Entrepreneurship on display as CWRU Blackstone LaunchPad kicks off

Blackstone Launchpad CWRUJean Zhao, a third-year chemistry major at Case Western Reserve University, devised a fuel cell-powered electric bike that can beat a scooter at takeoff. With mentoring and coaching from the university’s new Blackstone LaunchPad, Zhao hopes to springboard her EcoSpinners bike company into a thriving business.

After months of planning, Case Western Reserve University will make its official Blackstone LaunchPad debut on Tuesday, April 23, at 1 p.m. at Kelvin Smith Library. Blackstone LaunchPad will help students develop great ideas into profitable ones.

A program about Blackstone LaunchPad precedes a tour of Blackstone LaunchPad’s new home in Thwing Center.

On launch day, students from seven teams will explain new innovations. Among the students will be Kevin Wang and Shinichi Inoue, who will present Sapphire, a grade-tracking and predictive software they developed. This new service allows students to see their current grades and upcoming assignments while assigning values to help determine their anticipated final grade.

“I’ve seen this happen many times when the power of classroom activities or creative spaces like the campus think[ box ] drive ideas into new products or services,” said Bob Sopko, the new Blackstone LaunchPad director on campus. Sopko will discuss the next steps for Blackstone LaunchPad during the program.

President Barbara R. Snyder will kick off the event with a welcome address. Talking about LaunchPad will be: Deborah D. Hoover, president and CEO, The Burton D. Morgan Foundation; Joan Solotar, chair of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, senior managing director of public markets and head of the External Relations & Strategy Group; and Vinod “Vinny” K. Gupta, an engineering alumnus, chair of the Ohio Board of Regents and an expert in commercialization at Jumpstart Inc.

“Now available at CWRU and our three other Northeast Ohio schools, the Blackstone LaunchPad program has already achieved a high profile in the region as a powerful educational experience for students to explore their entrepreneurial ideas and aspirations.  The program builds on the collegiate entrepreneurial strength that already exists in our region by adding a robust campus-wide program that promotes entrepreneurship as a bona fide career choice,” Hoover said.

CWRU is part of The Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s $50-million, five-year “Entrepreneurship Initiative” in Ohio, Michigan, Maine and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. The idea is to fill a gap in entrepreneurial education on college campuses and empower a new generation of entrepreneurs to invigorate the economy with products and jobs.

“These campuses recognize that their students represent the economic future of the region. Blackstone LaunchPad introduces top-notch, professional support to any student driven to turn an idea into a company and build a career as an entrepreneur,” said Amy Stursberg, executive director of The Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

In 2011, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and The Burton D. Morgan Foundation announced plans to provide a $3.2 million, three-year grant to support Blackstone LaunchPad at four Northeast Ohio institutions: Case Western Reserve University, Baldwin Wallace University, Lorain County Community College and Kent State University.

Locally, Blackstone LaunchPad has the potential to reach 72,000 students annually about entrepreneurship and educate an additional 25 percent more as new students arrive each fall. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation estimates 150 new ventures could develop in the next five years.

The local programs are designed after the first LaunchPad at the University of Miami in 2008. The Florida program, which has resulted in more than 65 start-ups and 2,000 participants, has become a model for generating new ventures and the jobs that come with them.