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.

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!

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.

Summer Wildfire 2017: Eden

Today, there are a lot of great ways to listen to music, which include the most prominent services like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and SoundCloud. Each service offers a slightly different approach for listening to music and targets a slightly different audience. Some services are great for discovering new artists or remixes while others provide a streamlined way to listen to any and all of the music you want to.  However, none of these services truly offer the communal environment with higher user-to-user engagement in order to fully experience the power of listening and sharing music with others.

Eden, a startup founded by Ian Pu, a student at the Kellogg School of Management, is a social music streaming, discovery and messaging platform. Ultimately, Eden aims to use analytics to identify and track influencers and quantify their commercial value to bands. The Garage sat down with Ian to learn more about his journey with Eden.

Founder of Eden: Ian Pu (Not pictured: Dmitry Leremenko)

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Ian: “So my startup is actually quite different from where it originally started. I’ve gone through a couple pivots, but at the very beginning it was basically a social music sharing platform where I wanted people to be able to listen to music together in real-time. I figured music was created for communities and I wanted to replicate the experience of being in the same car or in the same room with friends where people just have music on in the background.

I actually took an extended break before coming to Kellogg and one time I was watching short clips of workout videos and happened to stumble upon a video of The Rock. It was a Vine compilation of him lifting and being very serious as he looked directly at the camera and said things like ‘FOCUS!’ This happened multiple times throughout the video and I just remember feeling pretty hyped even though it was through a computer screen. I went to bed that night without thinking too much about it and the next day I woke up early and went to the gym. While I was there, I was thinking how cool it would be to be able to listen to The Rock’s playlist and have him giving me motivation and pumping me up. So that spawned this idea.

Initially this platform will start with a web app because it’s easier to build and is more accessible. In the long term, we will definitely expand to include a mobile app because mobile platforms are a huge place for people to consume media today. Also through Wildfire, I’ll be building a community for Eden on Slack.”

How did you choose the name Eden?

Ian: “Honestly, I thought that Eden was kind of a sexy name that had an edge to it. It also sounds innocent to those who know The Garden of Eden story. Also, it’s the very first company I have ever created. And according to the bible, Eden was the first thing created as well as the beginning of civilization which is something that’s pretty impactful for me because I want to build a new social network with this.”

What is your background and how has that helped you with your startup?

Ian: “I grew up in China, and lived there for 12 years before coming to the US for college. I went to Northwestern for undergrad as well and studied Econ and International Studies. After undergrad, I worked at the Zurich Insurance Group and did corporate strategy for them, specifically focusing on atypical types of insurance. I think there were two main things that made me want to become an entrepreneur. The first is my dad. He’s actually done quite well with his own venture, starting in the early 90’s in China with a textile and uniform manufacturing company. That has always given me inspiration to go out and do something on my own. Secondly, coming out of college, I thought that going corporate, having a steady pay, and security was something that I wanted. Although I really enjoyed my time at Zurich, I became really bored with that lifestyle really quickly. In addition, some of the management styles didn’t align with my personal beliefs so I wanted to create a culture that I really resonated with. And insurance is kind of a weird beast because it’s really high risk, even though it’s supposed to negate risk. You also don’t know the cost of what you’re selling until the claims come and you can identify the costs. These weren’t things that particularly interested me and financial services as a whole wasn’t something that interested me either. I have always been more interested in the customer and seeing how my efforts are impacting them.”

What has been your biggest failure so far and what have you learned from it?

Ian: “I think my biggest failure was actually how little attention and care I gave to my undergrad experience. I was actually a pretty terrible student and it’s a miracle that I’m at Kellogg now. I really had to do a lot of make-up work on the side during my time at Zurich to even be considered a candidate for Kellogg. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and that was really depressing and felt like I had no purpose or aim. I spent a lot of time playing basketball instead of studying or learning. So I think my biggest failure was really wasting away my four years of undergrad and not seizing the all the opportunities available.”

What is something you wish had known when you first started your company?

