Have you ever wanted to start a business, but didn’t know how to get your ideas off the ground? In collaboration with the Blackstone investment firm and its charitable foundation, Queens College has introduced the Blackstone LaunchPad program with the objective of nurturing and honing students’ entrepreneurial skills. Since the advent of the program in Fall 2021, Queens College has hosted numerous workshops and competitions to help students develop their own business plans and proposals.
Riyahauna Headley is a senior at Queens College majoring in Urban Studies who has participated in the program since its inception on campus. When asked to describe her experience with the program in one sentence, Headley said, “The Blackstone LaunchPad program is an open door that connects students to the world of business.”
Headley fleshed out an idea for a business centered around environmentally sustainable clothing with a mission to spread awareness about pertinent social issues by creatively incorporating the information onto the clothes themselves. Through the program, she went to California to network and exchange ideas with other participants from around the country. She said these interactions instilled motivation and inspired her to step out of her comfort zone.
In the Fall, Blackstone LaunchPad holds one of their most notable events: a national ‘Ideas Competition’ with a grand prize of $10,000. In this ideas competition, students are tasked with creating a PowerPoint that develops their business idea to vie for a cash prize of $1,000. If they advance to the next round, they will have the chance to compete against other students from college campuses around the country for the grand prize. Contestants can compete individually or in pairs. Last year, Queens College students Reginald Wills ’22 and Sujen Wu ’22 competed as a pair and prevailed at the nationals with their proposed company: Collabiversity, a university merchandising company with a goal of raising scholarship funds for students. They are using the prize money they acquired to actualize their hypothetical company.
In conjunction with the events hosted by Blackstone, Queens College has devised its own unique team-based pitch competition which takes place over the course of the Spring semester. In teams of two to four, students work through the four phases of the competition. The first phase involves identifying the problem(s) their business wants to address and the possible solution(s). The second phase entails providing data on customer demographics and interest levels in the product or service. The third phase has students identifying the business’s competitive advantage over its rivals in the same marketplace. The last phase requires students to formulate a full-fledged business model of how they would turn a profit.
While the program emphasizes cultivating entrepreneurial skills for the workplace, students of all backgrounds and majors are encouraged to join regardless of their aspirations. Professor Luc Marest is the Queens College Campus Director of the Blackstone LaunchPad. According to Marest, the Blackstone LaunchPad program is not just about how to start a business, but also about how to foster an ‘entrepreneurial spirit.’ The program exists to guide students on how to direct their own career paths. “You are at the beginning of your career,” Marest said. “You need to have an entrepreneurial mindset.” The program imparts transferable skills that are applicable to all areas of life, such as how to adapt and innovate.