Nov 20, 2014

Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day Experience: Entrepreneurs in Their Own Words

The first annual Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day demonstrated the impact of Blackstone LaunchPad’s mission to promote entrepreneurship as a viable career path. We're pleased to share highlights from Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day winners and participants in their own words below.


Q & A with the Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day winners:

Gabriel Mandujano of Wash Cycle Laundry, a venture from Blackstone LaunchPad at Philadelphia University, was the first-place winner, and received the first-place award of $25,000. Wash Cycle Laundry uses bicycles to deliver thousands of pounds of laundry to hospitals, businesses and consumers in Philadelphia, Washington and Austin.

How has Blackstone LaunchPad helped you develop your company and contributed to your success thus far?
As a social enterprise, there aren't a lot of well-trodden paths to follow to grow and scale a company – product businesses, tech companies and others seem to have standard playbooks to guide founders in what steps to take when, but there just aren't quite as many great examples for social enterprises. Blackstone LaunchPad has been really helpful in helping us think about and execute our capital raising strategy, especially as we engage public sector and philanthropic investors in addition to traditional private sector ones.

Please tell us about your experience in New York and your participation at Demo Day. What were the highlights and what did you learn? 
Well, to state the obvious, it was pretty neat when Steve Schwarzman handed us a big check on stage! But beyond the cash, I had the opportunity to speak to a number of senior Blackstone executives throughout the trip, and it was awesome to hear their perspectives on Wash Cycle. As a service business in a "boring" industry, I often find that people in traditional venture capital settings don't have much experience with companies like Wash Cycle Laundry, but of course Blackstone has built a reputation investing in a whole range of companies, some of which are in industries that are just as "boring" as laundry. Hearing Blackstone executives' perspectives on everything from M&A/exit strategy, national scaling, franchising models, and the role of technology in our business was invaluable.

How specifically do you plan to put your prize money to work for your venture?
We're on a big push to upgrade to "enterprise grade" tools and technology – which means everything from getting commercial grade hardened phones with integrated barcode scanners for our delivery staff, to upgrading to lithium ion battery backs on our electric assist trailers, to revamping the user interface on our site.

Given your venture’s success, what advice do you have to entrepreneurs just starting out?
Jump in! And build a good group of people, including some of your customers, who will give you good, solid, candid advice about what to do next.


Jesse Wolf of O’Dang Hummus, a venture from Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Central Florida, was the second-place winner, and received the second-place award of $15,000. O’Dang Hummus has been called the Ben & Jerry’s of the hummus industry, and is known for their revolutionary flavors and fun creative packaging.

How has Blackstone LaunchPad helped you develop your company and contributed to your success thus far?
Blackstone LaunchPad has been a huge driver in our success! From the very beginning, we started with really just a few recipes and the team welcomed us with open arms and lots of encouragement. Over the last year we have attended many cool guest speakers that the Blackstone LaunchPad has featured, these speakers have helped me to stay motivated, network, and ask those impossible questions. The team has been super supportive and always there to keep me on track and focused on the next move, they literally are like your cheerleader, your parents, your best friend, and your mentor all wrapped up into one. Plus, it has been awesome being featured across campus knowing that we now motivate fellow students and are helping spread the word about being an entrepreneur. 

Please tell us about your experience in New York and your participation at Demo Day. What were the highlights and what did you learn?
New York was literally one of the best trips in my entire life. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the incredible opportunity provided by Blackstone. It really gave me a sense of success and motivation to just keep pushing harder. I had never been to New York City before, so the ride in was one of the most exciting things in my life. The reception Monday night at the NYSE was literally life changing. Holding the same gavel as some of the most powerful, influential business leaders in history was so surreal and incredible. Tuesday was one of the most intense competitions of my career thus far. The teams competing were incredible and to be considered on the same level has been an honor. The moment when we were announced for the finals I literally had to fight back tears knowing that our team had gone into the final round with such incredible teams, again just proving to us we have a real shot at turning into a world changing company. The moment they announced the top 4 prizes I have never been so nervous. When 4 and 3 were announced I assumed we did not place and still was really proud of just being selected for the finals. The moment when our team was announced as the 2nd place winner I literally almost knocked the whole table over, the best feeling on the earth. We have fought so hard to grow this idea into a small business and to realize we could grow again into a huge company never felt so real until that very moment. I also cannot thank the Blackstone team enough for being so kind, supportive, and helpful while we were competing.