Ian: “A lot of principles are taught by Billy, The Garage, and Kellogg, like the design thinking principle. Essentially, don’t come in with a solution in mind. Instead, really get to know your customers, know them better than anyone else, and have a tight feedback group where you have constant dialogue to improve their experiences. I spent many hours in Kellogg designing and redesigning prototypes that I eventually scrapped because my idea pivoted or it was just way too complicated. It really has to be customer first.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Ian: “I’m actually not too sure yet because this will be my first experience at The Garage. I think it’s a really cool space and I always see a lot of people with many different talents hanging out and working there. I think there will be great feedback from both the mentors as well as other founders who are in the same boat as I am as we launch our startups.”

What do you hope to achieve during the Summer Wildfire Accelerator?

Ian: “My goal out of Wildfire is to not necessarily to build the product, but instead, build the community for Eden on Slack. I’m still trying to iron out our goals in terms of users and engagement levels. Ultimately, we are trying to develop a really engaged and interactive community. Another big thing I’m really interested in is the mentorship. Just to be paired with someone who I can continue a working-relationship to ping ideas back and forth will be amazing.”

Which entrepreneur(s) do you admire and why?

Ian: “Although a lot of people probably say this too; I really admire Elon Musk. You hear about all the risks he’s taking and the difficulties that he’s gone through but now, he owns billion dollar companies. Another guy I really admire is Chris Sacca who is an angel investor now. He’s had a crazy history in terms of blowing away his company and then coming right back. His story has really resonated with me and it has made a big impact on my life. Lastly, I really admire my dad as well because I get to ask him a lot of questions about how he got started early on and he’s always there for me.”

Join the Eden community on Slack to discover, listen, and share music! And stay up to date with Eden’s progress by following them on Instagram: and check out their website:

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

Summer Wildfire 2017: ShareVR

Only yesterday, virtual reality (VR) seemed like a far-off dream. But the field has grown exponentially over recent years, and it doesn’t seem like the momentum is slowing  anytime soon. VR is extremely popular for gamers as it gives them an immersive experience like none other, and it provides developers a new avenue to create innovative games. However, currently it is hard for these developers and players to show the rest of the world how great VR is since there isn’t an easy and efficient way to capture this footage.

ShareVR aims to solve this problem by connecting VR players and their experiences to social media with easy video creation and sharing integration. It’s the easiest way to show your friends what you’re up to in VR. The Garage sat down with the ShareVR team to learn more about their startup and their future goals.

​Left to right: Eleanor, Vivian, Adam, Henry, Chen


​Left to right: Eleanor, Henry, Chen, Adam, Vivian

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Henry Keyser: “The five of us came together as part of the NUVention class for the past 6 months. We were all interested in working in virtual reality (VR) but we didn’t know in what capacity. We initially considered a language learning application but we realized we didn’t have the manpower nor the background to succeed in that area. But we conducted a lot of interviews with VR developers to learn about what we would need to pursue a VR startup, and during that period we learned that many of them were struggling with capturing VR videos for their own marketing purposes. In addition, many VR players couldn’t effectively make videos of their own gameplay either. As a journalist who was trying to capture and show VR, I also was struggling to make these videos. When we recognized this was a recurring problem: specifically that it’s difficult to describe what it’s like being in VR without being able to properly show it, we spotted an opportunity for our startup.”

Chen Chen: “Also, in our conversations with prominent VR game developer, Steve Bowler, he demonstrated a strong need to capture and show the VR experience for his own promotional materials. He told us he wishes that he had an easier and more efficient way to capture VR videos.  And we believed that with our skillset we would be able to create an easy, and efficient way to capture VR videos. And to take it a step further, we want to extend this beyond VR developers to the players as well so that everyone can easily create and share VR videos on social media.”

Vivian Zhang: “I think another important part is our user research. That’s a big reason we chose sharing VR, because during our initial interviews with VR users, we repeatedly heard that it was hard to share VR videos because they couldn’t capture them and share them efficiently. Therefore it’s hard for them to get their friends on board to try VR as well since they can’t show them what they’re missing out on. So after all of our interviews, this problem really stood out..

Henry: “We heard Steve Bowler at an event in Chicago pretty blatantly say that there is no way to portray the VR experience to someone else without putting a headset on them. To some degree, that was kind of like ‘Challenge Accepted’. We believe that there are ways to communicate everything in life without actually being there. For example, I can explain what Rome is like without having gone to Rome. So we knew there had to be ways to show what it’s like to be in virtual reality without requiring everyone to buy a headset.”

