2020 - 2021 Year in ReviewSeptember 2020 - August 2021
It was a year like no other at Northwestern – we spent the majority of it operating remotely and interacting with our students online. But, the thriving community at The Garage still flourished, incubating 166 startups! We also launched two new diversity, equity, and inclusion programs building on our mission to remove barriers to entrepreneurship – allowing everyone to explore an idea.
Breaking Down Barriers to Entrepreneurship
At The Garage, we wholeheartedly believe that entrepreneurship is a valuable learning experience for everyone. Our vision: to break down the barriers that limit that experience for students at Northwestern, making experimenting with an idea more accessible and inclusive. Thinking towards the future, we hope our work at The Garage changes the landscape of entrepreneurial communities and the tech industry far beyond the confines of campus.
To bring us closer to this vision, we launched two new programs. The Activate program, modeled after the success of the Propel program, is open to Black students from across Northwestern and features an all-Black cohort and all-Black lineup of mentors and guest speakers. The Opportunity Fund allows lower-income students to apply for up to $1,000 in funding to cover experimental business expenses and creates connections to peer mentors from a lower-income background.
Adala Makhulo • SoC + Weinberg ’23
3-Point Productions is a film production company based in Nairobi, Kenya that aims to create content for the youth, by the youth in Kenya.
“The Opportunity Fund did wonders for me in terms of my business as well as my creative vision. This funding allowed me to dream big and not have the finances be a limitation to creating content.”
Asha Yearwood • SoC ’23
From The Homies With Love is an interactive literary magazine that benefits the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“The Activate program provided me with the mentorship and peer-support I needed to bring my project to fruition. I’m so grateful I was chosen to take part in this one of a kind program as an undergraduate because I learned timeless business skills such as marketing, problem solving, and financial management that allowed me to bring my magazine, From The Homies With Love, to life.”
The Garage’s Resident Program Grows to 50% Women
How do you promote gender diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship? With intentionality. The first students to join The Garage in 2015 were overwhelmingly men. Two and a half years ago, we introduced the Propel program, an award winning cohort-based program that has received international acclaim. It’s an all women cohort, all women mentorship, and all women speakers. Now, our incubation program is 50% women and 50% men, and 26% of our incubating startups are led by former Propellers.
VentureCat 2016 Energy and Sustainability Track First Prize Winner Lilac Solutions raises $150M, led by Chris Sacca and LowerCarbon Capital.
LendTable, co-founded by Sheridan Clayborne, a former student founder at The Garage, raises a $3M seed round with more to come.
Austin Pager ’22 and Spencer Levitt ’22, VentureCat 2nd place winners, finished up school a year early to participate in Y Combinator.
The Graide Network, a former Resident startup at The Garage founded by Blair Pircon ’16, merges with Marco Learning.
Ryu Games, co-founded by Ross Krasner ’18 and Wyatt Mufson ’19, raised a $2.3M seed round.
Renoster Systems, founded by Saif Bhatti ’20, is one of ten companies
selected for the 2021 Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in
partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
Jacob Jordan ’21, founder of The Equal Opportunity Book Box, VentureCat
2021 2nd place winner, is running the subscription service for diverse
children’s books full time after graduation.
Gearflow, co-founded in 2018 by Ben Preston, Kellogg ’21, raised $3 million in a seed round led by Watchfire Ventures. To date, the startup has raised $4.6 million.
Teams from the 2021 Jumpstart cohort are making big moves: Ana
Cornell, founder of Acorn Genetics, and Raman Malik, founder of
Rhetoric, take time off to push their ventures forward as full-time
Founders-in-Residence at The Garage and founder of Beni, Sarah Pinner, is currently fundraising.
Propel on KBS TV Docu-ON
In June 2021, during Friday night primetime, The Garage at Northwestern and our Propel program were featured in DocuOn, a Korean documentary program similar to PBS that airs nationally in South Korea. We heard from friends and fans in Korea who were inspired by our work and our message – even an ocean away!
From tweeting your way to a dream job to winning pitch competitions and breaking into venture capital – we gathered up some of our favorite alum stories for our new podcast, How I Got Here, focusing on how the entrepreneurial experience helped former students from The Garage land their dream jobs.
Since the podcast’s launch, we amassed over 5,000 downloads! Listen, rate, and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
Rachel Cantor ’20 • Recommendations Writer at Morning Brew
How I Got Here, Episode 7: How to Get a Job on Twitter “Just put yourself out there and put your work out there. I’m very much a perfectionist, but the moment I realized that what I put out there doesn’t have to be the end product, really changed everything for me, because you can always iterate.”
Audrey Valbuena ’19 • News Designer at The Washington Post
How I Got Here Episode 9: The Importance of Forging Your Own Path “I knew that I had found something very special to me and that I was very passionate about it. Rather than following what I had seen or what had been portrayed for me – I found a pathway of my own, and I still feel very proud of that and I’m glad that I did it.”
Akshat Thirani ’16 • Founder at Amper
How I Got Here Episode 8: Why Founders Need to Think Like Scientists “Working on my startup and being able to power through really challenging times and enjoy the good times required so much tenacity. I was just really obsessed with the problem, the market, the industry. And I think that really fueled a lot of passion and conviction to keep going at it.”
VentureCat Ranked #7 Nationally
VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition is on the rise! We are excited to see the hard work of our team member Jessa Fuller, VentureCat Senior Program Administrator, recognized. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Levy Institute and Lanny and Sharon Martin, who have increased our prize pool to over $300K in non-dilutive awards, VentureCat jumped nine spots this year in the Top 20 U.S. University Entrepreneurship Competitions, ranked at #7 in the country! (via Times of Entrepreneurship)
My goals for The Garage have always been big. This was our sixth year in operation and I’m so proud of what we’ve built for Northwestern. I truly believe we have the best student entrepreneurship program in the country, and possibly, the world.
More importantly, I am passionate about ensuring all students, regardless of background, have access to the tools and resources to pursue an entrepreneurial project. Together with the team at The Garage, we’re making this a reality every single day. We hope to change the industry of startups, tech, and entrepreneurship from the bottom up – injecting creative thinkers and problem solvers from all walks of life into the companies that are changing the world, setting an example for others to follow suit.
Today, six years after opening what began as an empty floor of a parking garage, we are operating ten programs at full capacity and attracting students from every corner of Northwestern. Looking ahead, we’re thinking beyond our walls to engage with prospective students and our alumni communities all over the world.
Whether you’re a colleague, a student, a fan, or a friend – thank you for joining us on this journey.