Launch Pad nurtures entrepreneurs

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Feb. 19, 2014

By Rumasa Noor

Whitewater Incubation Program (WhIP) provides consulting, mentoring, seminars and many more services to businesses and business ventures related to the Whitewater University Technology Park.

The Innovation Center conducted an event on Feb. 12 to introduce the Launch Pad program, an educational program aimed toward the students who are interested in entrepreneurship.

“Launch pad is our student business incubator,” WhIP Executive Director Denise Ehlen said. “We work with students who have an idea that they would like to commercialize, and we bring them into a formal program where we connect them with educational experiences and mentors.”

Ehlen

Ehlen

Dr. William Dougan, co-director of Launch Pad, said the program provides an opportunity to students who want to start their own business to see if they really want to become entrepreneurs.

Launch Pad provides students with office space to develop their business ideas. It also provides them coaching from experienced individuals to help them succeed in their business goals.

Launch Pad is a semester-based program. Ehlen said there are 10 slots for students each semester, with only one spot available now.

“Students are competing for those spaces because they get access to a lot of resources,” Ehlen said. “We give them a stipend each month so that they don’t necessarily have to have a second job. They can really focus on their business.”

Students can become part of Launch Pad through a number of ways.

“The majority of the students come to us through some very defined pathways,” Ehlen said. “They win a business plan competition, or an elevator pitch competition or they have done a presentation in a class for one of the mentors.”

Ehlen also said the WhIP team decides who gets to be a part of Launch Pad.

Launch Pad has many “iMentors” who coach students throughout the program. One of the mentors is David Gee, a new addition to UW-Whitewater faculty and the Launch Pad program. He does one-on-one coaching for the Launch Pad scholars. Other iMentors include Choton Basu, Dougan and Jeff Vanevenhoven.

Students who become part of Launch Pad program are called Launch Pad scholars. One of these scholars is freshman Austin Kadulski. He has been working on his business ideas, and after talking to some of the faculty members and attending a Launch Pad meeting, he was convinced that he wanted to be part of Launch Pad.

“I think important for people to realize that it is a very unique program in state of wisconsin and it’s one of the reasons that I have picked Whitewater because of the entrepreneurial ecosystem they have here,” Kadulski said.

Kadulski

Kadulski

One of the success stories of Launch Pad is Mobcraft Beers. Choton Basu, iMentor and co-director of the iHub, said the founder of Mobcraft beers, Henry Schwartz, was a Launch Pad scholar and a UW-W graduate.

“He is an example of a successful young entrepreneur who worked with the iMentors and other people in the program to launch his company,” Basu said.

Denise Ehlen said Launch Pad is free of cost.

“When I started my business, I would have loved to have access to this kind of help, and it just wasn’t available,” Ehlen said. “We want to give them that advantage, help them out for it so this is part of the university’s extra curricular program.”

Dr. Dougan also said the Launch Pad program is a kind of an extracurricular activity that will help students in the long run.

“Many other universities have business development component either as part of the curriculum or part of the extra curricular or they will have a space plus the programming components,” Dougan said. “This one has been very, very successful, I think by standards of almost everybody.”

Dougan and Vanevenhoven said it is OK if a student leaves the Launch Pad program and does not pursue their business idea.

“If a student leaves their program without starting a business, finding out that the business idea was not the feasible business idea, they will have left that program gaining some important managerial skills that they wouldn’t have gotten have they not been a part of it,” Vanevenhoven said.

Ehlen said the Launch Pad program provides networking opportunities for students as well as one-on-one coaching from professionals.

“Most new businesses fail and so we want to sort of lower the risk, give you some great expert resources and network increase the likelihood that you will succeed,” Ehlen said.

Incubation Program also is introducing a new program called “Pre-Flight” program. Ehlen said this program aims to reach a larger audience and help them compete for the launch pad.

Vanevenhoven, the iMentor and the co-director of  Launch Pad and iHub, said the Pre-Flight program is a step before Launch Pad. He also said the specialty of this program is to attract “unlike-minded people” together and work on innovative business ideas.

“The creativity increases exponentially in that regard, the cost is a lot more time and effort but the outcomes are so much more worth it than if we get the same type of students,” Vanevenhoven said. “The focus of that Launch Pad is educational, it’s not private sector incubational, where we might be a little bit rougher might be a little more harsh in our criticism.”

Ehlen said they are currently accepting applications for the Pre-flight program. They will begin accepting students for Launch Pad for summer and fall in April.

“We will begin recruiting/accepting students for the summer and fall cohorts in April.  We are accepting students for the Pre-Flight Program,” Ehlen said.