On Friday, Nov. 18, at a special event in Kelvin Smith Library, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation announced a $3.2 million pledge to four higher-learning institutions in Northeast Ohio to initiate an entrepreneurial training program designed to give students the support needed to launch new businesses.

The four schools – Case Western Reserve University, Baldwin-Wallace College, Kent State University, and Lorain County Community College – will be the newest sites of the program, called Blackstone LaunchPad, after recent success at schools in Detroit. The program is slated to begin in early 2012.

Announced by a cadre of supporters, including Senator Sherrod Brown and University Provost Bud Baeslack, LaunchPad is based on a program from the University of Miami that created 65 new ventures and a total of 120 jobs. Mark Slaughter, a participant in the Miami program, is launching his business, Collaborative Biosciences, with "several hundred thousand dollars in seed funding," he said at the announcement.

Slaughter cited the benefit of "venture coaches," a key component of the new program, which draws business leaders to assist entrepreneurs in refining their ideas and soliciting funds. Although these networking and coaching opportunities will be a part of the program at CWRU, the precise form that LaunchPad will take at the university is unclear.

Baeslack clarified that LaunchPad "will occur through career services physically and virtually through an interactive website," he said. "One of the reasons the program is housed in career services is to ensure that all students can participate and access the support." Although CWRU's science and engineering disciplines are predicted to play a significant role in LaunchPad, Baeslack believes that LaunchPad's strength will lie in its ability to promote interdisciplinary projects, not just for commercial ventures, but for nonprofit organizations as well.

Approximately $700,000 of the $3.2 million is pledged for CWRU.

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