On Tuesday night, students, faculty and staff gathered on the second floor of the parking garage at Henry Crown Sports Pavilion to celebrate the grand opening of The Garage, an “innovation incubator” where students can work on their own start-ups and entrepreneurial projects.
The Garage itself is designed to foster collaboration, with an open floor plan, white board walls and hi-tech equipment including a 3-D printer.
“We even have a sewing machine, if you’re into practical making,” said Melissa Crounse, the Executive Director of The Garage during a brief introduction of the facility.
Crounse, as a former Google employee and the founder of two startups and a company of her own, said that her goal as executive director is to “help Northwestern students become the best entrepreneurial thinkers and doers in the world.”
The Garage’s facilities are open to all students, regardless of academic background, and in an interview after the event, she said she hopes that all students feel welcome to use the space as a resource.
For McCormick senior Ahren Alexander, having the space to work and collaborate has been essential to creating his start-up company Audiovert, which builds and markets customizable, hexagon-shaped speakers.
“It’s great to have the opportunity to bring my ideas and projects here, to make it come to life,” said Alexander, who worked with his team out of The Garage over the summer. “A lot of the work specifically has been assembling speakers – I’ve been soldering and doing things you can’t do on any other building on campus.”
Before The Garage opened, the Ford Design Center provided some space and materials for such creative work. For Terence Chan, co-President of EPIC, a student group focused on entrepreneurship, Ford has too much of a “class-room feel” to it, unlike The Garage.“It’s really open and a lot of collaboration is happening here,” Chan, a McCormick senior, said.
Even though one of graduate student Madeline Klichowski’s classes is held in The Garage, that doesn’t take away from the creative atmosphere.
“I’d love to use the maker space, to actually get to make something with a team and know that I have all the tool and parts,” said Klichowski, who is in the Masters of Science Enginering Design and Innovation program. “I can see myself making prototypes and mockups for clients.”
The Garage also offers a residency program for student-created start-ups, which gives students access to the facility 24 hours a day, as well as weekly “family dinners” with mentors in The Garage.
Weinberg senior Faique Moqeet, founder of the start-up Admit Hero, was chosen for the residency this quarter, and says he is looking forward to working with Crounse and other mentors in The Garage. “Having someone from Silicon Valley who has been in that culture, that’s going to be really cool,” he said. Moqeet’s start-up is an online service aimed at helping high-school students find resources and content relevant to their interests and future plans.
“Going into the space at The Garage, people aren’t there to do normal work,” Moqeet said, noting that the vibe is different when working out of Norris or an apartment.
“The benefit of The Garage is that there are people around us who know other people, and we can get on different listservs, if we need writers or if we need people to get involved.”
For Alexander, the community that is growing out of The Garage has also had an impact on innovative progress.
“Part of this was having the space, but also a community that supports the mentality, supports actually bringing your ideas to life,” he said. “Through that, I’ve met some really awesome people. I think without this space, the community wouldn’t have come together. It’s so good to have other people also striving to build alongside you.”