How do you plan to solve this problem?

Eleanor Burgess: “Very simply, we help capture the virtual reality experience and share it on social media. We are focusing on action games and one of our key features is to take a third-person, drone view rather than a first-person view. We opt for a third-person view because often action games can be jerky and fast-paced whether it’s running away from zombies or fighting in a gunfight. We then encode this gameplay, captured in the third-person, as a video using an audio voice command: ‘Start recording’ and then ‘Stop recording’ to share on various social media platforms.”

Henry: “We recognized there was no way to get the perspective we wanted people to have because the first-person perspective was making people motion-sick as they watched. We wanted to have a super simple way to capture this footage in the same sense that when you take a selfie, you usually don’t have to plan it out; it’s pretty spontaneous. We also wanted it to be super easy for developers and gamers to integrate and right now it can be installed in about 40 seconds. It really doesn’t require any knowhow, I’m not a coder and I can even install it in someone’s game.  And our solution will work with any game since it’s not tethered to any single game or button, rather the voice control allows it to be universal across games by simply saying ‘Start/stop recording’.”

Eleanor: “The technological solution is twofold. On the developers’ side, they have a huge amount of grassroots marketing. We are currently building the analytics to show how many people are watching the videos and how are they performing, to provide insight and show our value to developers. On the player’s side, it allows them to start and have ongoing conversations with their friends on social media even with those who don’t have a VR headset. Ultimately we want to take VR from an isolated experience and make it something fun and interactive.”

Chen: “The videos will be in 2D, not even in 360 degrees. But this is actually really good because it makes the videos very easy to share and allows others to see what you’re doing in your VR games. We’ve seen this to be very successful as friends of VR players get to see the experience of fighting zombies or running away from dinosaurs and they end up wanting to join as well. We track these analytics and we have seen a lot of buzz created surrounding VR just by the videos being uploaded; for example just looking at Steam, we can see how many more games have been bought and downloaded after our videos went live.”

Henry: “Our product makes Youtube videos and so not only can people watch videos that others share, but there’s also a link to Steam store to purchase the game as well. This really streamlines the whole discovery process.Looking ahead at our future goals, we want to get people excited about VR and entice their friends to get involved in VR as well. We hope to support a and create a social culture in VR, Rather than you as Avatar 4 and me as Avatar 8 while in-game, we want you to be Travis and me to be Henry, looking like we do in person, so that when I see you, I see my friend. Then, we can go on crazy adventures together like climbing Mt. Everest, racing cars, or fighting hordes of zombies, and we can look back and see us in that adventure and hopefully entice our other friends to join in as well.”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Henry: “I admire the late and great Steve Jobs because he was truly a visionary even though he may have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I also really admire Elon Musk for being a visionary and also for being awkward and owning it. You can be awkward but if you’re smart, driven, and treat people fairly, you can do great things. And we try to treat everyone equally and fairly and not abuse the industry.”

Chen: “I’d say Bill Gates. He is my all-time favorite not only because he started Microsoft, but also because of what he has done since then. He keeps changing the world from a different perspective through foundations and assisting research. The way he utilizes resources and money is really quite educational and admirable.”

Eleanor: “For me, it’s Veronica Costa Teixeira Orvalho. I met Veronica at TechStars while I was working on a previous startup. She’s the CEO at a company called Didimo. She actually previously worked as a professor with her graduate students on the technology for really good face rendering software. But she realized this technology was her dream and she quit her job as a professor and pursued her startup full time. She is a woman of incredible grace and courage and she is a true role model for me.”

Vivian: “There’s a Chinese entrepreneur named Kai-Fu Lee and he was a senior VP of Microsoft and after that he actually went back to China and build an incubator for Chinese entrepreneurs. He has this connection with younger generations and always does many speeches at various campuses. He always encourages the younger generations to learn from different entrepreneurs and try to pursue their ideas. He provides funding and technical support as well as other resources for these individuals as well. I really admire that he is giving back and helping the younger entrepreneurs even though he is already very successful and I hope there will be more people like him in China.”

Follow ShareVR here!

