LaunchX has continually been a thought leader in high school entrepreneurship education
What inspired you to empower young entrepreneurs?
I founded LaunchX to fill a gap in the education system while also giving high school students the opportunity to explore their ambitions and creativity through creating something real. There’s not just one right answer to questions that will be given to you in life – coming up with the question is just as important as the answer, and starting a company is a great way to learn the resourcefulness, adaptability, and innovation to be relevant in the real world.
High school students have enormous entrepreneurial potential, and what’s more, starting a company builds the entrepreneurial skills and mindset that are invaluable for any career. Getting students started early in growing the adaptability, resourcefulness, and decision making of the entrepreneurial mindset increases the potential for success in both the near and longer term.
Can you share information about your founder and the team with our readers?
Laurie, an MIT and Harvard Business School graduate, founded LaunchX in 2012. She has a background working at GE, BMW, and in management consulting at BCG, plus worked in the entrepreneurship department at MIT, where she developed and taught a new course called Intro to Making plus developed and was Commander of the entrepreneurship centre maker space. After founding and successfully driving the growth of LaunchX for more than a decade, Laurie has decided to move on to a Board role with the company.
Samantha Asante-Bio became President of LaunchX in January 2023, after serving as the Program Director. Samantha has over ten years of experience in education and more than 5 years as a leader in the entrepreneurial space, plus is a graduate of New York University and Harvard Graduate School of Education and named to Forbes 30 Under 30. She began her career as a Teach for America Corps member and went on to found KlickEngage, an education technology startup that focused on ensuring every child feels psychologically safe and supported in every environment.
What has made you successful throughout the past decade since you started this journey?
LaunchX is a highly successful entrepreneurship program for high school students that provides them with the resources, mentorship, and support they need to develop and launch their own startups. There are several factors that have contributed to the success of LaunchX:
Rigorous curriculum: LaunchX has continually been a thought leader in high school entrepreneurship education, offering a comprehensive curriculum that covers all aspects of starting and running a business. The curriculum is designed to be challenging and hands-on, giving students the opportunity to work on real-world problems and develop critical thinking and problemsolving skills.
Supportive community: LaunchX has curated a top community of like minded aspiring young entrepreneurs who are passionate about making an impact through solving real-world problems. The program provides students with opportunities to connect with other students, mentors, and resources to bring their ideas to life.
Strong resources: LaunchX provides students with access to an experienced staff, speakers, and mentors who are successful entrepreneurs, industry experts, and business professionals. They provide guidance and support throughout the program, helping students to refine their business ideas and develop their entrepreneurial skills.
Overall, LaunchX’s success can be attributed to its curriculum, community, and top resources. These factors have helped to inspire and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs, and have positioned LaunchX as a leading entrepreneurship program for high school students.
How do you go about educating aspiring young entrepreneurs?
LaunchX brings together top aspiring high school entrepreneurs from around the world each summer, supporting them through the process of launching an actual startup. Students join a highly-curated group of promising young entrepreneurs from around the globe, learn from industry experts, and leverage our leading course materials and experienced team. Working with peer co-founders, students build real products and solve business challenges in viable ways.
LaunchX isn’t a business plan competition – students start real companies. The key to entrepreneurship is bringing together innovation with commercialization. That means a lot of steps to identify the opportunity, validate it, and bring it to market successfully. No wonder so many startups fail. We’ve developed a robust process, though, with the support of top universities to increase the odds of success.
Students go through the process of identifying opportunities, performing market research, refining their strategy, and testing with their customers. An important aspect is gaining real traction which includes getting real sales from customers to validate demand. This includes testing in the market and testing the offering, and adjusting the prototype and marketing methods. Finally, startup teams develop their financial models and pitch, and plan for growth. This prepares their startup with the initial foundation, and the students with the understanding of the keys to success, that gives teams preparedness to navigate the uncertainty of the entrepreneurial journey.
Can you share some success stories from your student startup community?
There are many success stories of LaunchX alumni. Many continue their LaunchX startups, and many more start additional ventures past their time in the program, leveraging their experience in new ways.
LaunchX alumnus Andre Bertram founded Magnet at LaunchX in 2016 and served as its CEO, then continued its development in collaboration with the LinkedIn API. Andre remained with Magnet until March 2017. Andre has also worked for Bayer, Y Combinator, and Creative Destruction Lab, and was awarded the Thiel Fellowship in 2018.
