Insights: Don’t be afraid to pivot because a change in direction can be the key to creation

The value of pivoting

At a fork in the road on your entrepreneurial journey? Don’t be afraid to pivot and take a new path.

Part of the thrill and appeal of entrepreneurship lies in the ability to turn your vision into reality.  Through tireless work and persistent commitment, you get to take your personal dream and work to create something tangible and material out of it. Your actions create something that people utilize and value to make something about their lives better. It is the heart of it that is transforming your personal idea into a product and reality larger than yourself; something for society.

Yet one of the most common pitfalls of entrepreneurship is falling in love with your own idea.  Passion and determination are keys to creating success, and nothing inspires those key traits so well as pursuing your unique vision and chasing your dreams.  However, successful businesses are not defined by realization of personal visions but market profitability and scalable growth.

One of the most essential qualities of entrepreneurship is the ability to accurately read and respond to market demands. There is no sustainable business without a product that people actually want to buy. Every fledging entrepreneur knows that market research and customer discovery is one of the first steps in the process to building a successful business. Creating a product that investors will support because market research proves a gap and a need in the market is a well-understood essential aspect to getting your business off the ground.

However, the less-understood quality within entrepreneurship is the ability to pivot and adapt quickly to changing market needs. While the most in-depth customer discovery may confirm the viability of your product at the ideation stage, markets may shift, and consumer needs may change rapidly. The ability to accurately understand and respond to those shifts is key to creating a company that can sufficiently weather the inevitable adversity and unpredictability that defines the process of building companies.

The need for flexibility within entrepreneurship has become wildly apparent this past year with the global pandemic that rapidly forced intense change upon businesses in every sector. Small locally owned restaurants that depended on their neighborhood business suddenly had to switch to models of online delivery and takeout. Entertainment industries had to change their entire product from live performances and experiences to virtual or socially distanced events. While larger companies had the funds to absorb shocks from loss of sale, smaller businesses or startups who did not adjust rapidly enough simply ceased to exist.

One of our most successful startups here at the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at Syracuse University  is the perfect case study of responding to changing market needs and quickly pivoting. Matt Shumer, a junior studying Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, spent his first two years at Syracuse working on Visos, a company aimed at selling virtual reality devices for use in the medical industry.   

His venture was growing, and he was close to closing several key investments.  However, as COVID-19 hit, VR wasn’t top of mine for healthcare professionals.  The field of medicine and healthcare became solely focused on epidemiology and PPP. Though he had spent two years sacrificing his time to and pouring his talent into medical VR, Shumer quickly realized that market timing wasn’t aligned in a pandemic climate. 

He hit pause and pivot, built a team focused on a new vision with co-founders Miles Feldstein and Jason Kuperberg, and created a different company, OthersideAI, that today has millions in investment.

Pivoting is no easy task. To walk away from a project, idea, or company that you may have spent years working on and pouring your energy into may carry feelings of loss or wasted time. We create things because we care about them, and then are forced to walk away from the things we care about. But as entrepreneurship is the vision of creating a better world, the ability to pivot is the ability to give society what it needs and pinpoint how your talent can benefit others.

And as Matt’s story proves, good timing, good insight, and a good pivot can lead to even bigger and better outcomes.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow

Insights: Here’s how to take your idea on an adventure this semester

launch your startup

At the beginning of each semester, we love meeting students who have new ideas and want help getting started.  “Where do I begin?” is a common question.  There is no straight path to launching a startup.  It is a process of discovery along the way, which makes it both fun and challenging. For those who take the journey, it’s like no other adventure.  Like any road trip, you need a good map.  We’ve created one just for you. It’s called “The 30 Steps to Success” and here’s your ticket to ride.

Planning for the trip:

Just like any road trip, read up and do some research on where you’re going.  It helps give you the lay of the landscape, prepares you for what to look out for, where to find help and how to get information along the way.  Think of this first part as stopping at the visitor’s center.  Talk to some helpful local guides to get you started.  Bookmark some resources so you’ll have them handy as you journey through uncharted territory. 

