Blackstone LaunchPad kicks off opening

first_imgBlackstone LaunchPad at USC, the Annenberg Innovation Lab’s cross-campus entrepreneurship program celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.Liftoff · Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, addresses the audience at Wednesday’s opening event. – Audey Shen | Daily Trojan To celebrate the official launch, Blackstone LaunchPad hosted Executive Vice Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Quick, Walter Annenberg Chair in Communication and Dean of Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Ernest Wilson, City of Los Angeles Chief Innovation Technology Officer Peter Marx, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab Jonathan Taplin and Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Amy Stursberg. Student entrepreneurs also had the opportunity to showcase projects they have created with Blackstone Launchpad’s assistance.“I know that some folks have made the argument that young people may be better off taking their entrepreneurial vision and doing it outside of academia and maybe giving up on pursuing that college education, but through efforts like the LaunchPad we are rejecting such false choices and recognizing that one can do both and this gives students a leg up in their career to be both well honed in academics and well honed in entrepreneurship,” Quick said during the ceremony.Blackstone LaunchPad at USC was made possible by a $3.5 million grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. The grant established a partnership between University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Irvine; USC and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Blackstone LaunchPad announced the partnership in February 2014. It has 15 other locations at different universities around the country.“We look at specific regions around the country where we think there is an entrepreneurial vibe, and we target schools with a culture of innovation but aren’t cracking the code 100 percent,” Stursberg said. “We came to Southern California and looked at about 10 schools and USC was just a,  ‘Wow.’”Blackstone LaunchPad has given student entrepreneurs the skills they need to advance their projects through mentorship programs. The program has been working with over 70 startup teams, a total of over 200 students since its soft opening earlier this year.Sydney Liu, a sophomore majoring in computer science and business administration, spoke at the ceremony about how Blackstone has assisted him in the process of creating Talent Trail, a company that streamlines the internship recruiting process.“Blackstone has been extremely helpful due to their mentorship and introductions they’ve helped us make. We also have over 900 students on the platform now because of what Blackstone has helped us do,” Liu said.Jordan Banafsheha, a sophomore majoring in computer science and business administration and the founder of Bread & Butter, spoke about his company that he presented at the Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day in New York last week. Bread & Butter takes food retailers with a daily food surplus and connects them with with underserved communities. Banafsheha said he has benefited from Blackstone LaunchPad’s stewardship program that helps students establish connections with schools around campus.“Blackstone LaunchPad helped us secure a relationship with Gould School of Law, and helped us get into the small business clinic so that we’re now a legal company,” Banafsheha said.Other student projects that are working with Blackstone LaunchPad include Desert Farms, America’s first retail camel’s milk company, Q-Cigarettes, a tool to help quitting smokers, and Piggy, a company that helps users save money by depositing all change from purchases into their bank accounts.With such a strong culture of innovation at USC, Executive Director of Blackstone LaunchPad at USC Erin Reilly said that Blackstone LaunchPad will provide an opportunity to engage with entrepreneurship at any level, regardless of experience.“We’re here to foster the entrepreneurial spirit and be a stepping stone,” she said. “[We want to] map the ecosystem so we can provide a very informal and experimental experience for students who are maybe not in the business school or the StartUp Garage in  Viterbi, but they just want to start something and they don’t know where, so we are a very soft touch to help students guide them through taking their concept into something more.”last_img

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