Resident Spotlight: PAL

Approximately 1 in 59 children have autism spectrum disorder, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

Children on the autism spectrum may suffer from meltdowns. But Products for Autism Lifestyle (PAL), a subsidiary for Gaia Wearables, is creating smart clothes that monitor biometrics and transmit data to an app that alerts caregivers of early signs of meltdowns.

The Garage sat down with PAL co-founder Brent Chase to learn how PAL aims to change lives, one shirt at a time.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How does PAL work?

It’s pretty well documented that you can identify different states of [physiological] being. The most movie-esque version of this is the lie detection tests. There’s other ones that look more toward how you quantify people with depression or people with other nonverbal disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder.

The idea behind [PAL] is a smart shirt that measures all of these physiological data. It’s all connected to this core unit that’s on the shirt that can be detachable. Wash the shirt, you’re good to go. It gathers the data [and] sends it to a mobile app. So if you’re a parent, caregiver, therapist [or] teacher, [you] can see what the [child’s] emotional state is, and then help them develop to this more independent state.

What’s your inspiration?

[My brother] grew up for the past 22 years having autism spectrum disorder. It’s very hard for him. It was hard on the family.

So the real inspiration behind [PAL] was I saw how hard it was for my brother just to live day-to-day. He would wake up and potentially have a meltdown, which is harmful for him…harmful for everyone. It limits his ability to continuously develop into this more independent state. Right now he’s 22 and lives with our mother. He can’t necessarily pick up a job because of these meltdowns.

Me and my mother can [understand his states]. We have been living with him for years now, and we know the little triggers and what to do to either proactively avoid or stop them when they occur. If he can go to an employer and the employer has access to something that would let them know when he’s at risk of a meltdown, then they can better manage him or help him better control everything.

This was a common thing we were seeing. Everyone kept saying they wanted their child to be more independent. If you can give the people the technology, then they can end up developing it into what they need for that independence.

How has The Garage helped?

The name carries a lot of weight for us to get connected, not only within the institution, but also [within] the general community.

[The Garage] also helps us with getting more people on the team. The beauty of what we have is none of this would be possible without the commitment of all the team members.

What do you want to add?

I feel like a big thing in entrepreneurship is this rush to get something out there and start making money, but in reality, if we all just keep focusing on the money, then no one is going to create any real innovation or change any lives. So [PAL] spent more time in this incubation period focusing more on how can this solution actually benefit the people.

PAL’s product will be released in January 2020. Interested in getting involved? PAL is looking for people to join their human study. Participants wear a wristwatch that monitors biometrics for 20 minutes, and then they have the chance to win 50 dollars.

Here is the link to add yourself to the future studies list.

Here is the link to add your availability for user testing at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.

Children on the autism spectrum and caretakers are also encouraged to reach out to PAL at gaiawearables@gmail.com. Anyone interested in getting involved can visit gaiawearables.com and click “Get Involved.”


Megan Lebowitz is a freshman majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for Northwestern News Network and loves storytelling in all forms. She is from Cleveland, Ohio.

Resident Spotlight: The Melodi House

As face-to-face interaction becomes increasingly rare, Selin Yazici, Alex Halimi and Arno Murcia set out to change how people engage with each other.

The Melodi House entered The Garage in the fall of 2018 after the three co-founders conceived the idea in an entrepreneurship class. The founders are hoping to start more conversations by planning events and, eventually, creating a physical space for people to develop their passions in areas such as art and music. Their mission statement is, “The Melodi House aims at creating the events, conversations, and relationships we came to college to experience and form.”

Their fall quarter event, held at an apartment, featured music, student art and excellent conversation. It had about 70 people at its height. The Melodi House hopes to host three events this quarter. Be on the lookout!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

On the idea behind ‘The Melodi House’

Selin: It’s a very conceptual idea. It’s nothing really physical. We’re coming together, creating this community that aims [to put] the moments, relationships and events we all come to college to experience.

Alex: Our mission is [to] expose students to new sensations or things that are different that they’re be talking about later.

Selin: There [are] millions of interesting topics and conversations just waiting to be started. We saw this missed opportunity, because as students, [these] are the only four years [when] we’re going to be in such a concentrated environment. Why not take advantage of it?

Alex: We’re all very happy we pursued [working at] The Garage. [It] is super helpful with mentoring us. It also helps keep us on track and focus on what we actually have to do. We’re happy to be here.

On their fall quarter event

Arno: We created this event where we asked everyone to submit a piece of art. We delivered canvases. We asked them to submit something they had already done, or make something.

Selin: We realized life gets in the way, and you usually don’t get to do what you really want to do. So we’re like, “We’re delivering it to you. Do whatever you want. We’ll pick them up and we’re going to display them at the event.” [It’s] a great conversation starter.