Take these simple steps to get you ready for the trip:

  • Join the LaunchPad.
  • Request a peer mentor to work with you.
  • Get set up on our Discord platform.
  • Stay up to date on opportunities @LaunchPadSYR by following these links:
  • Look over our website.
  • Check out our LaunchPad Toolkit, which can help you bring your idea to life.  You’ll find easy to use worksheets and checklists to guide you on your journey from concept to market, and great tools to help you pitch and raise funds for your idea.
  • Check out the Techstars Toolkit, an online educational resource with the fundamentals of entrepreneurship to accelerate success.
  • Bookmark your calendar to hear great speakers and participate in events where you can win money for your idea!  Our events calendar is here.
  • Make an appointment with the LaunchPad team to get you ready for the journey.

Get started on the trip:

  • See the problem.  Is this really a problem that needs to be solved? Is this a problem worth solving?  Who else besides you cares? Have you jumped to creating a solution without really understanding the problem?
  • Find solutions.  Does your solution make sense?  Be brutally honest. Have you tested all the assumptions behind the solution you are contemplating? Do you really know there is a market for this?  Do you know that customers be willing to pay for it? Could you make enough money with this idea to pay yourself and others a salary?
  • Do customer discovery and research.  Talk to as many people as you can who represent your target audience.  It’s important that your research is not simply friends who will happily validate your idea.  Talk to people you don’t know.  Conduct surveys.  Get on affinity groups and post questions.  Reach out to people beyond your personal networks.  Visit the SU Library entrepreneurship research librarian to dig into industry trends and market size.  Understand the competitive landscape and who else is solving this problem.  This research is critical to validating your idea and helping you understand your value proposition.
  • Create a business model canvas.  Start work on your business model canvas. Use a whiteboard, or some worksheets to sketch out your business.  Start building a volunteer team of people who share your passion to brainstorm with you.  Ask a LaunchPad peer mentor to help you with this part.  Techstars has a great learning module on the lean canvas and there are plenty of other free on-line tools such as Business Models, Inc. and more. Here is a downloadable version from Canvanizer that can help you scope out:
    • Key partners
    • Key activities
    • Value proposition
    • Customer relationships
    • Customer segments
    • Key resources
    • Distribution channel
    • Cost structure
    • Revenue streams
  • Develop an executive summary.  Write a one-page description of your business idea.  This will help you to think about the details of your business. You’ll need this to apply to business plan competitions and to share as you recruit team members, mentors and subject matter experts. Here is a link to the LaunchPad’s Executive Summary template which we think is a handy way to organize your idea.
  • Name your idea and start building your brand.  Create a name for your idea.  Conduct a trademark search, and a domain, website and URL search to be sure they are available.  You don’t want to establish a brand, only to find out that it has been taken, or that it will be costly or impossible to buy back the domain name or URL.  Develop a simple logo (check our LaunchPad free resources page to look for logo generator tools you can use).  Start building your brand identity by setting up social media accounts.  It’s never too early to start building a following for your idea and establishing yourself as a thought leader.  Early traction will help you attract team members and will be invaluable for early investors in your idea.
  • Protect your name.  Consider registering a “Doing Business As” DBA Name after you have done a corporate name search.  It signals your intent to build a business, and is simple and inexpensive.  You can do this before you legally incorporate.  It can help make your idea real. 
  • Start building a team.  Find people who share your passion and who will be willing to devote volunteer time to what you are building.  Think about the skills sets you need to complement your own expertise.  Early team members will come on board because they recognize the intrinsic value of building together.  They will not come in requesting equity or C-suite titles.  They will join because they want to be on this journey with you.  They will be your most loyal assets.  Agree on goals. Discuss roles.  What skills will they contribute?  How can they help you build something to test?  As you work together over time, the team synergy will start to become apparent.  At that point, you can start thinking about formal roles and potential compensation as you begin to monetize and raise funds.  Don’t give away equity or key titles too early.  These are common mistakes by young startups, and they become very costly to untangle down the road.
  • Build an advisory group. This is not a legal board, but people with the subject matter expertise, industry skill sets, and experience you need to create your venture.  Invite them to become advisors and mentors.  Use them wisely.  They will become more important to you than you can imagine.
  • Get professional help. Build your BAIL team (Banker, Accountant, Insurance, and Legal professional service providers).  While you are student, take advantage of pro bono attorneys and CPAs who are willing to advise student startups.
