Blackstone LaunchPad event provides entrepreneurship education
Friday afternoon, as much of the campus prepared for a relaxing Labor Day weekend, about 100 students and alumni gathered in the Thwing Atrium for an entirely different experience: Blackstone LaunchPad’s hectic Startup Weekend. Nametags on, the students introduced themselves to each other over a pizza dinner, trading class year, academic major and business ideas with each other in preparation for a frantic 50-hour dash to imagine a startup product or service and create a persuasive business plan.
From Friday afternoon to Sunday night, the undergraduates, graduate students and alumni from Case Western Reserve University, Baldwin Wallace University, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Kent State University and Lorain County Community College participated in Startup Weekend, a three-day Blackstone LaunchPad hosted event designed to teach participants how to launch a startup business and connect them with useful resources in the Cleveland area.
“You’ve had something in the back of your mind and you want to share it,” said Gene Sasso, Program Manager for Blackstone LaunchPad. “Some students may have a great idea for a widget but don’t have the marketing or business planning knowledge. Startup weekend can help students and alumni turn their ideas into companies.”
After pitching ideas and forming teams on Friday, participants began to work on their startups with help from mentors and educational presentations by experts. By Sunday, the aspiring entrepreneurs had already put the final touches on the business plans and presented their ideas to a panel of five judges, competing for a total of $1,000 in prizes.
According to Sasso, with so little time to flesh out brand-new ideas, Startup Weekend creates an engaging environment for both genius and pandemonium.
“[Startup Weekend] provides a creative, fun and dynamic environment,” he said. “It is setting up a framework for chaos.”
Sasso’s personal slogan for Startup Weekend is, “Ready, Aim, Fire,” emphasizing the hectic spring to introduce an idea, organize a business plan and present the results of the course of one short weekend.
This year, Startup Weekend more than doubled its participation and forged new connections to CWRU’s “ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation,” including ThinkBox, the Weatherhead School of Management, the Women in Science and Engineering Round Table and JumpStart, a career education nonprofit. Additionally, Startup Weekend connected students with a number of mentors with business experience, including successful entrepreneurs, marketers and financial experts.
Keshara Senanayake, a freshman psychology and marketing major, participated in Startup Weekend. Senanayake already had significant startup experience before he attended the event: As a high school student, he co-founded B.A.S.E. or Buying and Selling Everything, a prototype “Facebook meets Craigslist” service designed to provide a platform for individuals to buy and sell products.
Senanayake hoped to use Startup Weekend to learn more about business and marketing.
“I found it very interesting that CWRU offered [events like Startup Weekend]. I’m definitely going to enjoy it,” he said.
In addition to its entrepreneurship education programs and expert mentors, Startup Weekend gave participants an opportunity to interact with and learn from their peers. Ross O’Hagan, a freshman computer science major, mentioned that, on top of the business education, he especially benefited from the experience of a cross-section of upperclassmen and graduate students.
“It is really nice to learn perspective from the grad students here,” he said. “I’ll learn many things from [Startup Weekend], plus, a good background in business and marketing always helps.”
By Sunday night, the startup Trendenza, a “fashion, shopping and wardrobe coordination service,” took first place. Runner-ups included Noteworthy, a school note-sharing app, and 10:04 ink, a comic-hosting website, taking second and third places, respectively.
But at the end of the day, the competition itself only offered an enticement to really help students dig into the event.
“Traditionally, you take a career or make a career,” Sasso said. By providing participants with valuable experiences to help them turn an untested idea into a viable startup business, Startup Weekend gave them an opportunity to take their first steps in making a career.