Entrepreneurship

Stevens-led Launchpad Incubator Launches Mission-Focused Startups

Bootstrapped with $20,000, Launchpad has grown to $50 million in value

Mukund receiving an Edison award

Before becoming entrepreneurs, they arrived at Stevens from various places, backgrounds, and academic levels, and different ideas on how to make the world a better place. These students all had one belief in common: that their ideas could become successful businesses.

Mukund Iyengar, associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Stevens Institute of Technology, believed that given the right environment, the innate talent of these students would flourish. So, he invited them to join Launchpad, an incubator at Stevens Institute of Technology. Iyengar is Launchpad’s founder and program director.

Launchpad offers entrepreneurial-minded Stevens students a unique ecosystem that fosters successful enterprise-building. Through the program, students can take their ideas and transform them into viable companies poised for scale and hyper-growth.

To date, the four-year-old incubator has launched about a dozen companies, six of them launched in the latter half of 2019. Examples of successful companies with their roots in Launchpad include:

  • Bira.ai: Makers of an advanced monitor that watches over a baby the way a pediatrician would, giving first-time mothers peace of mind.
  • SquareOneJobs: A platform that helps people with criminal records find jobs, providing resume building, transportation, and other resources.
  • Truthable: An advanced semantic searching platform that leverages AI and gives factual answers to queries in real-time to fight misinformation.
  • SecureMeeting: A non-profit organization with an online video meeting solution that is free to use. It provides a safe place for people to meet on the Internet, and users never have to provide their data to use the product.
  • Cympl: This company believes that the future of work is remote. They are building a tool that brings the power of office to a single application.

Taking on the giants

Millennial entrepreneurs who launch their idea inside a university-located incubator have a higher chance of entrepreneurial success, according to a report from The Journal of Technology Transfer. The study included more than 150 university incubators and almost 900 companies.

Professor Iyengar is not surprised by this finding. He notes that shared characteristics of the students he has worked with include passion, courage, and self-confidence that they can take on the giants. These traits, he says, are ideal for entrepreneurs.

Students have little doubt in their talent, he notes. But when students pair up with a thriving community of builders and dreamers, it gives them that extra nudge needed to bring their ideas to reality.

“We work with many freshmen and sophomores, who are at an age where they haven’t failed much,” says Iyengar. “They are equipped to think ahead, are intuitively aware of where the world is heading towards, know what is cool, and when they see a problem, they just start to work on it.”

According to Iyengar, the program focuses on first-year and second-year students because the journey from an idea to launch could take two and a half to three years.

“Working with first-year students and sophomores is a double-edged sword,” he says. “They have great ideas but often have limited skills, too, so it takes them longer to build,” he says. “On the other hand, seniors may have the skills to build something quickly, but they don’t have that runway to build something monstrous.”

Launchpad starts early with students to help take their ideas and transform them into viable businesses. Stevens faculty and industry professionals who are part of the Launchpad network proactively guide students throughout the process and innovate alongside them.

Mission-focused on day one

The selection process for Launchpad is competitive. About 120 students with strong hands-on skills apply to the program. Only 60 are selected to attend courses and retreats. At the end of the process, only about 20 applicants become participants in Launchpad.

“Launchpad is unique in the way we both identify talent and ideas,” says Iyengar. “We start with identifying something painful that is worth solving, and we talk to people quite a bit before we put down a single line of code.”

He notes that the GPAs and SAT scores are not the most important criteria. “We look for individuals who just love building things and are committed to a cause or a concern,” he says. He points out that students may not even have programming experience.

“We are very mission-oriented, and we put a huge premium on people,” he says. “We care about technology and ideas, but care more about the people.”

Companies participating in Launchpad have the potential to become billion-dollar enterprises, according to Iyengar. While making money is a byproduct of this process or journey, he emphasizes that the purpose of all great companies is to improve the quality of human life.

“Our community’s mission is to serve humanity through technological breakthroughs,” he says. “We are helping students launch companies focused on creating a better world and a lasting legacy.

Chapter two of a 20-chapter book

What started four years as a playful project bootstrapped with $20,000 has grown to $50 million. There are several companies in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond.

A key factor that sets Launchpad apart from other university incubators is that its focus goes beyond wealth creation and providing shareholder value. Launchpad's overarching culture centers on love, which is why the incubator does not take equity from the companies it launches.

“In a world obsessed with taking, we choose to give, and that makes Launchpad very different,” says Iyengar.

The incubator is only just starting its trajectory to becoming something much bigger. Iyengar says, “If Launchpad is a 20-chapter book, we are just about starting chapter two.”

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