Introducing Activate

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The Garage has just announced the launch of a new program with the goal of making entrepreneurship more inclusive and accessible to Black Northwestern students. The initiative, called Activate, is an eight week immersive learning experience built with input from an advisory board of Black students, faculty, staff, and alums, and was successfully piloted during the summer of 2020 with five students

In surveys conducted pre-program and post-program, pilot students reported the greatest increase in confidence in their abilities to: clearly and concisely explain their business idea in everyday terms, effectively network with others, and identify the need for a new product or service. Overall, every student felt more confident in their entrepreneurial abilities after the program.

The summer pilot program was co-managed by Melissa Kaufman, executive director of The Garage, and Matt Reweta, McCormick ’22, The Garage’s summer intern and current Non-Technical Student Aide. “Most students, particularly at a school as rigorous as Northwestern, come into entrepreneurship thinking that their idea needs to fit a certain mold, but what makes me proud of this program, and The Garage as a whole, is that regardless of the idea, students learn ways to turn their ideas into reality,” said Reweta.

Beginning in winter 2021, and continuing each fall, winter, and spring academic quarter, a cohort of up to eight students will be selected to participate. Each student will be paired with a Black mentor who is an established startup founder, executive, or investor. The cohort will meet weekly (over Zoom) to discuss progress on their entrepreneurial projects and to attend programming on topics presented by Black business leaders and founders. Each student is awarded up to $1,000 to allocate to their project for supplies, equipment, software or other tools and materials to push their idea forward. 

Activate welcomes all kinds of projects as long as a student has an idea they want to grow. For example, Nolan Robinson, SoC ’21, a participant in the summer pilot program, worked on Breakthrough, a not-for-profit mentorship program designed to give students from underserved communities pathways to pursuing careers in the arts. “I gained confidence in myself and discovered that although what I do may not ‘look’ like a typical startup, I am indeed an entrepreneur,” said Robinson.

At Northwestern, 10% of the class of 2024 identified as Black or African American. Yet, only 4.2% of students in The Garage’s Tinker Program and 7.8% of students in The Garage’s Residency Program identified as Black or African American. Activate aims to close that gap.

Activate is currently funded with permission from donors’ gift funds for The Propel Program, The Garage’s program for women, which has seen great success with the 50+ women who have participated since inception. Activate hopes to attract new donors who want to support diversity, equity, and inclusion for Black Northwestern student innovators.


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