Who are you?
I’m Laurie Stach, Founder and Executive Director of Launch (Launch Summer andLaunch Weekends). I have degrees from MIT and Harvard Business School, and worked for GE Energy, BMW Designworks, and Boston Consulting Group. I have a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, dating back to elementary school, and wish that there had been a program like Launch when I was in school!
How did you come up with the idea behind the Launch Program?
Launch was born from the idea that high school students have enormous untapped potential and that the current education system isn’t preparing students well enough for the real world. We’re teaching students that there’s one right answer to a question that will be given to them in life, when that’s not the way things really work. Coming up with the question is as important as the answer – you need to be resourceful, adaptable, and innovative – and what better way to learn these skills than through starting a real company. Hence, the Launch Program was born.
Do you really believe that young students can create sustainable businesses? Don’t you think it’s too early?
High school students are at an ideal age where they have gained some foundational knowledge and experience, yet still have enough creativity, passion, ambition, and inspiration to have the confidence to push through obstacles. They’ve been raised with the latest technological advances and have the tenacity to dream outside the realm of current possibilities, which tend to be roadblocks of older generations. All they need is the training and resources to learn how to execute well and they can not only create sustainable businesses, but real economic impact.
Even though I am still on the side of those who say that entrepreneurship can’t be taught, I am wondering if we could actually try to raise awareness in high schools. Do you think we should start teaching a form of business/entrepreneurship class in schools?
Yes, I think that entrepreneurship should be taught in all schools. This form of class teaches critical thinking, adaptability, resourcefulness, teamwork, and many of the other practical skills necessary to be effective professionally and personally in the real world. What’s more, students from our program called it self-fulfilling and empowering, and said it helped them realize their true passions in life. This type of impact is very relevant past school regardless of the professional path chosen.
I really believe entrepreneurs are born, but I am interested to know what you think since you have been in touch with several different people at any stage in their lives. What’s your idea about it?
There’s not one single type of entrepreneur, so I don’t believe there’s one formula for how an entrepreneur comes to be. There are people who know from an early age that they want to be an entrepreneur and there are people who come into it later in life. I don’t think it’s hardwired into who we are as a person, but that it takes different experiences or opportunities for certain people to awaken to their entrepreneurial spirit.
Do you run technical interviews or is it just a way to get to know the applicant?
No, we do not use technical interviews. Interviews are a means to better get to know the applicant.
What’s the best success story of the last year?
It’s hard to choose a favorite, so I’ll defer to the top three as selected by our panel of judges:
- Amadisuncare – all natural suncare products with a reinvestment of profits toward albinism in Nigeria
- Anymealapp – app for people with dietary restrictions to find tailored restaurant and menu information
- Unbounded Travel – travel program for families affected by autism
Judged top overall:
Amadi Suncare (Leah Rothfeld, Ikya Kandula, Jyothi Vallurupalli)
“With albinism prominent in Nigeria, the lack of adequate and advanced sun protection leaves people out of the workforce and increases risk of skin cancer and premature death. Amadi Suncare builds its brand around solving this problem. At Amadi Suncare, we believe in stimulating growth through sustainability. Through our line of all-natural suncare products, we hope to target the needs of the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) market in the United States. We will reinvest a portion of our profits to create a constant stream of sunscreen for the growing population of people with albinism in Nigeria so that they can ultimately lead more productive, healthier, and longer lives.”
As of the final pitches, the Amadi team had done a great job of targeting their potential market, proving demand and interest in the awareness campaign they wish to promote, and were well on their way to developing the operational capabilities, providing samples of their all-natural sunscreen. Their website is now equipped with a line of products ready for purchase – www.amadisuncare.com
AnyMeal App (Michael Matias, Drew Bent, Nadine Shalaan)
“Food sensitivity is a growing concern and decision criterion for people who choose to eat out. AnyMeal creates greater value and confidence in the restaurant experience by providing accurate and in-context dietary data about specific dishes for anyone who wants—or needs—to make food sensitive choices. AnyMeal is a lifestyle necessity for anyone with any diet, anywhere. Our iPhone application currently showcases 50 Cambridge restaurants and their respective menus, including gluten-free and vegan metadata for the dishes. In the next months, we will roll out in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and then New York. We are inspired by family members with food sensitivities to provide credible and accessible information, so that they and everyone can ultimately lead a better, healthier life.”
In just the four weeks of the program, the AnyMeal team had assessed the growing need for dietary restrictions on both sides of their market, partnered with a large number of restaurants in the area, and developed a system of acquiring restaurants by email with a 40% success rate. They now plan to collaborate with nutritionists, allergists, and travel agencies in order to distribute and raise awareness for the app and will be releasing it to the public early 2014. www.anymealapp.com
Unbounded Travel (Samantha Burns, Ben Latz, Rohan Sinha)
“Unbounded is a travel program designed to provide services to families affected by autism. In the United States, 1 out of every 88 children is diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The characteristics of autism – sensory demands, transition difficulties, and communication challenges – often intimidate families from bringing their children into the community. Unbounded offers vacations for families affected by autism by partnering with hotels, providing staff for behavioral support, and designing positive leisure experiences through recreational therapy. We are on a journey to revolutionize the way individuals with autism and their families experience the world, and would love you to join us.”
The Unbounded team not only has a great story and passion for their cause that inspires those who hear their mission, but the start to a great execution on their vision. During the program, they initiated a partnership with Intercontinental Hotels to host their pilot retreat. www.unboundedtravel.com
What do you think of the Thiel Fellowship that aims at encouraging young people not to get a degree, but to create businesses?
I would still encourage high school students to get a college education regardless of their chosen path after school, be it entrepreneurship or otherwise. I think many higher education institutions could be doing a better job of supporting entrepreneurs during their undergraduate education, though. MIT is one of the best at doing this, and aspires to continue to evolve its programming to be able to nurture a supportive culture and atmosphere for entrepreneurs, which is why it was an ideal choice for our summer program location.
How stimulating is MIT for high school students who come from twenty different countries and why did you choose this location? I would have expected a program like Launch in San Francisco. : )
Our 2013 program participants hailed from 20 states and 4 countries, and found MIT to be a stimulating and immersive entrepreneurial experience. They had access to high caliber professors from MIT and Harvard Business School, got to tour the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship and Harvard Innovation Lab, and networked with a number of entrepreneurs and investors in the area and nationwide. The MIT campus really exudes its motto, “mens et manus,” or “mind and hand,” which is to say that they encourage learning by doing. This is the same educational philosophy as Launch, which made MIT an ideal location for our entrepreneurship program.
How would you define an entrepreneur?
My favorite definition of an entrepreneur is someone who pursues an opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. The pursuit encompasses the need for passion, ambition, action-orientation, focus, and resiliency. An opportunity assumes creativity, innovation, and being able to address customer needs. Finally, an entrepreneur is able to mitigate risks and obtain resources that are lacking at the outset of the journey, be they financial, human, or intellectual. It’s so simple, and yet sums it up so well – an entrepreneur pursues an opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled!