From Startups to Skill Sets: Blackstone LaunchPad Broadens Mission to Equip Grads for Any Career

Blackstone LaunchPad has expanded its mission beyond entrepreneurship. With a mix of next-gen career readiness, LaunchPad is set to equip students with adaptable skills for any professional path. We talk with Blackstone Charitable Foundation Executive Director Maura Pally during a Dallas visit about the program's new pilot internships and more.

“I’ve been really impressed and energized by how Texas approaches things in a flexible, innovative way,” said Maura Pally, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

Pally visited Dallas earlier this month with a mission—to advance Blackstone’s focused investment in higher education and equip more students with the skills to build enduring careers. Her visit, which included a conference hosted by the University of Texas at Dallas, comes as the global investment firm grows its North Texas footprint.

Dallas Innovates talked with Pally about the foundation and LaunchPad’s career-readiness mission, pilot internship program, and growing investment in North Texas universities.

Focus in North Texas

“The company has been prioritizing this region quite a bit,” Pally told Dallas Innovates. “In my role on the charitable foundation side, it’s about supporting the community, deepening relationships with students, and adding value as the business looks to develop more investment opportunities here.”

Founded in 2007, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation creates programs that enhance entrepreneurial ecosystems. Its work is one way the global investment firm shows its commitment to North Texas, Pally says.

Blackstone has roughly 230 portfolio companies worldwide, employing around 700,000 people. “In total, that puts it up there with some of the world’s biggest employers,” Pally said.

“We think about what the charitable foundation can uniquely impact given Blackstone’s incredible investment across so many companies,” she said. “Our overall focus is on that economic opportunity and career mobility range.”

One way the Foundation pursues its mission is through Blackstone Connects, which engages the firm’s employees worldwide in volunteer activities. “We try to get our people out there giving back wherever they are,” Pally said. Blackstone Connects facilitates mentoring, local food bank work, and other community service. The program also does strategic grantmaking to organizations with a track record of supporting career mobility and economic opportunity, often focusing on underutilized BIPOC talent.

The second way—and the main reason Pally was in town—is the foundation’s signature Blackstone LaunchPad program, which partners with higher education institutions, nonprofits, and employers across the country to increase access to career-building opportunities for students.

In 2016, a $3 million grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation propelled UT Dallas into Blackstone LaunchPad's global network, focusing on entrepreneurship and career growth. By 2021, results were clear: 63 new ventures, 194 jobs, and $7.3 million in revenue. [Photo: Randy Anderson/UTD]

In 2016, a $3 million grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation propelled UT Dallas into Blackstone LaunchPad’s global network, focusing on entrepreneurship and career growth. By 2021, results were clear: 1,449 new startup concepts, 63 new ventures, 194 jobs, and $7.3 million in revenue. [Photo: Randy Anderson/UTD]

LaunchPad launches—and evolves

The Blackstone LaunchPad program started in 2010, funding campus directors at colleges nationwide to provide entrepreneurship education. At the University of Texas at Dallas alone, over 25,000 students have participated in LaunchPad since 2016.

“When we started, it was to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Pally said. In the early days, entrepreneurship education was relatively uncommon on college campuses, she says. The program filled that “blank space” by providing curriculum, training, networking, and funding access tailored to aspiring founders.

But over the years, as entrepreneurship centers and classes became more prevalent at colleges, LaunchPad adapted to continue adding value. “We were no longer the only source of entrepreneurship education on campus,” Pally said. LaunchPad’s mission evolved beyond startups.

“What we hear from employers is that the skill sets that they want in new employees are the same skill sets that we teach in entrepreneurship,” Pally said. “Tenacity, problem-solving, communication, and agility are what companies want in new hires.” The LaunchPad program now aims to provide both entrepreneurship training and essential job readiness, helping students hone those versatile talents demanded by employers.

These skills can help students in any career they choose, she says. Whether starting a company or working at an established one like Blackstone or PwC, graduates needed adaptable skills.

Pally and her team have found a receptive mindset towards blending the entrepreneurship and career skillsets at Texas universities like UT Dallas. “That makes our jobs easier,” she said. “We don’t have to do as much ‘selling’ here as we do in other places.”

