A New Way to Help Student Entrepreneurs Succeed: Learnings from the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort, part of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program

LaunchPad Lift “was the most impactful incubator/entrepreneurship program I have participated in. The cohort not only connected me to experts in a wide range of fields (branding, fundraising, HR) but was incredibly personalized and practical. Every single meeting made a difference. The program provided structure for me to see the concrete steps I need to take in order to scale my business from a student venture to a successful startup.”  – Hailey Scofield, Combplex, Cornell University

Student entrepreneurship is on the rise, and Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, in partnership with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, have collaborated to work with universities around the globe to support the best student entrepreneurs through the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program. Together, we help students learn about entrepreneurship, find great mentors, and start successful companies.

This spring, Techstars and Blackstone launched a new program, LaunchPad Lift, a 10-week virtual mentoring program designed to increase the probability of success for student entrepreneurs. Ventures were chosen from across the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s LaunchPad global network, which supports student entrepreneurs on college campuses.

LaunchPad Lift paired these students with mentors for guidance as they approach major company milestones and prepare their startups to go to the next level. Through a combination of virtual 1:1 mentorship and subject-matter expert Q&A sessions, LaunchPad Lift expands each student’s network beyond their college campus and into the Techstars worldwide network.

“LaunchPad Lift is a fantastic opportunity to gain an overview of the topics and themes most relevant to leading a successful startup. Connecting weekly with a mentor who is committed to your growth and who has experience starting and growing a startup is a truly irreplaceable experience. I gained perspective, got regular support and feedback, and broadened my network.” – Alyssa Petersel, My WellBeing, New York University

We learned a lot through this inaugural program. Most importantly, we saw the huge impact a virtual program can have on a growing venture.

The Power of the Network

One of the biggest challenges of being a student founder is finding ways to make useful connections outside of the college campus. Students in LaunchPad Lift told us how helpful the program was at doing just that. During the program, the teams made over 50 new connections to potential investors, partners, vendors, and customers.

“Working with world-class mentors from Techstars and gaining access to their impeccable network of successful entrepreneurs and investors has been a huge boom for us. During the program, we used the enormous amount of resources provided by Blackstone and Techstars to improve our customer value proposition and secure new partnerships that will allow us to expand quickly in the future. – Ian Howard, Shower Stream, University of Texas at Austin

Gaining Entrepreneurial Skills

Entrepreneurship is all about action. But action, and how to act, is hard to teach.

We took a module from the Techstars Entrepreneur’s Toolkit, “How to Make Progress with Goals and KPIs,” and incorporated it into LaunchPad Lift. In the first week of the program, Techstars Managing Director Zach Nies taught students how to track goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and they used these tools during the entire program to assess and direct their progress.

We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students about how important these tools were in helping them figure out how to move their companies forward, prioritize tasks, and get stuff done.

“Our accomplishments exceeded our expectations, as we managed to enhance even areas of our business that we did not plan for. The bi-weekly sessions were hugely beneficial, especially the talks on founder relations and branding & fundraising. The program focused our attention on achieving relevant and urgent milestones that would benefit our startup. Our mentor was instrumental in helping us refine our pitch deck and project plan.” – Barry McCann, NUA Surgical, National University of Ireland, Galway

Refining Strategies with Mentors

During LaunchPad Lift, teams worked one-on-one with mentors on their personal goals. Whether the goal was to refine a pitch deck, talk to customers, expand their network, or re-work a business model, students saw the use and importance of a fresh and knowledgeable perspective on their companies.

“Our company has come a long way since the start of LaunchPad Lift! When we began the program, we were at a crossroads in our business. We had seen traction and growth and we had acquired customers, but we needed help creating a strategy to move forward. Since the start of the program, we’ve learned how to set goals in a way that has increased our efficiency and productivity. We have a much clearer brand identity now, which has given us a leg up as we speak with various retail buyers. We have better margins, a clearer strategy for how to move forward and an improved business model. I know we wouldn’t be where we’re at without this program, and I’m so thankful for all of the mentorship, help and genuine care we’ve received while in the program.” – Chelsea LaFerla, Petitas, University of Southern California

Path to the Next Big Thing

It’s amazing to see what a group of driven students can accomplish in 10 weeks. We saw one team secure nearly $200k in funding, four new customers and one new key partner. Another team grew their user network by 20% and achieved 75% revenue growth. Others accomplished key milestones, such as pivoting their business model, refining a new brand strategy, and defining a critical path to product launch. The culmination of their hard work and success was celebrated at event at Blackstone in New York where each team received $10,000 and had the opportunity to meet with Blackstone senior leadership.

What’s next for the LaunchPad Lift teams?  For starters, all participants plan on applying to Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs. Beyond that, all are working on major milestones, such as holding a new customer trial with an improved MVP, preparing for beta testing and a soft launch within the next 12 months, clinical trials, raising seed or Series A rounds, or pivoting their business model and developing a new MVP.

We’re so proud of these amazing student entrepreneurs, the newest members of the Techstars Network!

Read about all the student-led ventures in the first LaunchPad Lift Cohort in our blog series

Learn more about Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.