VentureCat 2017: The Finals

VentureCat is Northwestern’s annual student startup competition, offering the best and brightest Northwestern student entrepreneurs a shot at a piece of a $100,000 dollar non-dilutive capital pie. Didn’t get a chance to see the finals? Here’s how it all went down.

A total of 23 teams competed in semi-finals rounds in six different tracks. Interested in learning more about the semifinalists? Click here. Prizes of $5,000 were awarded to the winners of each track, and $3,000 to each track’s runner up.

Business Products + Services (B to B)

Track Winner: Quickpulse

Runner Up: Zcruit

Consumer Products + Services (B to C)

Track Winner: Welltended

Runner Up: RE-Bucha

Energy + Sustainability

Track Winner: Aerospec Technologies

Runner Up: PedalCell

Life Sciences + Medical Innovations

Track Winner: Actualize Therapy

Runner Up: ActiWit

Social Impact + Nonprofit

Track Winner: Tiltas

Runner Up: Sidekick

Transportation + Mobility

Track Winner: IFM

Runner Up: SHURPA

Then, each of the finalists took the VentureCat stage. Finals were MC’ed by Northwestern alum, Samir Mayekar (a former student founder himself).

The Finalists From Left to Right: Tiffany Smith (Tiltas, Kellogg ’17), Carolyn Snider (Welltended, Kellogg ’17), Selin Halman (Actualize Therapy, WCAS ’18), Smit Naik (Actualize Therapy, Kellogg ’17), Jessica Tsai (Quickpulse, Kellogg ’17), Lance Li (Aerospec Technologies, Kellogg ’18), Marc Gyongyosi (IFM, McCormick ’17) and Alexis Baudron (IFM, McCormick ’20)

IFM (Intelligent Flying Machines) took home first place and a check for $30,000. Founded by Marc Gyongyosi, IFM is a data analytics startup using robotics, computer vision and machine learning to automate indoor data capture and is currently focused on warehouse inventory tracking. Marc has become a pitching veteran, competing in multiple venture challenges just this year. Marc is currently a senior, graduating from Northwestern this year and has been incubating his startup at The Garage.

We don’t mean to brag, but second place and $15,000 went to another Resident Team of The Garage, Tiltas. Founder Tiffany Smith pitched her technology platform that connects formerly incarcerated individuals with resources and mentorship as they transition. Tiltas has been one of Tiffany’s primary projects during her time as a student at the Kellogg School of Management, and she’ll be pursuing Tiltas full time after her graduation in a few weeks.

Third place and a (literally) big check for $10,000 went to Quickpulse, a WeChat-integrated tool that allows Chinese millennials to give feedback to employers to improve workplace retention. Founder, Jessica Tsai is a former Resident of The Garage where she worked on Quickpulse and is also graduating from the Kellogg School of Management.

The VentureCat audience also heard pitches from the remaining three finalists, Welltended, Aerospec Technologies, and Actualize Therapy.

Summer Wildfire 2017: ORIHD

Recently, over 20 cities in China have issued red alert warnings for air pollution and smog. Red alerts are the highest of the four-tiered pollution warning system used by mainland China and are a definite indication that something must be done to combat this air pollution. Chinese authorities are taking steps to fight the pollution and limit the smog, but this is still an issue that continues to plague the citizens of China. Fortunately, ORIHD aims to produce new and innovative technology to solve this problem.

ORIHD began in Northwestern’s NUVention: Energy class where Co-Founders Kuanze Ma and Edgar Palacios originally developed the idea to tackle the air pollution problem in China. ORIHD is the world’s first design of a functional and intelligent mask providing endless clean air both indoors and outdoors. The Garage sat down with both co-founders to learn more about ORIHD and their innovative mask.

