Striking out on a new path and starting a business from scratch is daunting for even the most experienced businessperson. How does someone who is just starting out find success as an entrepreneur? It helps to get a jump start. That’s where LaunchPad comes in.
“With studies showing as many as 46 percent of jobs for people 30 years of age and under being in the form of independent contractor roles, the need for the entrepreneurial mindset, skills, competencies, and resilience has never been greater,” says Dr. Tina Klein, LaunchPad Founder and Executive Director. “LaunchPad endeavors to provide the opportunity for every student to access the power of youth entrepreneurship education, and to give those that step forward access to the ecosystem to empower and support them now and in the future.”
In August 2016, the LaunchPad program at the University of California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management partnered with Parker through a generous annual gift from an anonymous Parker family. The program is designed as a one-week course for high school students who want to explore the path of entrepreneurship.
Students learn marketing, research, design, communication skills, and entrepreneurial strategy and pitching from course professor Tina Klein, founders of startups, and other guest speakers. The course culminates with student groups pitching new product ideas to a panel of CEOs, educators, and entrepreneurs who provide real-world expertise and candid criticism.
Parker Upper School students have been able to take this internship course during interim week. The most recent group of students completed the course March 12 to 16 and gained valuable insight into what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. While some of the students chose the course because they plan to strike out on their own after college, others wanted to learn more about a possible career that seemed otherwise out of reach to them.
“I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend this class because I knew little about marketing and entrepreneurship [before]. I took this class in order to broaden my horizons and try something outside of the norm,” says Vicky Comunale, Class of 2019. “I’m interested in pursuing entrepreneurship after Parker because this experience made something that often appears distant to something tangible and possible.”
Vicky helped design a new solar-powered phone case with her business group. The students designed the product, identified possible funding sources, described potential competitors, and predicted future market potential for their product.
Through a combination of lectures, exercises, field trips, discussions with founders of startups, and visits to research labs and facilities, the many student groups were able to create viable business ideas to pitch to a panel of experts at the end of the program week.
Pitch day is the culmination of the skills learned throughout the course and simulates the process actual startups go through to secure funding and create a name for their product.
“Before the pitch, it was very nerve-racking to think about presenting to the experts in the field who have heard many pitches,” says Seth Washabaugh, Class of 2019. He and his group designed a sprinkler add-on that would help regulate water usage by measuring the level of moisture in the soil—one of the many products lauded by the panel as truly competitive products. “Once we started our presentation, I got very excited because I knew that we had worked hard on the product and that we would be receiving valuable feedback on aspects of our presentation from people with real-world experience and knowledge.”
Parker students have a knack for pitching applicable products, which speaks to the success of the course as well as the industriousness of Parker’s students.
“High school students constantly amaze me in their ability to think imaginatively, critically, and craft killer presentations,” says Tina. “Last year, one of the groups came up with a very cool foldable chair that was light yet sturdy and could be packed away effortlessly. One of the students in that group created an array of schematic diagrams to illustrate the concept. Our judges urged him to seek a patent right away!”
In 2019, through the support of the same donor family, LaunchPad will continue to be offered to Upper School students as an interim course ensuring another class of Parker high schoolers learn valuable skills to take with them to college and career.
“I've always considered the idea of becoming an entrepreneur,” says Sophia Galdamez, Class of 2019. “Now that I've gotten a better idea of what being an entrepreneur is, I am definitely considering this career path following my Paker education.”