  • Consider if idea needs protection. Do you need a patent to protect your intellectual property? Do you need to copyright your work, or trademark your brand name, logo symbol, and tagline?  Should you protect confidential information through a trade secret?  Start by doing a patent search of what is out there to be sure you are not infringing on another business to ensure that your solution is unique.  Make an appointment with the Innovation Law Center at SU, which hosts regular office hours at the LaunchPad by sending an e-mail to
  • Start building.  Ideas are just ideas until you execute on them.  While you are working through the steps above, your team should get to work building something to start testing.  Your goal is an iterative build process, based on UX design principles.  Whether it is a product, service or technology, there are basically five stages you will need to work through:
    • Proof of concept (POC):  These can be as simple as design sketches, wire frames, flow charts, or simple visual renderings.  Just get started and start testing it with people.
    • Minimally Viable Product (MVP):  Build out one piece of it that actually works.  It doesn’t need to be complete or perfect, and you can even represent some aspect of its functionality without fully building it out.  It’s essentially a working prototype that you can try out and test.  It will quickly help you discover what users think and how they use it.  And it will help you figure out how to design a more robust version in the most efficient way.
    • Alpha release:  This is an advanced variation on your MVP, but fully testable.  This is not a public release.  Share it with test users who will give you honest and frank feedback.  It will help define your beta release.  You want to work all the road bumps out before a public release.
    • Beta release:  This is a more advanced version of your alpha release.  It is a semi-public, usually by invite only or by early signups of enthusiasts who want to part of a first user group.  It’s the final step to finalize your launch-ready app where you will lock down your product features and stop iterating. The product should be stable by now and working as promised.
    • Launch ready release:  This is what you have been working toward.  It’s time for the full public rollout.
  • Pitch at business plan competitions. You are going to need funding to get through the five steps of product development.  Start pitching your idea at the POC and MVP stage to raise early non-dilutive funding.  Work with the LaunchPad to learn how to identify your real value proposition, and how to craft a compelling pitch.  There is an art and science to this.  Practice it.  Then, start pitching.  Iterate with feedback.  Follow the LaunchPad to learn about campus, regional, state, national and global competitions.  Pitch at every chance you get.
  • Incorporate a business and raise funds.  As you get to the alpha, beta and launch phase, you will need to start raising external capital and perhaps even close some first sales.  At this point, you need to form a legal entity.  It’s important to determine what kind is right for you because that is a strategy decision about how you will fund your idea, how your will raise funds, and what your ownership and governance structure will be like.  Will you be a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, LLC, LLP, C-Corp, or S-Corp. B-Corp or Nonprofit? It is essential to engage a paid attorney and accountant because all of these decisions also have tax implications.  Do not make this decision yourself.  Most importantly, do not engage in DIY legal by downloading boilerplate templates and filing online.  Work with professionals.  This is worth repeating.  Do not do this yourself.  Hire a professional because it is essential that you are set up properly.
  • Create company documents.  This is getting real now. Get professional help from an attorney to draft internal documents for the business. These include by-laws, founders agreements, operating agreements, policies, confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements, and perhaps even do not compete agreements.  Now you are protecting the business over team members who will eventually come and go (because that is the nature of life and business.)  When you start publicly pitching your idea, be judicious about how you disclose.  If you are contracting out work, consider mutual NDA agreements if needed.  Be aware that many people you speak with may not be willing to sign an NDA. Before you have your idea protected, use common sense and caution about what you share, and with whom, and in what context.  Talk about “what” you are doing, but the not the details or “secret sauce” of “how” are doing it.  If team members are building it, be sure that the business owns the work, not the individual and that the business has access to all code that is created.  You want to avoid the situation of “people” owning and controlling the assets that have been created.  Those assets belong to the “company” now.  Be sure the company has possession of them.
  • Get your financial house in order.  Open a business banking bank account and obtain an EIN. You will need an EIN for payments and tax filings. It will also be required for opening business checking accounts and establishing accounts with vendors.  Consult with an accountant to do this correctly, and how to set up bookkeeping, accounting, and mandatory tax reporting.
  • Prepare for taxes.  Be thinking ahead about tax obligations to avoid surprises down the road.  Register for state and local taxes and get a TIN (tax identification number). Know when you need to buy workers compensation, unemployment and disability insurance, and when you need to buy a general business/commercial liability policy.  Plan ahead for what you will owe in taxes, and know when they are due so you avoid penalties.  Consult with an accountant, insurance broker, and HR subject matter expert.
