By Vince Salerno
On the second floor of JPCatholic’s academic building sits a classroom with a glass door. “What is this room and why doesn’t anybody use it?” Most students don’t realize that in that room, future businesses are being developed, even fully running on their own, and it is actually used…a lot.
Enter the LaunchPad:
The LaunchPad is a three-quarter class series that gives business and entrepreneurial students the opportunity to develop business models in the hopes of seeing them take off outside the classroom. Like every program at JPCatholic, the LaunchPad focuses on the belief that students have the ability to build a successful company which can ultimately impact culture for Christ. It is a safe environment for beating around ideas among potential employees and mentors.
To date, five companies are fully functioning, largely due to the LaunchPad. The current businesses are Lexicon Studios, Upliterate, ZenGarden Productions, Uncanny Labs, and Vandals Games. Lexicon Studios specializes in creating marketing ads for particular products that combine storytelling and the customer experience to create a unique voice for companies and their product. ZenGarden Productions was created by Alex Lash and focuses on creating content with captivating visuals and sounds that evoke a variety of emotional responses.
Dr. Connolly oversees the class and approves the pitches for potential business ideas. The pitches with the most potential are allowed to join the LaunchPad. He looks for a strong interest in the class and takes into account what one expects the LaunchPad will do to help build the company. Also guiding these students to making successful businesses is Marc Burch, founder and VP of Business Development at ComoBlue – a software application development company for Social Networks. He managed business development and partnerships with Facebook and mobile developers, ad networks, and companies.
Undergraduate seniors with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 may participate, but sophomores and juniors may only audit the class if space is available. Once students are accepted, they will undergo three-unit classes from the Winter quarter through Summer. The first course explores Business Model Innovation as well as ways people have derived innovation in their business models to gain a competitive advantage. The class culminates with the student assembling a business plan for his or her idea. In the final class, the student works closely with their mentor to create a tangible prototype of their idea. This allows for the student to assess the customer’s reaction to the value proposition and any comments or concerns they may have. The student and/or team will seek to build relationships with external collaborators, develop a market entry strategy, and obtain a clear awareness of the challenges of delivering the product or services to their market.
Students also have the opportunity to hear from faculty members and guest industry professionals that teach the ‘ins and outs’ of sales and marketing, finance and accounting, organizational and legal structures, and leadership and management. Once participating students graduate, the university will continue to provide their companies with incubator space and other infrastructure support, until the company has the ability to stand on its own.
The LaunchPad is an opportunity for students to build something stable by the time they graduate. It was formed to teach students the key points to consider when creating a company. This includes identifying and creating opportunities, understanding goals, managing team dynamics, and communicating to others effectively. Above all, the LaunchPad is a place to turn ideas into reality. As Dr. Connolly says: “It all begins with a big idea.”
Photos courtesy of Halie Lasken