Andre is currently the co-founder and CEO of HelpWear, a medical device company that makes a wearable heart monitor. They strive to achieve better at-home healthcare by developing affordable and accessible products for patients all around the world, focusing on clinical need driven innovation, designing solutions to not only what a patient would need, but from a clinical perspective, to what the healthcare system requires as well. They have raised several rounds of funding including from Mount Sinai Innovation Partners and Innovate Calgary.
Alumnae Akshaya Dinesh worked on an AI edtech product at LaunchX, and later co-founded Ladder, a professional community platform for Gen Z that scaled to hundreds of campuses across the country. The company raised over $3.7M. In addition to being an angel investor and scout for Andreessen Horowitz, Akshaya is currently the founder and CEO of Spellbound, a company that intends to build the future of emails through a no-code platform that helps brands create experiences embedded inside their emails (shopping carts, surveys, reviews, etc). They work with top e-commerce brands like OLIPOP, Recess, immi, Goodlife Clothing, and more. There are many more examples of the great alumni on the LaunchX alumni page of the website.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs on attracting investors?
Demonstrate traction first: Investors want to see evidence that your business has traction and is gaining momentum. This is usually through significant revenue growth or customer acquisition. Focus on metrics that demonstrate your business is on a growth trajectory. Ensure that you are not focusing on investment before gaining traction for a couple key reasons: investors will not be interested if you are not able to demonstrate this proof of customer demand, plus their valuation of your business would be very low if you have not yet gained traction.
Develop a strong business plan: Investors want to see a clearly articulated plan that includes your vision, strategy, and financial projections. Make sure your plan is well-researched, concise, and demonstrates your understanding of the market and your target customers. Take into consideration the different methods that will be used to reach your valuation for your industry as well, and what amount of money you will need to raise, plus if there are any other factors that you may need from an investor (such as advice or guidance) since not all investors are created equal.
Attracting investors requires this strong foundation of your traction, planning, and team, then you are ready to network. By following these tips, young entrepreneurs can increase their chances of securing the funding they need to succeed.
What advice would you give to the parents of high school students?
Encourage them to pursue their passion: As a parent, you play a critical role in supporting your child’s interests and passions. Encourage your child to explore their entrepreneurial ideas and provide them with the resources and support they need to pursue their goals.
Provide mentorship and guidance: As a parent, you can serve as a mentor and guide for your child. Share your own experiences, offer advice, and help them connect with other mentors who can provide additional guidance.
Foster a growth mindset: Encourage your child to embrace failure and to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Teach them to be resilient and to persevere through challenges.
Help them build a strong network: Networking is critical in entrepreneurship. Encourage your child to attend conferences, events, and other networking opportunities where they can meet other like-minded individuals, mentors, and potential customers.
Encourage them to take risks: Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks. Encourage your child to be bold and to take calculated risks. Teach them to think creatively and to be innovative in their approach to problem-solving.
Be supportive: Above all, be supportive of your child’s entrepreneurial aspirations. Celebrate their success and help them to navigate through the challenges inevitably come with entrepreneurship.
What is the trajectory you have planned for LaunchX?
The LaunchX program began in 2012 with a single summer program, developing a partnership with organizations such as MIT. The company later grew to additional locations including Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan, then adapted to run the program online during the 2020 LaunchX Summer Program to deliver the same quality program experience and community in an online environment. In the 2023 Summer Program, there will be the in-person entrepreneurship summer program, online summer program, and a new Innovation Program where students innovate in the context of existing sponsor organizations such as Google and Teach for America.
The core of the program has been the value of the LaunchX community and bringing these top students together to create something real. This sets the foundation for future growth. LaunchX has recently launched a new alumni platform that allows the previous LaunchX students to collaborate in new ways, leveraging the amazing connections they have made and making even more across the other programs and years of the program. With the reintroduction of the in-person program, there will also be growth of locations across campuses, plus growth of the Innovation Program.
“We bring together the top aspiring high school entrepreneurs from around the globe”
“LaunchX has curated a top community of like-minded aspiring young entrepreneurs who are passionate about making an impact through solving real-world problems”