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. 

 

Top 10 @ The Garage

The Garage is always a busy place. On any given day, entrepreneurship courses are being taught in our Workspace, drones are flying around the Resident co-working space, new video games are being beta-tested by students in the Cafe, and our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence are prototyping their next big idea.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all of the cool and innovative things the staff and students are up to at The Garage, so we’ve put together a list of the top ten things you should know happened at The Garage in the last 30 days. Want to find out how you can get involved in entrepreneurship and innovation at Northwestern? Head to our Get Involved section or stop by for a quick tour of our space.

1. We welcome a new entrepreneur each week to our Resident Family Dinner, offering students an opportunity to hear a founder story. In the first week of February, we welcomed Northwestern alum, Jai Shekhawat (KSM ‘96) and founder of Fieldglass, just a few years after selling his company for over a BILLION dollars! Want to see part of Jai’s talk? Check out a clip below. 

2. On February 2, The Garage swept the competition at Kellogg’s new pitch competition, Shark Tank Pitch Night. Resident Teams Tiltas, eRetirements, and Re-bucha, all incubating their startups at The Garage, took home a combined $10,000 in prize money. Read more about how our teams impressed the judges in our feature here.

3. Just a few days later, on February 6, three Northwestern teams took the stage at Cupid’s Cup Validation Day, competing to be a part of the final five, and Northwestern alum Luna Lights made it to the finalsCupid’s Cup was held on March 30 here at Northwestern, and Luna Lights took home $5,000 with the audience choice award! Read up on the event here

4. Later in the month, Resident Team BrewBike was voted the Best Coffee Shop in Evanston in the Daily Northwestern’s annual Best of Evanston competition! Head over to the BrewBike Shop located in Annenberg Hall to grab a cup of BrewBike’s signature coffee or tea, and keep an eye out in the Spring for the iconic bike, serving up cold brew coffee all over Northwestern’s campus.

5. Resident Team Unruled. launched their Kickstarter campaign, introducing their product offering creative minds an open canvas. Their campaign was 104% funded, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for this team this summer during our Wildfire Pre-Accelerator program.  

6. Just afterwards, The Garage was excited to learn that Resident Team IFM (Intelligent Flying Machines) was selected to compete as a semi-finalist team in the New Venture Championship graduate business plan competition in Portland, Oregon at University of Oregon. 

7. That’s not all for IFM! Founder Marc Gyongyosi and his team are also headed to the Rice Business Plan Competition, the world’s richest and largest student startup competition, in Houston in April!

8. On March 2, we welcomed Clayton Bryan from 500 Startups, one of Silicon Valley’s most active seed funds, to chat with Northwestern’s student entrepreneurs about their capital fund and startup accelerator.

9. Northwestern Alumni Magazine highlighted the best of what The Garage has to offer and profiled some of our Resident Teams in their Spring 2017 edition! Check out the full article here

10. And, last but not least, for the first time ever, The Garage partnered with Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) as a sponsor!  This year, all the dancers, guests, and VIPs rocked wristbands provided by The Garage. Check out some of the pictures from the 30-hour event on NUDM’s Facebook page!  

Wildfire: Summer 2017 Teams

The Garage is thrilled to announce the ten student-founded startup teams accepted in Summer Wildfire! Get to know these exciting startups and check back this summer for their progress and to attend Demo Day!

Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program, aims to develop students as both leaders and founders by introducing new ways of thinking and problem-solving.

The Wildfire Pre-Accelerator Program seeks to accelerate student teams between two milestones by giving them additional resources and coaching. Wildfire culminates at the end of the summer with a Demo Day/Shark Tank experience where students will present their proposal and gain feedback from established judges. This is a program designed to help early stage ventures learn and grow.

Community Currency: Community Currency 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.

Gulu: A peer to peer platform that helps college application mentees in China find the perfect mentors.

Help a Mother Out: We are the only lifestyle management platform that enables healthy living through the support of friends and family for new moms in an era in which it takes a village to raise a family, yet the village is at a loss for what to do.

Hot Plate: 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.

