My LaunchU Experience
Walking into LaunchU I did not know what to expect. I thought I had a good idea. I knew I was targeting a big problem, but Professor Watts stressed that we should have an open mind throughout the process. The first night of LaunchU everyone in this year's cohort enjoyed a dinner together and got to know each other. I found that there were many great ideas that were going to be developed in this program targeting everything from drug addiction to mindfulness. I quickly began to develop friendships with the fellow founders in my cohort. The cohort was not limited to current Oberlin students either, as there were multiple people that were Oberlin alumni. It was great to hear all of the stories that led these former students to partake in LaunchU and come back to the place they called home for four years.
The program would bring in three to four speakers a day; the speakers would touch on everything from the accounting that goes into a business to the inevitable pivot that you will face as an entrepreneur. I found it really amazing how many leaders have come out of Oberlin that still wanted to come back and see other Oberlin students succeed. LaunchU really inspired me to push my idea to new levels, so that I could come back as one of these successful people and help the ones that come after me. As day after day passed, my idea continued to change shape. It began to feel like I was mentally working with playdough and though I didn't know what shape my idea would finalize in, I knew that if I kept working the playdough eventually I would come up with something important.
Something I really enjoyed was the mentorship program that LaunchU has developed. Each company has to sign up for a meeting with at least two mentors who are very successful business people in various fields. The company founders will then discuss their business with the mentor and potentially set up follow-up appointments with said mentor and seek recurring guidance. I got the privilege of working with mentors that are heavily involved in the banking and finance industry. On top of that, LaunchU brought in speakers from venture capitalist companies that spoke on their perspectives of investment and what they look for in a company. Each day was a great opportunity to network and learn from the business leaders that were visiting the campus.
Another great thing about LaunchU was the honest feedback that was given to you on your business models and ideas. If Professor Watts felt that your idea needed tweaking or wasn't going to work, she would let you know. If Professor Watts looked at the economics of your business and felt like you wouldn't be making money or even would be losing money the first year or two of your business, she would let you know. I feel that this honesty is crucial when creating a start-up as you don't want someone hyping you up for no reason and then you go into the business blindly. A lawyer was even brought in to give legal advice to your company free of charge. The lawyer sat down with me one on one and walked me through how to start a nonprofit organization, which was extremely helpful. After my meeting with the lawyer, I thought to myself about how LaunchU really prepares you for all aspects of running a business. This led me to think about how grateful I am for the knowledge LaunchU has given to me and the opportunities LaunchU has opened up for me.
After eleven days of working on our business, we pitched the companies in front of business associates and mentors. Everyone did an excellent job on their slide decks and I could feel the confidence in the room rise with every pitch. When it was time for me to present I felt a little nervous, but at the same time I knew I put in the work and would be able to present with confidence. After successfully pitching my slide deck we shared one last dinner. The dinner was full of laughs and advice. The 2020 LaunchU cohort started out as a room full of entrepreneurs but ended as an entrepreneur family. There are still two competition pitches left, one in late February and another in early March, and I hope to gain traction with my company before it is time to pitch again. Whether I win LaunchU or not, I will forever be appreciative of the experience. It grew my mind, grew my knowledge, and grew my opportunities.