Campus News

Inclusive Launch program helps students with startup ideas

UB students took part in UB’s new Inclusive Launch program.

UB students who took part in the new Inclusive Launch program are, from left, Soham Dhiren Desai; Anant Gupta; Chethana Naik; Christian Johnson, founder of Driver Watchdog and Inclusive Launch program facilitator; Alina Vereshchaka; Obe Joseph; and Nidhi Uday Karkera. Photo: Tom Bacigalupi

By ROBBY JOHNSON

Published May 16, 2018

“A lot of our female students and students with diverse backgrounds don’t necessarily see themselves as entrepreneurs.”
Hadar Borden, program director
Blackstone LaunchPad at UB

Nine UB students had the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial skills this semester — and break the stereotypical notion of what a startup can be — by taking part in UB’s new Inclusive Launch program.

“A lot of our female students and students with diverse backgrounds don’t necessarily see themselves as entrepreneurs,” says Hadar Borden, program director for Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, which hosts the Inclusive Launch program. “We’re looking to help our students embrace the word ‘entrepreneurship’ and help them gain an understanding of what it really means to start your own startup.”

Supported by funding from UB’s Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships, WNY Incubator Network and the Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Family Foundation, Inclusive Launch is an eight-week, non-credit experiential learning program that helps students from any background develop applicable skills that will help them create a startup. Through a series of workshops facilitated by Christian Johnson, founder of Driver Watchdog, students’ ideas come to fruition as they begin to understand their competition, their target audience and, ultimately, how to refine their idea.

Another big focus for the program is helping students create a pitch deck — a brief presentation that entrepreneurs put together when seeking financing from investors. While this not only assists students in pursuing funding for their own startup, they also are able to try it out at the end of the program to pitch for cash rewards for their startup ideas.

Each student is also paired with a venture coach who provides one-on-one mentoring and helps build the pitch. Elijah Tyson, a recent UB graduate and venture coach, went through many of these same steps when building his startup ColdSpace, a refrigerated food-storage locker intended for college campuses.

“[This experience] has been really enjoyable,” Tyson says. “I’ve been through a lot of the same things, like trying to find clarity with the idea and trying to learn how to put it into an organized manner. Trying to get [the students] into the right scope is a really good thing.”

Program participant Chethana Naik, a graduate student in industrial and systems engineering, spent the semester fleshing out a startup pitch for Expance, a platform that aims to help international students in their internship search.

“This wasn’t the idea I started off with,” Naik explains. “It was more like a platform for all students, and then the venture coaches suggested a more inclusive platform.

“In terms of how to run a business or to think in those lines, this program has been really helpful,” she adds. “Getting an idea into action was what this program was all about. [The venture coaches] helped me with clarity on how I should approach the idea.”

Naik's pitch for Expance earned third place and a prize of $400 on the last day of the program.

Electrical engineering student Soham Desai’s pitch for EcOmappers took first place and the $1,000 prize, while biomedical engineering student Nidhi Karkera took second for DenpH Instruments. She received $600.

In addition to honing students’ skills through work on a real startup idea, Inclusive Launch goes a step further in helping students' startup goals by placing them in a paid internship this fall with a local startup that matches their interests. WNY Incubator Network will facilitate matching students with incubator companies or companies that are part of the START-UP NY program.

The internship experience will benefit students by offering practical experience in a startup. For Naik, the internship also will provide some professional connections.

“While working toward my goals as an industrial engineer, I’ll also be able to gain these contacts with more companies. Stepping into one organization will allow you to connect with all sorts of other organizations that might be in alliance with this one,” she says.

More information on the program and how to get involved can be found on the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB’s website.