X-Factor x Denver 2023Posted on • Posted in Event Recaps
On April 13th, The Garage brought 9 students from the X-Factor Leadership Development program to Denver to meet with entrepreneurs and alumni in the local tech community.
X-Factor is The Garage’s proprietary leadership development program created in partnership with Dr. Jennifer Tackett in the Northwestern Department of Psychology. The weekly cohort aims to help student founders develop greater self-awareness about their leadership styles, values, and blindspots. The opportunity to meet with different successful entrepreneurs allowed students to understand how different leadership styles present themselves and appear within a company’s culture.
First, the students met with Brian Egan, co-founder and CEO of Evolve Vacation Rentals. Brian shared his journey from being a philosophy major, to lawyer, to starting Evolve in 2010, when renting your entire home to strangers was a novel concept. Brian spoke about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, facing the challenges of a global pandemic in the hospitality industry, and the importance of building an intentional company culture. He also gifted each of the students an Evolve hat to take with them!
“Brian spoke about the importance of creating and leading a company culture, and that culture is a foundation for everything else to be built on. This is very intriguing because I never thought of culture as such an important component of a company (especially a startup),” shared Ashley Guo, ‘26.
After Evolve, the group walked down the block to meet with Bryan Leach, founder & CEO of iBotta, a tech “unicorn” that Bryan founded in 2012. Bryan talked about his fundraising journey – raising $3M on his background and the idea of iBotta, as well as his “Boulder, stake, flag” values framework for decision-making, and a 2×2 matrix of caring vs. control.
“From Bryan at iBotta, I learned the importance of self-care and mental health in entrepreneurship and especially fundraising. I really liked his framework of measuring activities based on how much we care and how much control we have over it. His statement that entrepreneurship lies in the corner where we care deeply about it yet we don’t have much control over it was enlightening. I really resonated with the fact that the first instinct is to try to reduce this high level of uncertainty (through buddhism, nihilism, micromanagement), but the best way is to be ok with the uncertainty,” shared Stanley Jia, ‘23.
After a quick lunch, the group moved to soona’s Denver photography studio. There, they met with co-founder & CEO Liz Giorgi, who has raised $53M for the startup. Liz talked about the importance of strong co-founder relationships, having conviction in your vision, and being creative problem solvers.
“I learned of the importance of building a creative team from Liz. When starting a company, there are a lot of issues that do not have a “textbook” answer. It is really important to surround yourself and build a team of creative, problem-solvers,” said Bella Le Sage, ‘25.
After a long day of company visits, the group of 9 students shared dinner with 9 local Northwestern / Kellogg alumni also involved in the local tech ecosystem, including Chris Erickson (NU ‘04), Jill Slattery (NU ‘04), Don Parsons (NU ‘85), Ken Glickstein (NU ‘85, Kellogg ‘92), Lainey Dow (NU ‘22),Matt McCall (Kellogg ‘92),Rajesh Babu (NU ‘03, Kellogg ‘09), CJ Willey (NU ‘04), and Michael Zink (Kellogg ‘88). Throughout dinner, guests shuffled seats, allowing students to speak with each one.
Rahul Srivathsa, Kellogg ‘24 shared, “I appreciated having so many folks who were all there to talk entrepreneurship and multiple people I could speak to about different aspects of my startup, Borrough. There was a surprising number of folks that had helpful advice about the property management space that I’m looking to connect with and seek out help from. It also felt a lot more real to pitch Borrough to a group of people and represent our idea. Overall, a very fruitful evening.”
On Saturday morning, the crew headed to GraceFull Community Cafe in Littleton, Colorado to meet with the co-owners Heather and Troy Greenwood. GraceFull has donated over 90,000 free meals to individuals in the local community since opening, and are committed to fostering a sense of community and “providing a home in the Littleton community where people of all backgrounds can gather, eat well, and be inspired to give back.” They shared both the joys and challenges of operating a restaurant and non-profit, as well as their guiding principles and values.
“GraceFull was able to show how wide the scope of entrepreneurship really can be. This is the type of impact that I hope to have in my own communities. Being able to talk to Heather about GraceFull really showed me that this type of impact really does have to be love-centered, acknowledging it is by far not the most profitable or self-sustaining model,” shared Zoe Lewis, ‘25.
After a delicious and filling breakfast, the group headed to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, where they snapped pics of the iconic venue and hiked around the local landscape.
After returning to the hotel early Saturday afternoon, the students had the rest of the day as free time to explore Denver! While some met up with local friends, others embarked on a group outing, scootering around the city.
“This was my favorite trip that I’ve taken during school! My favorite part was the bonds that I made with other students. Apart from that, the connections I made at the alumni dinner were extremely useful. I just loved making friendships with other founders,” shared Aspen Buckingham, ‘23.
Over a busy couple of days, the students learned many valuable lessons in Denver that will help them navigate what comes next, and continue to develop their skills as transformational leaders. Most importantly, they’ve discovered bonds and friendship with each other, with Northwestern alumni, and with tech leaders, and walked away with the confidence to build a path all on their own.
A special thank you to Chris Erickson for arranging the site visits and alumni dinner in Denver!