Arno: We saw people stop and converse next to a piece of art and start this more interesting, personal conversation.

Selin: We had the art, and then we had students who are passionate about music DJing and playing their music.

Alex: What I thought was cool about the event was that we did it donation based. The only rule was you had to pay. It didn’t matter how much it was; you just had to donate something. It was very successful. We definitely reached the amount we needed.

Arno: It’s a way to allow everyone to have access to our community, regardless of their financial status.

Selin: People were engaging so beautifully with each other. We got feedback, and a lot of the things in common were, “Thank you so much for this experience. We can’t wait for the rest of it.”

Arno: The first thing [a friend] told me was, “I met a really cool person I don’t think I would have met otherwise.” That was originally our goal.

On the name

Selin: No matter what language you speak [or] where you’re from, everyone speaks the language of art, culture, music and melody. Bringing this all together, it’s like, why don’t we call it [melody] and spell it with an “i” instead [to] be more creative.


Megan Lebowitz is a freshman majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for Northwestern News Network and loves storytelling in all forms. She is from Cleveland, Ohio.

Resident Spotlight: Connect & Care

After wrapping the chaos that is the holiday shopping season, Matt Zients, Connect & Care co-founder and SESP junior, was focused on giving, not getting.

Connect & Care started as an idea in an after-school program for high schoolers. Now, it is a registered nonprofit in D.C. and has partners all around the globe.

Want to donate but don’t know where to start? The Garage sat down with Zients to learn how Connect & Care helps users improve the world at the tap of a button.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

On the app

Matt Zients: The current app [for Connect & Care] allows users to browse, learn about and donate to nonprofits around the world. There’s a map. You see different pins on the map, and you can click on one of the pins, and that would be one of our partners. You can see their mission, their team, their vision [and] history. There’s a donate button that allows you to [donate] through Apple Pay and Stripe.

We have 25 partners. We split them into nine categories: community building, conflict relief, education, environmental issues, healthcare, human rights, indigenous rights, veterans and women’s advancement. They’re all pretty grassroots.

On new developments 

MZ: We’re really excited by the idea of a Buzzfeed quiz medium. We built out a Google form where you answer a couple fun questions. You pick your favorite meme out of a group of four memes. You tell us which Disney character you’re most excited about. But then you also tell us which areas of interest you have. Is it education? Is it healthcare? Is it conflict relief? We then send you your top three matches amongst our partners.

This winter, we’re going to be focusing on how we can do a local version of what we’re doing. Right now, it probably looks like a quiz. Instead of “What nonprofit are you?” this would be like, “What Chicago nonprofit are you?” It wouldn’t be all about the donating. It would be about how you get involved and help out.

On inspiration 

MZ: We’re excited by the idea of, how do you prove to a young person that it’s cool to be connected to a nonprofit, and can technology play a role in that? We’re convinced that we can make it cool, but now we’re testing out different hooks.

It really drives me to figure out how Connect & Care [can] be relevant in this field and push the conversation. I also was inspired by a specific moment on campus. I was at a protest against the travel ban. At the protest someone was holding a sign that said, “Venmo [his name], and the money will go to the ACLU.” And I was thinking, there’s got to be a more direct way for this to happen.

On The Garage

MZ: I love raving about The Garage. The team here is super strong and super thoughtful. I’ve loved the family dinners. That’s been a great experience in terms of meeting new people. This cohort of residents is awesome. I really think this space is special and has been a huge part of my Northwestern experience so far.

On the giving season

MZ: It doesn’t always have to be about the money. It can be about giving your attention, giving your advocacy or giving your volunteering time. The holiday season is a great time to support and love those around you, but [you] also have to think beyond that a little bit. It doesn’t have to be financial or monetary. [Think] about how you can give to people you don’t know. That’s something we’re thinking about: How can we be relevant beyond monetary donations?

For more information, and to download Connect & Care, click here


Megan Lebowitz is a freshman majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for Northwestern News Network and loves storytelling in all forms. She is from Cleveland, Ohio.

The Garage Gift Guide 2018

The holidays are here again, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in this year’s 2018 gift guide, we’re supporting Northwestern entrepreneurs and student founded startups. Here’s a list of some of our favorite gift ideas for your besties and your fam, including both current student founded products and companies, alongside some of the best of the best Northwestern alumni companies.

We’ve got something for everyone, from cold brew coffee to the easiest way to give back to causes that matter most to you, all Garage-approved.   

