The End of an Era: Goodbye Note from Billy Banks

With much deliberation and soul searching, I have decided to move on from my role as Associate Director of The Garage. The experience exceeded every expectation in terms of what I was able to do as well as the people I had the great fortune to work and interact with – both inside the university and across the Chicago entrepreneurial ecosystem. However, I am an operator and entrepreneur at heart and as much as I loved giving advice and helping students to connect the dots and reach their dreams, the itch to do, to get back in the game, was too much to ignore. I will now turn my attention back to Windsor Steel in Indiana and assume a new role as Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer at ProHabits, a new Chicago-based startup.

Luckily and with immense gratitude to the Farley Center, I also get to continue to scratch the one itch that will never die – the itch to teach. From my first opportunity to teach as an adjunct back in 2015 to my return to the classroom, I get to share my wisdom, battle scars, and network with aspiring student entrepreneurs. To illuminate a path forward and give them the courage to leap into the abyss and the conviction to follow their own hearts. It took me a long time to figure it all out – heck, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up! As such, I relish the opportunity to give back to the university in the classroom. Plus, now I can be a front-line advocate for The Garage, steering the students there after they complete my class and supporting them in their ongoing dreams and passions. What could be better than that!

I will look back fondly on my time at The Garage. I still remember the cold December day that I met Melissa and she offered me the opportunity to come home to Northwestern. One of our first conversations, she told me that the university wanted an accelerator. “Great, I replied. For when, this summer?” To which Melissa replied, “nope, now.” I sprinted home to get a new pair of underwear and then spent the next few weeks bouncing all over Chicago and talking to anyone who would take my call trying to figure out how to build and run a student accelerator on the fly. From those early days and efforts, Wildfire was born. I ran it for the first time that winter and then over the course of the next three summers. It is the thing I am most proud of and grateful for having the opportunity to create and run during my tenure at The Garage. I am excited to see where the students and teams that have passed through end up and I look forward to supporting it next summer and beyond.

I count my lucky blessings to have been a part of the team who built The Garage. We put everything we had into it and based on the letters and emails received, I truly believe we made impact and changed lives for the students who walked under the garage door. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but I leave proud of the things we did and with great confidence in the team to continue impacting the lives of student entrepreneurs.