Twitter: @ShareVr

Youtube: ShareVR Team

LinkedIn: ShareVR


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

The Garage Goes to Washington

This week, two student founders had the once in a lifetime opportunity to represent The Garage and Northwestern at a special show and tell event in Washington, DC as part of the “Disrupter Series: Update on IOT Opportunities and Challenges,” organized by the subcommittee of the House of Energy and Commerce Committee, formed to identify policies that could affect technology and innovation in the realm of communications-based products and services.

Integrating the Internet of Things into the everyday American life doesn’t come without challenges. From smart cities to medical sensors to self-driving cars, policy makers are aiming to support IoT and address barriers or obstacles to innovation.


In her opening remarks at the event, Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and representative of Northwestern’s district, talked about the value of of energy generation and medical devices in the IoT “race,” citing them as two important examples of how innovation can benefit the country.

Northwestern University also received a special shoutout from Jan, noted as being a “research university critical to the future of innovation.” And here at The Garage, we like to think we have something to do that with.

Two student founded startups, PedalCell and LifeMotion Technologies, were featured at the exhibit representing the world of academic incubators, alongside about two dozen other organizations demonstrating their products and innovations, including Qualcomm, Panasonic, General Motors, Honeywell and Siemens.

Founder of PedalCell, Vishaal Mali (McCormick ‘20), is looking to address the alternative energy crisis through convenient, powerful and wicked cool measures, starting with the ubiquitous bicycle. PedalCell’s goal is to create a bike-powered cellphone charger that will reduce the need for conventional charging methods as well as reduce the use of cars for commuting. Vishaal and his team have been Residents at The Garage, incubating their startup and will also be participants in this year’s Summer Wildfire Pre-Accelerator Program.

Pictured: Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) with student founder of PedalCell, Vishaal Mali

LifeMotion Technologies, founded by Northwestern Ph.D student Michael Young, is focused on improving jaw function for patients recovering from Head and Neck Cancers, with an objective to improve function for those suffering from any condition which may reduce jaw mobility. Understanding that one size does not fit all, LifeMotion has provides individualized rehabilitation with technology capable of adapting to a patient’s unique anatomy, making recovery predictable, personalized, preemptive, and participatory. LifeMotion is currently incubating at The Garage.

Pictured: Michael Young, founder of LifeMotion Technologies and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

Summer Wildfire 2017: HotPlate

With over 7,000 restaurants in Chicago, it’s no wonder why people have a hard time picking a place to eat. And once you have decided on a restaurant, more often than not, many of these restaurants boast a wide menu selection which poses the difficult and daunting question of “what do I order?” And after you sift through the menu and finally settle on what you want, it’s a huge disappointment when the dish comes out and looks nothing like you had imagined and tastes even worse.

HotPlate aims to solve this problem. It’s is an app designed to help you decide what to order at restaurants. Users can rate individual menu items, so that it’s 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. The Garage sat down with the HotPlate team to learn more about HotPlate and their future goals.

From Left to Right: Connor Hanley, Rushi Shah, Sarah Ahmad, Laura Barrera, Sabreen Ali, Sameena Khan

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Sarah: “Over the summer, I spent a lot of time researching different restaurants in Chicago because I really enjoy eating out and trying new places. I spent hours browsing through sites like Yelp and various food blogs and I thought there had to be a more efficient way to figure out what restaurant to try and which dish to order once I got there. There were no services that compiled this data and this sparked my idea for HotPlate. I wanted a more efficient way to see the best restaurants and dishes around Chicago. From there, I researched if there was anything like that already and I found that there were two startups that were similar but they both failed because they immediately tried to launch across the entire United States rather than focusing on a specific area and expanding from there. And four of our team members including myself took Engineering Entrepreneurship 325 during Fall quarter and that’s where I pitched the idea. It was voted one of the top ideas in the class and we were assembled into teams and went from there.”

How do you plan to solve the problem you’ve identified?

Sarah: “We are creating an app that allows users to rate individual dishes at restaurants so that if you’re at a restaurant and have no idea what to order, we’ll provide a super quick and easy way to see what the best dishes are. Also, there will be other features like discovering new dishes near you tailored to your taste palette, engaging with your friends, and seeing exactly what you’re getting.”

When did you all first feel the entrepreneurial spirit?

