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BW LaunchNET helps students go from pitch to product

For 11 years, BW's LaunchNET has helped students pursue their passion. Some ventures became a quick pass-by, giving students invaluable career skills, while others led to full-time work with added staff. Either way, the program is an incubator of success.

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Matthew Harris was an aspiring filmmaker in high school who took his talent and founded a business.

Powered by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, LaunchNET is open to BW undergraduate and graduate students of all majors, faculty, staff and alumni. It provides free and confidential venture coaching, idea contests, pitch competitions, networking opportunities, education and more. The program is user-driven, meaning clients take the lead, and LaunchNET staff provide as-needed support. Clients do not need to have prior business knowledge.

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LaunchNET offers a modern and welcoming space for client interactions.

"Scheduling the first meeting with LaunchNET is the largest step our clients take. Their ideas have been percolating internally, sometimes for years. At times, we are the first person they have shared their idea with out loud. My job isn't to judge someone's idea. Instead, it is to provide resources, tools and a space for entrepreneurs to do what they do best — develop, transform and innovate," explained Caite Lenahan, BW LaunchNET program manager.

LaunchNET recently expanded its space footprint in the Center for Innovation and Growth (CIG). Each year, approximately 50-60 individuals seek BW LaunchNET guidance. Among its successful grads are Brian Saulsberry '23, Matthew Harris '19 and Shanna Greathouse '12, MBA '13.

Leading with lacrosse

A sport management major from Memphis, Tennessee, Saulsberry took his love of lacrosse and transformed it into a business even before graduating from BW. In 2020, he founded Backyard Sports Enterprises.

The three-year letter award-winning long stick midfielder juggled success on the field with growing his business. It was a win-win on both accounts, as the Yellow Jackets garnered three Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) title appearances and three OAC regular season championships and Backyard Sports Enterprises flourished.

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Saulsberry

"I started Backyard Sports Enterprises because of my passion for youth sports and my realization of the market need for professional athletes in lacrosse who are eager to coach. We provide athletic training and skill development clinics featuring professional athletes. We also design and distribute athletic training media and gear," said Saulsberry, who is living in Tampa, Florida, while pursuing a master's degree in entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa and playing lacrosse with the Spartans.

"We have transitioned to a full-time event company currently operating in Memphis, Tampa, Nashville and Atlanta. We are in discussions with investors, but nothing is finalized yet. I have partnerships with Nike and Tesla Motors," he noted.

Saulsberry went on to say that BW's LaunchNET has been fantastic, offering support from funding to networking connections in Tampa. He is also quick to compliment his studies at Baldwin Wallace. "BW provided excellent mentorship through a small classroom environment, which allowed me to focus on my business and gain the necessary support to establish my company's presence. Caite Lenahan, Dale Sheptak, Charles Campisi and Tony Dick have been exceptional mentors. They provided me with top-notch resources and advice, which were instrumental in elevating my brand. Their guidance has been invaluable."

Leap of faith that paid off

"I started making films for fun in high school and had a natural talent for it, so I decided to study film along with my business [marketing] degree," recalled Harris. "I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do but began thinking about entrepreneurship with the help of CIG staff. They really pushed me to think about a business model around my natural talent. It was there I got my first couple of clients.

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Harris

"LaunchNET was an amazing support system for me. It was huge for launching my business, Blitz Studios. I was able to make connections with other student entrepreneurs and participate in pitch competitions, which provided seed money early on for my business," explained Harris.

"I decided to give my business a go full time when I graduated from BW. It was a leap of faith, to say the least," admitted Harris. "I moved home into my mom's office in Bath, Ohio, and got to work. I've been able to expand the team to two full-time employees and three contractors. I have a 2,000-square-foot office in Independence. I shoot a lot of commercials, online advertisements, weddings, events, production crew projects and fundraising videos.

"After the first six months of running the business, I made over $85,000. And now 3.5 years later, I've done over a million in revenue. I would have never dreamed of that when I first graduated," remarked Harris.

"I always tell people you would be amazed at what you can achieve when you give yourself a full-time commitment. My advice to student entrepreneurs is to not be afraid to make the leap right into entrepreneurship after graduating. If you want to achieve financial freedom and make your own schedule, you have to take a risk," he emphasized.

App-titude for success

With a last name of Greathouse, it comes as no surprise that her business startup would align with the home improvement market. Add in the fact that her husband is in the contracting field, and everything neatly falls into place.

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Greathouse

"I was confident I could build a solution for the issues I found in finding a contractor for my own home improvement," explained Greathouse. "I also had seen the challenges firsthand from a contractor perspective through my husband. I knew there was an issue of scarcity in finding contractors — with long wait times and growing costs, especially since the pandemic. When I learned that for every 50 contractors who retire, only seven enter the workforce — my business went from an idea I kicked around for six months to a mandate.

"I launched pigybak, a neighbor-sharing-contractor app, in March 2023. The LaunchNET microgrant was our first funding and helped build our confidence to keep moving and testing. I was invited to CIG's entrepreneurship launch as an exhibitor, where I got to meet other founders and members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. That networking is opening doors to accelerators and key business partnerships," noted the Seven Hills, Ohio, resident.

"BW not only helped me with pigybak, it provided an invaluable academic experience when I attended there as a student. I completed my MBA degree in international business at night and worked full time. The flexibility of night classes allowed me to excel at my day job, get tons of professional experience and grow. BW provided me with the business acumen to become a consultant, which then taught me the language of executives in order to be a leader," stated Greathouse, who also studied pre-physical therapy and biology as an undergraduate at BW.

"Through my career experience, I've learned that no business will love you back unless it's your own. You may not do it forever; it may start and fizzle, or it may explode. But, no 'normal job' is guaranteed either. What you gain in running your own business is unmatched — autonomy, accountability, strategic direction. You get the invitation to every founder networking event with some of the greatest minds in your community for free. That experience and networking are invaluable. Even more precious is the satisfaction in starting something, growing it, challenging yourself, and helping and inspiring others," she said.

"The greatest skills you can develop as a founder are the ability to think critically and to think unconstrained by what you've been taught to believe, which requires a wonderful amount of creativity. When you decide you've found a problem worth solving, don't limit yourself. Explore the issues, potential solutions and look for inspiration everywhere. When you've found the potential solution, be the biggest skeptic you can be," she added with reflective candor.


LEARN MORE

Caite Lenahan and a BW graduate are among a panel of guests discussing entrepreneurship in the Jan. 29, 2024, edition of The Sound of Ideas, Ideastream Public Media's weekday morning news and information program.

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