3, 2, 1...Liftoff
PROVO, Utah – Oct 05, 2020 – Small weather satellites. A social platform for workplaces. A stock purchasing service for employees. Although the businesses of student entrepreneurs at the BYU Marriott School of Business are each unique and diverse, they can all turn to one place for help: BYU Marriott’s Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. This year’s Founders Launchpad, a summer-long experience offered by the Rollins Center, helped student companies continue to develop their businesses and sharpen their tools for success.
To qualify for the launchpad, participants must participate in the New Venture Challenge, the last competition in the Rollins Center’s Miller Competition Series. Winners of the New Venture Challenge, as well as runners-up, are invited to join the launchpad. This year’s launchpad involved eighteen student startup companies.
The launchpad provides student entrepreneurs with a variety of tools which enable them to be successful among their competitors in the business world. “The Founders Launchpad encourages students to focus and take their ideas seriously,” says Craig Earnshaw, BYU Marriott adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and one of the mentors for the launchpad program. “Timeliness is important in a startup company, and in the launchpad, we compress many things into one summer, which puts our students’ companies way ahead of potential competitors.”
Each student company was assigned its own mentor, an entrepreneur who oversaw the progress of the company and offered advice. “A mentor brings reality to a startup team,” Earnshaw says. “Young entrepreneurs dream big, and through enthusiasm or naivete, they can have unrealistic expectations. Mentors bring their experience and knowledge to help the students set achievable goals.”
Mentors were indeed one of the most helpful resources of the launchpad. “Our Launchpad mentor was a rock star,” says Patrick Walton, a BYU electrical and computer engineering master’s student from Provo. “He provided us with great feedback and connections to potential customers.” Walton’s company, Care Weather, is making a fleet of the world's smallest weather satellites to map global weather in real time.
In addition to mentors, launchpad participants also received training and advice from successful entrepreneurs. “We had a training series featuring speakers who focused on specific skills for entrepreneurs, such as finance, marketing, or sales,” says Brown.
“My favorite speaker from the speaker series was Cyndi Tetro,” says Marissa Johnson, a 2020 global supply chain management graduate from Holladay, Utah, whose company, Male from Home, is a mail-in, post-vasectomy, lab-testing service. “Cyndi talked about the importance of becoming a good storyteller and being inquisitive. Her most impactful advice for me was, ‘The most important and difficult job is never to find the right answers; the key is to find the right questions.’”
Each speaker’s presentation contained unique messages. “Hearing other entrepreneurs, investors, and successful people in business speak was inspiring,” says Shawn Watkins, a 2020 MBA graduate from Blackfoot, Idaho, whose company, Taabl, involves employee stock-purchase plans. "Everybody has their own experience, and not everyone's experiences line up with my own. I love to hear as many experiences as I can, so I can take parts of each experience and decide what's applicable to me.”
Participants also appreciated learning about the speakers’ journeys to becoming entrepreneurs. “My favorite guest speaker was Marc Chenn,” says Kamel Greene, a first-year MPA candidate from East Palo Alto, California. “He talked about his ‘why’—his inspiration for his accomplishments. I appreciated that he never forgot where he came from; his ‘why’ did not exclude his upbringing.”
Hearing Chenn’s story motivated Greene to think about his own source of inspiration. “I am currently championing my own venture while maintaining an understanding of where I come from, so that resonated with me,” he says. “Now I’m motivated to incorporate my own ‘why’ as I strive to change the world.” Greene’s company, Poly, is a platform that streamlines communications by consolidating a company’s activities and events into one place.
Another experience launchpad participants benefitted from was practicing their company pitch. “One of my favorite experiences was our pitch meetings with investors,” Walton says. “Our first investor suggested that we strengthen our argument of why our company is better than our competitors. We worked hard on improving our pitch to specifically answer that question. When we pitched to the second group of investors, their first point of feedback was, ‘Wow, you communicated clearly why your team is the right team to do this.’ Seeing our hard work pay off was incredibly gratifying.”
By the end of the summer, the student companies had collected various tools from the launchpad. “For many of us student entrepreneurs, our companies are at crucial stages where educational resources are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than funding,” Johnson says. “The knowledge we gained during the launchpad will help us avoid major mistakes. The skills we acquired will be instrumental in the long-term success of our companies.”
Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Sarah Calvert