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Blackstone Foundation will expand its entrepreneurship program in Southern California

"I've had successes and failures,and taking chances and ambition has played a big part in all of it" said Harvey Weinstein at the announcement of Blackstone's Launchpad program for entrepreneurs in college. "I think there's nothing more important that mentorship."
Brian Watt/KPCC

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced Friday that it is bringing its entrepreneurship program for college students to Southern California.  

The charitable arm of private equity firm and investment bank the Blackstone Group is making a grant of $3.5 million to establish its "LaunchPad" program on the campuses of UCLA, USC, and UC Irvine.  The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) will manage the program.

The LaunchPad program was developed at the University of Miami. Blackstone replicated and implemented the first Blackstone LaunchPad on two campuses in Michigan in 2010. The program was then expanded to campuses in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Central Florida and Montana. The aim is to help students interested in starting their own companies with entrepreneurial training and a network of "venture coaches."

"They get an opportunity to do business plans, have experienced entrepreneurs critique those, help them and ultimately hope that they can raise money, be successful, create jobs and be self employed," said Blackstone's CEO and Co-Found Stephen Schwarzman. 

He was joined on the stage at the Los Angeles Theater Center in downtown L.A. by the provosts of USC, UCLA, UC-Irvine, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra,  award-winning film producer and entrepreneur Harvey Weinstein,  and Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and current University of Miami President Donna Shalala.

Shalala said more than 3,000  students have participated in the University of Miami's LaunchPad.  She said it's responsible for creating more than 206 new companies, which have generated approximately 560 new jobs.   What makes this program different from other business incubators and mentorship programs on campuses is that any student can participate regardless of major, and it isn't tied to getting a grade. 

"Like the universities represented here, we had entrepreneurship programs as part of our business curriculum," Shalala said. "But we specifically wanted our students to think about creating a job, not taking a job." 

A Blackstone spokeswoman said the $3.5 million grant covers setting up offices on the three campuses and hiring staff for 3 years.  It will not become seed money for or give Blackstone a stake in any of the businesses  the program helps create.  Blackstone estimates the program has the potential to generate 1,400 new ventures in California over the next five years. 

"I've had successes and failures, and taking chances and ambition has played a big part in all of it," said Harvey Weinstein, who credited Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman with helping to save his company." I think there's nothing more important that mentorship."

The "LaunchPad" concept strikes H.J. Paik, Director of Emerging Company Services for Price Waterhouse Coopers as a good idea that might actually make college "more sticky" for  young entrepreneurs.  

"When you have companies whose founders end up dropping out of college in order  to create companies like Snapchat, you are just staying ahead of the game and looking at all of your potential entrepreneurs and keeping them in the universities and giving them help," Paik said.    

Bill Allen, President of the LAEDC, said the program has the potential to reach 110,000 students in Southern California - the combined enrollment of the three participating universities.

"Many of these students come from our area, and many come from around the world and we want to encourage them to stay and start businesses in L.A. that create good jobs for our region," Allen said.