Local: Local connects local students interested in earning money with local community members interested in reducing the recurring costs associated with homeownership while synonymously engaging the youth to compliment their lives.

Mogo: Mogo is a video challenging social network looking to create sustainability in users doing “viral video challenges” by creating an creative, interactive, competitive, and socially aware platform.

Ori HD: The world’s first designer for a true functional and intelligent mask, which makes clean air endless.

Pedal Cell: PedalCell aims to address the alternative energy crisis through convenient, powerful and wicked cool measures, starting with the ubiquitous bicycle.

BOSSY: BOSSY connects socially conscious travelers with local female business owners, facilitating ethical traveling and purchasing while empowering women worldwide.

Unruled: A sustainable notebook for creative thinkers. Unruled empowers thinkers to break free from conventional structures and unearth their minds’ creative potentials.
Good luck to all of the Summer Wildfire teams! We can’t wait to see you at Demo Day in August!

Resident Team Spotlight: Zcruit

College football has climbed the ranks to become one of America’s top 3 favorite pastimes. Some assert that nostalgia is the driving factor for the love of the game; the memories from going to school there or growing up in the area could turn even the most passive fans into extreme loyalists. Another reason why college football is so deeply ingrained into the hearts of Americans is how widespread it is: while only half of the States in the USA have any major league sport, only Alaska and Vermont don’t have a NCAA Division 1 football team.

Regardless of your stance in the Michigan Wolverines versus the Ohio State Buckeyes rivalry (or even just as a Wildcat), college football is remarkably lucrative, bringing in more than 3 billion dollars in 2013. Yet, it’s also a competitive business with schools often vying for the same candidates. To convince a candidate to sign with their university, recruiters will often spend a lot of time cultivating relationships with the prospective students, which can be a waste of time and money if the student decides to go elsewhere. And that’s where Zcruit comes in.

“Zcruit helps college football programs recruit smarter through predictive analytics. We’ve developed an algorithm they that can accurately predict how likely a high school prospect is to commit to any given school in the country,” explains Ben Weiss, Northwestern senior and Founder of Zcruit. The Garage sat down with Weiss and the rest of the Zcruit team to learn more about their product and what they’ve learned on their journey.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What big problem does Zcruit solve?

Weiss: “Currently schools are only getting about 10% of the prospects that they extend scholarship offers to and they only spend time actually evaluating 0.5% of the prospects in the recruitment process. On top of this, each school is spending on average over $450,000 on their college recruiting expenses alone. The majority of this time and money that is currently being spent on recruitment is being wasted chasing the wrong guys. So if you can optimize this process and cut down on that time wasted chasing the wrong candidates, you can save schools a lot of time and a lot of money in recruiting and also help them produce better quality recruiting classes.”

What was your biggest motivation to start Zcruit?

Weiss: “I was a big recruiting nut and on the fan side of the college football recruiting process who just wanted to know where the next stars of my college football program were going to wind up coming from. So I got involved in the Northwestern football program at the beginning of of my freshman year of college, was there for about two years, just kind of saw how the inside of a college football program operated and saw the inefficiencies that existed firsthand.

Then I took the Morty Shapiro class, Humanities 260, winter of my sophomore year and I learned about how elite colleges operate in the admissions offices. I saw that top colleges use a statistical based algorithm to predict how likely an average student is to actually accept an offer to a school.

When I saw that this was already being used for a lot of elite universities, I said this would be really applicable and useful in the world of college football recruiting. But we also know a whole lot more about the football players that we’re recruiting in our office than admissions officers know about the general applicants applying to their schools. So from there, a friend and I gathered all the data on Northwestern. We started working with Danny, and after going back and forth for a couple of months, Danny developed a highly accurate algorithm. After year and a half of testing our algorithm with Northwestern’s guide, Northwestern University football recruits right 94% of the time.”

What was the biggest motivation for your team members joining?

Danny Baker: “When Ben told me about it, it sounded like a really good idea. And I wanted to work on a project where I could both work on my data science and my business development skills, so it seemed perfect.”