Left: Kuanze Ma; Right: Edgar Palacios 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Kuanze: “Our idea started in NUVention, a course we took together during the beginning of 2016. Initially, we were required to complete a project related to energy. However, we asked whether we could do something else that wasn’t necessarily related to energy but that could still solve a big problem and our instructor was open to it. And then I thought back to my life; I was living in Beijing for four years and I suffered a lot from the smog. So, I would like to tell two stories, the first is my experience when the smog first popped up and I had no idea what it was.

It just looked like dirt in the air. I walked outside without any protection just to enjoy the comforts of the campus. But after 15 minutes, I got back to my dorm and I couldn’t go anywhere for the next two days because I kept coughing. The second story involves my roommate at the time. He was a pretty hilarious guy because he frequently opened the window during the night and I would ask him why he opened the window and he said he wanted to freshen the air… I said seriously? It definitely didn’t help freshen the air. Every time a window was open, whether it was ours or someone else’s in the hall, I couldn’t fall asleep for the next two hours because the smog and internal air pollution was so intense. So when we got to NUVention  and we had a chance to solve this; we had the technology team and myself, who has knowledge and experience with the pollution in Asia, we decided to start a technology related project to solve this problem.”

Edgar: “We initially started with a thermoelectric generator based-device because we tried really hard to make it an energy-related product, but that was a longshot. So we ended up with a really cool and simple idea which is much more feasible.”

What problem are you targeting and how do you aim to solve it?

Kuanze: “Initially the problem we were trying to solve is the outdoor air pollution and our product was a mask. But gradually, we revised our business and project model. One year after the initial stage, I realized a mask is cool but there are other problems with indoor air pollution as well and why can’t we solve both? So we changed our project model and we wanted to create a product that can protect the users from both outdoor and indoor air pollution. We changed the product from a mask to an integrated design of a mask and a portable air purifier. You can wear it as a mask when you travel outside and you can put it on a table while you’re inside as it will blow fresh air into your face. This will create a micro-ecosystem for yourself and in that way, you’re always protected!”

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

Edgar: “Probably that we didn’t get a designer sooner. None of us are designers. I come from an engineering background and Kuanze comes from a business and law background. And when you have a product like ours, people want to see it and that became a roadblock pretty frequently. We had an idea but we never had an actual physical or even visible representation of the product and that set us back a lot.”

Kuanze: “Yeah, I think that’s the problem as well. If we could have found someone who could really commit to this team, the whole process will be much more smooth. Although we are still developing our technology, we need the technology to go together with the design. Initially we had a friend who came onto the team as an intern and she helped create a 3D model for us but unfortunately she couldn’t remain on the team as she was applying to schools. Then I spent the next few months looking for another designer and I got to The Garage and found one during the Design Expo.”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Edgar: “I don’t think I know too many to be honest.”

Kuanze: “You should say Kuanze!”

Edgar: “Definitely Kuanze! But also Elon Musk is definitely one that I look up to and I consider him more of a futurist. He also just bought a solar company and he has Tesla as well. He has a bunch of different things.”

Kuanze: “For me, it’s Elon Musk as well. I admire him because he’s an explorer of so many fields like PayPal and SpaceX. And I feel like he really wants to make a change in the world, not just profit.”

Edgar: “And I think the thing I admire the most about him is that he went beyond the idea that not very many people can travel to space and he actually made it semi-affordable. I think that’s really cool because it’s outside the box and before, you’d never be able to go to space unless you were an astronaut, but now,  if you can fork up a little bit of money, you can do it.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Kuanze: “A lot!”

Edgar: “Resources and a lot of them. Networking and resources have been huge because when you talk to someone they say, oh I know someone who can help you. You’re constantly surrounded by people who can help you or know someone who can help you. As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly learning and being surrounded by experienced individuals is definitely a very valuable aspect of The Garage.”

Kuanze: “There are so many ‘spark’ moments here in The Garage. Every time we schedule a meeting with one of our mentors, we always feel surprised and humbled by how experienced they are. They always propose so many great ideas!”

Edgar: “And the Northwestern community in general is also so helpful.”