I soaked in every single aspect of the trip. From the big city experience to the moment we took 2nd place. It made me feel like we were really had "made it." I really learned that when you work hard in life good things always happen. I learned that things don't always go right or perfect, but if you keep grinding and never give up good things always come.

How specifically do you plan to put your prize money to work for your venture?The $15,000 will be used to grow our business. Since returning to Orlando we have already launched in one local grocery store and have officially been accepted into Whole Foods! The money is being used for our team of attorneys to draft legal documents. We have also used it to help fund our Kickstarter campaign, which will launch in a month and will help us to raise even more capital. The remainder of the money will be spent on our first production run through our manufacturing facility and into our first set of grocery stores. The money could not HAVE come at a better time, and from the bottom of our heart, thank you!

Given your venture’s success, what advice do you have to entrepreneurs just starting out?
Never give up. You’re going to have failure and haters who are going to knock you down, that is the best part of being an entrepreneur. The moment when you hit success of any size and you know the battle you fought to get to that very point...there is no better feeling in the world. Keep your head up, believe in yourself, and turn your dreams into a reality. Change the world one dream at a time.


Amogha Srirangarajan and Kailey Shara of Carbon Origins, a venture from Blackstone LaunchPad at Case Western Reserve University, was the third-place winner, and received the third-place award of $10,000. Carbon Origins is a startup technology company that aims to design and develop tools and technology solutions that will enable the next generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs to change the world.

How has Blackstone LaunchPad helped you develop your company and contributed to your success thus far?
We met with the Director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Case Western Reserve University, when Carbon Origins was still in its initial idea stage. This was almost two years ago. Since then we have received a lot of guidance and support from Blackstone in structuring and growing the company. Guidance from the Blackstone LaunchPad team at CWRU was key in winning multiple student business competitions. The funds raised through these business competitions helped us lay the foundations of the company, both in terms of technology development and entity establishment. Blackstone LaunchPad has also helped us network with potential customers, advisers and investors. 

Please tell us about your experience in New York and your participation at Demo Day. What were the highlights and what did you learn?
Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day in New York was an amazing opportunity to meet and interact with other entrepreneurs. Unlike other business competitions, the Blackstone LauchPad Demo Day was attended by companies from different backgrounds/industries and were at varying stages in their business. Most business competitions restrict the type and stage of companies that can participate, which has its advantages, but can also be bland and predictable. The rich mixture of companies at the Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day created a refreshing environment. No two teams were alike, which made everything that much better. We had an opportunity to look at various business strategies.

The highlight of the event was the keynote from Johnny Earle (Johnny Cupcakes). I am a huge fan of Johnny and I have been following his work for quite some time now. His unique approach to marketing and branding is legendary. I was excited to finally meet him in person and was thrilled that my co-founder got to experience one of his awesome presentations. I have learned a lot from him and I hope that the work we are doing at Carbon Origins will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to change the world in their own way. 

How specifically do you plan to put your prize money to work for your venture?Carbon Origins is a hardware start up, with a large software back-end. This, by definition, requires a lot of capital. We are currently bootstrapped (self-funded/no external investments) and we have completed 4 hardware and 6 software iterations on our product. The injection of capital from the competition will enable us to complete our prototyping stage, which is necessary to raise a successful seed round of funding that will enable us to take the company to the next stage. Part of the prize money will also be used in filing provisional patents.

Given your venture’s success, what advice do you have to entrepreneurs just starting out?