Alex Cohen: “I joined because I wanted to apply the skills that I’ve learned in a project that real people would use. I only joined a couple of weeks ago and it has been a cool way to apply skills I’ve learned to a real world application.”

Nicholas Karzmer: “I joined because I only took 2 classes in the fall and I had a little bit more free time. I wanted to think of a good way to spend that free time and thought this was a good project. I already knew Danny and Ben and wanted to work with them.”

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

Baker: “I don’t think it’s a failure but it took us a while to find a team to work on this together. I think there were various different guys who we had involved early on who didn’t end up panning out either because they weren’t physically with us on campus or they weren’t motivated as other people. So I think that’s something that took us while to get right.”

Weiss: “Some of them also just didn’t have the skills to do it. I started working on this in April of 2015. I don’t think we really brought the core team together to get this going and really off the ground until January of 2016, so there was a lot of wasted time early on in a sense. In terms of really building the web interface, we definitely stalled there because we didn’t have the right team to help us for a while. We know it wasn’t all for nothing because we were able to get the proof of concept with the system model. I think also, we don’t have any sales yet, and I think that’s something we need, we really kind of need to get going to validate this because it’s hard to really say that we’ve failed at this point, but it’s really hard to say we’ve had success at their point either.”

Baker: “In terms of other obstacles, I think being in school makes it hard to work on entrepreneurial ventures because we get distracted or preoccupied with other things.”

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned overall?

Weiss: “I think the cool thing about our team is that we all have complementary skill sets; none of us could do this on our own and we really kind of have needed and relied on everyone else to to put all the pieces together. I think been just one of the coolest learning experiences out of this whole thing.”

Baker: “I think I’ve learned a lot about team dynamics and how to have a successful team without a hierarchal structure before. So I’ve learned a lot about how to motivate other team members from an informal leadership position. And also, personally, [I’ve learned] a lot about time management and how to take big overarching goals and break them up into smaller actionable tasks.”

What is your biggest barrier?

Weiss: “The biggest barrier I think for us seems to be the time; really buckling down and working on our venture. Obviously if we didn’t have school and everything else going on, we’d be able to make much more rapid progress with what we’re doing. I think we have a lot of interest from the market right now and we’re at the time when we should start selling. So just being able to buckle down and get that time to see it through and build out everything we think we still need to build is currently our biggest barrier. Hopefully within the next month or two, once we start to sell, we’ll really know what our limitations or barriers may be. But before we get there, it’s just about building a product and getting to stage in which we can do it.”

What entrepreneurs do you admire and why?

Baker: “There are these two Northwestern graduates, Michael McRoberts and Brian Baker, who started a college football game analytics company called Championship Analytics, who I definitely admire because they set a good example for how to run a successful business in the same space that we’re all trying to enter and how to do it while still being really nice to everyone.”

Weiss: “I agree with Danny, and what I think is very inspirational about them is they provide a lot of value to their clients and care a lot about them. They don’t just care about making sales. They sell their software for a lot of money and have been fairly successful doing it. But everyone that uses their software or their platform seems really happy in the usage. It seems like a good model for what I strive to do with Zcruit. Making sales is only half the battle. Then it’s retaining the customers and making sure that everyone is really getting value from the product that you’re building or that you’re creating.”

How has The Garage helped you with your startup?

Weiss: “I personally think that The Garage has done everything for us. It’s given us a great space to [have] our meetings. The summer Wildfire program really gave us the resources and the time to buckle down, get to beta prototype and make this thing happen. I think that the mentorship we’ve received from Billy, Melissa and just everyone else at The Garage, the community of other people that are in the same space, is invaluable. Also, if we ever just need help with legal, accounting, if we ever need money, if we ever need anything like that we know that we can turn to The Garage and they can help us solve our problem. I think that they make the entrepreneurial journey so much easier for students and such a positive experience for me at Northwestern.”

 


Update: This interview took place on January 22, 2017. Since then, the Zcruit team is excited to see traction, with a lot of demos scheduled with high profile universities around the country and a feature in USA Today.

