May 7th, 2020
If there’s one thing that inspires us, it’s seeing young entrepreneurs taking action after being motivated by some challenge to their community. For the past month that’s been happening all over the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars network. Students and recent alumni of these schools and programs - who themselves are dealing with dramatic shifts to the traditional college and young professional experience - are stepping up, starting businesses, and offering solutions to the problems associated COVID19. Here are just a few of these student startup stories…
Claire Monro and Claire Fisher (University of Southern California LaunchPad)
Two seniors at USC didn’t let the sudden shift from finishing the school year on campus to wrapping up courses from home on Zoom end the relationships they’ve had with many local businesses - in fact, they’ve committed to making it stronger. Claire Monro and Claire Fisher have refocused their clothing business, Fight Online, to raise money for these small businesses by selling t-shirts through the USC Bookstore, Bonfire.com, social media, and the USC enewsletters of organizations including the Blackstone Launchpad. Read more about this effort here.
Dr. Peter Baek, (University of Texas, Dallas LaunchPad)
As one of the earliest participants in LaunchPad programming through UT, Dallas, Dr. Peter Baek attended the very first LaunchPad Propel event in New York City back in 2017. Today, he and his fellow LaunchPad program alum, cofounder James Griffin, have developed an adapter that connects a hospital-grade bacterial and antiviral filter to a full-face snorkel mask. The pair have been giving the devices away to healthcare workers for free and are raising money for materials on GoFundMe. Read more about this effort here.
Brian Kam (Syracuse University LaunchPad)
Working with the LaunchPad at Syracuse University Libraries as a student, U.S. Marine Brian Kam founded Thrive Projects Inc., a sustainable development nonprofit focused on serving populations in Nepal. Today, continuing to build on his long-term personal mission of public service, he has begun volunteering with the Monroe County Health Department in Rochester, New York to test people for coronavirus, and assist with contact tracing, education, and patient follow up. (This all while completing a nursing degree at the University of Rochester.) Read more about his efforts here.
Levi Worts (Montana State University LaunchPad)
Levi Worts learned how to effectively communicate with people by earning an English degree from MSU in 2015. As a recent graduate and founder of SkyCivic, he’s now using those skills to help share critical information with the public via his recently released coronavirus-focused chatbot. Utilizing information coming from the CDC, the SkyCivic app distills critical information and presents it in a clear and tailored way that anyone can understand. Levi has benefited from a number of entrepreneurial opportunities via the MSU LaunchPad and the Jake Jabs College of Business & Entrepreneurship. Read more about this effort here.
Brian Bischoff and Dan Buckmaster (University at Buffalo LaunchPad)
University at Buffalo alumni Brian Bischoff and Dan Buckmaster responded to the call for personal protective equipment, by shifting the focus of their businesses, Innosek and Tresca Design. Both companies work in engineering design, prototyping, and low volume manufacturing space. Innosek is now assisting with a contract job to make several thousand face shields with its 3D printers and worked with a manufacturing partner to convert sleep apnea machines to emergency ventilators. Similarly, Buckmaster decided to divert some resources at Tresca to create 3D printable face shields - with all shields being given away for free to first responders. Read more about these efforts here.
Spencer Elliott (University of Central Florida LaunchPad)
UCF Alum Spencer Elliott is helping address the need for virtual events with his startup, ViewStub. After nearly tripling the number of monthly new users on the platform in March, SeedFundersOrlando recently decided to invest $250,000 in the company. Similar in some ways to other video conferencing tools, ViewStub provides fee-based access to events including speeches, concerts, or any other events which would normally charge admission. ViewStub’s platform assists organizers with registration, user management, and pay-per-view access, along with promotion and marketing. Read more about this effort here.
Blake Teipel (Texas A&M LaunchPad)
As a PhD Materials Science and Engineering student at Texas A&M, Blake Teipel participated in the Blackstone LaunchPad Forbes 30 under 30 event in 2016 representing Essentium, a 3D printing and additive manufacturing company. He and his team (and the team involved in his other startup Trifusion Devices) gained entrepreneurial recognition several years ago as winners of several major competitions, including the Rice Business Plan Competition and Baylor New Venture Competition in 2016, and the SEC Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition (2015). Today, following the recent completion of design, Essentium, stepped in, and is now in the production stage for a protective mask kit to help with the coronavirus pandemic. Their initial run is being utilized by the Pflugerville Police and Fire Department. Read more about this effort here.
Longsha Liu (Cornell LaunchPad)
Inspired by his 77-year-old grandmother, who continued to work as a physician in China as COVID-19 was rapidly spreading, Longsha recently entered the seventh annual Cornell AI Health Hackathon with a mission. Their idea? VitalMask, a “smart” respiratory mask that prevents the spread of airborne diseases while monitoring the wearer’s vital signs. Since winning the competition’s grand prize, Longsha and his teammates from the Cornell University Biomedical Device student group have formed their startup Vita Innovations, filed for provisional patents, reached out to manufacturers, and been mentored by Felix Litvinsky, Managing Director of Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. Read more about this effort here.
Courtney Gras is the LaunchPad Director for Techstars and wrote Entrepreneur is a Verb in 2018. You can follow her on Twitter at @courtneyagras.