Blackstone LaunchPad gives $17,000 to Student Entrepreneurs
Blackstone LaunchPad gives $17,000 to student entrepreneurs
Blackstone LaunchPad has awarded nearly half of its 2013 Warrior Fund to WSU student entrepreneurs, leaving contestants who have not yet pitched their ideas to vie for what remains of the competition’s $35,000.
The university’s business laboratory, which is funded out of New York City by The Blackstone Group’s Blackstone Charitable Foundation, launched its annual Warrior Fund competition on Feb. 5, announcing it would give awards of up to $5,000 to Wayne State student-run enterprises ready for venture capital. On March 22, it gave $17,000 to four contestants: $5,000 each to SIB Medical, Girls-With-Guts, and AskSupportNow, and $2,000 to Signal Techtronics.
A judging panel of greater-Detroit business leaders heard ten-minute pitches from the four contestants before determining they had actionable business plans for scalable products or services. After each pitch, the panel “grilled” the contestants to identify weakness in the proposed venture, then provided constructive feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the students’ pitches.
SIB Medical, which has developed a reliable, accurate and cost-effective sample collection medical device, persuaded the judges it possesses a promising, piloted technology with significant market advantages over other available devices. The company’s device, which preserves samples in a liquid solution rather than with heavy, bulky cryogenic materials, is easier and cheaper to ship than competing products and could therefore become the go-to option for at-home colorectal cancer screenings. In a thorough pitch satisfying judges’ questions about regulatory considerations and scalability, SIB’s CEO, Sagor Bhuiyan, said it will look for early adopters among primary care physicians associated with Wayne State University’s hospital partners. It was awarded $1,000 to obtain first rights to the Wayne State-owned technology and $4,000 to conduct additional market research.
Girls-With-Guts, the Warrior Fund’s first nonprofit award recipient, was praised for its laudable mission of providing social support and material resources to women and girls suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Cofounder Jackie Zimmerman pitched the organization’s five-year plan to add two full-time employees, establish multiple retreat locations and train support group leaders, increase distribution of post-surgery “survival kits,” host an array of fundraisers, and partner with doctors to produce patient-directed informational materials. Zimmerman, whose speaking skills, passion and branding strategies were a hit with the judges, was encouraged to seek corporate and nonprofit partners to maximize the reach and resources of Girls-With-Guts. The $5,000 award will go toward programming expansion, a Facebook advertising campaign, and the addition of a shopping cart to the group’s website, which has relied on etsy.com to sell merchandise.
AskSupportNow, which provides small-to-medium businesses with round-the-clock, off-site computer software assistance as well office visits, presented a plan to grow from 10 to 2,000 customers in five years and realize sales of $6 million. The company presented judges with its business model, which entails charging clients an annual $99 for each computer it monitors remotely with multilayered service software that includes antivirus, spyware, RAM and hardware testing, and other maintenance applications. The annual fee also includes 24-7 help desk support and unlimited office visits. Noting that companies may be tempted to replace aging computers with “the latest and greatest” rather than invest $99 a year to extend their lives, judges encouraged AskSupportNow to introduced levels of service packages to captures entities with smaller budgets, such as public schools, who might want to pay less per device for a smaller degree of maintenance. The company has earmarked its award for software improvements, accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, certification from Microsoft, and a radio advertising campaign.
Finally, Signal Techtronics was awarded $2,000 to file for a patent and protect its design for an LED light bulb with a novel circuitry and cooling system that makes it more attractive, efficient and cost-effective than competing LEDs. Cofounders Tom Kim and Joe Zakar, who took fourth place in the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge at the University of Michigan in February, are working on their seventh iteration of the bulb and hope to distribute prototypes for promotion next year. Judges asked the engineering students to better identify their target customer before competing for an additional $3,000, noting that the artisan-blown glass required for the company’s bulb will make it impossible to mass produce but may appeal to architectures, designers and other consumers for whom aesthetics are important.
Warrior Fund judges are thought leaders in their fields who volunteer their time and expertise to promote the next generation of entrepreneurs. Adrian Pittman, an executive at The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) with more than 15 years of high-tech marketing and brand development experience, said mentoring is incumbent upon those who have succeeded in their professional endeavors.
“This is part of the business ecosystem,” he said. “The idea is that you give back to create the community you want to do business in.”
Warrior Fund judges also included Andrew Olson of Advantia; Larry Gardner of Lawrence Gardner Associates; Charlie Moret of TechTown; Gary Shields of the WSU School of Business Administration; Dennis Atkinson of WSU Front Door; Craig White of Lakeland Ventures Development; Alok Sharma of Sharma Analytics; Frank Doria of Gorman Venture Group; Yodit Mesfin of Non-Profit Enterprise@Work; and Dan Radomski of NextEnergy.