The Garage Map: A Deep Dive

Dec 2, 2020

The Garage isn’t a class and there aren’t any grades. Instead, The Garage is a series of experiences designed to teach students an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set through experiential learning. We encourage our students to live Paul Graham’s mantra of “make something people want” and we’ve embraced that ideology ourselves. We’ve designed all of our programs based on the needs, desires, and interests of our students with constant feedback and input from them along the way. It’s no wonder so many students highlight The Garage as the best part of their Northwestern experience. 

Students often wonder what the “right” path through The Garage is. And, truly, there isn’t one path that’s right for everyone. Instead, we like to think of the exploration of entrepreneurship at The Garage like a museum - you could easily spend the entire day walking through special galleries displaying art you have a particular interest in or just stop by to see a few popular pieces, hang out with a friend, and browse the gift shop.

We worked with Chicago-based illustrator Craighton Berman to bring our vision of navigating The Garage to life.* Students that are involved with The Garage might participate in a single program while others may explore all of our offerings. And just past the exit: students emerging with an entrepreneurial skill set and mindset that will set them up for success no matter what they do after Northwestern. 

Let’s take a more detailed look: 

*This map is conceptual! The real space at The Garage is just one floor of the north campus parking structure, spanning 11,000 square feet. Take a peek inside our space with our virtual walkthrough here

Map Key

Let’s take a peek at the map key in the lower right corner, which will help us understand some of the benefits of our programs. 

Heart = micro-community. Beyond the larger communities of students in programs like Tinker and Residency, we’ve found that our smaller, cohort-based programs (typically less than 10 students admitted) leads to an even tighter knit group of friends who stay in touch and support one another long after the program officially wraps. 

$ = funding. Some of our programs offer financial awards to further develop a student venture. The amount awarded varies from program to program. 

Airplane = travel. While traveling isn’t safe right now, we normally love hopping on planes with students to explore entrepreneurial hubs around the country.


At the bottom of our map, you’ll find a few opportunities developed in tandem with our campus partners, like The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and entrepreneurial student organizations like EPIC and KEO, respectively the undergraduate and Kellogg focused entrepreneurship clubs. These opportunities are designed for participation by all Northwestern students, including our peer to peer Office Hours and events on startup topics. We like to think of this as a perfect starting point for all students.

First Floor // Tinker 

The first floor of our map can be thought of as the main lobby - no special exhibit tickets necessary! Similarly, The Tinker Program is an opportunity for students to explore our resources at their own pace. “Tinkerers” get special perks, like a weekly educational newsletter all about startups authored by our associate director, Mike Raab, plus special Tinkerer-only events alongside access to The Garage’s Slack workspace. In order to be eligible for The Garage’s more selective incubation program, Residency, students must have been a Tinkerer for at least one academic quarter. Applications for the Tinker Program are open during the entire academic year. All full-time students regardless of school or level of study with an idea are welcome to join! 

Second Floor // Residency

After exploring the first floor - maybe you’re ready to dive in deeper and devote more time and energy to your idea. We like to think of the second floor of our “museum” as the Residency Program. Residency is an opportunity for students to become core members of Northwestern’s entrepreneurial community. Residents gain 24/7 access to The Garage, an invitation to exclusive Resident-only events, and are assigned a dedicated mentor for ongoing support. 

Residency’s most valuable perk is the thriving community of like-minded peers working together to create solutions and build ideas. Students applying to Residency are required to do so on a quarterly basis and we limit our Residency to 35 incubating teams. We look for students ready to push their ventures past ideation on to validation, and for commitment to being a good steward of The Garage community by giving back through providing Office Hours or leading Resident-only events. We believe that students at The Garage should “do the work” to succeed, which is why you may need to climb a set of stairs or two to get to Residency, but there are so many great opportunities once you’ve arrived. 

Second Floor // Funding Opportunities

Building a startup sometimes means incurring various expenses for vital supplies and growth. We’ve ensured that students working on a venture can gain access to varying levels of funding through our programs. 

VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition, gives away more than $300,000 in non-dilutive capital. The Opportunity Fund, open to full-time undergraduate students who identify as lower income and have been accepted into the Tinker or Residency program, offers awards up to $1,000 for business expenses, alongside personalized mentorship. NUseeds is Northwestern’s $4M pre-seed/seed investment fund for student founded startups, writing checks between $10,000 and $100,000 in exchange for equity. 