  • Startups are HARD. If you are serious about your startup, make it the most important thing in your life. If it isn't the most important thing in your life, don't waste your time on it, more importantly, don't waste your co-founders and investors time and money. Give more than 100% or don't bother at all. 
  • Make sure you have an amazing group of people working with you. At a startup, everyone needs to wear multiple hats. Working with an extremely talented team with domain expertise in multiple fields and the capability to learn and iterate fast is key to survive and thrive in the startup world. 
  • Hire slow and fire fast- evaluate new hires for cultural and technical fit. DO NOT hire a B player. You need to maintain a tight and efficient team. A very small group of extraordinarily talented individuals who work well together is always better than a large mediocre team. 
  • Find your north star and run as fast as you can towards it. You are in a race and the only way to win is to move as fast and efficiently as you can towards your goal.
  • Failure is part of the game. Don’t let failures drag you down. Remember, failure is the fog through which you glimpse at triumph. Fail often and fail fast. Be very flexible and constantly iterate.
  • Think outside the box. You will be strapped for resources and the only way to forge ahead will be to think differently.
  • Solve hard problems. Don't try to create something that's a little better than what already exists. Your product/service needs to be orders of magnitude better than what already exists in the market.
  • Cash is king – get to market. Your goal is to get revenue positive ASAP. Remember, "real entrepreneurs ship"- i.e. ship your product / provide your service. It's OK if it isn't perfect. You will learn more from real market experience than through trying to make something PERFECT. Remember, you are in a race. 

Walid Abdul-Wahad of Desert Farms, a venture from Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Southern California, was the fourth-place winner, and received the fourth place award of $5,000. Desert Farms is a global camel milk brand.

How has Blackstone LaunchPad helped you develop your company and contributed to your success thus far?
Blackstone LaunchPad has provided Desert Farms a great deal of advice and mentoring. They have connected me to many leads and are always available to answer questions. Blackstone LaunchPad has put me in contact with customers, including Whole Foods and Fairway Market in New York.

Please tell us about your experience in New York and your participation at Demo Day. What were the highlights and what did you learn?
The experience was great, it was my first time in NYC. Visiting the NYSE and meeting with all the Blackstone executives was invaluable. At Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day we made a contact that introduced us to Fairway Market and Whole Foods. As a result of that introduction, Desert Farms’ camel milk will be in three Whole Foods and five Fairway Markets in NYC by November 15! To support that expansion, we hired an additional team member to lead the operation in NYC. That was definitely the highlight of our trip.

How specifically do you plan to put your prize money to work for your venture?Our prize money will be used towards marketing and sales in the New York area. 

Given your venture’s success, what advice do you have to entrepreneurs just starting out?
Get your product to market as fast as you can and refine it along the way.


Quotes from participants:

“Thank you for an unbelievable and unforgettable past couple of days in New York. I learned so much and met so many people that can help with our companies success. Blackstone LaunchPad has opened so many doors for us and we are forever grateful.” - Josh Ahdoot, Piggy (Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Southern California)

“The newly formed USC Blackstone LaunchPad has been a mentor, supporter and networker for our new venture. It is hard for me to imagine where we'd be without it. I am so thankful for the entire Blackstone LaunchPad community and BX Demo Day, in particular, has been a terrific crash course in how to present and even build a company.” - Drew Park, Q-Cigarettes (University of Southern California)

“Demo Day was truly an amazing event and I returned to Montana with some incredible feedback and new inspiration!” - Walker Milhoan, RanchLogs, LLC (Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana)

“I too, had a wonderful time! Before leaving, I sat in on two pitches—the Hummus, which had an extremely likable salesman—and Limbitless, which their video about the prosthetic arm allowing a boy to hug his mom for the first time had me in tears.” – Johnny Earle (AKA Johnny Cupcakes)

“Thanks for an epic event. I can't begin to tell you (now at least) all the amazing things that are happening for our students as a result of the trip.” – Cameron Ford, Executive Director, Blackstone LaunchPad at University of Central Florida

“I loved demo day, it was inspiring and just an overall great event!!” - Colleen Coda, Senior Vice President, Blackstone Innovations & Infrastructure

“Seeing those amazing teams reinvigorated my passion for this job. Thanks for that.” – Shaheen Karimian, Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State University

“We are very proud of how far the BLP program has come in the past few years and look forward to continuing the journey and taking the program to even greater heights.” – Deborah Hoover, President, Burton D. Morgan Foundation