Blackstone LaunchPad Opens Its Doors

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A ribbon cutting and dedication on April 27 formally debuted the Blackstone LaunchPad program at UT Dallas, giving campus community members a new resource and a new facility to help them pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

(Back row, left to right:) Bryan Chambers, Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Dr. Mark Spong, Steve Guengerich and John Bartling Jr., president and CEO of Invitation Homes (Front row, left to right:) Rafael Martín, BIll Stein, Alisha Chaudry Slye, global director of Blackstone LaunchPad.

The ribbon cutting officially opened the doors to LaunchPad, 5,000 square feet located among the retail spaces on the ground floor of Parking Structure 3 on the north side of campus.

Backed with funding from Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s $3 million expansion into Texas, the Blackstone LaunchPad program is one of three — UT Austin and Texas A&M also held program grand openings in April — that will allow 130,000 student entrepreneurs in the state to explore entrepreneurship as a career path. Over the next three years, the expansion is expected to generate nearly 4,000 new ventures and 9,000 new jobs in the Lone Star State.

Blackstone’s charitable foundation allocated $1 million of the funding to UT Dallas, which matched that grant dollar for dollar, for initial total program funding of $2 million.

“At Blackstone LaunchPad, we welcome students, faculty, staff and alumni — anyone who has an interest in learning about entrepreneurship,” Bryan Chambers, program director, said. “From the student that might have an idea but doesn’t know where to begin, all the way to our most-accomplished professors who are inventing new materials in their laboratories and still need entrepreneurial-level support — our programming will be able ((to accommodate the entire spectrum of needs.”

At the dedication, leaders from UT Dallas and Blackstone expressed their pride and enthusiasm for the possibilities that the program will help engender within the walls of its new facility. Dr. Hasan Pirkul, dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management, and Dr. Mark Spong, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, attended the event to show support and voice approval for the multidisciplinary campus initiative.

Rafael Martín, interim vice president for research, spoke on behalf of Dr. Richard C. Benson, president of UT Dallas. While providing the 150 or so in attendance with a brief overview of the University’s history, he highlighted the connection between the vision of UT Dallas founders Cecil H. Green, J. Erik Jonsson and Eugene McDermott and the Blackstone LaunchPad initiative.

Steve Guengerich, IIE's new executive director, was introduced at the Blackstone LaunchPad launch.

“Our founders were entrepreneurs, and our growth as an institution is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that they imprinted on our institutional DNA, he said. “I think it’s fair to say that they would be as excited as we are to celebrate our partnership with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation that both figuratively and literally puts entrepreneurship at the core of our campus.”

Bill Stein, Blackstone’s senior managing director of real estate, spoke to the students in attendance, telling them that the new program would help them use their creativity and potential to shape their careers and create jobs for themselves and others.

“We need a new generation of thinkers, inventors and risk takers — all creating new businesses, creating jobs and, most importantly, creating opportunities for society. … As you think about the future of the career you hope to build, entrepreneurship can and should be an option for you. That’s what this program, Blackstone LaunchPad, was established to encourage.”

Blackstone LaunchPad will operate under the umbrella of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the cross-disciplinary campus initiative that also oversees the Venture Development Center, which helps commercialize startup companies developed from the mentorship, education, support and training Blackstone LaunchPad offers. The IIE is actively involved with the academic entrepreneurial programs at the Jindal School, both undergraduate and graduate.

TraceIT co-founder Will White, who launched his entrepreneurial efforts  as a Jindal School student,  chronicled his startup journey.

Blackstone, an investment firm, founded its philanthropic arm in 2007 at the same time as its initial public offering. Since the launch of its entrepreneurship initiative in 2010, the foundation has funded LaunchPad programs at 20 universities with more than $19 million to drive economic development in surrounding communities. Seven states, including California, Florida, Michigan, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, now have 17 programs. Ireland has three. The mentoring and support programs available through the initiative are accessible to more than 630,000 students.

Presentations by campus entrepreneurs rounded out the April 27 event. Will White, EMBA ’16, MS ’17, spoke about the path he and co-founder Kiran Devaprasad, EMBA ’16, MS ’16, took to create TraceIT, an app that helps transportation companies get automated location updates of their freight and vehicles. Dr. Lucas Rodriguez MS’14, PhD’16 spoke about his journey to form Cersci Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that develops non-opioid analgesics for the alleviation of acute and chronic pain.

The event concluded with the introduction of the IIE’s new executive director, Steve Guengerich; presentations of $25,000 checks to UT Dallas Seed Fund recipients ShearShare and Cosmunity; and closing remarks by Bryan Chambers.

The new Blackstone LaunchPad space at UT Dallas consists of a main open room, two conference rooms, five individual offices and a breakout area for staff, a reception area, a small kitchen, water fountains, two individual occupancy restrooms and a storage room. Staff members have dubbed the main room “the collaboration zone” since it is a co-working environment. The bulk of the programming, breakout sessions, events, workshops, the accelerator program, and classes will be conducted there.

“Since most entrepreneurship happens in twos and threes, you’ll see lots of breakout areas to accommodate small groups of individuals,” Chambers said. “We also have lots of white boards where they can ideate and map out strategies.”

Jimmie R. Markham

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