 

1. Something local through BOSSY Chicago or some BOSSY merch

(Photo Credit: BOSSY Chicago)

Co-founded by Northwestern students Samantha Letscher (McCormick, ‘18) and Isabel Benatar (SESP, ‘18), BOSSY Chicago is still going strong after the co-founders graduated in 2018. BOSSY is empowering women business owners and encouraging us all to not only shop local, but to support women owned businesses through their online directory. They’re also storytellers, sharing the entrepreneurial wisdom and challenges of female entrepreneurs all over Chicago. You can also keep up with all things BOSSY, and even rep their merch! 

 

2. Some yummy cold brew

Image of Lucas Philips

Now with two campus locations and the infamous coffee bike, BrewBike has only grown in the last year. They’ve even launching their second campus in UT Austin! Founded by Lucas Philips (SESP, ‘19), BrewBike has mastered cold brew coffee, and we think it’s time you try some for yourself. Now, you can give the gift of yummy cold brew with a BrewBike gift card. 

 

3. An Unruled. notebook

(Photo Credit: @beunruled)

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

 

4. Give the gift of giving back

(Photo Credit: @connectcareapp)

Co-founded by Matt Zients (SESP, ’20), Connect & Care is a mobile application created by students, for students. They are revolutionizing the way we give back to the causes we care about most through beautiful design and UI and fun quizzes that will match you with three nonprofit organizations aligned with what you’re passionate about. They’ve made the process of giving back incredibly easy, and this might be the perfect way to flex your philanthropic muscles this holiday season.

 

5. A little greenery from Welltended

(Photo Credit: @welltended)

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

 

6. A Northwestern student-authored book

Chris Guo (Weinberg, ’19) always struggled to sit still. He channeled that restlessness; going from a skinny kid to a Division I swimming recruit. But instead of swimming in college, he decided to quit and focus on his studies. His goal was to become an investment banker since he was told that bankers make the most money out of college. Chris soon realized, however, that finance wasn’t his thing and instead started an e-commerce party supply company during his freshman year. Since then, he has been passionate about entrepreneurship and helping young people to discover what they want to do in life.

Resident Spotlight: BrewBike

Move over, Starbucks!

BrewBike is a coffee business for students, by students. The Garage sat down with Lucas Philips, co-founder and Chief Growth Officer, to learn how to “fuel the hustle.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What inspired BrewBike?

There were a few things that we needed [BrewBike] to do. We needed to be on campus. We wanted it to be student-run. We needed [BrewBike] to provide really convenient, quality coffee. And in order to do those things, we couldn’t have a storefront. We eventually stumbled upon this cold brew bicycle idea from Matt Matros, who’s the founder of Limitless Coffee & Tea. He was here giving a family dinner chat my freshman spring, and that’s when we met him. He gave us the idea to pursue the cold brew bike.

What differentiates BrewBike from other coffee shops?

What’s really different about it is that students run it. As a company, we really care about that experience that students are getting with BrewBike. We also think the experience students are getting within BrewBike is compelling for our customers outside of BrewBike. They realize that it’s an experiential learning opportunity for members of their community. We are employing 50 to 60 Northwestern students. They’re getting a really hands-on business learning opportunity.

Also, we try to have a better product. It’s more specialty. It’s more local. We brew everything in small batches. There’s nothing corporate about BrewBike.

How has BrewBike evolved?

 We started with the bike. We raised $10,000 on Indiegogo, and another $10,000 from The Garage’s Wildfire [Pre-Accelerator] Program, and we maxed out a few credit cards. So, with maybe $30,000 dollars in capital, we launched this bike with a commercial kitchen that we built out in the basement of my fraternity house. The bike was totally failing…it was really hard to get customers to change their habits. We thought we were going to go out of business.

We pushed to get an opportunity to open up a retail space in Annenberg Hall. The dean was amenable, so within two or three weeks, we had built a very scrappy, low-cost coffee kiosk. By the end of that quarter, we were slightly profitable, so we were able to stay open. In the spring of my sophomore year, we had the bike, the shop, and keg subscriptions. We sell kegs of our coffee to fraternities and sororities. With those three lines of business, we were able to continue to grow.

What can we expect from BrewBike in the future?

 Better hours. We are going to start outsourcing food to Compass Group, so they’re going to start handling food in the library so we can focus more on differentiated drink offerings.

[People can also expect] more bikes and more campuses. We’ve hired a bunch of students at [The University of Texas at] Austin…in the next two months, we’ll probably be there. We have a full-time BrewBike employee who’s launching the campus there.

How has The Garage helped BrewBike?

The Garage has helped us with cash when we need cash…people, when we need people. Mentorship. I’m really well coached by people in The Garage.

The residency system is kind of an accountability system, where you only continue to get residency if you continue to work on your business. You’re around all these other people who are growing their businesses, so it pushes me to grow mine.

