By: Alyssa Schoeneman
The University of Illinois Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership sure knows how to get down to business – and, more importantly, how to have fun doing it.
On June 22, representatives from Illinois Launch startups met with Launch Mentors and potential investors at the Academy’s Illinois Launch Speed-dating and Networking event. Though the event’s tone was serious, it was clear from participants’ smiling faces and upbeat conversations that they were having a good time.
The day began at 11 a.m. with pitches from Launch start-ups and continued with a two-hour “speed-dating” mentoring session. Launch startups made their ways to 12 different mentoring stations in a span of two hours, meeting with Mentors from a variety of professions. Lawyers such as University of Illinois College of Business alumnus Todd Labinsky offered legal advice to startups during this session, while University of Illinois alumnus and venture capitalist Steve Miller provided industry insight.
“As a mentor for these teams, I am acting as a resource – as someone who has been through these experiences and who has practical knowledge to lend to the students. This gives them the benefit of the experience without having it create it on their own,” Labinsky explained.
Mentoring sessions also show students that the U of I alumni are a strong support group for them, “and that brings the Illini nation together,” Labinsky added.
University of Illinois College of Law Alumna and fellow Illinois Launch Mentor Janet Powaga said that she loves working with Illinois Launch startups.
“It has been immensely rewarding to help entrepreneurs launch their ideas into real businesses,” Powaga said.
Illini Prosthetics Team (IPT) President Jonathan Naber said that the Mentoring session was “a fabulous opportunity to connect with insightful people of business, attorneys, and entrepreneurs who truly care about helping Illinois start-up organizations.” Aptello team member Greg Wilson agreed.
“When talking to every person available at the Mentoring session, I could tell that each individual was genuinely happy and interested to hear about our idea, team and company vision,” Wilson said.
When the Launch startups had had their fill of sage counsel, Co-founder and Managing Partner of the I2A Fund Kapil Chaudhary formally addressed the June 22 event participants. Speaking about his personal successes and failures in entrepreneurship and about his excitement for the Illinois Launch program, Chaudhary kept his audience actively engaged.
“We’ve always felt that the U of I is a goldmine for the state – in terms of extremely bright students, faculty and resources,” Chaudhary said. “There is so much enthusiasm and support in the community around Illinois Launch – it is really bringing the business community and the University community together.”
Chaudhary is not a new face in the Illinois entrepreneurship community; in addition to his participation in in prior Chicago Launch events, Chaudhary recently co-hosted a networking event for entrepreneurs and Launch teams in Chicago with Launch co-founder Al Goldstein.
And that was how the June 22nd event ended, too; Illinois Launch startups, Mentors and potential investors networked over hors d’oeuvres during the evening’s final hours.
“We find that these teams can make a lot of progress in these one-day bootcamps – just from engaging with people, getting feedback and seeing what other teams are doing,” said Academy Director John Clarke. “We established a lot of new connections...overall the day was a great success.”