Family Dinner Recap: Lilliana Robinson of Techstars

On Wednesday, April 26th, Residents of The Garage gathered together...
Event Recaps
May 8, 2023
A large group of students gather to see the speaker at The Garage.

By: Elizabeth Savin ‘25

On Wednesday, April 26th, Residents of The Garage gathered together at Family Dinner to hear from Garage alum, Lilliana Robinson, McCormick ‘21. During her time on campus, Lilliana was incredibly involved in entrepreneurship as the president of EPIC, a member of the second cohort of the Little Joe Ventures Fellowship, and participant of the Propel program. Now, Lilliana is an Investment Manager at Techstars Chicago and continues to work as a mentor for students working on their entrepreneurial ventures through The Garage.

During her presentation, Lilliana shared three main lessons that she learned while at Northwestern: 

  1. Be spontaneous 
  2. Look at every opportunity as an open door
  3. Figure out what gives you the most energy to maximize your output

After transferring to Northwestern during her sophomore year, Lilliana wanted to take advantage of every resource that was available to her. After seeing a flyer while walking across campus, Lilliana spontaneously applied to Sprout, a trip hosted by EPIC that takes a group of students to Silicon Valley every year. “This was my first interaction with entrepreneurship, it was a new world full of different experiences,” shared Lilliana. 

On the trip, the group had the opportunity to speak with John McNeil, COO at Lyft at the time and Northwestern alum. He shared that while he majored in mechanical engineering, he knew he wanted to be involved in business and entrepreneurship. In order to learn these skills, he began to read books that would give him the edge he needed to secure internship opportunities in the startup ecosystem. Additionally, the group spoke with Sarah Ahmad, a Garage alum who shared that her favorite classes on campus were through the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship. “Immediately after returning from the Sprout trip, I purchased the books that were recommended to me by John McNeil and signed up for Intro to Entrepreneurship as a 5th class,” shared Lilliana.

Next, Lilliana spoke about the importance of taking advantage of opportunities that cross your path. Her junior year, Lilliana began to TA for the Intro to Entrepreneurship class she had taken the year prior. During that time, her professor, Neal Sales-Griffin, became the Managing Director at Techstars Chicago. “After that, I knew I just wanted to be in the room. I wanted to be involved however I could,” expressed Lillana. With the encouragement of her professor, Lilliana interviewed to be an associate. Upon receiving the job, she scheduled all of her classes to take place between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm so she could then take the train to Merchandise Mart and help run the accelerator. She stayed in this internship position throughout her junior year, but found there were no full-time positions available after her graduation in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is where Lilliana shared the importance of allowing yourself to explore different avenues. Unsure of what to do next, she applied to numerous jobs in tech. “I was convinced that I needed to leave entrepreneurship behind and use my computer science degree,” Lilliana confided. However, she was able to do both by joining a startup called Captain as a front-end developer. After 7 months with the company, Liliana realized how much she missed being a mentor like she had been during her time at The Garage. Around that same time, she received a call from Techstars offering her a position as an Investment Manager running her own program. She has now led 3 programs, each comprised of 12 companies, and continues working with and mentoring entrepreneurs. Additionally, she helped Techstars establish the Rising Stars VC Fund. This fund is specifically for entrepreneurs from minority backgrounds to help them receive funding before they are ready to participate in an accelerator program. “I found the important combination of who I wanted to help, what I am good at, and what gives me energy,” shared Lilliana as she encouraged the group to look at the same three factors as they make decisions about their future endeavors.

Residents walked away excited to take advantage of the resources Northwestern has to offer and find the path that best suits them.


Elizabeth Savin ’25 is a Manufacturing and Design Engineering major from Wilmette, IL. She is a student aide at The Garage and was part of the Winter 2022 Propel cohort. She is excited to begin her own venture while learning more about entrepreneurship.

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