Who is an entrepreneur you look up to, and why?

Matt Matros is someone who I look up to. He’s our chief advisor. He’s been there for us since Day One. He was the one who gave us the bike idea. He’ll always make time for us when we need it.

For more information, visit BrewBike’s website, Facebook page or Instagram.


Megan Lebowitz is a freshman majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for Northwestern News Network and loves storytelling in all forms. She is from Cleveland, Ohio.

Resident Spotlight: MakerGirl

What started off as a project through Northwestern’s Society of Women Engineers blossomed into a new chapter of MakerGirl in the spring of 2018. This Northwestern chapter is directed by Amanda Mirande, Nancy Yao and Rika Ko. The program teaches young girls about STEM through 3D printing classes. MakerGirl is headquartered at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Garage sat down with the directors to learn how MakerGirl takes girls from pencils to prints.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

On teaching

Nancy Yao: We do a little presentation on what is 3D printing and how the 3D printers work. Based on the theme that we have, we encourage the girls to draw with pencils and paper what kinds of things they would want to design to create as 3D objects later. After that we use a program called Tinkercad. It’s like a 3D printing CAD software, but it’s targeted towards beginners and children. That’ll be where they actually get to turn the drawings that they made into a 3D object on the screen. The volunteers will send those 3D CAD files to the 3D printers, and then the girls can watch them print on the 3D printers, which they’re always really interested in doing. For the remaining time we’ll have mentors lead some themed class activities while they wait for the prints to finish.

Amanda Mirande: The lesson that they take is if you have something on paper, you can make that into something real. I think that’s pretty powerful. Also, you’re working within constraints, which I think is a big life lesson. You’re working within constraints but you can still make something super cool.

On inspiration

Rika Ko: I think about all the times I was younger and I think I definitely showed a lot of inclination towards STEM subjects. I just feel like if I had something like [MakerGirl] that my parents were aware of when I was younger, this fascination could have turned into something much deeper earlier on.

NY: The girls that we reach are around the age of 7 to 10, so they are at an age where they have a lot of potential. I think it’s really important for them to know that going into science and learning about technology is a very real possibility for them.

On reactions

RK: [The girls are] just ecstatic to show their parents when they come. They’re so proud of themselves, and they should be. I think the parents are also really, really supportive. We’ve had some repeat girls come, and every time the moms are like, “This is amazing. I’m trying to get my friends to bring their kids to it.” It’s a good way to get your child learning, but also having fun.

AM: Parents, whenever they come pick [their children] up, are super excited to see whatever they created.

On team

NY: We’ve been talking to different groups outside of Northwestern to see about partnering with different schools and organizations like Girl Scouts. It’s really a big time for growth right now. We’re trying to reach more girls than ever.

RK: We recently had applications for expanding our team at Northwestern, which is super exciting because up until a few weeks ago, it’s just been me, Nancy and Amanda trying to take care of everything. Hopefully we’ll be able to cover more ground by having more people.

AM: My team is pretty key. I feel like we all have strengths. We work well together, and that’s super important.

MakerGirl hopes to add lessons on virtual reality. The directors aim to continue inspiring confidence in young girls and teach them that they are fully capable of pursuing their interest in STEM. For more information, visit MakerGirl’s Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram.

Resident Spotlight: VersionTwo

Resumes, interviews, jobs, oh my!

Career search processes can often feel daunting and complicated. VersionTwo is a new startup that focuses on giving young people access to comprehensive and affordable career coaching.

The Garage sat down with founder Sruti Bharat (Kellogg ’19) to get the scoop.

The following interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

What is VersionTwo’s goal? 

My vision is that young people have a resource at the most pivotal career moments. When you graduate, it’s a very lonely time. You don’t have a career center anymore. As for the goal for this year, I really see this as a small business. I see this as something I want to test and learn from. If I could scale this to be a platform that I could keep as a side-hustle, I would see that as a huge success for this year.

How does the career coaching process work?

Right now we have three different models. One of them is modules of content that are very structured, like a curriculum you go through to get prepared for the job hunt. We have exercises [and] tools—very practical things that we’ve used ourselves in our MBA programs. The next level of access is if you want to interact with a coach. The last offering, which we haven’t done yet, is a bootcamp. The moment I sense that people who are unemployed and really need this help are open to a bootcamp, we’ll do it.

What differentiates VersionTwo from other career advancement resources? 

Once you are working, you can pay hundreds of dollars an hour, if you have it, for a career coach, but most young people don’t. They actually just need to talk to someone that’s in their field. A lot of the mentor coaches that we have are MBA students or young professionals who are a few years ahead of the people looking. We’re trying to build that relationship, which I would say is a bit different from anything else I’ve seen.

