After a three year hiatus, The Garage’s Little Joe Ventures (LJV) program returned to sunny Los Angeles for a weekend of entrepreneurial enlightenment. The LJV program offers a select group of students, chosen after a rigorous application process in their sophomore year, immersive learning opportunities, networking, and a financial award. This year, Cohort 4 and Cohort 5 accompanied The Garage on a trip of a lifetime!
The group’s first stop was a visit to SpaceX in Hawthorne, CA. Aside from seeing rockets and other materials that had been to the moon and back, the group had a firsthand experience learning about Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite system that offers internet access to people in remote, dangerous, under-resourced areas. Sam, a Northwestern alumni who is a member of the Starlink team, shared valuable insights with the group regarding the system itself and how it helps those in need. “Building a company that is revolutionizing the future of commercial space travel is no easy task, but our visit to SpaceX helped us put in perspective that anything is possible,” shared Robbie Waxman ‘23.
In a departure from SpaceX’s mechanical atmosphere, the group made their way to the headquarters of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, goop. Inside their warm and minimalist office, students got the chance to sit down with Gwyneth herself and hear about her journey from actress to entrepreneur. “I learned so much from her about staying grounded, resilient and passionate. She is more than a celebrity, she’s a true founder whose brand feels unstoppable,” shared Lauren Huttner ‘24.
After an awe-inspiring experience with Gwyneth, the group got the chance to tour and eat at goop Kitchen - a restaurant that quickly became a staple of the trip. Most notably, the brand pays extreme attention to customer experience and sustainability, something that the LJV Fellows were eager to discuss with Chef Kim, VP of Culinary at goop.
After a delicious lunch, the group was ready to top off the afternoon learning more about dessert - more specifically, Sprinkles Cupcakes! Founder and CEO, Candace Nelson, shared that her journey began in investment banking where she noticed a gap in the market for high-end cupcakes. She subsequently explained how she launched her brand, built it over time through genius ideas like the cupcake ATM, and starred in Food Network's popular TV series, Cupcake Wars.
To wrap up a whirlwind day of tours, networking, and gourmet food, the group made their final stop at Coco Delivery. This California-based robotics company specializes in food delivery robot taxis to maximize convenience and reduce costs. The group was greeted by Anna, Coco’s Chief of Staff, and was given a comprehensive tour of the office. They then met Rob, Coco’s principal designer, who shared more about Coco’s technologies, growing pains, and future plans. As a special treat, the LJV Fellows were able to operate a delivery robot using an XBOX controller!
The next day, the group went to check out program donor Tony Owen’s El Segundo office that doubles as an antique car showroom! Tony and his wife, Monique, helped launch and fund the LJV program in 2018. After the tour, the Fellows had the chance to hear from four accomplished entrepreneurs: Vishaal Mali, Aiden Jenkins, Chuck Ursini, and Anna Macsalka.
Vishaal and Aiden are both graduates of Northwestern - notably, Vishaal is an LJV Fellow from the inaugural cohort in 2018. The group especially valued his perspective and understanding of the challenges faced when exploring career paths, pursuing entrepreneurship, and navigating life as a young professional.
Vishaal and Aiden, who met as colleagues at Anduril, are co-founders of a new startup called Salient Motion. Much of the insight Vishaal shared was centered around committing 100% to your venture and having the conviction and confidence to know that what you’re building could make a tangible impact on your industry and community. “It was even more exciting to see how experiences like LJV, The Garage, and his time at NU set him up for success building Salient Motion. Meeting his co-founder and better understanding the community he’s surrounded himself with shed light on the importance of building a team you trust,” shared Kevin Kaspar ‘24.
Next, the group heard from Chuck Ursini, a co-founder of System1: the world’s most advanced Responsive Acquisition Marketing Platform. He enthusiastically recounted the early days of launching his startup, making note of the challenges that shaped him into the leader he is today. “Hearing about his transition from being an athlete to a tech entrepreneur was fascinating. His athletic endeavors remind me of my music performance background and how much it means to me to adapt similar qualities into entrepreneurship,” shared Steven Jiang ‘24.
Lastly, the team met Anna Macsalka, the founder of Zenimal: a portable mediation device for children ages 5-12 that helps them develop mindfulness techniques at an early age. Hearing from a founder in the mental health space was especially fascinating for the LJV Fellows - especially those with physical product-based ventures. “Meeting with her really complemented the knowledge and skills of the other founders we met, and felt like an excellent learning opportunity,” shared McKenna Troy ‘23.
After the final round of meetings, the group was excited to get moving with a team-building activity. They headed to Marina Del Rey to try their hand at an Escape Room - of which they were able to escape in just 45 minutes! Even more notable, however, was what happened afterwards. In a Hollywood-esque twist of fate, the group happened to run into TikTok star, Charli D’Amelio! All things considered, the Fellows had a lot to discuss when they returned to The Garage - and although it will be hard to beat, we already can’t wait for next year’s LJV trip!