How do you start a business? How do you take a bright idea and turn it into a commercial product? What steps do you take in the process? Who do you to talk to? What resources are available?
These are all important questions that many founders ask themselves during their business journey, but there often isn’t a clear answer or resource to turn to. No longer.
On Nov. 7, Launch Founder, a resource to help entrepreneurs jumpstart their venture, was officially unveiled during an event at the Research Park at South Dakota State University.
“This is really the start of something that is going to be really big,” said Nick Fickbohm, business consultant for the South Dakota Small Business Development Center. “Our main goal here is to help accelerate the path from idea to business, through mentorship, programming and access to a resource as needed at every step of the way on your business journey.”
Launch Founder, an innovation platform, was conceived and designed in fall 2020 by Rajesh Kavasseri, associate dean for research for the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering, and Dwaine Chapel, executive director of the Research Park at SDSU. It was built gradually throughout 2021-2022 and fully blossomed after a contingent of SDSU researchers and leaders visited Silicon Valley.
In California, Kavasseri and Chapel, along with Todd Letcher and Stephen Gent, associate professor and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at SDSU, respectively, met with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and accelerators and learned best practices about the innovation ecosystem that is in place.
“They told us, we want people who are obsessed with the problem, not so much the solution, because this evolves with time,” Kavasseri said. “You have to be madly in love with the problem that you are trying to solve. You don’t have to have the perfect solution, but it’s important to start with one.”
The trip served as inspiration for Kavasseri and Chapel, who brainstormed ways they could bring back and implement some of the key ideas from Silicon Valley. One of the key gaps they identified was, when it comes to entrepreneurship and business ventures, it can be difficult to get the right people connected to each other.
“We thought, there are people with ideas—how do we create the right set of opportunities for them? And that’s where this whole thing really took off,” Kavasseri said. “Our vision is to make sure that innovation is open and really accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
Subsequently, Launch Founder was born. On a basic level, Launch Founder works as a connector—connecting entrepreneurs with mentors, ideas with investors and founders with other founders. The site’s mission is simple: Help founders find the shortest path from “idea” to “business.”
“Over time, the thought process of how to start a business has evolved,” Fickbohm said. “That is what we are aiming to do and bring to Brookings and SDSU. Things like being able to form hypotheses, test experiments, using innovation to solve old problems, knowing how to find your first customer, and finding access to funds for things like research and development are some of the bold initiatives that we hope to achieve.”
Entrepreneurs interested in using Launch Founder can visit the launchfounder.com, create an account, and then browse the list of resources available to them. The site’s users can also upload their business pitch, view other pitches and get feedback from the one of the mentors, which include local business leaders and Silicon Valley CEOs. Launch Founder also has a board comprised of successful founders and advisers who will also review the pitches and ideas submitted.
“Here’s a tool that anyone can use, anywhere at anytime,” Kavasseri said. “I can’t wait for people to get started with it.”