What inspired VersionTwo?

I’m at Kellogg right now, and I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I always thought I would work for a big company. But then at Kellogg I took the New Venture series and I really liked it. I TA’d for the professor and I supported 11 startups as they developed their business model. I want to do something for my own idea because the investment of time and resources is so much that you want to be passionate about the mission. I’ve always been really interested in coaching and have helped a lot of people younger than myself think about their careers.

How has The Garage impacted your journey with VersionTwo? 

The Garage has been huge. As an individual entrepreneur, I really needed an ecosystem to plug into and a community of people [who] are also hustling in the same way. Being here around people who are working on their ideas is inspiring. I think the second thing is the access to mentors and resources. I’ve found the family dinners just by themselves to be something I look forward to every week.

What has been the most enjoyable part of the process?

I am doing this because it’s a passion of mine. For me, the impact is talking to these young people who are trying to change their careers and then hearing them say things like, “This wasn’t just a resume review. You helped me discover my passion.” That is the most rewarding part of it. And it’s just fun to build something from scratch that’s my own.

Who is an entrepreneur that inspires you? 

My professor really lit the fire for being an entrepreneur. It was Rick Desai. He teaches at Kellogg. I’ve never had someone who trusted my ideas so much and said, “Of course you have it in you to be an entrepreneur.” I had never thought of myself that way. The fact that someone else could see that and suggest it was pretty awesome.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I’m really glad that The Garage has more women this year. There are so many systemic barriers for women entrepreneurs. I’ve really been trying to challenge any mental barriers within myself, but I’m glad to see that the systemic ones are being tackled by The Garage.


Megan Lebowitz is a freshman majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for Northwestern News Network and loves storytelling in all forms. She is from Cleveland, Ohio.

Wildfire 2018: WingDing

WingDing is the ultimate suit for the modern man. Their motto is that you don’t have to be serious to wear a serious suit. People are still wearing suits designed for their father’s generation, and WingDing is here to change that. It’s the perfect suit for people with active lifestyles – they look great, and feel even better.

The Garage sat down with WingDing founders, Logan Peretz (Weinberg ‘18) and Jonathan Reimer (Weinberg ‘18), to learn more about WingDing and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is WingDing and what was the inspiration for your startup?

Logan: We make suits that are capable of keeping up with the lifestyle of the modern man. It all started when one of our co- founders was at a formal in a traditional men’s suit. He was with a beautiful girl, with great music, great friends, and great drinks. It was his first fraternity event and he wanted to leave a lasting impression on everybody. He was really having a good time until he went to sit down with all of his friends, and his pants squared up on him. And that is when we sort of realized that traditional suits just aren’t capable of handling anything that men throw at them these days. So we set out to build a suit that would be lightweight, breathable, stretchy, and completely machine washable. We like to call them “Boardroom to Beer” suits because the theory is that whether you’re a college student or a working professional, you should be able to leave work on a Friday and head straight to the bar, and not have to worry about changing your clothes.

How did you come up with the name WingDing?

JR: So WingDing is synonymous with big events or parties and that’s where we got the original idea from. Today, work culture and fashion are leaning towards business casual, and we think that this is a perfect time to leverage this change in consumer behavior. So we want to create a suit that our customers feel comfortable and confident in, whether it’s in the office or on the dance floor.

What has been the biggest challenge that WingDing has faced?

Logan: It’s really hard to create a product that customers will enjoy and that can also be mass produced. The biggest setback really has been the manufacturing side of things, because we’re doing something that has not been done in the suit space before. We’re working one on one with our manufacturers to get them to adapt what they do to make our dream possible.

What sizes does the suit come in and what modifications have you made to make it fit well?

JR:  We’re going to be doing the standard sizing like 38-40-42, with S sizes as well. But what makes our suits feel and fit so great is the fabric that we’re working with. We’re working with athletic fabrics that look formal and fit great. The materials will just lay on your body. It’s not necessarily structured and formed like a traditional suit; we’re taking out the chest piece, heavy shoulder pads, and arm rims. Making these modifications not only makes the suit machine washable, but also makes it fit better.

Logan: And while we’re doing some unconventional things with the structure of the suit, it will visually have the same look as a well fitted professional suit that has added comfort.

Do you have women’s suits as well, and how much do your suits cost?

Logan: Right now we’re just focusing on men’s suits. But we are planning to expand our lineup to include women’s suits as well. Based on research and conversations that we’ve had with many women, there’s definitely a market for women’s suits and women are just as interested in having a suit that fits their lifestyle. But for now, we want to master men’s suits before expanding to women’s suits.

