Launch It! Lives Up to Its Name
One of the hallmarks of the Close School’s curriculum, the Launch It! course has helped students across academic disciplines to start their own ventures.
April 22, 2015
by Zach Epstein
Every business begins as an idea. From multinational corporations to corner stores and everything in between, they all start with merely a potential founder and a concept.
Drexel senior Ryan Bertoldi’s idea was inspired by his time studying abroad in Germany, where he took note of the country’s ubiquitous solar panels. He wanted to harness that technology on a smaller scale, building it into reusable water bottles and allowing consumers to tap into an extra source of renewable energy to charge small electronic devices, while using an already environmentally friendly product.
Upon his return to Philadelphia, Bertoldi — an International Business and Marketing major — sought help navigating the process of new venture creation. He also needed a partner who could handle the engineering portion to create a prototype. In the Close School’s Launch It! course, he found both.
“Launch It! was just perfect for me,” he says. “It was the right choice at the right time. And I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to do it on my own without the backing of the program and Drexel.”
One of the hallmarks of the Close School’s curriculum, Launch It! is a rigorous 10-week course in which students transform their idea into a full-fledged company. Taught by experienced entrepreneurs and open to all Drexel students, the course provides each team $2000 in seed funding to help get their businesses off the ground. Using the Business Model Canvas as a guide, students are measured on their week over week progress. They learn to experiment with different business models, validate a market need and build all facets of a startup company.
“Launch It! really is the culmination of what we’re doing at Close. It is simulating what it’s like to start a company,” says Damian Salas, assistant teaching professor and director of the Close School’s Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community.
Bertoldi, a member of the first Launch It! cohort, used the course to perform market research, build a web presence and design a product. He ended the course with his first prototype, not to mention some lessons learned.
“As a business, you’re providing something to the consumers where there’s a ‘want.’ And you really have to go after what they want,” he says. “One of the biggest lessons was learning that it’s not about you, it’s about the market. It’s about the consumer.”
While the goal is to create a functioning business, Launch It! is also designed to give students a safe place to be first-time entrepreneurs.
“It tries to manifest the feeling of starting something — the anxiety, the uncertainty, the rush, the excitement, the failure. All those intangibles about starting a company, we want to see that as well as the process,” Salas says.
Like many other Launch It! students, Bertoldi has continued developing his company after the class. He’s working on securing a utility patent, and has garnered interest from some of the biggest sporting goods and outdoor retailers in the country. He is also developing a larger, five-gallon version of his design for third world applications, which would include a carbon filter to easily provide clean drinking water.
Salas says that despite encountering the challenges that come with starting any new business, the progress Launch It! students can make over 10 weeks is remarkable.
“They all have that eureka moment, and watching that is just awesome.”