LaunchTown Experience, a place where young innovators come together, pitch new ideas and have the potential to receive funding that supports their startup endeavors.
Annually, LaunchTown Experience hosts startup competitions in various locations that are open to college students all across Ohio. This year, through the support of President Bob Helmer and VP Bill Reniff, the event was co-hosted in Baldwin Wallace’s very own Center for Innovation and Growth (CIG).
In all, LaunchTown embodies now three major competitions that grant a portion of $20,000 to selected winners. The funding is provided by the Burton D. Foundation, which also supports LaunchNET, a co-circular program that helps student entrepreneurial ventures.
“It’s a really renowned program throughout the area, specifically Northeast Ohio,” said Hannah Schleuter, LaunchNET Program Manager at Baldwin Wallace. “Each year they have a different venue and location because they’re trying to broaden their reach within the community. They want to show entrepreneurship can thrive all throughout Northeast Ohio.”
The three major competition areas are LaunchTown SOAR, for high-tech startups created by graduate students, LaunchTown LIFTOFF, for high-tech startups created by undergraduates and LaunchCHEF, for startups related to food. Students who pitched ideas had the potential to win a portion of $20,000 that would contribute to the expansion of their startup, she said.
“It was kind of exhibition style. We had the underclassmen share their exhibits out in the hallway,” said Schleuter. “At the same time in the conference room, [there were] the LaunchCHEF winners. [It] was really unique and engaging and the exhibitionists presented their ideas in a very well-planned way. I talked to a lot of students that had a story associated with why they started their ventures… it was nice seeing the passion in them.”
After the 100 guests tasted the products created by LaunchCHEF, the five LaunchTown SOAR teams presented their final pitches to the panel of judges. Each team was given five minutes to convince the judges that their high-tech startup was the most useful, Schleuter said.
The winner was a Kent State University student that created Shear Force Mat, a device that helps people with diabetes when they experience foot issues, she said. The four other contestants were from the University of Akron, Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University.
Following the LaunchTown SOAR finalist presentations, the keynote speaker, Brandon E. Chrostowski, founder of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, presented on social justice entrepreneurship, said Lacey Kogelnik, Director at the CIG. EDWINS is a unique approach at giving formerly-incarcerated adults a foundation in the hospitality industry while providing a support network necessary for a successful reentry, as posted on the restaurant’s website.
After Chrostowski shared his knowledge on social justice entrepreneurship, the winners from all three competitions were recognized and celebrated. Shear Force Mat, PWR Technologies and Not Yo’ Daddy’s Mexican Hot Sauce will be utilizing the money rewarded to move forward with their ideas, she said.
“The prize money is used to help students advance with their ventures,” said Kogelnik. “The goal [of the event] is to encourage these social enterprises…”