The Activate Program

Activate is an 8-week immersive learning experience with the goal of making entrepreneurship more inclusive and accessible to Black Northwestern students. Activate welcomes all kinds of projects ranging from education or arts based innovations to technology development – any idea that a student wants to grow.

The winter 2022 Activate cohort at an in-person meet up at The Garage

Program Details

The program is open to full-time, Black students with a company, product, or service idea that they’d like to work on. Interested students should email Activate seeks to serve students that might not be considering entrepreneurship as a path, or may not immediately think of The Garage as a resource for them, and do not have familiarity with accessing entrepreneurship resources at Northwestern. The program kicked off in the summer of 2020 with an inaugural cohort, and now runs ever fall, winter, and spring quarter.

A cohort of 8 students is selected each fall, winter, and spring quarter to meet for 8 weeks. The cohort meets as a group for 1 hour each week. In addition, each student is paired with an accomplished Black professional for bi-weekly 1-on-1 mentorship. Students put together a proposal to receive up to $1,000 for expenses and materials related to building and experimenting with their idea. 

The program helps students develop skills like:

  • Brainstorming a new idea for a product or service
  • Identifying the need for a new product or service
  • Designing a product or service that will satisfy customer needs
  • Communicating a plan and vision for a new product, service, or company
  • Networking
  • Communicating a new idea in everyday terms

Program Benefits


Up to $1,000 to spend on an entrepreneurial project.


A weekly check in with your peers and program manager to keep you moving forward on your project.


1-1 mentorship with an accomplished Black professional.


A group of Black peers working on new ideas.


Current and Past Mentors


Thirteen percent of the U.S. population is Black. Yet according to a recent article on Crunchbase, just 1% of venture-funded startup founders are Black. According to a recent article from Bloomberg “from the infancy of the internet in 1990 to the unicorn era of 2016, 0.4% of people who received venture capital were Black, according to a study by Harvard University.”

At Northwestern, 10% of the class of 2024 is 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.

The Garage is committed to supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs. In 2018, The Garage launched the Propel program to support female Northwestern students, and in 2020, The Garage launched Activate to encourage diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship for Black Northwestern students. 


Thank you to the following generous donors for their commitment to supporting the Activate program and student entrepreneurs at Northwestern: 

  • Val WCAS ’85 and Mark Friedman
  • Alicia McGinnis Bienen ’87
  • Maura WCAS ’90 and Mark Rampolla


NU senior launches start-up to promote Black women’s self-love through hair care

Communication Freshman Asha Yearwood Publishes Magazine Supporting Racial Justice

Recap: Entrepreneur Ablorde Ashigbi Speaks with the Activate Cohort

Recap: Neal Sales-Griffin Speaks with the Activate Cohort

Introducing Activate


(open to full-time, degree seeking Northwestern students only)

Fall 2022 Applications Open: September 12, 2022

Fall 2022 Applications Close: September 28, 2022 @ 11:59 PM CT

Winter 2023 Applications Open: November 7, 2022 @ 9:00 AM CT

Winter 2023 Applications Close: November 25, 2022 @ 11:59 PM CT

Spring 2023 Applications Open: February 27, 2023 @ 9:00 AM CT

Spring 2023 Applications Close: March 12, 2023 @ 11:59 PM CT