Photo: University of Central Florida
LaunchPad for student ventures
University of Central Florida
In 2013, UCF received $1.4 million from the charitable arm of private equity giant Blackstone Group to open an entrepreneurial support center in its student union.
The Blackstone LaunchPad at UCF — modeled after a similar program at the University of Miami — provides free confidential coaching, daily seminars and a mentor network to foster entrepreneurship.
Director Cameron Ford says the Blackstone LaunchPad fills a gap in UCF's entrepreneurial ecosystem, which also includes an extensive business incubation program, venture accelerator and technology transfer office. The LaunchPad is open to students of all majors and does not take equity in any ventures.
"Before, we didn't have a place for students to go and just talk to somebody about a startup idea. They could take a class, but that's not the same thing as sitting down one on one with an expert," he says. "This provides a free, confidential and self-directed resource where students can explore the power of their own ideas."
The first LaunchPad opened in 2008 at the University of Miami. In 2010, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation saw entrepreneurship as an antidote to the global economic downturn and set aside $10 million to expand LaunchPad to other U.S. campuses.
Since opening in fall 2013, the UCF LaunchPad has helped create an estimated 200 student ventures, Ford says.
"A lot of students we touch will still go off and get jobs after they graduate," he says. "But we believe they'll be more employable in today's dynamic economy as a result of what they learn about the entrepreneurial process."