Kuanze: “Melissa and Billy are always super willing to help. I actually just met with Insight, an industrial design group in Chicago because I was talking to Billy and I told him we were looking for an industrial design firm. The next day Melissa actually introduced us to Steve, a partner at Insight. The meeting went really well and now we might have a chance to work with this firm. Overall they have opened up a lot of opportunities for us which will definitely help us throughout the whole process.”

What do you hope to get out of the Summer Wildfire program?

Edgar: “A functional prototype. The money we are receiving is great because you need money to make and develop your product which is something that we’re missing. Also, I think the fact that there will be be people here who will be pushing us is also  great because right now we’re just working at our own pace and sometimes that can be a little slow. Having someone to constantly push us will definitely keep us on track!”

Kuanze: “And if everything goes well, the next step will be crowdfunding!”

Summer Wildfire 2017: PedalCell

Our society has continuously grappled with clean energy and sustainability throughout the years. It’s a threat so large and omnipresent that we may never be able to fully overcome it. Hybrid cars and alternative forms of commuting, especially bikes, are becoming increasingly popular. These alternative forms of transportation save energy and reduce CO2  emissions, a great step toward a more sustainable lifestyle. And why not fill two needs with one by saving the environment and charging your phone at the same time?

PedalCell, a startup founded by Vishaal Mali, aims to address the alternative energy crisis through convenient, powerful and wicked cool measures, starting with the ubiquitous bicycle. Their 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. The Garage sat down with Vishaal to learn more about PedalCell and what they hope to achieve in the future.

Founder of PedalCell: Vishaal Mali (Not pictured: Adam Hopkin, Andrew Brown)

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Vishaal: “So we started in high school actually. My cofounder and I were really into bikes, and we were also really passionate about sustainability. We wanted to know what we could do as high school students to not necessarily change the world immediately but rather spark an initiative to change people’s mindsets about cleantech in the long run. We wanted to show people that clean energy is cool and something that can be easily applied to our lives rather than something that’s tedious and inconvenient.  Being avid bikers, we decided to create a bike-powered phone charger because the bike market was something that we were  familiar with. We decided to harness the untapped source of power from riding a bike and turn that excess energy into electricity to charge a phone.”

What is the problem you’re targeting and how do you plan to solve it?

Vishaal: “Everyone who has a phone will inevitably need to charge it. People spend a lot of time charging their phones and this requires a lot of energy. Since we’re really big on clean energy and sustainability, we knew that the current way we charge our phones and appliances is not sustainable. Eventually we’re going to hit a point where our current methods will be unsustainable. So we decided to create the bike-powered phone charger to spark this initiative toward clean energy and sustainability. It’s obviously not going to clean the face of energy but we hope to spark a chain movement. We are creating a device that you attach to a bike and mainly bike shares because a lot of people use them on their daily commute. So as they bike to their destination, they can charge their phone and save the energy that they would be using from their homes or other energy sources.”

When did you first feel the entrepreneurial spirit?

Vishaal: “I think the spirit itself has been there my entire life. I’ve always been passionate about things and have been able to refine them as I’ve gotten older. Whenever I approached something, my first thought would always be, “What can I do to change this?” From there, it kind of evolved into the idea of creating a company whose sole purpose is to continue the passion that I have for clean energy and sustainability.”

Who’s on the team?

Vishaal: “I’m the founder and CEO of the device and I brought on my cofounder, Andrew Brown, during high school; he currently studies at Georgia Tech. He’s also really passionate about sustainability and clean energy. We also have Adam Hokin, another cofounder who is a sophomore studying business at the University of Michigan. He’s someone who can take our technical expertise and combine it with the market and really get our product out there as starting a company is more than just creating the product.  

When I got here in the Fall quarter of my freshman year, I continued working on our startup but it was really difficult being the only person working on it. So I brought on a fourth team member, Christoph Aigner, a freshman engineer here at Northwestern University. With him, we’ve been moving forward and progressing through various prototypes.”