On pricing, we plan to have our pre-order price at $299, but we’re still working on finalizing the exact details. And once we have our initial run and expand past the pre-order phase and move into regular cycles of inventory and production, we’re going to increase our price to around $349. So we really want to reward the people who buy into this early.

JR: We’ve even talked about bringing a tailor on for the initial pre-order sale, to do free tailoring for the first few people who order our suits. And in the future, we’re considering either entering into a strategic partnership with a tailoring company or potentially throwing in an official Visa card with the suit, so that it incentivizes our customers to tailor the suit to fit exactly to their body. This won’t take away from the price point, but it’s an additional incentive that comes with the suit to make sure it feels good and fits well.

How has The Garage helped you?

Logan: We’ve been Residents at The Garage for over a year now. We started WingDing as part of an entrepreneurship class. Without the support of The Garage and Northwestern, we would not be in business right now. Billy and Melissa, and everybody here, has helped get us off the ground. The Farley Center and professors there have worked in tandem with us at The Garage to find industry experts that we would never have been able to connect with without them.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

JR: Personally, I would say Gregg Latterman, who teaches here at Northwestern, is someone who has inspired me. He has been an awesome mentor for me, and I’ve been extremely lucky to have taken a class with him. He really loves what he does and his passion is infectious. He is not afraid of going against the grain. And, I think that we are trying to emulate his way of doing things in the suit industry. We’re trying to be ahead of the curve and do things that people are not thinking about – creating a machine washable suit that would be just a one time investment, where you don’t need to invest more money in it through expensive dry-cleaning.

Logan: Billy Banks at The Garage has given us so much support and advice. In fact, it’s to the point where his feedback is intertwined within the culture of our startup. Hearing his experiences with startups and his journey has been extremely inspirational, and it has taught us about the culture within the larger entrepreneurship community of collaboration and support. In the startup space, it’s all about making sure that everybody succeeds, and I really like this attitude of giving back.


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.

Wildfire 2018: CoCo Health

CoCo Health provides on-site mental wellness support for employers and employees by bringing counselors and providers to the workplace, breaking down barriers for stressed employees to manage stress effectively, and to help reduce the costs of absenteeism and burnout.

The Garage sat down with CoCo Health founder, Jonathan Bateman (Kellogg, ’19) to learn more about CoCo Health and the startup’s future goals.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the problem you’re working on and what is your solution?

Jonathan: At CoCo Heath, we do one-on-one on-site counseling for employers. For way too long, we’ve ignored our own mental wellness, both in and out of the workplace. Ignoring it comes with really high costs in terms of turnover, absenteeism, and lost productivity. If you look at it, a CDC study found that in an eight hour work day, we get less than three hours of productive work done, which is crazy. One reason we’re stressed is that we don’t know how to be more productive or more engaged at work. CoCo Health is designed to help people come up with tactical plans to be more engaged and better at being themselves both inside and outside of work. We do the counseling in-person because we believe that it is a key barrier to knock down in order for people to actually take care of their mental wellness. We do it in the workplace because it allows people to get engaged and do it in a way which is non-stigmatizing, not invasive in their lives, and doesn’t take as much time as trying to go to a counselor or someone outside of the workplace.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Jonathan: There are a couple of things. First of all, my family has a very long history of mental health issues. Unfortunately, I have been able to see what happens when things go wrong with people, and it can sometimes be too late to help. CoCo Health is designed to help people before things go wrong. It aims to keep us at our best and allows us to flourish and be happy, which is not always an easy thing to do if you’re not paying attention to your mental health. I mean, think of this. We go to the doctor every year to get a preventive screening. We go to the gym to take care of our bodies. But very rarely do we ever focus on what’s going on in our brain and with our mental wellness. There was a time in my life when I hadn’t been to the doctor in almost three years because I was traveling every week and working long hours. What we’re trying to do with CoCo Health is to help break down those barriers so that people can get what they need and the care and treatment they want. In short, observing personally the effects of burnout and stress on people’s performance and on their own personal lives when things bleed over into the space, as well as seeing that no one ever had time to take care of themselves, either physically or mentally, is what lie at the origin of CoCo Health.

Why do you think mental health is such an important issue?

Jonathan: Part of it is our work culture and part of it are the expectations that are being placed upon ourselves. It’s hard. The challenging thing is that people historically haven’t understood that mental health matters. Your mental health is linked not only to your professional life, but also to your personal life. Your professional life oftentimes causes so many issues which spill over into your personal life, as well. If we can address it in the place where many of these things are coming from, CoCo Health can be extremely helpful to a lot of people.

How did you choose the name “CoCo Health”?

