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Evanston is Home Base for Young Entrepreneurs

Students and alumni use entrepreneurial skills to make difference in business

Northwestern University’s growing entrepreneurial culture is spurring innovation that has led to the launch of dozens of startups in recent years, many of them based right here in Evanston.

A wide array of the University’s undergraduate and graduate courses explore the entrepreneurial process, and innovation and entrepreneurship centers and institutes continue to spring up across Northwestern’s campuses and schools. 

Entrepreneurial skills -- such as creativity, communication, design, problem-solving and leadership -- are important for success in a variety of fields, not just business.

But one need look no farther than Northwestern’s hometown to see how University students and alumni have been using their entrepreneurial skills to make a difference in the business climate.

Just earlier this year, for example, all four finalists in the Illinois Clean Energy Student Challenge 2014 were Northwestern student startups.

Winning first place in the competition, MeterGenius, based in Evanston, came out of an NUvention: Energy course. The company’s innovative software platform allows residential consumers to view their electricity consumption data, set an energy budget and earn rewards for saving energy.

Another young company in Evanston, SwipeSense, aims to reduce hospital-acquired infections by providing hospital staff with portable, trackable hand-sanitation devices. Founders and recent Northwestern graduates Mert Iseri and Yuri Malina recently were named to Crain’s Chicago Business’ “Twenty in Their 20s” list. Last year the startup was one of five semifinalists in The Wall Street Journal’s “WSJ Startup of the Year.”

Two other young alums began their company Adaptly in Evanston and now run it out of New York City. Adaptly offers a service that allows businesses to buy ads simultaneously on multiple social network ad platforms. A few years ago, CEO Nikhil Sethi was named one of Forbes magazine’s “All-Star Student Entrepreneurs” and also named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in marketing and advertising.

The fast growth of NUvention, an interdisciplinary entrepreneurship program popular across schools on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses, underscores students’ thirst for learning how to take an idea and develop it into something real.

Just a few years ago there were three courses in the program -- focused on medical innovations, energy and software-based business -- and now there are six, educating 600 students a year. In each course, students gain knowledge of the process of building a product and a company. If an actual company results, that’s just icing on the cake.

For Northwestern students who decide to pursue a startup company using the skills they learned in the classroom or in the research lab, the University offers resources to help them -- as well as alumni and faculty -- through the commercialization process, such as securing investor funding and finding them space, including in Northwestern’s incubator in downtown Evanston.

“We are seeing more and more students who have a strong interest in entrepreneurship,” said Michael Marasco, director of Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, whose mission is to educate innovators and design thinkers. “Young people are involved in more entrepreneurial activities in elementary and high school than ever before, so it’s natural for them to pursue the same in college.”

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