Northwestern plans collaborative startup space for student entrepreneurs

Jordan Harrison, Assistant Campus Editor

Two Northwestern trustees are donating $4 million to fund an incubator space for NU startups called the Garage, slated to open next fall.

The Garage will serve as a creative space for student entrepreneurs to work in teams and will house classes and other programs, said Pat Ryan Jr. (Kellogg ’95, Law ’97), one of the contributing trustees and an entrepreneur. Inspired by the traditions of Silicon Valley startups, the space will be housed in an actual garage located near the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion and Norris Aquatics Center, he said.

Ryan said the backbone of the Garage will be student collaboration.

“Places like the Garage aren’t necessarily for when you start your company,” Ryan said. “They’re really for a stage where you’re working on an idea with a group of other students and you think it could be a business or you’ve done a project in a class that you think could be a business and the class has ended. It’s really that space before you become a company but after you’ve already worked on it as a concept or a project, and so it’s more of a formalized way of developing projects and ideas for the next stage.”

Ryan said the Garage would also benefit students who don’t end up turning their ideas into actual businesses.

“You may find that it was just a good learning experience and it may not become a company,” Ryan said. “Every team that participates in the Garage will get the benefit of applied innovation.”

Ryan said he has been deeply involved with the project and called upon other trustees to donate to the effort. After Ryan reached out to other potential donors, NU trustee Michael Ferro Jr. matched Ryan’s original $2 million donation.

“I’m a technology entrepreneur, so I’ve been very involved in the Chicago technology ecosystem,” Ryan said. “It became clear to many of us that Northwestern would benefit from this given the interests and passions of the students and faculty.”

NU trustee Peter Barris (McCormick ’74) said the Garage grew out of a larger effort to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation on campus. The space was partially inspired by similar projects at Harvard and Stanford universities and by 1871, a startup incubator in Chicago. Ryan serves on the board of directors for 1871.

Gensler architecture firm is designing the building, which will have movable walls and is intended to have a highly energized atmosphere, Barris said.

“The design tends to be pretty rudimentary, like what you would find in Silicon Valley,” Barris said. “It’s going to be a highly flexible space so that it can be utilized for multiple purposes.”

Ryan chairs the trustee committee working on the Garage, and Barris chairs a larger committee focused on innovation and entrepreneurship at NU.

Weinberg freshman Garrett Goehring founded a startup called Dine., a restaurant recommendation service. He said he thinks the Garage will be a beneficial resource for students.

“I will absolutely use it,” Goehring said. “I think the Garage will be set up in such a way that it will be very conducive to creative thinking and innovation and working with teams, and I think it will be a great environment to work in.”

Goehring and SESP senior Josephine Lee, president of EPIC, a campus entrepreneurial club said student entrepreneurs face a number of challenges, including obtaining funding, balancing schoolwork and running a business and finding peers to collaborate with. Lee said she is excited for the future of the Garage.

“I definitely think it’s a huge step forward,” Lee said. “I think it’s a perfect addition to the entrepreneurial community at Northwestern.”

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