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

Vishaal: “We initially started out with a consumer product before we decided to target bike shares. We made a few prototypes super early on and began testing them; however we quickly ran into a roadblock. In order to charge your phone, you’d have to be biking for a ridiculously long time. Usually, we were sweating by the end of it and your phone got maybe a half of a percent of charge. It was a huge setback as we were forced to redesign our product to make sure it could hit the energy demands of today’s phones. Our device can now charge a phone from 0-85% in 30 minutes.

The second setback was when we were prototyping before we came to Northwestern and we were running things out of a little setup in my garage. We were testing and playing with batteries trying to get the charger to where we wanted it. And then one night some of the lithium ion batteries caught on fire in my garage. Luckily, I figured it out pretty quickly and I was able to contain the fire but it was still a pretty major issue. Playing with batteries in the garage with a soldering iron nearby was definitely not the best move.”

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

Vishaal: “I guess the most important lesson is that often as engineers, we get caught up with trying to have the best product and adding new features to the product. But you always have to take a step back and think about what problem you’re actually trying to solve because sometimes you realize these features don’t actually help you achieve that goal. Our goal is to promote sustainability and create a social benefit.

Secondly, sometimes you lose track of your target audience as well as the process of how to get your idea from prototype to implementation. This can be very difficult and our biggest goal right now is to continue the progress of our idea as smoothly as possible.”

How did you choose the name PedalCell and what was that process like?

Vishaal: “It was actually very inorganic. Our first name was Vitruvia- based  off of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. But we realized that idea was cool, but had nothing to do with our product and people need a name that’s related to the product. Again, being in the market where we’re creating bike-powered phone chargers where you pedal to create energy, the idea of PedalCell came up because cell: battery, and you can charge your phone by pedaling.”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Vishaal: “I think there are several, very generically, Elon Musk. He does a great job of not caring about what other people think about him and he is very focused on what he wants to do and get accomplished. The second person is Ben Horowitz; he has a huge VC firm and the reason I like him a lot is not for how smart and talented he is at engineering, but it’s because he really highlights and emphasizes that being an entrepreneur, there are a lot of hard things that people don’t want to talk about. He has a book called The Hard Thing About Hard Things, which I just read recently, and I love how he takes the glamour of being an entrepreneur and breaks it down to how it’s actually extremely difficult. He went through so many difficult steps and failures but kept on moving forwards.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Vishaal: “I think the biggest thing is the mentorship. Being young entrepreneurs, it’s hard to know what to do. You don’t know what the next steps are, but having people like Melissa, Billy, Elisa and our mentors as resources to ask whatever we want whenever we want about anything is super helpful. The Makerspace is also really helpful since we use the 3D printers a lot for prototyping. The new Muse Laser Cutter will be huge for us as well. Also, the other companies in The Garage are really helpful because sometimes products in The Garage overlap and if you have an engineering question you can ask the guy next door. In our case, that’s IFM, and Marc is really good at what he does and he’s a great resource as well.”

What do you hope to get out of the Summer Wildfire program?

Vishaal: “The biggest thing is being able to work together as a team since we are so spread out across different schools. Having all of us together for the summer, where this is our only job, will be huge for us in terms of development. We hope to launch in the Fall of 2017 so we obviously have a lot of tasks to finish from now until then. So Wildfire will be amazing for mentorship, creating time to work, and learning the nitty gritty details of a startup.”

Where do you see your startup going in the future?

Vishaal: “In the future we hope to use this not as the end all be all company but as a platform to get started. Again, we’re passionate about sustainability and starting a chain or a movement but that can’t be done immediately. So, we hope to use PedalCell as a platform and once we can prove that this is doable and that people like it and will use it, we can create bigger and better things. Eventually we hope to have that one company that does have the potential to change the world.”