The Garage Sets Sail: Marc Gyongyosi’s Summit at Sea

How do you get 3,000 of the world’s most prominent thought and industry leaders to talk to each other face to face? Simple: put them on a boat and ship them off to international waters, far away from any wifi or cell phone signals.

Last Summer, my team and I won the Wildfire Accelerator Pitch Competition special category. The prize was an exclusive invitation for me to join “Summit at Sea”, a 3 day trip on a chartered cruise ship with a lineup that would scare the WEF in Davos. When I first got the brief, it was hard for me to imagine what this was going to be like. Sitting on a boat for 3 days? Going from talks with Eric Schmidt to apnoe-diving and breathing exercises with “The Iceman” Wim Hof? And then there was the “content.” Trojan Horses? Superhumanification? Origins?

How did this all fit together?

At least one of the topics I was familiar with: Black Turtlenecks and Garages. Or so I thought…

Obviously, I tried to figure out ahead of time what I was getting into, but there wasn’t much information available online. A few pictures of people boarding a cruise ship, a short video and some very vague articles describing an unparalleled experience. Summit’s website showed lots of ocean imagery, some people you would read about in the New York Times, and others I had never heard of.

So, on Tuesday, November 8th, I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to Miami to board a cruise ship the next morning (something I never ever imagined myself doing). When I walked on that boat – aptly named “Norwegian Escape,” I left a world behind that I would never see the same way again.

For the next 3 days, I slept an average of 1-2 hours per day, if at all. The boat was awake 24/7 and time did not matter. Every hour was packed with talks by people such as John Sculley, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Hawk. I listened to a North Korean refugee tell her story about escaping the regime while a 20-something was sitting next to her talking about his experience setting up a startup incubator in Pyongyang. After listening to Christopher Ryan’s fascinating account of primate sexuality and its impact on human evolution, I discussed producing music with a Norwegian DJ and learned about the World Expo’s plans for the future. While the results of the election were officially confirmed in one part of the world, Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sanchez were talking about fighting for women’s rights in the 80’s and embracing love, peace and understanding to make a difference in the world. As Summit founder Jeff Rosenthal puts it: “The more diverse the inputs, the more complex the output.”

Summit at Sea 2016 from Summit on Vimeo.

Although the talks and panels were a major part of the program, I quickly realized that you really got to know and meet people once you ventured outside the schedule: Discuss nutrition with an MIT scientist building micro-farms for the future? Sure, just head up to the deck and check out his plants. Meet VC’s and entrepreneurs while sipping on cocktails and discussing leadership techniques? Just go to the pool. Discuss the future of AR and VR with chief engineers from Oculus and HoloLens – that’s what the Whiskey bar is for. And if that wasn’t enough, dinners were again a time to meet new people and make connections, like the New York Jazz band who put on a jam session for all the people at the table after we finished dessert.

Everyone was trying to maximize their time spent on the boat by talking and meeting new people, exchanging ideas and finding ways to solve problems. And everyone was doing that with an incredible openness to connect and talk. Even in the elevators – which is usually a place for awkward looks and silence!

Looking back, I now understand why there isn’t much info about Summit available online. Summit at Sea is so immersive and captivating that no 2D screen or text could ever capture fully what it means. And so, from the moment you board the ship onwards, you basically enter a contract to be present in person, not via email or text. Instead of pointing eyes to screens and words to phones, people pointed eyes to faces and words to each other. At least for 3 days.

The crowd on the cruiseship was the most diverse group of people that I have ever met and I cherish every second that I was able to spend with them. Thank you to The Garage for providing me with this incredible opportunity and thank you to the Summit Team for putting on what was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been through. It changed my perspective on the world.


Marc Gyongyosi is the Founder and CEO of IFM (Intelligent Flying Machines), a current student at Northwestern, and a Resident of The Garage. 

The Garage Sweeps the Competition at Shark Tank Pitch Night

Eight student founded startup teams went head to head in a Shark Tank style pitch competition held by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Inspired by the hit ABC TV show, teams gave quick pitches to acclaimed judges including four from Perimeter Advisors, MATH Ventures, Corazon Capital, and OCA Ventures. Audience members were able to give their pick for a winner, too which the judges took into consideration.

