I am humbled and honored to be recognized by Future Founders for Top Collegiate Accelerator for Wildfire. To run an accelerator takes everything you have. It is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. Both years, we had 12 very different teams with 12 very different needs. Over the course of the ten weeks, my job is to help develop them first and foremost as leaders imbued with the entrepreneurial mindset and resilience.
Secondly, I aim to accelerate their ventures forward. Like any journey, there are highs and lows, unforeseen obstacles, and occasional moments of true bliss. Most importantly, like any great journey, it cannot be undertaken alone.
As such, I would like to extend my gratitude and thanks to the following individuals for helping to make Wildfire great – Neal Sales-Griffin and Trish Thomas (I can’t wait to see what we do this year), DoTank, Kellogg professors Linda Darragh, Carter Cast, and Craig Wortmann, Esther Baron at the DPELC, Milena Palandech for helping the teams crush their Demo Day pitches, Rob Pasquesi, Adam Fridman, Levi Baer, all of the mentors who offered up their time and talents throughout the summer, and last, but certainly not least The Garage staff for making an impossible task a whole lot easier.
I would also like to extend my congratulations to Vishaal Mali and his team, PedalCell. One of the reasons that Vishaal chose Northwestern was because of The Garage. Starting in high school, he continued to build and push his venture forward throughout his freshman year and really accelerated over the summer with the help of folks like Rich Box and Lisa Schumacher who made ample room in their schedules to help the PedalCell team.
They have continued to hustle and are poised for even more exciting opportunities in the B2V (bike-to-vehicle) space where they will be working with car and bike manufacturers to power the sensors that will help reduce, if not eliminate, accidents between cars and bikers.
Finally, I am honored and humbled to be recognized as Entrepreneurial Mentor of the Year. When I first arrived at The Garage, I thought I had to be some sort of tech-savvy genius and felt like an imposter since my background is primarily in manufacturing and services. Yet, what I recognized early on is that it was not my business skills and know-how that the students needed – though it did prove to be handier than I thought – but rather, they needed my accumulated life experience and wisdom. They needed someone that could help them with life decisions. Someone vulnerable. Someone who owns their mistakes and tries to be a little better every day.
I am awed by the students I get to work with – their passion and zeal. I am grateful to have the opportunity to get out of bed everyday and to help them to become better versions of themselves. I do what I do for them. I do it for love. Thank you to Northwestern, my alma mater, for giving me the chance to live the life I have always dreamed.
Billy is the Associate Director of The Garage at Northwestern. He began his career in his family business—a diversified forest products and steel manufacturer. He launched his first startup, M-Tec Corporation, in 2003, and a second one, Reach360, in 2007 after leading the successful sale of his family business. Billy works with Design For America, advises numerous startups and was an adjunct professor at Northwestern prior to starting at The Garage. Billy received his BA in history and political science from Northwestern in 1998 and his MBA in finance and strategy from Indiana University in 2003.
To learn more about Wildfire, The Garage’s summer pre-accelerator program, click here.