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: Community Currency

Traveling abroad to a foreign location can be a great experience! Every location has its own culture and unique wonders to experience. But whether it’s for business, vacation, or academic reasons, you’re bound to need money. Sometimes you’re lucky and your destination uses the same currency as your home country, however, this is not always the case. Usually, travelers must exchange their currency for foreign currency. And often at the end of their trip they end up having excess foreign currency without anything worthwhile to spend it on and they end up wasting it.

Community Currency, a startup founded by Evan Taylor, is a 501(c)(3)-incorporated non-profit that repurposes leftover foreign currency from international airport travelers, changing the lives of underprivileged children by funding local charities. They aim to collect any extra foreign currency that travelers may have as they return to the US through eye-catching receptacles placed throughout international airport terminals. Ultimately, they hope to use that money to make an impact on US public education, beginning with Chicago Public Schools. And The Garage sat down with Vice President, Jackson Lehmar, and Director of Research, Robbie Markus, to learn more about Community Currency.

 

(Left to right: Lauren Burns, Robbie Markus, Jason Kerr, Meghan Harshaw, Justin Hennenfent, Jackson Lehmar, Evan Taylor, Zach Hennenfent)
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Robbie: “So it’s pretty funny actually. The idea initially came from the mom of our CEO, Evan Taylor. They were flying back from Mexico last summer and they had a good amount of pesos left over which they ended up just spending on wasteful things. They realized that no one is doing anything with this money so Evan’s mom said something along the lines of, “I wonder how much foreign currency is out there that is just completely wasted and unused.” Evan played around with the idea that summer and when he got back to campus he reached out to some of his friends and others who had work ethics that he respected and told them that he really wanted to make this happen. He believed we could use this completely wasted foreign currency for a really good social cause. We could convert this money and turn it around to give it to a socially inclined purpose.”

What is the problem you are targeting and how do you plan on solving it?

Jackson: “So Robbie just touched up on it, but the problem is that there is this space of foreign currency that is brought back to the US without anywhere to put it. We did a ton of research and found out that currency exchange partners in the US no longer take foreign coins because it is too costly to ship all them back to their manufacturers. Also, processing is too expensive and they don’t do it anymore, only third parties do it now. We did hours and hours of research and market analysis. We crunched a ton of numbers and found out based on our estimate, that there is roughly 95 million dollars in wasted currency that will circulate throughout the year.

Currently, there’s this company called Change for Good. They’re a non-profit that works exclusively with Unicef and American Airlines. Instead of placing a receptacle in the airport, they take bins on flights and the stewardess will walk by to collect any donations. So, imagine these numbers: since 1997, Change for Good has made 27 million dollars, thus averaging about 1 million dollars per year.  Our solution is to be in every major international terminal and TSA checkpoint and have receptacles placed that are eye-catching so when people walk by they will see a an initiative worth donating to. These individuals could walk by and drop their coins in and we would take the money and ship it to Global Coin Solutions. Global Coin Solutions is a third party currency exchange company that we’ve already talked to and have a handshake agreement with. We drop the coins in a box which is pre-labeled and we ship it to them and they send the money back to us while they take a 25% cut.”

Robbie: “And the larger social impact that it’s going towards is education. A lot of what Jackson and I will be doing this summer, especially because education policies in the U.S are so tough, is trying to figure out how to make a difference with the resources we have and cut through all the tough problems with public education in the U.S. It’s something that, as a political science major, I very much look forward to doing!”

Jackson: “There’s two spaces that we will really be working on this summer at the Wildfire pre-accelerator program. One is the manufacturing side, prototyping the receptacle as well as branding and marketing it so that it is appealing to people in the airport. The other side is continued research into what demographic we are looking into to get people to drop coins into the bins and reach out to CPS, principals, local hospitals, and nonprofits to identify their biggest need/problem.”

Who is the team composed of?

Jackson: “I am the Vice President and I run operations, float around, and oversee the Board and chair positions. Robbie is similar and we do a lot of floating around together. Although we have positions, everyone collaborates which I think is really important because it keeps people on their toes.  

