Blackstone LaunchPad: like ThinkBox and beyond


Mike McKenna / Observer

Junior Joshua Schwarz and sophomore Marie Brosovich present their business proposal at the Blackstone Launchpad kick-off on Tuesday. They are working to create bike locks which can be unlocked through scanning a card ID.

Alexis Parisi, Senior News Reporter

Case Western Reserve University may not have the warmth of Florida, but it’s got something else from the sunshine state: a Blackstone LaunchPad program. Originally launched at the University of Miami in Florida, this program is a co-curricular one designed to foster the entrepreneurial spirit at any university. April 23 marked the debut of the Blackstone LaunchPad center in Thwing.

The program will help students realize their entrepreneurial potential as it mentors students on how to turn great ideas into a tangible profit. There may not be a ton of sun in the city, but there are many bright CWRU students leading the way for this new addition to Thwing Center. On the launch day alone, seven teams of students presented their ideas and innovations that are worth pursuing.

Of the seven teams, students Kevin Wang and Shinichi Inoue shined with their demonstration of Sapphire, a software they developed to track and predict grades for students. With the technology, young scholars can see their current grades and then add in values for upcoming assignments to help determine what their final grade may be.

Wang and Inoue aren’t the only ones brainstorming outside of the classroom. Third-year chemistry major at CWRU, Jean Zhao created a fuel cell-powered electric bike worth attention from LaunchPad. The bike can beat a scooter at take off and has allowed the student to start EcoSpinners. Throughout the new Blackstone LaunchPad program, Zhao will receive mentoring and coaching that could potentially propel her company into a thriving business with products to move – fuel cells and all.

For Bob Sopko, the new Blackstone LaunchPad director on campus, this is just another day at work. “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,” he said.

In the Northeast Ohio region alone, Blackstone LaunchPad can potentially reach up to 72,000 students each year. As the number of incoming first year students at CWRU and other universities increases, the program is estimated to be able to reach an additional 25% of students. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, an entity that supports the program, estimates that 150 new entrepreneurial ventures will come out of the program over the next five years. When the program was in Florida, it attracted participation from 2,000 students and resulted in more than 65 start-ups.

Thanks to The Burton D. Morgan Foundation and The Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s $50-million, five-year “Entrepreneurship Initiative” in Ohio, Michigan, Maine, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina, CWRU students can put their noggins to test.
“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,” said Deborah D. Hoover, president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation. “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.”