  • Set up good bookkeeping.  Establish proper accounting procedures. Learn what GAAP is. Get a business credit card.  Hire someone to set up bookkeeping, payroll, and other back-end office functions.  Many accounting firms will do this for startups.  Consider a fractional CFO relationship with a professional bookkeeping or accounting firm.  The LaunchPad can help connect you to professional resources or find an accountant in the community where you will be doing business.  At this point, having an accountant to guide you on the journey is essential.
  • Know the rules of the road.  If you are operating in a regulatory environment, understand potential business licensing and permit requirements.  If you are in a highly regulated health or safety sector, understand what is required for FDA compliance, independent third-party testing and certification (UL or ETL, etc.) or other consumer product safety regulations.  If you are developing software, understand privacy and cyber-security requirements.  Hire a consultant, if needed, to help you navigate these complex landscapes.
  • Figure out your startup capital needs.  Focus on what you will need to fully build and launch.  Then plan ahead for your “burn rate.”  Understand when you will expect to hit sales, at what you will break even, and what your cash “burn” rate looks like so you stay solvent.  Create a funding roadmap, with sources and uses – all tied to key product development and sales milestones.  Review this frequently.
  • Know your cost structure.  Start with the expense side of the ledger.  Get real price quotes.  Don’t guess. Build a trusted supply chain and work with reputable partners.  Plan on the side of error.  It will always cost more than you think, especially if you are building a product.  Hardware is hard.  Software has more bugs than you think. Plan for it. 
  • Get ready to sell.  Think hard about every way you can make revenue at this venture.  Explore multi-sales and distribution channels.  Think about the marketing and sales team you are developing to launch.  Create a carefully crafted marketing plan.  Social media is not a strategy.  It is just a tool.  Developing your brand is not the same as developing your business.  Understand the difference.  While you step up your brand identity, create a robust website along with your social media presence.   Develop business collateral and sales materials.  Write blog posts.  Establish yourself as a presence in the space you are looking to enter.  As you build interest that will lead to customer demand, be sure you are integrating best sales practices into what you are doing.  Bring on a SEO and SEM expert.  Be absolutely serious about a marketing strategy to drive sales or you will have done all this work and taken such a long journey only to come to a stop in the road.
  • Develop and secure your IT platform.  As you are getting ready to sell, particularly if you are selling directly online to consumers, investigate the best platforms to utilize to assure efficiency, reliability and security.  Think about how you will handle logistics and customer service.  Review best options:  build it yourself or work with a third-party vendor who can handle transactions for you.  Assess the pros and cons and costs of both approaches.
  • Understand how you customers make purchase decisions.  If you are selling wholesale or retail, learn who makes decisions and what factors into those decisions.  What are margins for each channel?   If you are selling through a dealer or distributor, understand how that pricing structure typically works in your industry.
  • Develop a detailed sales and business development plan.  Social media is not a sales plan.  You need a solid business development plan that involves building prospect lists, sales calls, engagement and customer relationship management.  You and “what army” will bring this to market?  Where?  How?  Through what channels?  Identify a few first beta users, and get your first MVP out.  Iterate from customer feedback.  But start building an experienced and motivated sales team now.  Explore CRM models.  Learn all you can about effective sales strategy.
  • Attract investors.  Now that you have first key customers, get serious about attracting equity investors to help you launch and scale.  Understand what you need to be considered “investment ready.”  Read the LaunchPad’s toolkit to understand what goes into an “Investment Ready Checklist.”  Start working on it and checking off the boxes for your venture.
  • While you raise money, keep chasing sales.  Sales are always the most capital efficient way to grow.  Build a wait list to demonstrate market interest.  Then close sales and scale.  Be ready to grow your team and add capacity if your idea blows up, and there is consumer demand.  Focus on sales as much, or even more than chasing venture capital.  Understand that investors are keenly focused customer acquisition and traction in the market.  It drives investment decisions.
  • Be ready to pivot.  Be ready to re-trench and re-think when you discover something isn’t working.  It’s a journey.  You will take detours and wrong turns.  Sometimes you’ll need to take a short rest stop.  You will hit road bumps.  You’ll drive blind into a blizzard.  It’s okay.  Keep your hands on the wheel, and keep focused on the road ahead.
  • Keep at it.  In the end, entrepreneurship is about the hustle, bootstrapping, resilience and grit – as much as the vision and passion.  If you have the drive and determination, you’ll reach your destination. If it turns out to be a different place than what you originally imagined, that’s okay too. The best entrepreneurs know that taking detours, and making changes along the way are part of the road. It’s about getting there in the end, and what you discover along the way. And the trip will be so worth it, especially if you keeping learning and remember to have fun on the journey. 