I’ll speak on Evan’s behalf. He is our president, our CEO, and the one who came up with the idea. He runs most of the motions, keeps us on our toes, and keeps us motivated. As for the rest of the Board of Directors, we have Jason Kerr, our treasurer who runs everything in the legal realm, and Justin Hennenfent, our secretary, who also headed our recruitment process recently.”

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

Robbie: “Over winter break I wasn’t working so I was really excited to go 24/7 with Community Currency. I was hyped! During the school year, you’re taking four classes and you’re in various student groups. Over winter break, I didn’t really have anything. My main goal over winter break was to find someone that could convert this money for us. I wanted to figure out how to do this because there aren’t that many other people out there aside from Change for Good that are doing what we’re doing. I was a little bit concerned that people hadn’t done this because there wasn’t someone to convert this money. We needed to find someone that could convert this money in an efficient way, the way we want it.”

Jackson: “This is something we had researched all throughout fall, but we still couldn’t come up with a solution.”

Robbie : “Yeah, so over winter break I did a lot of research on it and I reached out over LinkedIn to people with banks or foreign currency exchange companies. I must have reached out to three CEOs each day with a 5% response rate. And that’s tough because you know you have a good idea, but people just won’t respond. You know you just have to get up the next day and do it all again. That was the time when I felt like wow, this is tough, but once we find the one person that will work with us, our problem will be solved. And we finally found this guy in Canada who seems incredible.

Jackson: “And to touch on that as well, this isn’t so much a failure rather it’s more of a learning experience. I think something to be said for everyone who begins a startup is that you should clearly set out your goals and define them. And then you specify and redefine them and then specify and redefine them again. You should specify and redefine them almost every day.”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Robbie: “This is an interesting question for me because I’m not particularly interested in entrepreneurship since I’m majoring in political science and radio television and film. But the main reason I’m here is that I’m very interested in helping people and because of the the social impact of non-profits. The entrepreneur that I do look up to most is Elon Musk because I think it’s so easy for your thinking, and daily thought processes to be defined by the context around you and the news you read. But Elon Musk has consistently shown an ability to think completely in a manner that the rest of the world isn’t thinking in.”

Jackson: “Similar to Robbie, all my life the best thing in this world is to be able to help someone else in need and I’m involved in multiple nonprofits on campus aside from this as well. I never really had the entrepreneurial mindset but I would say the one closest to me that I admire most is Evan, our founder.  And throughout the past nine months he’s been so steadfast and such a great leader. He has done everything from meeting every week and emailing every person on this planet to securing every promotion and connection that we have.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Robbie: “For me, I find The Garage interesting for us because we are outside the norm. Almost everyone here is either a) a for-profit startup or b) largely invested in tech. We’re a non-profit, social impact focused startup, which is very outside of the mold. What I can say is that The Garage has absolutely given us a community that is very engaged and very interested in what they’re doing. Being in this mindset is very motivating and pushes us to constantly rethink, innovate, and redefine our mission, which I’m very appreciative of.”

Jackson: “For the team, I have been in multiple mentorship meetings over the past three or four months and every meeting I’ve gone to, I’ve learned something new that I can’t believe I didn’t know before. For me personally, for Wildfire, we had to make a pitch deck and prepare an elevator pitch which is something I had never done before. Now I can confidently build a PowerPoint and present our company to anyone at this point because of their guidance and help. These are skills you don’t really learn in the classroom and we get to practice at The Garage and apply them to our startup.”

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

Summer Wildfire 2017: MOGO

It’s no surprise that viral video challenges spread like wildfire. These challenges drive creativity and innovation as each challenger tries to create something new and unique. These challenges take many forms (for example, the cinnamon challenge, the mannequin and running man challenges, and even challenges to raise awareness like the ALS ice bucket challenge). However, there really isn’t one central social platform that hosts all of these challenges.

