Blackstone LaunchPad Fosters Entrepreneurship, Possibility

8/27/12Follow @XconomyDET

Energy, hope, and possibility: That, essentially, is what Bill Green says the Launch Pad program is about. Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at the University of Miami, co-founded the Launch Pad there as a way to integrate the values of entrepreneurship campus-wide and turn students into CEOs of startups, which Green believes is key to America’s economic recovery.

Since then, the Launch Pad model has been recognized by the Harvard Business Review for its success and has been replicated as the Blackstone LaunchPad pilot program at Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit and Walsh College in Troy, MI.

The Blackstone LaunchPad has two goals: education and economic development. LaunchPad helps the students develop bulletproof business plans, and to that end it offers workshops, networking events, and consulting sessions, as well as brick-and-mortar locations on campus for like-minded young innovators to gather and hash out ideas.

“We want to make sure all students understand that entrepreneurship is a normal way to make a living—it’s not magic or exotic,” Green explains. “The rhetoric around entrepreneurship has to do with chance, accident, and luck. We’re trying to open it up as an option to everybody.”

The secondary mission, at least in places like Detroit, is to persuade the students to keep their startups in the city and, by their very presence, play an active role in revitalization. “We want to strengthen regions where the economy is challenged,” Green adds. “We’re seeding the ground to help the next generation make a living.”

September marks Blackstone LaunchPad’s third year of existence, and since that time, 87 business ventures have been created or grown through the programs at Wayne State and Walsh. Three hundred students and alumni have taken advantage of LaunchPad so far. Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, which funds the program, says the foundation is so pleased with the results in Southeast Michigan that it’s soon expanding the model nationwide.

Blackstone LaunchPad was among the first investments supporting entrepreneurial education and training by the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI). “By providing a path to entrepreneurship for college students, LaunchPad has not only helped tap those with a talent for innovation early in their careers, it has also given students the tools for taking charge of their professional lives at a time when traditional job prospects have not always been favorable for new graduates,” says David Egner, executive director of the NEI.

Anthony Drummond, founder of AdaptivElite, was studying music technology at Wayne State when he wandered into the Blackstone LaunchPad office on campus on a whim. He had been tinkering with a pizza delivery video game for the previous year, and he wondered if the LaunchPad could offer guidance. After undergoing the program’s mentorship, he says he felt ready to take his idea to the next level.

Now, Drummond’s pizza delivery game will offer players real-world prizes such as discounts to their favorite delivery restaurants. “Blackstone really helped,” he says. “They taught me how to find and pitch investors. I also got a lot of help with my business model and how to turn my product into something profitable.”

A beta version of the Web-based game launched last month, and Drummond says versions for Android and iPhone will be released shortly. So far, AdaptivElite is mostly self-funded, aside from small awards from the Get Launched pitch competition and WSU’s Warrior Fund. Drummond also plans to apply for the state’s film tax credits, which video game studios are also eligible for.

Drummond is the kind of young entrepreneur Bill Green says the LaunchPad was designed for: Someone who was mulling over a potentially great idea, but wasn’t sure how to get it out of his head. “Not all of these ideas will become companies,” Green cautions. “But without LaunchPad, where would they have gone? This creates an opportunity for students and alumni to imagine starting something and to begin to have a conversation.”

Drummond and AdaptivElite are staying in Detroit, mainly, he says, because the incentives are too numerous not to. He’s assembled a team of seven people to get the company off the ground, and these days he spends a lot of time calling businesses that might want to offer game players discounts.

“It’s a powerful gesture of hope,” Green says of Blackstone LaunchPad and the startups it’s helped hatch. “It says you can make a life here. Detroit is one of America’s great cities. You have every reason to be hopeful, especially when Wayne and Walsh are doing such a superb job of changing the culture at their schools.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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  • http://twitter.com/Gshusta Garrett Poshusta

    Isn’t a bulletproof business plan somewhat paradoxical? I like think of business plans more as flexible frameworks for optimizing market/solution fit. Glad to hear about efforts successfully expanding entrepreneurship among students!