Entrepreneurial advisory program launches at Philadelphia University

 Blackstone executives celebrate its Charitable Foundation's partnership with local college campuses at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Philadelphia University. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia University)

Blackstone executives celebrate its Charitable Foundation's partnership with local college campuses at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Philadelphia University. (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia University)

Nine years ago, Philadelphia University senior Colin Hansel made his first surfboard.

Someone had stolen his, so with a little help from his dad — and a lot of help from Google — the Long Island native figured out how to make his own boards with materials from a shipping supply and hardware stores.

Process becomes a passion

Recently, Hansel and fellow industrial-design senior Morgan Gaumann started Rodeo Bird, an action-sports company that designs and sells snowboards and surfboards.

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This summer, surf shops in New Jersey and South Carolina will retail Hansel’s handmade surfboards, and one of Rodeo Bird’s sponsors is testing its snowboard prototype in Utah.

Rodeo Bird is an early success story for PhilaU’s implementation of Blackstone LaunchPad, its new campus entrepreneurial initiative.

A mission launched

Last Wednesday, the school celebrated the official start of the program with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Kanbar College of Design, Education, and Commerce.

Last December, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation — a philanthropic arm of the global-investment and advisory firm — announced that PhilaU, Temple University and University Science Center would share a $3 million grant that would finance Blackstone LaunchPad, a voluntary entrepreneurial-advisory program.

Modeled on a program that started six years ago at the University of Miami, LaunchPad does not fund student work.

Rather, it aims to teach start-ups how to form business plans that will attract investors through networks of regional partnerships, or what its website calls local “ecosystems [of] master coaches in regions across the nation and around the world.”

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation has funded LaunchPads on 14 campuses in six regions. This is the first of its programs in Philadelphia.

How it works in NW Philly

Zoe Selzer McKinley became the executive director of the entrepreneurship program earlier this year.

She said that Philadelphia University’s emphasis on a “collaborative and multidisciplinary” education breeds a “deeply entrepreneurial spirit.”

The school’s faculty offers many resources, but McKinley says PhilaU has not had a central platform for entrepreneurial instruction until now.

“Students here are predisposed to seeing problems and looking for a solution,” McKinley said. “Being an entrepreneur is a viable path.”

Real-time applications

The senior capstone — a research project that asks students to connect a global trend to a professional interest — is an example of PhilaU’s “applied approach” to education.

This year’s projects include “living wool,” a mudrunning shoe and a geocaching game called “Critter Hunt” that connects young players to an ecological center. McKinley said that many student projects end up on a shelf when they could end up on the market.

More than 70 students have been in her office to discuss their ideas since it opened in the middle of February.

“We start out by assessing who they are,” she said. “They need to know their financial needs. They need to know ‘Who buys it?’ ‘Where?’ ‘Is it feasible?’ ‘Desirable?’ ‘How do you narrow your focus?'”

Backing Rodeo Bird

Colin Hansel and Morgan Gaumann were motivated to find backers for Rodeo Bird prior to working with LaunchPad.

The two made multiple cold calls and eventually won over several supporters, including composite sponsors Innegra Technologies and BGF Industries, and resin sponsor Resin Research.

However, they also knew they needed help formulating a business plan.

“When we started, we didn’t know what to do,” said Hansel. “Zoe gave us the groundwork.

“From the first time we met with her, she came at us with questions that we hadn’t thought about, like ‘What are you all doing as a company?’ ‘How do you expect to jump in as such a tiny company?'”

The LaunchPad program helped Hansel and Gaumann formulate a business plan and a mission statement.

Now, Rodeo Bird is selling Hansel’s handmade surfboards for $500 through Facebook as Gaumann finalizes Rodeo Bird’s graphic designs and webpage.

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