The Garage SF: Building a Platform for Serendipity for the Northwestern Network

If it wasn’t for Northwestern, I wouldn’t have landed my first job after graduation working at Twentieth Century Fox Television. As a Radio / Television / Film (RTVF) major, my dream was to work on the business side of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles — and thanks to my roommate after graduation (a Northwestern alumna), I landed such a role. 

Years later, another Northwestern alumnus that I had previously worked with founded a venture capital firm and invited me to join the team in San Francisco. To be frank — it’s unlikely that anyone else would’ve given me an opportunity to do something that I had little-to-no experience in, but the relationships formed through Northwestern have, at least for me, created serendipity more than once. 

It’s a story that I’ve heard from dozens of Northwestern students and alumni, and one that I hope to reproduce and enable for hundreds more through The Garage San Francisco (SF), a new extension of The Garage at Northwestern. Since opening in 2015, The Garage at Northwestern on the Evanston campus has served as a resource and community for more than 1,000 students and incubated over 350 startups. Many of these students have ambitions to work in the Bay Area eventually, whether through an internship during school, at a larger tech company upon graduation, or continuing on with their very own startups. Our alumni network offers invaluable connections, mentorship, and resources for these students that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. 

Northwestern alumni at The Garage SF space

The Garage SF is the bridge between these students and the Northwestern network in the Bay Area. We’re a collaborative community of Northwestern alumni founders, operators, and investors who live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, support each other professionally, and offer our resources to current students at Northwestern. Our goal is to create “a platform for serendipity,” (is that Silicon Valley enough?) which really just means getting the right people together in the right rooms to enable good things to happen down the line. 

There are approximately 16,000 Northwestern alumni in the Bay Area — yet when I share that figure with alumni out here, they are shocked! With such a vast and robust network, there’s enormous potential for us to support each other professionally! But in order to utilize this network, it needs to be 1) visible; and 2) accessible. How can we enable this visibility and accessibility? 

To start, we’ve launched a weekly newsletter, which profiles Northwestern alumni doing interesting things, features job openings that alumni are hiring for, includes “gives” and “asks” for our community, and highlights all of the upcoming Northwestern-affiliated events in the Bay Area. 

Northwestern alumni gather in SF for a Product Management Roundtable

We’re also organizing intimate events around specific job functions and interests — think “Product Managers” or “The Future of Healthcare.” By gathering small groups of professionals with similar interests or roles, we can provide a casual context for expanding one’s professional network, making the Northwestern network more accessible than relying on cold LinkedIn messages. We’ve already hosted a few of these gatherings, including an Alumni Founders Dinner and a roundtable discussion with Product Managers, and we have many more in the works.

As any new venture should be, The Garage SF is highly experimental and iterative. Some of the things we’re working on include a mentorship program, an alumni forum, and more casual ways to connect with others in our community. 

Our hope is that a few years from now, The Garage SF will have fostered thousands of relationships, helped founders raise money and grow their companies, enabled career moves and transitions among our community, and maybe even ignited a few friendships. 

Personally, I’ve benefited immensely from the power of the Northwestern network. I’m excited for the potential that The Garage SF has to benefit thousands of other alumni in real, meaningful ways through connections to others in our community. 

If you’re a Northwestern alum in the Bay Area or a current student with ambitions to work here, I’d love to connect to learn more about the connections, resources, and support that you’d be interested in engaging with. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter here

As always, Go ‘Cats, 

Mike Raab ‘12
mike.raab@u.northwestern.edu


Mike is the Director of The Garage SF. He is responsible for local operations, programming, and building a community of entrepreneurial focused Northwestern alumni, students, and faculty in San Francisco. Prior to The Garage, Mike was an investor at a venture capital firm founded by Northwestern alumni, where he provided support and mentorship. He began his career serving in a multitude of strategy-focused roles at one of the largest media companies in Los Angeles. Mike is a proud Northwestern alum, having graduated with a BS in Communication focused on TV & Film. If you’re interested in learning more or becoming involved with The Garage SF, you can reach out to Mike via email or LinkedIn.