We’ve aggregated a full list of funding opportunities across all of Northwestern on our website here

Second Floor // Cohort Programs

Each of The Garage’s cohort programs is formed with students in mind, aiming to develop them into transformational leaders, innovative thinkers, and preparing them for the next level of their startup journey. 

LJV (Little Joe Ventures Fellowship): Annually, faculty and staff nominate students who have shown exceptional promise as entrepreneurs. Five sophomores are selected each year and are offered an unparalleled experience with mentorship, financial awards, and even international travel (when safe to do so). 

Propel: Launched in 2018, Propel provides networking, mentorship, a financial award, and immersive learning experiences through travel that promotes diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Propel runs fall, winter, and spring quarters and is open to full-time, female students. 

X-Factor: Developed in partnership with Jennifer Tackett, a Northwestern psychology professor and an expert in the field of personality assessment, X-Factor is The Garage’s revolutionary leadership development program for student founders. Students are selected from the Residency and Tinker programs and is by invite only.

Wildfire: The Garage’s summer pre-accelerator program, Wildfire, seeks to accelerate ten dedicated student startups by giving them resources, coaching, and a financial award. Admitted teams are given $10,000 and offered the opportunity to pitch at the end-of-program Demo Day for a prize pool of $10,000 of non-dilutive capital.

Activate: Activate is an 8-week immersive learning experience with the goal of making entrepreneurship more inclusive and accessible to Black Northwestern students. Activate welcomes all kinds of projects ranging from education or arts based innovations to technology development – any idea that a student wants to grow. Activate runs fall, winter, and spring quarters and is open to full-time students that identify as Black or African American. 


Finally, at the “exit” of our map, you’ll see four examples of where alumni of programs at The Garage find themselves. Typically, only 10% of students who work on a startup at Northwestern will pursue it full-time after graduation. A few examples include Lucas Philips, SESP ’19, co-founder of BrewBike, and Sarah Ahmad, McCormick ’18 and Collin Pham, McCormick ’18, who recently completed YCombinator and are co-founders of Stable. Rachele Louis, Kellogg ’19 and Ali Briggs, Kellogg ’19 are also continuing to work on their startup, LifeWeb, full-time.

We believe that an entrepreneurial experience can also land students their dream jobs. Currently, alumni of The Garage are working at prestigious companies like Apple, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google, Flexport, McKinsey, and many more. 

Some alumni continue to develop their ideas as a side hustle while working at full-time jobs. For example, Jacob Morgan, McCormick ’18 (currently working as a product design engineer at Catch Co) and Bennett Hensey, McCormick ’18 (currently working as a software engineer at GrubHub) are still running Unruled, a notebook company they co-founded at The Garage, on nights and weekends. 

Finally, some of the alumni of The Garage opt to continue their academic studies in graduate programs. For example, X-Factor participant, Nic Tan, McCormick ’20, will be pursuing his MS at Stanford in mechanical engineering and Sachin Lal, McCormick ’16 is an MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. At The Garage, Nic co-founded Catswork, a platform to help college students land their ideal jobs through professional networking, and was an early employee of Northwestern-founded Amper, an industrial technology designed to empower manufacturers to operate efficiently.

Beyond the next billion dollar company, we believe in building billion dollar people. Whether students become founders, land their dream job, continue their project as a side hustle, enroll in grad school, or decide that entrepreneurship isn't for them, we believe the skill set and mindset they build at The Garage will help propel them to success in any career path.

As you explored our map, perhaps you’ve noticed the three pillars holding it all up: mentorship, resources, and community. As we’ve grown our programs and offerings, we’ve discovered that these are the most important elements underlying all of our programs and resources. 

Our network of industry experts and entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs) are world-class. They graciously donate their time to mentor our students. For example, we recently welcomed Ben Turtel to our lineup of EIRs - Ben is the founder and CTO of Rivet, an AI-powered reading app for kids, as part of Google’s incubator Area120. And our newest mentor Sara Hines previously served as the Director of Product, New Products and Ventures at The New York Times.  

We’ve streamlined our resources to ensure we’re offering exactly what students need from mentorship to late-night coffee and snacks in a dedicated 24/7 work space to opportunities to meet with celebrity founders and investors like Gwenyth Paltrow and Brian Chesky.

The key to the success of The Garage is our focus on doing what is best for our students and our community. The Garage will continue to grow and change to meet the evolving needs, wants, and desires of our students. We can’t wait to see how we’ll continue to grow The Garage together.

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