Startups, Start Here: Student Entrepreneurship at UCF is on the Rise with the Blackstone LaunchPad

June 29, 2016

Logo Blackstone LaunchPadCreated in 2013, the Blackstone LaunchPad at UCF is a part of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), the university’s campus-wide academic entrepreneurship center. The Blackstone LaunchPad enterprise, which now includes 20 elite research universities, began at the University of Miami in 2008.

We spoke with Cameron Ford, Ph.D., the executive director of CEL, to learn more about the LaunchPad and student entrepreneurship at UCF.

What services does Blackstone LaunchPad provide?

We offer free, confidential one-on-one coaching for students who are interested in exploring whether their ideas might be worth developing into startup proposals.  We also offer frequent workshops that present startup skills, industry insights, and startup successes to further educate and inspire our student starters.  Finally, we connect students to just-in-time resources that can help them take their next steps. For example, when students find themselves gaining enough positive feedback about their proposal that they need to develop a logo and informational website to portray themselves professionally, we offer free design services staffed by students from the School of Visual Art and Design. We also connect students to mentors in the community who can offer advice and other support.  Obviously, students need to earn these resources by investing in their own proposals, but we want to support their journey any way we can.

Are there any requirements for using Blackstone LaunchPad?

There are no requirements for using Blackstone LaunchPad other than being a current UCF student or a recent alumni. You can be from any discipline. You can bring any idea—we mean, literally, any idea. We are there to help students learn how to make judgments about their ideas and how to elaborate them into rigorously developed proposals.

How many students use the LaunchPad on an annual basis?

We have about somewhere between 1200 and 1500 students working on ventures, meaning they are registered and made appointments. Last year, we had about 3500 appointments. We also have about 5000 total attendance at our workshops and other events.

Which students/companies have been the most successful clients? Are there any commonalities between them? (e.g., type of company, type of student)

We have a handful of companies featured on our website, One venture who has gained considerable attention is O’Dang Hummus. They had a successful appearance on SharkTank and their charismatic founder, Jesse Wolfe, has become a prominent spokesperson for the Blackstone LaunchPad program. His products can be found in Publix and Whole Foods, and I understand that he has other deals in the works.

One of our emerging companies right now was founded by an engineering student and a liberal arts student—Rope Lace Supply, which sells shoelaces. They’ve generated quite a following and I hear good things about their early revenue.

There’s a company called Teeps, an app development company. They’re doing extremely well. I believe they recently hired their 20th employee.

One really good success story: a student who won our business plan competition last year with a company called Talent Simulations. He’s an engineering graduate student who went through the senior design program as an undergrad. What he developed for his senior design project—he actually never did sell that. But he designed his whole business around that solution. He found another company that made basically what he was going to make, and he just partnered with them. He’s now an exclusive distributor for their product. His is more of a service company. He’s like a systems integrator of a video simulation system. He just installed a virtual reality gaming setup in the new CaddyShanks interactive sports bar opening across from UCF.

The types of students and ventures we serve are very diverse. You might think we have mostly business students, but the Blackstone Launchpad clients are about 35 to 40 percent business students, about 30 to 35 percent are STEM students, and another 30 percent are students from all over campus.

Where do you see student entrepreneurship at universities headingin the future? Has there been a rise in this particular area of entrepreneurship over the past few years?

One really interesting challenge we’re trying to figure out is how to align entrepreneurship curriculum with extracurricular activities, so that students who pursue their venture ideas very aggressively don’t put themselves in jeopardy of failing out of school. What ends up happening is that once you get to a certain threshold of your venture, the venture starts pulling you: you’re pushing for a while, and then it’s rolling downhill and gaining momentum.

So that’s an interesting trend that I want to see happen—this melding of theory and practice through the students’ startup journey. They use their own startups as a vehicle, almost like a giant case study in an integrated fashion through their college experience.

Student entrepreneurship at UCF is not only stimulating Central Florida’s economy, but also provides students with an invaluable educational experience outside of the classroom. To learn more about CEL’s initiatives, contact them at