Tech Launch Pad Fast Tracks Student Businesses at the Lally School

The inspiration of Jean A. Howard, associate director of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at Lally, Tech Launch Pad (TLP) fills a critical need at Rensselaer by offering a pre-incubation program focused on the student’s innovation. Its accelerated ‘real world’ approach to entrepreneurship prepares young entrepreneurs and MBAs for the next steps in business creation, specifically, feasibility evaluation and strategy/entity creation. If the entrepreneur cannot demonstrate feasibility, moving forward is difficult if not impossible.

“Entrepreneurship is often thought of as a solo endeavor. The reality couldn’t be more different. To turn technical innovation into commercial success requires a collaborative approach between the inventor and a team of experts in business, financing, law, and marketing to name a few. Tech Launch Pad, at the Lally School, incorporates a practical and multi-disciplinary approach that’s key to entrepreneurial success,” according to Howard.

The TLP pilot, launched in Summer 2009, attracted student entrepreneurs, MBA program graduates and businesses from across the campus including a strong contingent from the School of Engineering. Bill Dailey, ’98, MBA/J.D., was tapped by Howard to run the pilot. Students were introduced to the practical aspects of business management, from feasibility studies to incorporating; from negotiating synergistic partnerships to current financing options. "It's not enough just to have good technology. There’s more to bringing something to market than just having a technology that works,” said Dailey.

Ke Xia, Ph.D. biochemistry ’09, and co-inventor of Promethean Revolution, LLC, participated in the pilot. When asked what he thought of it, Xia summed it up by saying, “TLP at Lally helped us accomplish in 36 hours what would have taken us 2 years of stumbling around to figure out.”

Designed specifically for business students with good ideas and that “fire in the belly,” Tech Launch Pad is not for students trying to figure out whether or not they want to be an entrepreneur. “This course is for technically savvy students interested in launching a business or who currently are already in business. In short, this course is about practicing, doing and acting—grounded on the assumption that everyone in the course is there to develop a business,” according to Bruce Rothenberg, associate director of student technology in the Lally School of Management & Technology and the current TLP instructor.

Of the 17 student businesses that have completed either the pilot or Fall semester TLP course, 8 continue forward with their business concepts. “The accelerated format delivers the information you need to push along your idea while not taking a lot of your time," says Anthony Guidarelli, ’09, computer and systems engineering, and co-founder of Blink Applications. “Tech Launch Pad pushed us to move our idea along technically and to develop an actual demo that resulted in us being asked for the first time how much money we were looking for.”

TLP also helps to bridge the gap between university and community, with a secondary goal of keeping new companies in the Capital Region and adding to the area’s future economic development. And that’s where TLP’s structure and community involvement is important.

The practicum relies on guest lecturers and introduces students to seasoned local entrepreneurs and business professionals. Jonathan Ashdown, Ph.D. ’11, of UltrasoniComm, is quick to point out that TLP helped him to establish a network among VCs and angel investors he otherwise would not have, in addition to building a strong group of advisors.

“Because of its positioning within a premier technological institute, the Lally School brings a unique perspective on technological entrepreneurs and business creation. We’re teaching high-tech entrepreneurism—that’s our niche—and TLP has the potential to contribute to the region’s long-term, overall economic development,” according to Rothenberg.

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