Prize money totaling $10,000 was up for grabs at the competition and it was up to the judges how the money would be distributed among the top three.  Who went home with the cash and who went home empty handed?

Resident Teams incubating their startups this quarter at The Garage swept the competition, landing in first, second, and third places. So what was it about Re-bucha, Tiltas, and eRetirements that impressed the judges enough to get a chunk of the prize money?

Founder of Re-Bucha, and Kellogg student, Kathryn Bernell, took first place and $5,000 thanks to her bootstrapping style and incredible traction in just a few short months. Re-bucha is kombucha made with less than perfect looking produce, and Kathryn is working hard to master her formula and sourcing the best ugly ingredients.

Find out more about Re-Bucha, one of our newest Residents Teams here.

Tiltas has a simple mission: to change the narrative. Founder, Tiffany Smith, aims to connect recently previously incarcerated individuals with employment by working with both parties. Tiffany and Tiltas took home second place and $3,000 for its web-based platform.

Find out more about how big the mission of Tiltas really is here.

Last, but certainly not least, long-time Resident Team and Wildfire participant eRetirements took the third spot and $2,000.  Founder Jared Scharen uses analytics and questionnaires to match retirees with the ideal retirement destination. Interested in how Jared is constantly improving his idea?

Check out a recent piece on how eRetirements prioritized learning here.

Five other startup teams competed alongside Re-Bucha, Tiltas, and eRetirements including even more Residents of The Garage, like NewMoon Chicago, an event services startup; QuickPulse, a tool to increase millennial retention rates B2B,  and Tadpole, a fun way to connect beta users to apps. Shoutout to the other Kellogg competitors, Kheyti (a tool that protects farmers from uncertainty) and Buk (a payroll organizer for Chilean business).

To learn more about the resources we offer our Resident Teams, find out more about our programs and things like Office Hours and special educational workshops.

Changing the Narrative: Tiltas

Tiltas has a stance. Tiltas has a mission. Tiltas is ready to change the narrative.

 The mission is simple – a platform to connect previously incarcerated individuals with employment opportunities in skilled labor. Formerly known as OrangePrint, and co-founded by Tiffany Smith (Kellogg), Tiltas sets out to make the world a place with something to offer those formerly incarcerated, which isn’t a small feat. Just how big is this problem in America today?

According to CNN, former inmates face “enormous challenges finding work after they’ve been released.” Many have been out of the workforce for years, and their criminal records often prevent them from even getting their foot in the door. A recent survey conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights discovered 76% of former inmates voiced finding work after being released was nearly impossible. Two thirds of the respondents to the survey were either unemployed or underemployed five years after being released. “Ban the box” campaigns in various states are calling for employment applications to do away with the question regarding previous criminal history, forcing employers to first determine if a potential employee meets the requirements for the job. However, with employment playing a major role in an individual’s reintegration into society, and the still huge barriers having a record causes, Tiffany Smith was determined to find a better way.

Tiffany has a personal connection to Tiltas’ mission and values. She has friends who were previously incarcerated and were unable to find employment, but also knowing some previously incarcerated individuals who had found work (in construction, specifically), she recognized a need and a possibility for a solution.  

Tiffany and her team have been working to connect construction companies with recently released or previously incarcerated individuals using a web-based platform to streamline the job-finding as well as the recruitment process. Previously called OrangePrint, the company shifted to the name Tiltas, the Lithuanian word for “bridge.” The name is tied more closely with the purpose of the company. Tiffany’s team is working hard to expand their network, and plan to continue exploring their options with hopes to grow their company and fully launch their web-based system.

Tiltas has also caught the attention of the tech world in recent months. The team just won $50,000 in the 2016 Kapor Capital PeopleOPS Tech competition. The Garage is looking forward to tracking the sure to come future successes of Tiltas.

If you’re interested in helping change the narrative in the world of employment, or you are an employee willing to hire the formerly incarcerated or you are someone who was formerly incarcerated and ready to take the right first step, join Tiltas here.