That’s where Mogo comes in. Mogo stands for Making Our Generation Original and it’s a video challenging social network looking to create sustainability in users doing viral video challenges. Mogo hopes to become the location that all users look to in order to find, watch, and upload video challenges. The Garage sat down with Lloyd Yates and Drew Luckenbaugh, two members of Mogo to learn more about their journey.

 

Left: Shane Davis, Middle: Lloyd Yates, Right: Drew Luckenbaugh (not pictured: Megell Strayhorn)

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

Lloyd: “I would say high school was when me and my two other founders really got into the entrepreneurial world. We tried network marketing and all that scam stuff, it didn’t work out, but nevertheless a good experience. It was good for us to dabble in entrepreneurship and figure out what we wanted to do. We kept seeing this common theme of video challenges resurfacing from middle school to high school and it’s become a huge phenomenon, that I’ve partaken in. And at the time we thought, let’s just start an app, it sounds really cool. We had no prior understanding of this area but we definitely wanted to build an app. And that’s kind of where it all came about, a passion for doing something we had seen for years and wanting to build something really cool.”

 

What are each of your roles on the team?

Lloyd: “So I’m kind of like the leader of the team even though we can all lead in different aspects. Drew, the tech guy, is the best in the business. We have Megell in Michigan,  who’s amazing at marketing. Currently he’s promoting our brand and building up our Instagram page and now we have thousands of followers. And there’s Shane; me and him kind of go hand-in-hand with everything we do. We’ve actually kind of made up a position for him: the Chief Visionary Officer. But I don’t think that title really does him justice in the sense that he’s a genius, especially with the vision of Mogo, where we want to take it, and understanding our users’ desires. We are definitely a solid team!”

 

What’s the problem you’re working to solve and what’s the solution you’ve created?

Lloyd: “I think we’re facing two problems. One, we believe there is a lack of a centralized video platform throughout social media. We conducted a survey of roughly 100 people and asked them what their favorite mobile video app is. Among those 100 people, there is no clear-cut answer. Snapchat was first, then YouTube, then Facebook, then Twitter, and finally Instagram. There was no clear winner with users saying “this is my favorite video platform.” And the second is the problem and conflict of video challenging. Like I said, it’s been going on since before our time. As long as I can remember, since I was 13 years old, people have been consistently doing viral challenges and competing with each other. Over 28 million people got involved in the ice bucket challenge in the summer of 2014 and recently over 16 million people mentioned the mannequin challenge on Instagram. So from me and my team members’ past seven years of observation, this is something that needs to be resolved. Since it’s a continuous process, it can be done better and that’s why we’re doing Mogo.”

 

How did you choose the name Mogo?

Lloyd: “Well, when developing the idea of the platform and tweaking things around, at one point we thought it would be cool to turn this into a game where the point of the game is to do video challenges and eventually work your way up in the system until you become a mogul. So that’s where it’s derived from and we said, Mogo, it sounds really smooth and it’s short and catchy. We also wanted it to mean something; Mogo is an acronym that stands for Making Our Generation Original.”

 

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

Lloyd: “I would say, when we first got started right out of high school, we just really wanted to jump into it. We had no idea where to take things, how to build an app, and how to go about our business. We started by looking for freelance developers and we were going to pay out of pocket for their service. We got into contact with this one guy who sounded really cool and said he could do it for a reasonable price. Eventually, we started working with him, but things didn’t turn out as well as expected because for one, we didn’t know what we were doing or what we were looking for. We didn’t really see the vision or have a clear idea of Mogo at the time. And in a way, this guy played us because he knew we didn’t know what we were doing or what we wanted. He overcharged us for what he provided us. It was just a bad ordeal. But it turned out for the better; we learned we had to take things slow and do things ourselves and it was kind of a wakeup call. Now we do everything internally and it has been relatively smooth ever since.”

 

What has been the most important lesson you have learned so far?

