Recent research confirms that successful startup founders need a combination of passion and vision (soft skills) and experience (hard skills). But how do enthusiastic and driven—but young—entrepreneurs quickly gain the critical knowledge and benefits that come with experience? One proven strategy is participation in a program like LaunchPad Lift.
For the second time this year, seven of the top collegiate entrepreneurial teams from campuses across the country are participating in LaunchPad Lift, an exclusive offering of Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars. This eight week virtual program offers valuable outside-the-classroom instruction and mentorship on a variety of topics critical to the success of startups including goal setting, fundraising, product development and roadmapping, and more. It also provides students access to the Blackstone and Techstars networks of advisors and mentors who can provide the crucial insight and advice that young founders need.
“After seeing the tremendous impact from the inaugural Lift cohort earlier this year, we’re excited to be offering this unique and powerful startup program once again,” said Erica Lock, Vice President at the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “As the LaunchPad network grows to reaching nearly a million students, we need smaller, more focused programs like this to offer unparalleled network-building opportunities to the nation’s top operating collegiate entrepreneurs.”
Young founders face a number of unique challenges, including student debt and increased global competition, but one of the most significant obstacles to a startup is forging connections with advocates outside the academic environment. With Lift subject matter experts and mentors from organizations like Rally and Quark Software, Highway 12 Ventures, and Shutterfly, these 20 student founders will have an incredible opportunity for dialogue and relationship-building with these extraordinarily innovative and experienced entrepreneurial advisors.
According to Alyssa Petersel, Founder of My WellBeing and Spring 2019 LaunchPad Lift participant, “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, who has experience starting and growing a startup, is a truly irreplaceable experience in gaining perspective, support and feedback, and broadening your network.”
The seven student-led teams in this fall’s Lift program include diverse participants with a wide range of backgrounds from schools in the northeast, western, and southern regions of the United States. These students’ businesses represent industries including hardware, applications, health and beauty, food and beverage, and more.
Ventures selected for inclusion in this program were chosen by a team of experts from Blackstone and Techstars. These experts looked for passionate entrepreneurs who were willing and able to learn from mentor and advisor feedback, and whose companies show great startup potential.
Meet the ventures:
OptechVR (Syracuse) – Using a combination of technologies, OptechVR is developing a standalone virtual reality headset for use in enterprise, medicine, education, and visualization. Twitter: @optechvr
Via (University of Texas at Austin) – Via is developing an online platform to facilitate local experiences with the help of youth ambassadors. Twitter: @hiddenwanders
ROSEN (UCLA) – Rosen is a natural skincare business helping individuals feel confident and in control of their skin health. Twitter: @rosenskincare
Antithesis Foods (Cornell) – Making food better through science, Antithesis makes a high fiber, high protein, low calorie chickpea-based snack. Twitter: @grabanzos
Ridesurf (University of Central Florida) – A ride sharing app, Ridesurf helps coordinate long distance rides between two or more people. Twitter: @goridesurf
Aviate Audio (University of Buffalo) – Aviate produces Airpatch, a wireless effects dock and controller that can interface with any guitar pedal or signal chain. Twitter: @aviateaudio
May West (Montana State University) – Using milkweed seedpod, May West produces an animal product- and synthetic-free, plant-based winter coat. Instagram: @may__west
The fall 2019 LaunchPad Lift program will run for eight weeks from June 26 until August 21 and will culminate with a final event on November 7 at the Blackstone offices in New York. This premier closing event will take place in conjunction with the LaunchPad Fall Training Camp.
Stay tuned to this blog or follow @Techstars on Twitter for more information about these businesses, their student founders, and the impact of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars partnership increases the chances for collegiate ventures to succeed by ensuring they have the resources they need to thrive. The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program is accessible by over 500,000 college students globally and designed to support and mentor students, staff, and alumni entrepreneurs regardless of major, experience, or discipline.
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.