UM entrepreneurs ‘Launch’ businesses with new program

Entrepreneurship at the University of Miami will no longer be limited to the School of Business’ academic curriculum. The Launch Pad, a new, free service provided by the Toppel Career Center, will now serve as a springboard for students from all walks of life to begin their own businesses while in college.

Last spring semester, a task force that included representatives from all nine undergraduate schools was formed to help plan the next stage of development for the career center. A consensus among the participants was that there was demand for a place to help students start their own businesses.

“Every semester I ask my students on the first day of class to tell me their dream job and we’re looking at more than a third of the students saying they want to be entrepreneurs,” said Susan Amat, the director of The Launch Pad.

The Launch Pad, located in the space formerly occupied by STA Travel in the UC Breezeway, opened its door on the first day of classes and already boasts a roster of 130 current students and alumni.

“What’s distinctive about it is that it is in a career center,” said William Green, the senior vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education. “Starting your own enterprise is a legitimate career choice.”

Created to assist students with the process of starting their own venture as well as develop their ideas, The Launch Pad includes services such as one-on-one consultations, networking events, venture coaching and the possibility of a mentorship or internship with alumni and business owners in South Florida.

“If you want to start a business or you have an invention, you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars being consulted and this is a place where you can do it for free,” said senior Mghnon Martin, a music business major who found a partner for her business idea in one of the weekly sessions.

After the students get acquainted with The Launch Pad and its services, the process begins on the Web site, where they can fill out a profile that includes their contact information and interests. An appointment is then set up for a one-on-one consultation in which students can discuss their business ideas with trained advisors.

It also helps students with their ideas at all stages of development. Whether just starting out or redefining the concept of an already established business, the advisors will meet students of all levels.

Weekly sessions designed to encourage student participation occur every Wednesday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. at the Toppel Career Center Library. These sessions usually attract approximately 40 students from all different schools. There are also events every first and third Monday of every month.

“From info sessions, to one-on-one consultations, to referrals, to help with a business plan, to networking – it’s all here,” said senior Ashley Peters, a student intern at The Launch Pad.

The Launch Pad acts as an agent to all schools, complementing instead of replacing their own entrepreneurship and business classes. The weekly meetings provide such a space where students can interact with one another and discuss ideas for a business or invention. The Launch Pad also helps to direct the students to the appropriate resources within their own schools.

“We want to make sure they know how to make a job, not just how to find a job,” Green said.

Venture coaches offer individuals, or teams of students, the opportunity to be partnered with alumni or business owners that have similar interests. They provide assistance and advice to the students on a volunteer basis, guiding the students through the different stages of business development.

The Launch Pad has also expanded its reach beyond the Coral Gables campus and into the South Florida community through venture coaches and a partnership with Enterprise Florida, a public-private entity that focuses on statewide economic development.

“It’s a great stepping stone for South Florida to become a mecca for innovation and a stronger business community,” said Brian Rechtman, an MBA student who is redefining his business with the help of The Launch Pad.

But students are not only the beneficiaries of The Launch Pad, but also the facilitators. Student interns are also available at The Launch Pad office to answer questions and assist the students through the initial stages of the process. They also contribute by accomplishing their own projects, which range from publicity to being a liaison to one of the nine undergraduate schools.

The Launch Pad office is open Monday and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m., on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m., and on Saturday by appointment.

To learn more about The Launch Pad, visit their Web site at