By: Ryan Brinkerhoff | Syracuse University ’16, Co-founder at Thrive Project, Inc.
Student ventures that are part of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University, and the LaunchPad itself, have accomplished an incredible amount in just 12 months. Entrepreneurship is certainly thriving at SU.
A year ago, I never would have considered myself an entrepreneur. To be honest, I hardly knew what entrepreneurship meant. Fast forward one year and my company, Thrive Projects, just won first prize in the Social Entrepreneurship category at the New York Business Plan Competition in Albany. This personal and professional transformation would not have been possible without the help of another Syracuse startup: The Blackstone LaunchPad, located in Bird Library.
Together, the Syracuse University student ventures that are part of the LaunchPad, and the LaunchPad itself, have accomplished an incredible amount in just 12 months. As an example, at the beginning of this journey I was an average college junior, studying economics and hoping for a steady government job when I graduated. I thought I had a plan for my future, but after meeting with Linda Hartsock, Executive Director at the Launchpad, that changed. A concept for empowering vulnerable communities went from three friends working on an idea, to business model formation, product development, beta-testing, proof-of-concept (terms I would come to understand the hard way), formulating and refining our pitch, raising funds, and winning in the New York State competition.
Looking back, it is amazing to see how one conversation can change your life. Over the next year, the LaunchPad team helped our team evolve in ways we never imagined. We became true entrepreneurs who raised multiple rounds of funding, legally incorporated our company, built a team and ran two pilots with communities in Nepal, ultimately leading us to reinvent our business model. Through every single step, Linda and her team were there to support us, and walk through our startup and acceleration challenges. The LaunchPad became our home on campus, and with that home came a new and growing family.
While we were the first ones through the doors at the LaunchPad, we quickly became part of fast growing innovation community. Over the 12 months the LaunchPad has officially been open, more than 1,600 members, from 44 countries and all academic programs across campus, have engaged with the LaunchPad, spawning more than 270 unique ventures.
This growth has been incredible from a metrics perspective, but it has been transformative for us personally. Before the LaunchPad, there was not space on campus where faculty, staff and students from all disciplines could engage with each other, share ideas, innovate, collaborate and grow. The LaunchPad connects the dots across Syracuse University’s resource-rich innovation ecosystem, as well as experts who take us through a milestone-driven process that keeps us focused and moving forward. That is the underpinning of a best-in-class entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is a network that is more than the sum of its parts. We are teams invested not just in our own success, but our collective success.
This energizing culture, cultivated by the LaunchPad, is the heart of Syracuse University’s award-winning success. The team spirit and family dynamic between student entrepreneurs push us to be better, to work harder, and keep iterating until we get it right. That support makes the long nights a little bit easier and keeps us going after disappointments and setbacks that entrepreneurs invariably face. On a typical day, you will find a dozen or so venture founders sitting together, team problem solving. You will find students white boarding ideas. You will see advisors and mentors offering thoughtful critique. You will find faculty members adding insight. You will see LaunchPad staff asking tough questions, testing assumptions, shaping strategy, and working their network of subject matter experts, funders and resource providers. You will find us all, together, working through the process that gets us from ideation to launch, to “investment-ready.”
And you’ll find us laughing. Because as driven and disciplined as we pride ourselves on being, we know how to have fun together. To laugh at ourselves, take risks, learn from mistakes, shake it off, and keep going. We know how to make hard work fun.
We have learned what championship teamwork is all about. This dynamic culture produced the Grand Prize winner, and first place in four of six categories in the recent New York Business Plan Competition – winning $140,000 of the $160,000 awarded. It was a magical day, made more meaningful because we shared this experience as a true team, every step of the way. We are incredibly proud of each other.
Student innovators who get involved here, stay here. For me personally, I have continued to come back to the LaunchPad even after graduating in December ’16 to work full-time on next steps for our venture, as well as share ideas and mentor younger students.
Congratulations to our LaunchPad family members who competed at the New York State Business Plan Competition, and especially to PowerSpike, Spark Charge and IIID, for taking home first prize in their respective tracks. As my company says, “We live together, we learn together and, ultimately, we Thrive together.”