BYU business incubator reflects on successful changes

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Lexie Flickinger
Scott Petersen (left) started the Founders’ Launchpad in 2012. Seated to his right is Jeremy Andrus, CEO of Traeger Grills, speaking at the Thursday night speaker series. (Lexie Flickinger)

The Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology in the Marriott School of Business made changes to the Founders’ Launchpad program this summer. 

The Founders’ Launchpad, which begins in May and ends in August, provides entrepreneurs with in-depth training and skilled mentors, all while giving the teams office space in the Tanner Building to work all summer. The top 10 teams also receive $15,000 to work on their businesses.

The Founders’ Launchpad has incubated many successful companies today, including Fuse, Neighbor, Owlet, FiberFix and SalesRabbit.

Scott Petersen, who founded the program in 2012, said the two biggest elements he changed this summer were the content of the training and the quality of the Thursday night speaker series.

“I think more than anything we just improved each aspect of it,” Petersen said.

The improved training includes several business-related topics like sales training, marketing expertise, product development tips branding, leadership and intellectual property.

“A lot of the trainings — at least the ones that have been most impactful to me — focus a lot on validation and ensuring that all of the assumptions you have are very, very well-validated before you go and waste actual time and money trying to build something,” said Jordan Last, a participant in the Founders’ Launchpad this summer and member of the team Portal. Portal is a business venture in the Founders’ Launchpad that provides hands-free door access for people with disabilities. 

The Founders’ Launchpad has also improved the quality of its Thursday night speaker series. The best entrepreneurs from the area are asked to come and speak to the teams and have a Q&A session.

A few of the guest speakers this summer include Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics; Ben Peterson, CEO of BambooHR (https://www.bamboohr.com/) and Davis Smith, CEO of Cotopaxi.

“It does include an element of presentation, but it’s really down-to-earth, getting much more intimate, having many more questions, much more Q&A, much more involvement, answering questions about problems from their own businesses and not just a presentation from a successful person,” Petersen said.

Lexie Flickinger
The speaker series is interactive and is an opportunity for the teams to ask questions to local, successful CEOs. (Lexie Flickinger)

“I think the Thursday night dinners are some of the best — the direct access with the local CEOs. We get to ask them whatever questions we want and have an intimate dinner, which is really good,” Last said.

The Rollins Center made these changes to further inspire the teams to do more, get bigger and be better while maintaining the vision of developing responsible entrepreneurs of faith, character and values.

“We inculcate into the DNA of our program matters of faith and character and of fatherhood, motherhood, of family, of church service, of community service — not just becoming a single-minded, ‘I’m here to get rich,’” Petersen said. “We’re really not interested in that so much as we’re interested in the rising generation and helping them to fulfill their potential and to be able to accomplish fantastic things while they are here in mortality — but to do it in the right way.”

Lexie Flickinger
The speaker series is considered to be one of the most helpful resources, according to the participating teams.(Lexie Flickinger)

The changes to the Founders’ Launchpad are intended to further model the program after Y Combinator, an American seed accelerator that invests in startups.

“The teams really, really enjoy what they are going through right now, and they realize the value of the trainings and participating on a regular basis. They’re taking good notes, and they’re trying to implement into their business the things that they are learning. So I would say that it is having a very nice impact,” Petersen said.

The Founders’ Launchpad is the culmination of a year’s worth of work for the top teams that go through the Miller Competition Series. The Miller Competition Series comprises three competitions, including the Big Idea Pitch, the Business Model Competition and the New Venture Challenge. The competition is designed to help students develop their business ideas into successful companies.

(Provided by the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, this video gives a quick overview of the Founders’ Launchpad.)

The Founders’ Launchpad then selects 20 teams (the top 10 finalists and 10 other teams who were runners-up) to participate in the summer program. The program consists of a lot of different skill-building and mentor-based activities that help the teams make better decisions about how to grow and develop their young enterprises.

“Entrepreneurship is like being on a guide trip in the wilderness. The wilderness is fraught with a lot of different dangers that the average person who has never done much in the outdoors would feel is unsafe if they didn’t take a guide,” Petersen said.

One type of guide the Founders’ Launchpad provides to the teams are mentors.

“They gave us a mentor that has been very helpful, Craig Earnshaw. We meet with him every week, and he just has experience in the business world that we don’t have,” Jeff Cramer, a participant in this year’s program and co-founder of Virtel, said.

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