Entrepreneurial program comes to campus next fall

Blackstone Charitable Foundation brings LaunchPad program to three Texas schools, provides resources for student entrepreneurs

On June 2, Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced the expansion of its entrepreneurial program, Blackstone LaunchPad, to three Texas schools. This expansion includes a $3 million grant split between UTD, UT Austin and Texas A&M. It provides students of all majors access to tools and resources to pursue their ventures.

The Mercury sat down with the chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman and Executive Director of Blackstone Charitable Foundation Amy Stursberg to discuss the expansion of the Blackstone LaunchPad program.

Why did you pick UTD? What potential do you see here?

Stursberg: “We looked at a bunch of schools in Texas, about six or seven schools that have a lot of activity around entrepreneurship, but have a gap. We are here to fill that gap which is to open up entrepreneurship to those that might not think that they are entrepreneurs or have a great idea. They may be an advanced engineering student that has the next new product, so we look for universities that are poised to accept this program, are excited about (Blackstone LaunchPad) and fits into its existing programs. Some schools we look at don’t need us and some schools we look at aren’t evolved enough to take full advantage of it, and UTD was incredibly excited about this.”

How are you going to pitch the program so that non-business students feel like they can join? How are you going to open it up to other majors? 

Stursberg: “We talk about it the first day of freshman orientation. Every student is told that if you have an idea … it’s open to everybody. … You have an opportunity to get a coach, to find a partner, if you have an idea, you can want to be a part of something that’s a start-up. It’s talked about at every freshman orientation and you get it on your website, you’ll hear a lot about LaunchPad when it opens up on your campus, directed (and) targeted to those students who are not business or engineering students. It’s currently at 21 schools and … it’s flooded by students who are not business students. Students are so hungry for this.”

Schwarzman: “That is not a problem, because if you figure after you graduate you have to go someplace. Either you go to more school or you go out to the real world. … The idea of being able to have your own business, your own self-reliance, is a very attractive thing for a certain percentage of students. So this provides one vehicle to explore, so there is no shortage of people visiting.”

What kind of advice would you give to students who aren’t business majors but are trying to start a venture, or to entrepreneurs in general?

Schwarzman: “There are people like Mark Zuckerberg who aren’t business people, he just wanted to get a date so he came up with something that worked. I wasn’t a business undergraduate. I was a social science undergraduate. Business is not very difficult. It is power of an idea, the ability to organize yourself and attract others to execute on that. No one was born to be a CEO … it is a learned behavior. Part of the LaunchPad is to have people come in and have us help teach them those types of things. … There are some basic do’s and don’ts and if you don’t know them, you do a lot of don’ts and the objective is to do more do’s. So all of us have learned with the help of other people. So if somebody can help you or a system can help you, then the answer is why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that? Execution is a separate thing. That is good to have too, but if you are executing an idea that is deeply flawed, it doesn’t matter how good you are at execution. You have to have both, but the key is to have a great idea — something unique that actually will find somebody who wants it.”

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