Drew: “I would say with developing and everything, patience, double-checking and testing what a brand new user would be experiencing is key. You have to figure out what they would be doing as a user and become one of them. You need to think of all the different possibilities and at the same time make sure everything is  secure and good to go.”

Lloyd: “I would definitely say patience is a virtue. For starters, we really wanted to rush into things and pay somebody to build it. We didn’t really focus on the team, the product, or the users. But I think from just doing Mogo for two years now, patience is key. There’s no reason to rush into it. And another thing I’ve learned is to go ahead and just do it. There’s a lot of resources out there to tell you to create business plans and business models and 18-month runways. That’s fine and all, but I’ve read a lot of cool stuff that says creating those plans is just a prediction. You have to actually do it to figure out if it’ll actually work. Why waste your time building this elaborate plan when that plan is more than likely to fail? So just go ahead and do it and you’ll learn from trial and error.”

 

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Drew: “Linus Torvalds, he’s the guy that invented Linux! Mainly because he’s like a big-time developer and everything but also because he competed with Windows and UNIX at the same time. He wanted a cheaper solution that he also wanted to be as open sourced as UNIX was and he just came up with his own. And now even Windows incorporated their bash shells so he practically won, because they’re using his stuff now.”

Lloyd: “I would say two people, my dad and my brother. My dad is a doctor who has recently gone into a private practice and started building his own brand and products. Seeing him go through that has been really inspiring and he has greatly helped me with my ventures as well. My brother has been working on a music startup for a few years and just having them in front of me and looking at what they’ve done is inspiring in its own way. I would also say, like big-time entrepreneur, would be the CEO of 5 Hour Energy, Manoj Bhargava. He started 5 Hour Energy and became a billionaire and he’s working on this project called Billions for Change which is a dope project. He’s really trying to change and influence the world by creating resources that will allow countries in need to have access to water and energy and I think that’s incredible.”

 

How has The Garage helped you with your startup and your progress?

Lloyd: “I would say I got kind of lucky when I got here because I got here the summer of 2015, right when it opened. It was cool because I had never seen anything like it. I talked to Melissa and since day one, she has been super helpful with finding the right people to talk to and growing our network. She helped me figure out and get a clear vision of Mogo along with Billy, Gregg Latterman and Neal Sales-Griffin (Mentor at The Garage). To me, The Garage has been vital in figuring out what Mogo is and where we want to be.”

Drew: “It’s a great place to come to and work on stuff to clear your mind and there are so many resources available. There are always coders everywhere so if you have any questions you can always turn to them to help you out!”

 

Where do you guys see Mogo going in the future?

Lloyd: “We just want to grow it to its potential. We see it being one of the next big things. In a way, people have asked us if we want to compete with the big social media platforms. And it’s like why not? We’re not trying to do what they do, they’re trying to do what we do.”

 

What’s your favorite viral video challenge?

Lloyd: “My favorite is the Jukebox Challenge. It started at an HBCU  where these guys held up a speaker and played All Day by T-LO, and a group of 20 guys and girls would dance and have a good time. This really resonated with the football team. We brought that into the weight room and when someone would hit a PR (personal record) and go ring the bell, the guy who hit the PR would get a 45-LB plate and hold it up and start dancing like the jukebox challenge while more guys followed. And it just really stuck with me.”

Drew: “The cup-blowing one, mainly because I can do it. It’s the one where you have to blow one cup into another cup. That’s one of the only ones that I was good at.”

Currently Mogo is developing their mobile app which they hope to launch soon! In the meantime, check out their Instagram page @mogothat!

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

Summer Wildfire 2017: myVillage

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

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

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

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

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

What has been the most important lesson you have learned?

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

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

 

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

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

 

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

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

 

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

IFM Wins $45k at Pitch Competitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Heating Up for #WinterWildfire2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

Learning Through Challenges: NoteShark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Spotlight: Unruled.

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

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

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

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

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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

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

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

What is your motivation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think are your biggest barriers?

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

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

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

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

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

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

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

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

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

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