LaunchNET Pivots for Entrepreneurs During Pandemic

Most entrepreneurial ventures are started in response to seeing a solution where others see only a problem. In response to the pandemic and the inability to hold in-person competitions and other entrepreneurial support activities, LaunchNET Kent State looked for novel yet meaningful ways to support Kent State's student entrepreneurs this semester. These Spring 2021 pivots included a virtual, cohort-based program called Black Women Bosses and a Launch micro-grant program offering $99-$500 for business advancement.

Each Spring, LaunchNET typically holds a pitch competition called the Idea Olympics. Usually, the Idea Olympics competition brings student entrepreneurs from across campus to present their business ideas to judges and compete for cash prizes. With the pandemic and turn to virtual, many of Kent State’s entrepreneurs have had to pivot and adjust their businesses. Additionally, most students do not seem to be interested in extending their virtual day with workshops or competitions. The solution that emerged from this intersection was a new micro-grant opportunity, giving more entrepreneurs the chance for funding for their businesses. The Launch micro-grant program required students to submit an application that included a video pitch as well as information about how the money would move the venture or idea forward. Winners were selected by a panel of judges on the basis of business need, passion/energy, and anticipated use of funds.

“We understand that students don’t want to spend more time in front of the computer after a day full of online classes,” said LaunchNET interim director Zach Mikrut, “but we wanted to still support our clients and their businesses financially through this uncertain time.”

Six student entrepreneurs were awarded amounts between $99-$500:

  • Nicole Bitskay (senior, Human Development and Family Studies)

  • Joey Brandhorst (junior, Biotechnology)

  • Jessica Duraj (freshman, Fashion Merchandising)

  • Niara Johnson (senior, Fashion Merchandising)

  • Conner Montgomery (junior, Computer Science)

  • Micaela Pflug (senior, Entrepreneurship)

The second program pivot was Black Women Bosses (BWB), a cohort-based, 7-week entrepreneurship and leadership program for Black female KSU students to help successfully launch businesses, apply entrepreneurial thinking to career goals, and build a leadership mentality. Black Women Bosses used a skills and mindset-based approach to create community while engaging successful business and community mentors to share insights and support students in developing their launch plans.

Students who participated in LaunchNET’s pilot cohort of the Black Women Bosses program also received micro-grants for their work during the seven-week course. They are:

  • Kaitlyn Mena Ruffin (senior, Psychology)

  • Angelique Wong (junior, Fashion Design)

  • Halle Small (senior, Entrepreneurship)

  • Janae McGhee (junior, Communication Studies)

  • Jordan Bigelow (senior, Fashion Merchandising)

  • StarAndia Johnson (senior, Fashion Design)

“I’m thrilled that we were able to develop the BWB program and run it virtually this semester,” said interim assistant director Tabitha Messmore. “We have to think entrepreneurially ourselves as we find new and improved ways to assist our clients and their needs.”

POSTED: Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 2:30pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, June 8, 2021 - 4:19pm