Propel Wins National Award in Entrepreneurship Education

Jan 13, 2022

During The Garage’s first three years, the overwhelming majority of participants in our programs were men. Our core program - Residency, a program to incubate an idea - was 70% men. While this is the community of people that helped to grow The Garage, we ultimately had the goal of making entrepreneurship more accessible, inclusive, and diverse. In 2018, The Garage launched the Propel program to increase the participation of women in entrepreneurship at Northwestern. Within less than three years, the Residency program rose from just 30% women to 50% women. 

Propel is an 8-week cohort based program open to all women students at Northwestern working on an entrepreneurial project. The program offers a $1,000 financial award to push an idea forward, along with a weekly meeting and a dedicated mentor. 

Today, we are excited to announce that just three years after launching, Propel has been honored at the national level and is the 2022 recipient of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) Excellence in Co-curricular Innovation Award recognizing creative, high-quality, sustainable, and impactful co-curricular programs in entrepreneurship education. You can read the full press release from USASBE here.

 “Propel was created with the intention of increasing representation of women entrepreneurs at Northwestern and beyond, and we’re so proud of the success of the program and recognition of that success with this award,” shared Mike Raab, The Garage’s associate director. “We hope that other institutions are able to replicate Propel’s success and support even more ambitious women entrepreneurs beyond Northwestern.”

This award is especially important to us, as it focuses on the critical role that programs like Propel play in the overall entrepreneurship education experience at a university level. We’re also thrilled that this award spotlights the replicability of Propel, and is the first step in collaborating with other institutions to develop or improve current entrepreneurship programs.  

“It was exciting to see the intentional, pragmatic and engaging programming at Northwestern’s Garage entrepreneurship program. Their constellation of programming calls for entrepreneurship centers and programs to take notice and see what ideas can be replicated on other campuses,” says Julienne Shields, CEO of USASBE.

At The Garage, we wholeheartedly believe that entrepreneurship is for everyone. Propel was our first step in realizing this vision upon launch in 2018. While there are ample opportunities to explore entrepreneurship in the classroom through courses offered at Northwestern, Propel gives women students the opportunity to put their interests into use and their passions to practice. It gives a group traditionally underrepresented in entrepreneurship, both at the college and industry levels, an ideal space to push a venture forward while continuing to work on skills like leadership, team dynamics, and accountability.

Many similar programs with a goal of increasing representation and diversity in entrepreneurship begin and end at offering funding, often without additional guidance or follow-up. Propel is innovative because it has been thoughtfully created and iterated upon with input from participants. At the forefront of Propel are the tenants of community, networking, mentorship, and accountability in addition to a financial award. It’s these attributes that sets Propel apart.

Additionally, we know from participants that the authentic, transparent conversations facilitated by a thoughtful matching process with a vetted mentor is one of the most valuable aspects of Propel. This focus on connections and developing a micro-community of just 8 women per academic quarter helps peers to hold each other and themselves accountable. 

“The most important part of Propel [was] my amazing mentor, who took time to look over our pitch deck, give advice on being a woman in the startup space, and offered to introduce us to potential VC partners.”  Catherine Lamb, Kellogg ’22

Making Propel an internationally recognized, award-winning program would not have been possible without the incredible network of mentors, donors, participants, and our program manager, Lilia Kogan’s, hard work keeping the program operational both in-person and remotely. We are also excited to share this milestone with Hayes Ferguson, director of The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, who was pivotal in the creation of Propel in 2018. Together, we look forward to continuing to change the landscape of entrepreneurship by supporting women students at Northwestern. 

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