Insights: How to Start a Startup

how to start a startup

Entrepreneurship is a community endeavor. Though it may be sparked by an individual idea or sparkling vision, the effort required to build a company from scratch into a sustainable, marketable reality requires teams, mentors, investors, and support systems to propel an idea from a mere dream into an impactful presence in the market.

For Syracuse innovators, the university ecosystem offers a wealth of knowledge, guidance, and support to help you build your business from scratch. From mentors to business competitions to networking events to enriching communities, SU has it all to help your entrepreneurial dreams flourish and transform visions into reality.

Getting Started

Connect with the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at Bird Library. The LaunchPad is the perfect spot to take your brilliant idea if you’re still unsure as to how to shape it towards developing a business. Request a mentor on our website through our form to be matched with one of our Rubin Family Innovation Mentors, who are skilled in successfully launching business and a variety of skill sets including technology, coding, marketing, user interface, and sustainable growth.  Our mentors can help with everything from building a framework for an initial idea to finding further funding for an already successful business model.

We also have a group of Entrepreneurs in Residence, highly skilled alumni and faculty entrepreneurs who have successfully founded companies and know what it takes to build a company into a marketable vision.

The LaunchPad has so much to offer – technical workshops where you can learn hard skills like building websites or connecting with investors, fireside chats with many of our alumni who have gone on to forge their path through their own companies and offer wise advice to young entrepreneurs, and other networking events to connect with a community of like-minded driven individuals. Become a member today and become immersed in a world of ideas and visionaries.

Shape Your Idea

The LaunchPad invites you to use our wide array of available resources to shape your idea, go through market discovery, and create a product desirable to and effective for users. Read our Guide to Getting Started to create your steps to market and work through our Toolkit for a hands-on resource and step-by-step list to help you shape your market plan. Visit our Resource page to learn about all we have to offer from presentation templates to free eBooks to software subscription services to help you thrive. 

Join the E-Club

Syracuse’s Entrepreneurship Club is the perfect community to join if you’re looking for a stimulating environment full of like-minded individuals driven to create businesses just as you. The Entrepreneurship Club meets weekly and hosts successful young entrepreneurs as speakers, practices for pitch competitions, and workshops for refining practical skills needed to start your own business.

