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Entrepreneurial Fervor

Impressive results from year one of Blackstone LaunchPad on campus.

Three student entrepreneurs representing newly created businesses in 2015-16: left to right Jordan DiLapo from Youni, a social media platform; Tony Hoang, creator of Advanced Modular Instruments, which supports and accelerates cell-based research and development; and Justin Lee, of the food-ordering App MajorBuzz. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 9, 2016) — The key to advancement in entrepreneurship, as with anything else, starts with education. And so it’s been for UAlbany students in the Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurship program, which opened up shop in the Campus Center and at four other major university campuses in New York State one year ago.

For the other institutions — Cornell University, New York University, Syracuse University, and the University at Buffalo — Blackstone LaunchPad offered coordinating hubs for student entrepreneurial programs that were long established.

At UAlbany, it offered a jump-start for any entrepreneurial-minded students truly eager to learn.

They have been. Of the 1,224 mentoring sessions conducted at the five universities from last October through Aug. 16, 873, or 71 percent, were at UAlbany. These resulted in eight new student-formed companies, the second most through Blackstone LaunchPad of the five New York campuses to Cornell’s 12. And UAlbany’s 81 active student business ventures were nearly double the next closest campus’s (Buffalo’s) figure.

“The other players had huge infrastructures behind them,” said Sanjay Goel, professor of Information Technology Management and principal investigator of UAlbany’s Blackstone LaunchPad. “Here, we knew the way to catch up was education, and that meant mentorship, as defined by Blackstone. We were very diligent from the start and took on the metrics that Blackstone had provided for the individual mentoring sessions.”

“We were an underdog,” Goel said. “Now we are leapfrogging the other campuses in growth of entrepreneurship.”

Elsie Essen UAlbany entrepreneur Blackstone

Elsie Essien, who through Blackstone LaunchPad last semester started the decorative fabric design company Medo Home Décor.

Goel is one of four UAlbany officials conducting the mentoring sessions, along with Jan Woodcock, UAlbany Blackstone LaunchPad’s executive director; Rick Neff, its entrepreneur-in-residence; and Tina Post, its manager. Six student ambassadors assist with mentoring as well as staff the office.

One of the eight businesses created this last year was graduate student Elsie Essien’s Medo Home Décor, featuring her decorative fabric designs. Now graduated, Essien prizes the guidance obtained from Blackstone LaunchPad. “My goal is to build a sustainable business that is beneficial to local communities and supports job growth. My mentors have helped me iron out logistical details, connect to valuable human resources, set clear goals and stay committed to the project.”

Goel noted that after UAlbany student entrepreneurship got out of the gate through Blackstone LaunchPad, it has been strongly abetted by a new University-Wide Business Plan Competition, unveiled in April, and the establishment of Innovate 518 (i518), which links potential entrepreneurs to incubators that offer mentorship, business services and strategies for obtaining new capital.

In addition, the encouragement of entrepreneurship has become an institutional mission. “Provost Stellar and all the deans are now committed to promoting entrepreneurship in our academic programs,” Goel said. “It is really the ultimate experiential learning that can be offered — creating your own business.”

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.