The Blackstone LaunchPad program has been at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) for less than a year, and it’s already yielding innovations from students—from 3D-printed rock climbing grips to autonomous, ultraviolet mobile sanitizing robots.
In August 2021, UT Dallas announced that UTA had joined the Texas network of Blackstone LaunchPad, a statewide organization of university-based entrepreneurship programs supported by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. UT Arlington’s Blackstone LaunchPad operates out of the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Innovation (CEEI), and is open to all UTA students.
“UTA’s emerging entrepreneurs are learning skills that are beneficial to careers in any industry,” said Xoriunstance Brown, CEEI operations director and Blackstone LaunchPad campus director.
Brown said UTA students in the LaunchPad program are developing compelling, concise communications, collaborating with individuals from varied backgrounds, and planning complex business operations, including financial and product management.
Crash course in venture capital
A large part of the Blackstone LaunchPad program involves taking part in firsthand collaborations and raising capital.
Hussein Matar, for example, enrolled at UTA to better understand what it takes to effectively run a construction company that would literally build better lives. Matar aspires to a career in construction management.
When Matar learned about Blackstone LaunchPad’s Bridge Venture Fellowship, he applied immediately. The fellowship is a three-week crash course in venture capital that culminates in an in-person recruitment event with Texas-based firms.
During the course, Matar collaborated with peers from 10 schools within the University of Texas System and exchanged ideas with industry professionals.
“The fellowship opened my eyes to investment and fundraising practices that will help me in the future,” Matar said. “The tools I received from Blackstone LaunchPad have laid a strong foundation where I could start to build a company.”
Student innovations encouraged by UTA’s Blackstone LaunchPad program include:
• 3D-printed rock-climbing grips launched by UTA business administration student Lucia Dominguez. When her brother-in-law developed the grips, Dominguez recognized their potential — they’re adjustable and more affordable than traditional versions. Because they can be produced by a 3D printer, the handgrips make the pastime of climbing more accessible and convenient, she said. She dubbed their invention “The Pinch Master.”
Dominguez’ concept won third place — and a $12,600 prize — at UTA’s MavPitch business pitch competition. She was also asked to apply to attend Startup Grind, a global conference for entrepreneurs made available to UTA students through UTA’s Blackstone LaunchPad program.
• Software that helps drones operate autonomously to warn humans of danger, to search for barricaded suspects, and even to identify victims at disaster scenes. The developer of the software is Kashish Dhal, a doctoral candidate in UTA’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and founder of Apex Robotics. Dhal’s software was recognized at the inaugural virtual 2021 StartupTree Ideas Competition, in which he received a $1,000 award.
• The commercialization of an autonomous robot that employs ultraviolet light for sanitation purposes.
The concept earned UTA student Joshit Mohanty $1,000 at the Ideas Competition, where students with no prior entrepreneurial experience practiced their skills of distilling and presenting an idea.
Mohanty is a Ph.D. candidate in systems engineering at UTA and a research collaborator at Open Source.
• A digital media startup named The Wholesome Post, which focuses on creating and promoting positive, wholesome online content. The concept, created by UTA student Nicolas McClintic, was also awarded $1,000 at the Ideas Competition.
UTA Student Hardik Shukla also earned recognition in the Ideas Competition, in the consumer products and services category.
In 2020, the Texas network of Blackstone LaunchPad was established by a $5 million grant to UT Dallas by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to expand the presence of its signature program in Texas. Other UT System schools participating in the network include UT Austin, UT El Paso, UT Medical Branch, UT Permian Basin, UT Rio Grande Valley, UT San Antonio, UT Southwestern, and UT Tyler.
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