The 10 student teams participating in Wildfire 2020, The Garage’s pre-accelerator program, have made it through the first five weeks of the intensive 10-week program aimed at developing students as both leaders and founders by introducing new ways of thinking and problem solving.
In addition to $10,000 in funding, a dedicated mentor, pitch coaching, team to team meetings, and other community support, the Wildfire program also includes dedicated programming from domain experts on a variety of startup related topics.
For the first time ever, Wildfire 2020 is completely virtual, serving students from all over the country through a combination of the Slack messaging app and Zoom video communication software. Accordingly, the first interactive Zoom session from Robyn Scott helped students learn how to most effectively communicate in an engaging way over video chat, setting them up for successful interactions with presenters, mentors, and fellow participants.
Next, students received a crash-course in selling from Craig Wortmann, the founder and executive director of the Kellogg Sales Institute and CEO of Sales Engine, who helped them become more comfortable with the concept of “selling,” and introduced them to the concept of the “Sales Trailer.”
In another program first, all 23 student participants took a Hogan personality assessment to understand their natural strengths and weaknesses, and were debriefed on their results by Jennifer Tackett, a professor and director of clinical psychology at Northwestern. Jennifer helped participants understand how their natural inclinations may affect their decision-making and leadership styles. Rising junior Max Derbyshire, co-founder of Crawl, says that this session was one of his highlights of Wildfire so far, commenting, “Working with Jennifer to understand our personality types as leaders has helped us develop our roles as leaders, how we work, and how to motivate ourselves.”
Other programming has focused on legal issues & trademark law presented by Clinical Professor of Law Esther Barron; expanding and evolving personal stories with Krissie McMenamin; customer acquisition, with Bottlecode co-founder Drishay Menon; when, how, and why to pivot your startup with Apartment List co-founder Chris Erickson; managing yourself and your team with Lisa Sparrow; and an engaging exercise with Kellogg professor, venture partner, author, and former CEO of Walmart.com, Carter Cast on value proposition design for startups.
Rising Junior Josh Breite, the founder of Learning Induction, found Carter’s insights invaluable, commenting, “The most impactful lesson for our team so far was Carter Cast’s talk on value propositions. His talk gave us the groundwork to really focus on the three things that we think make our product great. This has been integral to helping us plan our next steps forward so we can give the most amount of value to our customers.”
In addition to the required programming mentioned above, students have also had access to optional sessions on recruiting team members, search engine optimization (SEO) and website analytics, as well as social events, like a Sandwich Masterclass, where they learned how to construct the perfect sandwich from sandwich entrepreneur, Ben Gollan.
Outside of the scheduled group programming, participants are finding value in the one-on-one mentor relationships they have formed. Yasmeena Faycurry, a rising junior and the founder of Nooks, commented “The most impactful part of Wildfire has been being paired with our mentor Brad. The Nooks team is quite creative and imaginative, and Brad’s skillset as a lawyer complements us well. With his mentorship, we’ve been able to really materialize all the details to our concept.” Kinsey Hart, a Kellogg candidate and founder of Serena Fine Jewelry, agreed, saying, “We meet with our mentor, Rich, every week and he has been so helpful in thinking through strategy, prioritization, and team management. It's dedicated, personal time that is highly relevant for our business.”
While this may sound like an intensive schedule, Wildfire 2020 is only reaching the halfway point. The 10-week program culminates on Wednesday, August 26th for Wildfire Demo Day, when all 10 teams will pitch their company to four distinguished guest judges who have professional experience as investors and entrepreneurs, competing for $10,000 in non-dilutive prize money. To see how far these young entrepreneurs have progressed and cast your vote for the audience favorite, tune in to the Wildfire 2020 Public Showcase on August 26th by RSVPing here!