Inspiring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

This past January the University at Albany celebrated the opening of its Blackstone LaunchPad, a campus-based entrepreneurship program accessible to more than 500,000 students globally. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation selected UAlbany as one of five schools for the program’s expansion into New York State. Sharing the three-year $4.5 million grant with UAlbany are Cornell University, Syracuse University, New York University and the University at Buffalo. 

The Blackstone LaunchPad mentors and supports students, staff and alumni regardless of major, discipline or experience. Just two months into the program, more than 800 students have signed up for the LaunchPad. Program advisors have counseled more than 300 aspiring entrepreneurs, including a handful of alumni. Alumni are also serving as mentors alongside faculty and staff members

LaunchPad inaugural event
Mike Nash with Scholarship Award Winners
The Office of the Blackstone LaunchPad located in the Campus Center
Mike Nash, '83 is flanked by two of the three 2015 recipients of the Michael B. '83 and Lori M. Nash '83 Endowed Scholarships. At left is Prachi Modi, '15. At right is Julie Michlinski '17

The School of Business plays a significant role in the universitywide program. Dr. Sanjay Goel, chair of the Department of Information Technology, serves as the Blackstone LaunchPad’s principal investigator. He noted that the program aligns with one of the university’s core priorities: ensuring that every student has access to a meaningful experiential learning experience.

At January’s ribbon cutting for the LaunchPad’s Campus Center office, Dr. Goel told students, “This is all about you. We will work with you and mentor you in the hope that we can inspire you to do great things in life. This is an initiative for each and every student at the university.” 

Mike Nash ’83, global chairman of Blackstone Real Estate Debt Strategies, also spoke at the ribbon cutting. Nash said, “My personal and professional life started here. I am happy to be representing the firm that I love and empowering young people in the way that we envisioned, whether they just have an idea or have already started a new business.” He added, “We need a new generation of thinkers.”

Joan Solotar ’86, senior managing director and head of external relations and strategy at Blackstone, chairs the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. She said, “UAlbany has made great strides to foster entrepreneurship and grow business in the Capital Region, New York State and beyond. The Blackstone LaunchPad will help the university promote an environment that nurtures students to succeed as entrepreneurs.”

Two University at Albany graduates hold key leadership roles in UAlbany’s Blackstone LaunchPad. Jan Woodcock ’86, ’91 serves as the LaunchPad’s executive director. Tina Post ’81, ’95 is the program’s manager. The university is in the process of hiring an entrepreneur-in-residence who will function as a full-time advisor. Four student ambassadors, chosen for their entrepreneurial experience, introduce the program to their fellow students, assist with mentoring, and staff the Blackstone LaunchPad office in the Campus Center. The main office is supplemented by two satellite mentoring rooms in the Massry Center for Business. 

One of the program’s first initiatives, the Blackstone LaunchPad Business Plan Competition, has attracted more than 60 entries from across the university. LaunchPad mentors will work with student teams to refine their ideas. The program will culminate with a final round in April, with a top prize of $15,000 awarded to the winning team. 

The impact of UAlbany’s Blackstone LaunchPad will extend beyond the university. “UAlbany is proud to be partnering with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to advance the entrepreneurial ecosystem on our campus and in the local community,” said UAlbany President Robert J. Jones. “Blackstone LaunchPad will give our students the mentoring needed to turn their ideas into new business ventures that create jobs and promote economic growth in the Capital Region.”