PartySlate and not becoming sidetracked or or distracted from her ultimate goal. She recommended a “test and learn” method to get things right and to better understand market size.

Family Dinner: Triggr Health

On Tuesday, November 8, The Garage welcomed John Haskell, Co-founder of Triggr Health: a platform that utilizes passive mobile monitoring technology alongside combined data analytics and machine learning to predictively intervene when a recovering addict is at risk of relapse. John lead a dynamic discussion in which he described his own personal inspiration for creating Triggr Health, and focused on the great importance of an entrepreneur’s connection with the problem they aim to solve with their idea.

John detailed a point in his startup journey when he was presented with an important decision – to shift direction and change Triggr’s focus to a different problem, with the possibility of a great increase in profit, or to remain committed to solving the problem he is most passionate about: preventing and predicting relapses among addicts. John remained committed to Triggr Health’s original mission, and reminded students that if you don’t care about the problem, your company will eventually lose focus or fall apart.

To learn more about John and Triggr Health, click here.

A Night for Women at The Garage: She Started It

On Thursday, November 3, 2016, The Garage, alongside Northwestern Women in Business and Chime by Sittercity, welcomed the minds behind a new documentary, “She Started It,” for a special screening of the film, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director and producer, Nora Poggi, co-director and producer Insiyah Saeed, and Sheena Allen, an entrepreneur featured in the film.

More than 120 attendees, many of whom were women with a passion for entrepreneurship, joined us to follow the story of five young women as they pitch VCs, build teams, bring products to market, fail and start again in “She Started It.”

Today, 96 percent of venture capitalists are men; women still account for less than 10 percent of founders for high growth firms, and earn just 12.9 percent of computer science degrees. “She Started It” invited us to take a glimpse into this sometimes challenging world, but at The Garage, with a room full of women interested in this space, there is inspiration for the next generation to dream bigger.

At The Garage, we strive to build a community of diversity and support, and aim to energize women in tech and entrepreneurship to think bigger and to get involved in the startup world with the guidance, mentorship, and resources provided here. Now more than ever, we invite women involved in entrepreneurship and innovation to join us at The Garage.


Family Dinner: Creating Community

The Garage is home to up to 60 student-founded startups per quarter, with Resident Teams working diligently to innovate and break ground on their big ideas–but sometimes, the sense of comradery and community can be dampened by lengthy strategic brainstorming sessions or total immersion into a project. That’s why this week’s Family Dinner included a social activity, encouraging The Garage’s Resident Teams to intermingle with one another, share ideas, and be reminded that everyone at The Garage shares the same passion for entrepreneurship.

At last week’s Family Dinner, guest speaker Andy Mack, founder and CEO of SnapMobile, encouraged students at The Garage to collaborate and share ideas, rather than be protective or secretive and emphasized the importance of teamwork. During this week’s social activity, “Lost at Sea,” students were asked to prioritize 15 survival items in order of importance as an individual and again within a randomly selected team, demonstrating the value of working together while spotlighting group dynamics.

Family Dinner Speaker: Andy Mack, Founder & CEO, SnapMobile

Andy Mack has been exposed to the world of technology for his entire career. First working as an account executive for trade show programs at fortune 500 companies, he developed sales and marketing strategies and new technology initiatives. He later developed mobile business solutions at a mobile innovation development firm, which is where his idea for SnapMobile struck. Andy realized that the processes and strategies this company was using could be optimized to better suit the business needs of many smaller companies. He created SnapMobile, a company that builds mobile apps in 4 weeks for a flat fee. Using his knowledge from his previous firm, he was able to create a new framework that standardized the app-making process for businesses with time and budget constraints.

While talking to students at Family Dinner on October 19th, he spoke passionately about the importance of collaboration, encouraging students to share ideas and not be secretive. This emphasis on teamwork has contributed to much of his success and has allowed him to build on ideas from previous jobs to create new companies and initiatives.

Family Dinner Speaker: Dan Wagner, Civis Analytics

Our family dinner guest this week was Dan Wagner, the CEO and Founder of Civis Analytics. Dan spoke to residents of The Garage about his experience as Chief Analytics Officer of the 2012 Obama campaign, and gave a brief presentation on his company and what they do. He’s been involved in the political sphere since the 2008 election, and his experience with campaign and voter analytics has provided the foundation and inspiration for Civis. He created his company in the spring of 2013 and has since paired with a variety of industries to provide analytical solutions to companies and nonprofits both large and small. At The Garage, he told residents the “real truth” about starting your own company, recognizing that it’s not as glorified as it may seem, laughing as he showed students a picture of his apartment that consisted of a barren mattress (which he described as “pathetic”). Dan shared his story to shed light on the reality of starting a new company, but nonetheless encouraged students to pursue their entrepreneurial ventures, because they could ultimately lead to something very rewarding.

Family Dinner Speaker: David Morton, DMK Restaurants

David Morton, co-owner of DMK Restaurants, started his first business venture at the age of 19 as a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He now owns multiple businesses and has started businesses in a variety of industries, including hospitality, real estate, music and finance. His DMK restaurants have been widely successful, perhaps the most popular being DMK Burger Bar. He and his wife also own a residential and commercial design company, which stemmed from a personal interest in flipping houses. He spoke to residents of The Garage at Family Dinner on October 5th about his various businesses and how he came to be an entrepreneur. He also offered some advice for our aspiring entrepreneurs: “If you’re not super open to mistakes, accidents, failure, then you’re missing all of the potential you have to offer.”