Entrepreneurs from Blackstone LaunchPad’s Largest Fellowship Cohort Develop Skills and Grow Businesses

Four fellows received funding for their ventures.

55 student entrepreneurs from 28 campuses in the Blackstone LaunchPad network of schools completed the Summer 2021 Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship. Powered by Future Founders, a Chicago-based nonprofit with 10 years’ experience helping young entrepreneurs from underserved communities build and grow businesses, the Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship provided this group of collegiate founders with opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial skills and competencies. Core areas of focus included management, problem solving, leadership, communication, social capital, and business acumen.

Launched in summer of 2020 in response to lost opportunities and internships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship has since evolved into an 8-week program providing skill-building support early-stage founders. Fellows participate in entrepreneurial workshops, engage with experienced mentors and advisors, and build community between each other in (virtual) social activities. In addition, each program participant is provided with a $5,000 stipend to support them, their teams, and their earliest startup needs.

Skill Development

Over the course of the 8-week program, students were offered six unique, interactive virtual workshops designed to develop entrepreneurial skills. After participating in pre- and post-program assessments to measure growth, Summer 2021 Fellowship Cohort improving their skills as much as 27.8% in key areas:

Scott Burke, a Cornell University student and Co-Founder of Aabix, a startup improving access to smart home technology for historically underserved populations, said of his skill-dvelopment: “The Fellowship helped me, as an engineering CEO, focus more on marketing, storytelling, and product aesthetics. We quadrupled our user base as a result and pivoted our focus from B2C to B2B during the program.”

Sumedha Garg, Montana State University student and Founder of FeelGood!, a Montana grown and produced freeze-dried smoothie powder using local ingredients, says of her improved research abilities: “The Fellowship helped me to take forward my research on supporting Montana growers by engaging them in value-added product development streams. The broad knowledge I have attained on aspects of design thinking, customer discovery and leadership has enabled me to promote entrepreneurial skills within research endeavors.”

Goals and Progress

One of the most important skills for an entrepreneur to develop is the ability to set and achieve specific goals. At the start of the program, each founder was asked to submit and track three key goals for their startup. 70% of founders achieved all three of these goals by the end of the program, and nearly all of the remaining founders were able to achieve at least one or two of goals.

Some notable progress includes:

Mia Brzakovic, a student at University of Dublin, Trinity College and Founder of fikiLABS, a bio-friendly plastic manufacturer, raised $15,000 in funding and secured four new business partnerships.

Selim Dangoor, a student at Syracuse University and Founder of MUNCH Jerky, a premium direct-to-consumer steak jerky brand, secured a contract manufacturer, began his first production run, and received an Innovation Fund grant of $2,500.

Gabriella Rudnick, a student at Temple University and Founder of Sonder, an app that helps create meaningful, memorable, and platonic connections while traveling, raised $10,000 in funding and increased her customer signups by 200%.

Ileana Del Risco, a student at University of Central Florida and Founder of Vitruvian, a software company solving fit uncertainty in the apparel e-commerce space with virtual dressing room technology, gained an additional 40 customers.

Return on Investment

While student founders joined the LaunchPad Fellowship for myriad reasons, one consistent theme from the Summer 2021 Cohort after completing the program was that they had received a strong return on time investment. With a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 91, this cohort was the highest rated and reviewed cohort to-date.

According to Mariah Karis, University of Montana student and Founder of The Giddy Thrifter, a new, used, vintage, and upcycled fashion and decor startup, “The Blackstone LaunchPad gave me the clarity I needed, at a time when I didn’t even know I needed it. I walked away from the program with a vast amount of business knowledge, a greater appreciation for entrepreneurial minds, and a determination to take what I learned during the summer and begin the process of implementing new tactics. The Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship launched me into the mindset I needed to be in to take my small business seriously and implement bigger ideas. This was a fantastic summer of growth… Over the course of three months I learned how capable I am, and we all are, of chasing our ideas.”

For other participants, such as Anastasia Bobilev, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center student and Founder of BioSignature Solutions, a specialized CRO that helps companies develop customized biomarker panels for predicting treatment response to psychiatric drugs, the Fellowship provided a catalyst for lifelong connections. “In just two months, the program cultivates authentic connections and builds a community of founders and mentors that provide genuine support. I plan to stay in touch with many of my mentors and peers as we continue to build and grow, and I can’t thank Blackstone LaunchPad and Future Founders enough for this opportunity!”

Bright Futures

The progress made by the 55 student entrepreneurs in the Summer 2021 Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship Cohort is a reminder of just how bright the future is for entrepreneurship.

London Swift, a student at University of California, Berkeley and Founder of Et al, Inc., a next-generation digital platform for women and gender diverse creative freelancers, summarized it best as they reflected on the importance of community in the LaunchPad Fellowship, “The Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship – including the connections to fellow entrepreneurs and mentors, structure provided by the program, and insights into our business – has been transformational for our work on Et al, Inc.. As a queer woman of color, it is challenging to find mentors and entrepreneurs who share my life experience. Through the Fellowship programing, our team has connected with entrepreneurs and mentors who we trust and whose insights are helping to shape our vision for our company.”