Connor: “Prior to that class, I hadn’t done anything entrepreneurial before. I never really planned on doing anything entrepreneurial and I took the class as more of an “I have to” class. But coming out of it, my thought process and how I viewed things was very different. I never thought I’d enjoy the class as much as I did and I think a major factor was the team I ended up on. We work pretty well as a team and this teamwork coupled with the environment we worked in really solidified my interest in the class and sparked my entrepreneurial spirit.”

Juju: “I share a lot of the same feelings as Connor. This is my senior year and I took the class to fulfill a BIP requirement and I thought it would just be fun because I had never been a part of the entrepreneurial scene. I ended up really enjoying the team and the project we were working on.”

John: “For me, a couple computer science classes touch on aspects of entrepreneurship like being on a development team but I had never gotten the full experience and I was pretty interested in that. So I took this class as a feeler for what entrepreneurship is and I really enjoyed it and I’m really glad I met these people.”

Rushi: “So I joined the team later in December, after the class was already over. I knew Sarah previously and we both knew we were interested in entrepreneurship. For me, the interest was always there, I just didn’t have an avenue to pursue it. But this opportunity kind of fell into my lap and it was a great way to dive into entrepreneurship.”

Sarah: “I’ve actually always been kind of interested in entrepreneurship. Back in the summer before high school, I took a class in an immersive summer camp called entrepreneurial leadership. So I’ve always been really interested in what it takes to start and run a business. For a long time, I actually thought I wanted to major in business until I discovered engineering. And with the vast resources of Northwestern, I knew I wanted to start something or get involved with a startup at some point.”

How did you choose the name HotPlate?

Connor: “We were initially Eat Up, which Sarah came up with, but during the class we realized that Eat Up would be hard to trademark since it’s a very common phrase. So for a while, we were just writing Eat Up while trying to get rid of it. During the Winter Wildfire program, we decided we needed to come up with a new name. At that point everyone was just throwing out ideas, and HotPlate was suggested and we all liked it. With that, we’ve incorporated features like the “hottest plates” into our app and we like how it sounds.”

What has been the biggest failure so far and what have you learned from it?

Sarah: “I think the biggest failure is our timeline of things because when we initially entered the Winter Wildfire program, we planned to launch the app halfway through the quarter. And that wasn’t realistic since it takes a lot of time to develop the platform and we have to constantly troubleshoot bugs. We also realized that we hadn’t found the right time to launch the app because you want to launch the app strategically so when it’s in the app store and people download it, it’s fully functioning. This is really hard because of being in school and a lot of us are engineers which cuts a lot of the time that we would like to dedicate to HotPlate.”

What do you hope to achieve through the Summer Wildfire Accelerator?

Sarah: “We definitely want to build out a lot of the features that we have envisioned; for example, being able to interact with your friends and seeing what restaurants and dishes they have rated. Also we want to build out a search function so that you can see the best restaurant recommendations for any dish. We hope to finish these features during the summer so when we return during the Fall, we are ready to capture the Northwestern audience, specifically the 2,000 or so new freshmen and master’s students. They are a great target audience since they won’t be as familiar with the Evanston area and this will help them identify which restaurants to eat at and which dishes to order.”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Rushi: “Sarah and I had a chance to meet Mark Cuban through The Garage Secret Field Trip last year. I’ve always really admired him and meeting him in person was amazing. Talking to him about being an entrepreneur and his successes was great. And what I admire most is that he knew he was smart and successful and he applied his abilities toward his passion, basketball. He is a very active owner with his NBA team and gets to know and develop meaningful relationships with all of his players.”

Sarah: “I really admire Michelle Phan, she’s a Youtube content creator and I started watching her videos when I was in middle school. It’s really cool to see how her career has grown over the past 10 years. She started her own subscription-based makeup company similar to Birchbox and she pursued something she was passionate about and was able to create an entrepreneurial business from it. Through her journey, she has become a very strong woman and she has been able to balance everything which is very admirable as many entrepreneurs often get engulfed by their work.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Everyone collectively agreed that the mentorship, guidance, and support from The Garage has been amazing. Everyone is constantly pushing each other to strive for greatness and this allows the HotPlate team to stay motivated and driven.

Check out the HotPlate website here and follow them on Instagram: @hotplateapp!

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