The Launch Pad at the University of Miami
Statement of Purpose
The Launch Pad at the University of Miami is a co-curricular university-wide entrepreneurship resource and program. It aims to make the practice of entrepreneurship available to all students and alumni in the University and to enable and encourage them to start their ventures in the University’s region.
The Launch Pad defines entrepreneurship as the transformation of an innovation into an enterprise that generates value. Its program is an exercise in experiential capitalism, grounded in the conviction that entrepreneurship is best—and perhaps only—learned by doing it for real.
The Launch Pad treats entrepreneurship not as a profession but as a mainstream career option, a legitimate way to make a living. Its activities are voluntary, pragmatic, and concrete. In a distinctive environment of trust, confidentiality, and respect, The Launch Pad helps students and alumni make their ideas tangible and turn their innovations into ventures. It offers guidance, hard questions, encouragement, and voluntary access to a dedicated group from the local business community.
The Launch Pad’s core business is education. Its primary goal is learning. The Launch Pad is not the SBDC; its staff members are educators, not business consultants. The Launch Pad’s educational purpose is to help students and alumni recognize, determine, and acquire for themselves the skills, attitudes, understandings, advice, and contacts they need to develop their own businesses. Its program is personalized, informative, and fundamentally non-judgmental and non-directive. In a basic sense, if you are simply doing what you’re told—even if you are developing a venture—you are not an entrepreneur.
Three considerations justify this approach:
First is a simple matter of integrity: the ventures belong to the students and alumni, not to the University. The Launch Pad treats the ventures virtually as sacred objects. For students this means that their venture is not a term paper or course assignment awaiting a professor’s critique. In The Launch Pad there are no grades, only genuine ventures. Experiential learning is practical, relevant, and applicable to individual circumstances. It is effective and enduring because it helps learners discover, understand, and decide for themselves what matters and what works in their particular cases. The more we control prospective entrepreneurs, the less of this they learn. If we can educate the entrepreneurs, their companies will take care of themselves.
Second, the economic downturn of the past several years correlates with an upsurge of entrepreneurial programs and protocols: incubators, accelerators, canvasses, varied formulae for producing companies, government programs, etc. As yet, there is no conclusive evidence that any of these is uniquely effective in generating new firms or even more effective than any other of them. It therefore makes empirical, realistic, and educational sense for us to draw on a rich array of resources in order to treat each venture individually and help each student, alumnus, or alumna find his or her authentic entrepreneurial path.
Third, this individuated approach creates an environment of trust in learning. If incipient entrepreneurs feel unsafe, managed, directed, pre-judged, programmed, and controlled, they tend to withdraw rather than take risks. Because entrepreneurship is not yet—and may never be—a clear generalizable, linear activity, an approach that works for one entrepreneur may well not work for another, even if their ventures are in a similar area.
There is one final and fundamental thought. Entrepreneurship is an irreducible form of freedom. When The Launch Pad helps students and alumni to become entrepreneurs, it helps them experience what it means to be free and how to be free.
Some contemporary discourse makes it easy to be cynical about the big ideas that animate higher education. This is a mistake. American college students have spent much, if not most, of their learning lives being pushed, prodded, packaged, and credentialed. In contrast, entrepreneurship manifests unique, individual agency. It exhibits the unique human capacity to see an unmet social or communal need and devise and implement a concrete, novel, and effective way to address it. Our work in The Launch Pad is to inspire, challenge, provoke, nurture, support, and enable—but not to prejudge, manage, manipulate, control, or grade—because the realization of freedom and autonomy is the ultimate meaningful potential of our mission and program.