The idea for the business incubator Launchpad came in the summer of 2016, after my first year on the MBA programme. Many of my classmates had great business ideas and were curious about entrepreneurism, but only a handful spent time developing their concept into an actual business. Most were too busy thinking about the second year of the MBA.
Launchpad was set up to enable students to test their entrepreneurial skills while studying. Business school is the best possible sandbox to express your creativity and discover various industries and ideas in a risk-free environment. You shouldn’t have to choose between becoming an entrepreneur and studying full-time; Launchpad shows that it’s possible to persevere with an idea while managing other priorities.
Getting Launchpad off the ground
I set about developing Launchpad with my classmate Javier Jimenez, who was already building a startup in his native Chile. We developed the framework for the venture and recruited MBA 2018 students from the School’s Entrepreneurship Club to help launch the venture. Everyone involved was eager to make Launchpad happen as we all knew there was big demand for this kind of programme.
The team spent the first few months setting the project roadmap and getting support from LBS staff and faculty. We showed them how Launchpad would work alongside with other London Business School (LBS) initiatives, such as the Incubator Programme, the Entrepreneurship Summer School and entrepreneurial electives. Jeff Skinner (Executive Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LBS), Jane Khedair (Head of Entrepreneurship, Career Centre at LBS) and faculty in the Strategy and Entrepreneurship department were instrumental in helping us sell the concept around the School.
From there, we secured partnerships with external organisations that had their own entrepreneurial programmes, including the Innovation Forum and UCL. We talked to them about how Launchpad could help and support their budding entrepreneurs by giving them a platform to develop their ideas.
By January 2017 we were ready to launch. In the early days, we spent about five hours a week planning how to kick-start and run the initiative. The team set aside more time to market the venture as we got closer to the launch date. We met regularly to organise events and workshops for the first cohort of students. It was essentially a part-time job for me, particularly during the first term of my second year on the MBA programme. I was also working as an intern, so there was a lot going on – but if you believe in something, you make it happen.
One of our biggest challenges was securing funding for the venture. We convinced Prodigy Finance, which was already sponsoring the Entrepreneurship Club, that backing Launchpad would publicly showcase its support for entrepreneurs and align with the firm’s mission to help business school students. Raising awareness among the students and talking to them about the time and energy needed to take part in Launchpad was another challenge. We highlighted the benefits of being able to study while pursuing an entrepreneurial ambition.
How the programme works
It’s a four-month programme, where students hear from seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts about how to develop business models and prototypes. They also get advice on how to sell their idea to potential investors and customers. All of these skills and insights serve students well, whether they decide to start a business or pursue a career.
Our workshops feature app developers, product managers and business school professors who speak about effective teamwork and leadership. Executives from Frog, the global design firm, have run a two-day workshop on user-centric design, helping teams understand their customers' personas and pain points. We’ve also had a music-industry entrepreneur talk to students about growth hacking.
Students work together to develop and test their prototypes, gather industry insights and build minimum viable products. They then pitch their ventures to seasoned entrepreneurs, angel investors and business accelerators, who provide valuable insight and feedback.
The venture has proved a hit with students; we had more than 280 applications for the first cohort and expect greater interest this year. The students involved in 2016 formed eight teams that came up with a range of business ideas, from a tool for grade-school teachers to provide real-time feedback to parents about their kids, to a nomadic hotel that relocates every season. Some teams have since launched products and services while others continue to develop their concepts.
One particular success story involves an online real-estate platform for property developers to track industry trends, price fluctuations and growth opportunities. The team behind the business – all first-year MBA students when they joined Launchpad – has received interest from venture accelerators and angel investors.
Launchpad is supported in 2017 by the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.