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Melissa Kaufman, executive director of The Garage, is leaving Northwestern

Startup veteran helped build the campus hub for student entrepreneurship
melissa Kaufman
Melissa Kaufman came to Northwestern in 2015.

Melissa Kaufman, Northwestern’s founding executive director of The Garage, who helped create a vibrant and inclusive startup hub for student entrepreneurs, will be leaving the University this spring.

In more than six years at the helm, Kaufman has built The Garage into a premier campus destination for students to experiment, innovate, fail and, ultimately, grow. Since opening the door to its 11,000 square-foot space carved out of the North Campus parking structure, The Garage has served more than 3,000 students a year, incubated more than 1,000 startups and created a network of more than 500 mentors and experts. 

“Building The Garage has been one of my proudest professional accomplishments,” Kaufman said. “When I first got here, I asked, ‘What would happen if we brought the culture of Silicon Valley to Northwestern and empowered our students with an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set?’ And the answer is magic.”

Young leaders from The Garage have gone on to join startups and innovative firms. They’ve also raised millions of dollars from investors to form their own companies like Flyhomes, Zcruit, Stable, Lendable, Brinc, The Graide Network, Brewbike, IFM, finlit, Hubly Surgical and Amper, among many others.

The Garage, a popular tour stop for prospective students and visiting alumni, has been recognized as a leader in entrepreneurial education and student development. This month, its Propel program for women entrepreneurs was awarded the top prize for innovation in co-curricular education by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Offerings at The Garage include the Residency program for the most committed student entrepreneurs to incubate a project that involves hardware, software, arts, music and more, as well as Activate, an immersive learning experience for Black students, and the Opportunity Fund for undergraduates who identify as low-income.

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Melissa focused on developing the billion-dollar person rather than the billion-dollar business.”

Alicia Löffler
Associate provost and executive director of INVO

“Melissa focused on developing the billion-dollar person rather than the billion-dollar business,” said Alicia Löffler, associate provost and executive director of Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO). “It’s reflected in the time she takes to encourage each student to open their minds, find their strength and become resilient. Her empathy, creativity, inclusiveness, entrepreneurial thinking and problem-solving have been critical to the success The Garage has become.” 

Before arriving at Northwestern in 2015, Kaufman had already established herself as a startup veteran and entrepreneur, founding her own company and working at tech giants Google and YouTube in Silicon Valley. She received her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Dartmouth College.

Mike Raab, associate director of The Garage, will serve as interim director when Kaufman steps down on May 15 to relocate in Hawaii with her family. Northwestern will appoint a search committee and conduct a national search to find her replacement.