Jonathan: CoCo Health is the short for Continuous Conversation Health. The idea is that our mental health and our mental wellness shouldn’t be a one-off thing where you pay attention to it when something goes wrong or once in a while. It should be a continuous conversation between you and either yourself or someone else who can make sure that you’re expressing yourself in a way that’s tangible, constructive, and helpful for building your own life.

What has been your biggest failure so far? What did you learn from it?

Jonathan: I would say our biggest failure so far is understanding the sales cycle for wellness benefits. When we first started, we didn’t understand how to sell, who to sell to, or where to sell. We’ve started to narrow in on who are the right targets in order to avoid going after the wrong people such as companies that aren’t ready to have those conversations in the workplace. We also focused on how to create some urgency for people to understand that this is a problem that you cannot just address in a year or two. Therefore, we’ve been working hard to create that platform of urgency and make sure that we’re talking to the right companies. This way, we make sure we’re not wasting our time and not wasting their time.

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

Jonathan: I think the most important lesson would probably be that it is crucial to ask. You never know what people are going to say unless you ask. The reason is because while mental health has always been a passion for me, I initially didn’t think people were ready to have this conversation in the workplace. I didn’t think employers were ready to spend money on their employees’ mental health. I thought maybe we should do something with primary care, preventive medicine or things that are related to physical health. However, when I started conversations with my first ten employers, they thought the idea was interesting but highlighted that the main issue was mental health. I was shocked to hear that people realized the importance of it. We got lucky that people brought it up, because we were never going to ask the question because we didn’t think they wanted it. It turns out that was what they wanted all along. Therefore, from my perspective, it all comes back the importance of asking. If you don’t ask and if you don’t have confidence in your convictions, you’ll never get to the key insight.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Jonathan: I’m from Vermont so this is kind of a goofball Vermont answer. I have to admire Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s. Because when they built their company from scratch, they never wavered from their initial convictions and their values. They built a company to align with those values and no matter how much money they were making or losing, they never deviated from those. They understood that they didn’t want to run a business with which they weren’t aligned with emotionally and mentally. So often you see people starting a business and then turning it into something else which no longer has those initial values. Uber is a prime example. The initial play was to connect the world and to get people around easier in an era where the taxicab industry is broken. Over time, it turned into this behemoth of a negative culture and a terrible attitude. That is because they didn’t have values they stuck to. They didn’t have values at their core. I think as you build a business, you always have to look back to what you stand for and focus on what you really care about. If you don’t understand what your values are or if you don’t stand by them, you’ll end up in challenging situations even if you’re wildly successful. I would rather be less successful, but be able to say “Look, I stood by what I believed in, and what I believe to be true”, as opposed to just going after the money.

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Jonathan: There are a couple things. First of all, The Garage is an awesome network of the Northwestern entrepreneurs, who are helpful and supportive. Even more than that, it is a great opportunity to start to connect beyond the Northwestern community. The Garage is an epicenter for entrepreneurship around the Chicago and Evanston area. The resources offered allow you to have conversations with people you never would have been able to talk to before. I’ve found mentors, partners, and students who are passionate about both entrepreneurship and mental health through the Garage, and the staff have been incredibly supportive in helping me find those connections and foster them, through both formal and informal programming. It’s a critical resource because it connects disparate groups who might not have otherwise come together.

Where do you see your startup going in the future?

Jonathan: I would love to have every startup and every kind of professional service firm have some on-site support for their employees’ mental wellness, because I think it is something that is not going to go away or change. I really hope that we’ve got the timing right and that people are ready for this conversation. I would love to eventually be able to expand this beyond Chicago to a point where our value add is a platform that connects talented people with opportunities for extra hours. The demand exists but it is difficult to match it with the supply in the marketplace. Right now, our expertise is about finding the right match between a company and a counselor. It would be great if we could do it at a much larger scale. However, we’re still testing out the initial concept so it’s hard to say where we’re going to go. Being able to help in a variety of different ways will be an awesome outcome.

What do you hope to get out of Summer Wildfire accelerator?

Jonathan: I think there are a few different things. The first one is to accelerate our acquisition engine and start to grow our pipeline aggressively.  The second one is to develop our content and digital expertise, so that when people are starting to search for these types of mental wellness concerns in the workplace, CoCo Health is the thought leader in the space. As alluded in the previous question, our third goal is to think of other ways we can be helpful to startups and professional services firms in order to become the first call when human resources has an issue. It is also a great opportunity to connect us with the community of entrepreneurs in a thoughtful way. I know Billy is spending a lot of time making sure to find invaluable resources and build strong connections for CoCo Health for this summer and beyond. On a personal level, I think Wildfire is a great opportunity to continue to develop my own entrepreneurial skill-set and start to understand what truly makes me tick and productive in a very different type of work from what I used to do. At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about so much more than the company that I’m working on, and much more about the approach, personal style, and tenacity that are critical for success.

