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Highlights of student-led ventures participating in LaunchPad Lift, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad® powered by Techstars® entrepreneurship program.

Who better to share the lesser known—and best—parts of a place then a local? That’s the idea behind Sondr, which aims to leverage economically disconnected youth as “ambassadors” to share their local knowledge. (Sure a guidebook can list restaurants, but someone who grew up in Philly is more likely to know the best chili cheese steak sandwich, right?) This unique lens creates an interesting and immersive opportunity for visitors to see and know a city. Keiarra Ortiz-Cedeño and her five teammates originally founded Sondr to compete for the internationally known Hult Prize, and they remain convinced that this business can bring people together through shared experiences and shift the way participants think, taking visitors and ambassadors from “us and them” to “we.”

Keiarra believes in the power of business to change society for the better: “As entrepreneurs, when we see an issue, we take action and figure out innovative solutions to those problems. We envision a future where individuals can share their passions and unique narrative of the city with anyone who is willing to listen and wants to experience the city at a deeper, more personal level.”

For the Sondr team, the most valuable component of the Lift program has been their interactions with Techstars mentors. Their team mentor, Susie Kim, as well as the presenters in biweekly calls, have all provided them with critical instruction on goal-setting and fundraising, among other topics.

“This knowledge enabled us to set more concrete goals and more realistic timelines that can feasibly be followed,” said Keiarra. “We have also conducted in-depth interviews to understand exactly what our customers want after learning the importance of market validation and the insights that could be derived from that.”

In addition to the benefit of mentor-led instruction and access to the valuable resources and networks of Techstars and Blackstone, Lift student teams receive $10,000 upon completion of the program, to further grow and build their business. Sondr’s goals for the 8-week program are focused primarily on marketing (and have already included a branding and name change!) as well as critical customer exploration. They hope to run pilots and launch their new platform by mid-August.


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