The Propel program, launched in 2018, aims to support female student entrepreneurs starting their company or project, making entrepreneurship more diverse and inclusive at Northwestern. Since launch, there have been four Propel cohorts with about eight students each. These small cohorts create a tight-knit micro-community for learning, gaining experiences, and support. I was lucky enough to be a part of the 2019 cohort and now have had the privilege of running the weekly meetings for the past two quarters of the fall 2020 and winter 2021 cohorts. As a student aide for The Garage, I’m excited that I’m able to contribute to one of the core programs in a meaningful way.
When everything went virtual back in the spring of 2019, The Garage created a new format for check-ins with students called accountability huddles. These accountability huddles, built for the leads of Resident teams, are bi-weekly meetings in small groups to get feedback and share progress updates. This past fall, the Propel program took that concept and modified it into the Propel huddles that are now a staple of the program.
Each week every member of the cohort shares an update on their project, sets goals for the next week, and lets the group know any struggles or challenges they are going through or things that the group could help them work through. We start each meeting by checking in on the goals set the week prior and asking any big questions students have for the group. I then try to share any knowledge or resources that I think could be useful to the women and where they are at in their projects. Then we have what I think is the most useful part of each of these huddles, small group time. Women are put in groups of two to three that change each week and get into the nitty-gritty of what they are going through. These smaller, more intimate groups allow for extremely useful dialogue and connections to be made. We then end our meetings by setting goals for the next week and the process starts again.
The startup space has been male-dominated for years. Less than 10% of venture-backed companies have a female founder and only 2.8% of venture capital went to all-female founding teams. The Propel experience is so special to the women who take part in it as it gives them the tools and community to be able to break into the startup space with more confidence and security in their startup and idea. To be able to talk to other female founders once a week and get feedback and encouragement is invaluable. Every meeting, each team lead’s updates, and successes never fail to amaze and inspire me as a fellow student entrepreneur.
The women in the program range from freshman undergraduates to second-year MBA students and each one has a unique value-add to the group and insights that help everyone improve. The community that is built over the ten weeks of the program exists long after the quarter ends, continuing to offer support, others to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with, and share useful contacts and resources with. The learning we do each week is useful, but the network that is built is invaluable.
This article was written by Charlotte Oxnam. Charlotte is an industrial engineering student at Northwestern and the founder of CuetheCurves.com, as well as a student aide at The Garage.