Is there a final thought you want to share?

Jonathan: I would just say as a concluding note that for a long time, people have overlooked mental health and mental wellness. It gives me a lot of hope that people are finally starting to realize that it really matters. It is not just a bottom line impact; it is a person to person impact. At the end of the day even if we only help one or two people out there, it means we’ve already done something that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. At its core, it comes down to “are we making people’s lives easier or better?” I think that if we can do that, even one time, that means we can do it more than one time. I’m excited for where we’re going. I think it’s going to be an exciting summer!

You can stay up to date with everything CoCo Health is up to at cocohealth.co or by email at info@cocohealth.co.


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.

Money Moves: This Year’s Biggest Wins

There’s a lot happening on any given day here at The Garage. Whether it’s prototyping a new piece of hardware in The Makerspace, a brainstorming session in the bean bag cave, or a class in The Workspace, we know that it can be hard to keep up. And even though we do our best to keep up, too, we’re losing track of current Resident team accomplishments and alumni team accomplishments. So, in case you missed it, here’s a roundup of some of the biggest moves our startups have made so far this year.

Way back in mid-February, Resident team PedalCell traveled north to the University of Michigan for the annual Michigan Business Challenge. While PedalCell calls Northwestern home, specifically its co-founder and CEO Vishaal Mali, McCormick ’20, some of its team members, like COO Adam Hokin, are currently based in Michigan. After four months of competing alongside 80 other companies, PedalCell was awarded $15,000 for first place in the Impact track. The Impact track valued businesses that “best pursued a mission-driven goal through its product offerings and underlying operations of the firm.” PedalCell also took home a second check for the Outstanding Presentation award, given to only two companies in the competition. The momentum didn’t stop there. PedalCell went on to compete in VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition, and took home second place in the Energy + Sustainability Track, racking up $20,000 total since February 2018, not including additional funding through Northwestern’s Sustainability Fund

PedalCell co-founder and CEO Vishaal Mali, McCormick ’20

February was a big month, not just for PedalCell, but Aerospec, too! Born out of Northwestern and lead by Lance Li, Kellogg ’17, Aerospec competed along with only seven other cleantech student founded startups at Clean Energy Trust’s annual business plan competition. Judged by a panel of experts and VC’s, Aerospec took home the grand prize of $50,000. Aerospec was said to “[impress] with their patented infrared imaging solar inspection technology and initial progress with their first customers.”

Business to business startup, The Graide Network, lead by Blaire Pircon, Kellogg ’16, also just raised a successful seed round of more than $1.2 million. With an award-winning, innovative model, The Graide Network, based in Chicago, provides on-demand, formative feedback on student writing via remote teaching assistants. They also welcomed a few more additions to their investor group, including the well-known impact fund, Impact Engine.

L to R: Karl Hughes, Zachary Garwood, Becca Lett, Liz Nell and Blair Pircon, Co-Founder and CEO, Kellogg ’16

In recent news, Northwestern’s very own BrewBike has had a major month of May. BrewBike took home first in the Food + Beverage track at VentureCat, making its way to the finals stage. They ended up with second place overall, racking up $20,000 in non-dilutive prize money. But the hustle never stops! Co-founder and CGO Lucas Philips, SESP ’19 has recently brought on some new team members based out of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and the new collab competed in the University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge just one week after VentureCat. Our fav cold brew coffee startup took home $45,000: $20,000 for their acceptance into the Pritzker Group Venture Fellows Program this summer, $12,500 from the Polsky Center, and $12,500 from the UChicago Innovation Fund.

Lucas Philips, SESP ’19, pitches at VentureCat 2018

And that’s not including an additional $17,000 in winnings by Resident teams during the VentureCat semifinals.

VentureCat 2018 finalists

And then Stephen Lane, Kellogg ’16 and Tushar Garg, Kellogg ’16 changed the game completely, announcing that their startup, FlyHomes, landed a $17 million funding round to finance its newest program, Cash Offers, where “the brokerage will purchase houses directly with cash and then hold onto them until the startup’s buyer clients secure financing. The goal is to present its clients as the equivalent of cash buyers, which in turn helps sellers get the most for their property.

That’s right. More than $18 million raised and won by Northwestern founded startups, from here at our very own stage at Kellogg to conference rooms around Chicago. And that’s just this year. There’s so much more to come. To see all of the results of VentureCat 2018, click here. And don’t forget to keep up with all things Northwestern entrepreneurship, and sign up for our monthly newsletter