Launch LU event sparks entrepreneurial efforts

The very first Launch LU three-day start-up event was held in the Hurvis Center May 8 through May 10. Student teams worked on and pitched their ideas for start-up companies for the chance to win a grand prize of $500, second and third place prizes of $200 and $300 respectively, all in grant money to carry out their development plan.

The event included alumni with prior entrepreneurship experience as judges of the final student pitches. A variety of organizations promoting student entrepreneurship at Lawrence sponsored the event as well, including the LU Entrepreneurship Club, the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program (I&E), Blue Start, and The Coleman Foundation.

Ten student teams of one to three people met for an introductory meeting in the Hurvis Center the evening of Thursday, May 8 to register, mingle with other teams, and brainstorm ideas. Sophomore Joe Bazydlo said that while participants were expected to enter the event without an idea of their project, many students came in with prior work.

Sophomores Eduardo Elizondo and Bazydlo, a roommate pair that teamed up for the contest, pitched the idea of a online Amazon-like marketplace where freelance workers promote their skills and services for employers to shop for, thereby switching around the classic idea of a potential employee searching for a company. Elizondo also wanted to team up because of Bazydlo’s background as an anthropology major.

“The biggest problem that we ran into was how to get users and how to get people to join,” said Bazydlo. “We thought the question of how to unify a group of people would be a good question for an anthropology major to answer.”

Throughout the second day of the contest, May 9, teams attended workshops and experienced mentorship provided by Lawrence faculty and alumni on the skills needed to craft an excellent pitch. Associate Professor of Economics Adam Galambos and Lecturer of Economics and Coleman Fellow Gary Vaughn conducted workshops for the ideas of student teams.

The workshops for students asked teams to find the problem or opportunity they want to solve with their proposal, come up with a solution and finally develop the pitch or the “call to action.” The last optional workshop discussed how to present your pitch on film for future projects.

“You had to do a five minute pitch meeting and it couldn’t be a second over,” said Bazydlo. “That was the hardest part, trying to fit our project idea into five minutes and convince people to invest in it.”

The following morning, teams pitched their final ideas to the panel of alumni judges and an audience of all the teams. The grand prize winner and recipient of $500 for his start-up was junior Nathan Lawrence for his  iPad-based theater lighting application. Sophomore Samuel Kwon came in second, earning $300 for his program to improve university selection for international students, while senior Fanny Lau won third place and $200 in grant money to launch a mobile version of the popular ‘Lawrence Closet Exchange’ Facebook page where students buy and sell gently used clothing.

Although they did not win a grant prize, Bazydlo says he hopes to participate in Launch LU again next year with Elizondo. “I thought it was a really good experience for people of all backgrounds if you wanted to go into the business world it was very practical experience,” said Bazydlo. “For myself as an anthropology major, it definitely gave me more experience in how to work with people in the business world which I think was a valuable experience.”