She contrasted this to less openness at some universities. “In some schools when we say we want to merge entrepreneurship and careers, they respond ‘What are you talking about? Those are two different buckets.’

“It’s not one or the other in Texas—they see the two are really intermixed,” said Pally. “That thinking is what is unique and fantastic about the entrepreneurial spirit here.”

Now Pally is focused on deepening ties between Blackstone portfolio companies and Lone Star State schools. “The companies get a broader perspective, more diverse mindsets, and students are often able to change generational family wealth, so it’s a great, great opportunity for us in Texas,” she said.

UT Dallas students at Blackstone LaunchPad. [Photo via Blackstone Charitable Foundation]

New pilot program

As LaunchPad expands its focus, students can hone their entrepreneurship skills for whatever they want to do in their careers,” Pally said.

A pilot program this year delivered paid internships aligning students with interests from software to banking. The new initiative placed 100 students from HBCUs and CUNY schools into internships.

“The program connects students with well-paid internship opportunities at Blackstone and our Blackstone portfolio companies,” Pally said. “So we’re talking $20-dollar-an-hour and up type job opportunities with career paths.”

Given the successful launch, LaunchPad plans to extend the internship program to all 64 participating schools next year—12 of them in Texas. This will allow UT institutions in the LaunchPad network to access the program, providing their students with job training and exposure to top companies.

“We’re starting the information-awareness process and getting the word out there through the schools,” Pally said. “Most of the recruiting will start in January.”

At UT Dallas, Blackstone LaunchPad is more than a business accelerator—it’s a skills builder. Open to students and recent alumni of all majors, it’s a hub where entrepreneurial thinking meets business skill development. [Photo via Blackstone Charitable Foundation]

‘Texas is one of our biggest investments.’

Pally sees the new internship program as another opportunity to leverage Blackstone’s intellectual capital and business network to increase economic opportunity, career mobility, and access to quality jobs for people starting out and looking to advance, Pally says. In Dallas-Fort Worth that’s a large opportunity as the program expands: Blackstone has some 20 portfolio companies with approximately 1,400 to 1,500 employees.

“As we grow our investment presence in North Texas, the foundation’s programs can support the community and add value,” said Pally. “We’ll be partnering with some of those portfolio companies to offer LaunchPad students internship opportunities that can hopefully turn into jobs.”

To date, the foundation has invested over $8.5 million in Texas schools, including $6.3 million directed to UT Dallas, Pally says, adding, “Texas is one of our biggest investments.”

New York-based Pally and LaunchPad program director Rachel D. Latimore works closely with UT Dallas’ Leon Jacobson, LaunchPad’s campus director at the university, and Chris Bhatti, associate dean, assistant vice president, and faculty at UTD.

Pally, who previously served as executive vice president at the Clinton Foundation and held roles at Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. State Department, convened LaunchPad campus directors in Dallas this week for their annual conference coinciding with the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) event hosted by UTD.

The gathering offers an “honest environment” for directors to share challenges and successes, Pally says. Part think tank, part support network for the directors, peer learning helps them replicate best practices or avoid repeating mistakes. “You can hear from a colleague in a different state or city who’s trying something that resonates, and you can go and replicate it on your own campus,” Pally said.

“When you think you’ve heard it all because we’ve been in 75 schools, somebody comes up with a unique, really awesome idea,” she said about the energy of peer learning between campuses.

They also strategize how to navigate campus bureaucracies and fundraising hurdles together.

Blackstone LaunchPad at UT Dallas (shown here) and other network universities is a place where students and alumni entrepreneurs can practice pitches, test ideas, and build a diverse skill set—for any career path, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation says. [Photo: Randy Anderson/Blackstone Charitable Foundation]

Dallas synergy

In Dallas, Pally says, the LaunchPad program aligns with Dallas’ blend of entrepreneurship and business. “There’s a synergy here in the Dallas community, the business community, the academic community — it’s ahead of where we’re getting to, in some ways,” the executive director said.

“Entrepreneurship skills are the key to a successful career, no matter what that career looks like,” Pally said. “The appreciation of those skill sets has made the program’s progress easy throughout Texas, but especially in the Dallas area. Quite remarkable.”

The story was updated on Oct. 21, 2023, at 10:26 a.m. with photos of UT Dallas’ Blackstone Launchpad facility and students. 

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