When I first walked into Northwestern’s north parking structure almost 5 years ago, I could not have imagined the fun and rewarding experiences that lay ahead.
Eleven thousand square feet of the garage’s second floor, aptly called The Garage, was in the midst of being transformed into a place where students could build ideas. Modelled on startups in Silicon Valley, the sleek space would soon house meditation and bean bag rooms, 3D printers and VR equipment. Walls were covered with dry erase boards on which hoodie-wearing students could design the Next Big Thing.
I joined the fast-growing community as an Entrepreneur in Residence, mentoring students and developing Propel, a program designed to promote diversity in entrepreneurship. When the opportunity arose to be The Garage Associate Director and develop other specialized programs to help students hone their entrepreneurial chops, I jumped on it.
There’ve been many memorable experiences in almost two years working full-time at The Garage, among them traveling with students to Los Angeles, where we toured Space X and had lunch with goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, and to the Bay Area, where I won a car at the Tesla factory. (It was a miniature replica, but exciting nonetheless).
Working on entrepreneurial programs at a university aligns well with what I’m passionate about — innovation and education. The experience at Northwestern has been ideal, thanks in part to forward thinking students and leaders eager to try new things.
One of my proudest achievements was the launch of The Medill/The Garage fellowship, which brings an accomplished media entrepreneur to campus for the academic year. Not only did Melissa Kaufman, the executive director of The Garage, say “go for it” when I proposed the idea, Medill Dean Charles Whitaker enthusiastically helped push the initiative forward.
In short, being part of The Garage has been a dream job, the kind you leave only if something even better comes along.
That has happened, and I’m thrilled to start this week as director of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation. Not only will I be able to continue playing a role in developing Northwestern’s robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, I’ll still interact with our incredible students, including inside the classroom as a clinical associate professor.
Founded in 2008, Farley is part of the McCormick School of Engineering, where Dean Julio Ottino champions “whole brain thinking.” The result is a wide range of “NUVention” classes whose mix of engineering and other disciplines, from the arts to medicine, attracts students from across the university. Many successful companies have been born in Farley classes, from Nanograf and Swipe Sense to NUMix , Hubly and Bossy.
At a time of great uncertainty, I am reassured knowing that Farley, in tandem with the rest of the university, will continue to arm students with entrepreneurial and leadership skills as they set out to solve myriad problems facing the world.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of The Garage’s early years and look forward to leading Farley into its next stage of growth.