Blackstone inspires student entrepreneurs


The Blackstone Launchpad program is a program that is meant to teach students how to use their ideas and turn them into successful business ideas. The office, located in the Student Center lobby, connects students with mentors, experts and resources to get their ideas off the ground. Photo by Matt Hafley.

Chenayle Bradford

Sitting in the back of a quiet office, Andrew Hollern, senior exercise science major, discussed business plans with an entrepreneurial counselor provided by Blackstone LaunchPad.

“I plan to launch at least one of my businesses within the next year, so it will be running by spring,” Hollern said.

Blackstone LaunchPad, located in the Kent Student Center, is a program dedicated to advising and guiding students, and eventually alumni and faculty, on starting up and expanding their businesses. This program was brought to Kent State to help accelerate business startups and job growth in Northeast Ohio by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation this May.

“The whole idea, and the one thing that I would most love for everybody to get out of this, is that starting their own business is a possible career option,” said Lee McMannis, a Blackstone counselor. “So rather than having to go and necessarily find a job when you graduate, you can start you own business and create your own job while you’re still in school.”

McMannis is a Kent State alumnus who started his first business while attending the university in 1968. With two patents under his belt for tires and experience in international business, McMannis said he comes back to Kent every summer to help assist with the university’s entrepreneurial services.

With Blackstone LaunchPad and its counselors, students are introduced to business experts and valuable resources needed to help with their businesses. And for students, like Hollern, who have little entrepreneurial background, the guidance is extremely helpful.

“No matter what profession a student goes into, some of the workshops or advice can help in the long run and make you a more balanced worker,” Hollern said. “Since I’m an exercise physiology major, I know minimal about entrepreneurship and business. I expect Blackstone to help guide me [to] make smart business decisions and connections that I can use to be successful in my entrepreneurial careers.”

Students are directed to go on the Kent Blackstone website to create a profile and take a venture assessment test. With that venture assessment, counselors evaluate and determine what possible steps students can take in the next part of their business venture.

“Everybody is on a case-by-case basis,” McMannis said. “It is not something that you start at step one and go to step 10 and you’re done.”

All information exchanged between the students and counselors is confidential; therefore, no business ideas or concepts are exchanged or taken.

“There are free workshops, meetings and advice,” Hollern said. “It’s a great addition to the Student Success services on campus.”

Kent State is one of the four colleges and universities that received this program, along with Case Western Reserve University, Baldwin-Wallace College and Lorain County Community College. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and The Burton D. Morgan Foundation contributed a $3.2 million, three-year partnership to train the next generation of entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio.

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded in 2007 to promote entrepreneurship in areas that were affected the most by the global economic crisis. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation is a private foundation established in 1967 to strengthen the free expertise system by investing in organizations that promote an entrepreneurial environment.

Contact Chenayle Bradford at [email protected].