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- by  Abby Weingarten
This spring, New College of Florida and State College of Florida (SCF) Manatee-Sarasota collaboratively spearheaded the Launch [ ]! Student Entrepreneurship Program—a brand-new initiative designed to create solid career pathways to entrepreneurship for students.

New College students are now learning how to become entrepreneurs—at no cost to them—by participating in the program at the business incubator at SCF’s 26 West Center in Bradenton. “Launchers,” as these students are called, are embarking on a yearlong customized entrepreneurship training program guided by industry experts.

The program is funded by generous New College donors, and four students have been selected for the inaugural 2022 cohort, which runs from February to December.

“New College is the perfect partner for our 26 West Center student incubator because it reflects our values of creating an environment in which innovative thinking thrives, and then putting that mindset into action in all areas—from industry to social entrepreneurship,” said Todd Fritch, Ph.D., the executive vice president and provost at SCF.

Launch [ ]! is open to New College students from any area of concentration or year in college who are interested in starting a business or nonprofit. Students are given designated workspaces in the 26 West Center Business Growth Lab, access to all entrepreneurship resources at the Center, free membership to the SCF Student Entrepreneurship Club, and exclusive mentorship from entrepreneurial professionals.

“Whether students are just starting out or have a solid concept ready for the world, this special program gives them the tools to create a plan that brings their creative solutions to the world’s problems to life,” said Dwayne Peterson, the executive director of career education at New College of Florida, who oversees the College’s Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO). “New College, with its focus on student self-agency, engrains entrepreneurial thinking into all of our students. This creative approach to solving problems is a natural outcome of the New College experience and explains why so many of our graduates become successful entrepreneurs.”

Students in the Launch [ ]! program earn a certificate of completion for attending 10 entrepreneurship training classes (five classes in the spring and five in the fall) at the 26 West Center. This is part of a customized curriculum focused on topics such as developing a business model, finances, raising capital, customer discovery, branding and risk mitigation. Times for the workshops are scheduled around the students’ availability, and transportation is offered to those who need it.

“Business incubators are special programs designed to help an early-stage startup grow. Incubator programs, such as Launch [ ]!, provide workspaces, mentorship, education and access to resources for investors,” Peterson said. “These resources are funded through the generous gifts of New College supporters, which means that operating costs are subsidized, and students can focus on developing and growing their ideas and businesses.”

While Launch [ ]! gives students the resources and support to start a business or nonprofit, career coaches at the CEO help students brainstorm how to integrate their entrepreneurial ventures into their academic goals (through tutorials, senior projects/theses and course selections).

“What’s exciting about Launch [ ]! is that now we are helping students harness their entrepreneurial thinking into viable businesses and connecting them to a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem before they even graduate,” Peterson said. “If you look at trends in the world of work, entrepreneurship and freelancing careers are rising rapidly as a response to a world in constant flux.”

Some researchers project that up to 50 percent of workers may be freelancing or starting their own businesses by the end of the decade—a trend accelerated by the pandemic, Peterson said.

“To ensure our academic program stays relevant and prepares students for the reality that awaits them after they graduate, entrepreneurship education has to be an essential component of our career education program,” Peterson said.

For each Launch []! cohort, a committee selects Launchers based on their commitment to entrepreneurship, which is evident in their responses to three short essay questions in the program application.

Bristen Groves, a second-year theatre student at New College, got involved with Launch []! because “it is the exact opportunity I have been praying for: a means of helping me finally launch my business idea through mentorship and a business community,” she said. “I have plenty of big ideas, so this training program will be perfect to help me clarify my focus and hone what I am creating and selling.”

Her business idea is called Gracefully Creative Co.—a platform for her to encourage and inspire others through the creative arts. It will likely include a blog, a shop where Groves can sell and showcase her graphic design works, and possibly dance videos and/or a podcast.

Michelle Read, a first-year environmental studies student at New College and current Launcher, is interested in using her “passion for environmental sustainability for creating and supporting ethical nonprofits and/or businesses.”

Read aims to start a company that offers healthy, sustainable snacks, such as vegan, organic frozen yogurt.

Camila Blasi, a third-year general studies student at New College, joined Launch [ ]! to “start a food forest that will supply the New College cafeteria with fresh food daily, so that students and the Sarasota community can eat for free or at a low cost,” Blasi said. “It will be like a public garden where people can come and pick out fresh produce.”

And Lauren David, a third-year enviro/urban studies student at New College, wants to build a skincare brand called Saphalata (the Hindi word for “success”). All of her products will be 100 percent organic, cruelty-free, recyclable and handmade, David said.

“As a darker-skinned Black woman, having products that penetrate and renew the skin is a top priority for me in feeling and looking my best,” David said about her beauty company idea. “Our goal is to provide transparent, trustworthy, luxury body care that leaves your skin glowing and heart happy.” 

Groves, Read, Blasi and David all exemplify the entrepreneurial ambition that the Launch []! program aims to nurture.

“Entrepreneurship skills are transferrable,” Fritch said. “Regardless of the outcomes of their businesses, New College students who pursue the Launch []! program will be better prepared to conquer their professional goals.”

The 26 West Center is located at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. For more information, call 941-752-5160 or visit 26west.scf.edu.

New College students who are interested in the Launch []! program should contact the CEO at 941-487-5002 or ceo@ncf.edu.

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.