Take entrepreneurship classes

Take classes in the EEE program in The Martin J. Whitman School of Management, explore other offerings in the iSchool’s IDS program, and supplement your academic offerings with classes in digital media and branding at Newhouse, as well as design thinking, graphic design, industrial design and UX skills at VPA’s School of Design.  Teach yourself to code with some classes in the College of Engineering and Computer Science or the iSchool.  Build out as many skills sets as possible across disciplines, because you’ll need that interdisciplinary thinking to create a great venture and build a robust team.  Syracuse University’s innovation and entrepreneurship academic offerings are some of the best in the country.  Take advantage of them.

Apply for an entrepreneurial internship

The Martin J. Whitman School of Management offers entrepreneurial and problem-solving students to apply to be a part of their experiential learning program as a student consultant intern. These intern head various projects that build skills crucial for entrepreneurship and inspire initiative and visionary goal setting as a corporate skill.

Handshake is the perfect space to find internships tailored to networks specific to Syracuse University and your own majors and field. A simple selection of the university that you attend and your school email creates an account for you that is designed to find internships and jobs unique to your skill sets and preferences. The best part? Employers and jobs that show up on your feed and searches are specifically looking for Syracuse students and can’t wait to hire you.

Techstars, a global platform supporting startups and investment into innovation, maintains a global network listing full-time employment opportunities and internships with startups and developing companies. You can set up a profile with them or connect your profile with LinkedIn to begin searching and applying for stimulating jobs in inventive and creative work environments,  

Learn about other resources on campus

Innovation Law Center — The Innovation Law Center, part of the Syracuse University College of Law focuses on training individuals to understand the laws, regulations, and patents associated with starting a business or designing a new product. The LaunchPad partners with the Innovation Law Center to help our student innovators patent their work.

Invent@SU – Invent@SU is a six-week summer program where students ideate, design, and, and work in teams to create a technological product just over a few weeks. With access to stipends and equipment such as 3D printers, machinery, and laser cutters, students have the opportunity to not simply dream and pitch their visions to others but actually put in the practical manual labor to realize their visions.

Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship—The Newhouse School boasts the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, a hub for innovation forecasting trends within the media industry and creating student interest in the state of the world around them and creating positive presences within media. With classes, programs, and internships centered around entrepreneurship within media, the Center helps shapes future media voices and influencers.  

Syracuse Center of Excellence – The Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) focuses on fostering innovations that will help build a sustainable future through environmental and energy systems.  Located in downtown Syracuse, the Center works with more than 200 companies to create a cleaner future. Students can become involved through research and projects with partner companies.  The Syracuse CoE also offers and Innovation funding award program.

SU MakerSpace — The MakerSpace at Syracuse is a materials lab cultivated to help students harness their creative visions through physical crafts and handiwork. From 3D Printers to soldering irons to embroidery machines, a vast array and assortment of machinery and equipment is available for any creative projects and personal use.  It is located in the lower level of Kimmel Hall.

Connect with community-based ecosystem partners:

WISE Women’s Business Center — Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship is a business center in Syracuse dedicated to supporting women in their drive towards business success. The center offers mentoring, coaching, and training in addition to their events for the purpose of networking and building connections.

South Side Innovation Center — The South Side Innovation Center is an entrepreneurial startup incubator in Syracuse’s south side of the city. Designed to connect prospective business owners with communities and inspire social impact, the incubator is run by the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and offers mentoring, assistance with business building, and access to vital startup resources.

The Tech Garden — The Tech Garden is an entrepreneurial center located in downtown Syracuse which provides resources, programs, funding, mentorship, and networks designed to help entrepreneurs launch their platforms and develop their visions. Just last year Governor Cuomo announced additional funding for the Tech Garden to expand its facilities to help Build the city of Syracuse into a New York innovation center.

Central New York Biotech Accelerator – The CNYBAC is owned and operated by SUNY Upstate Medical University, the region’s only academic medical center.  CNYBAC ventures gain access to Upstate clinical and basic science experts and state-of-the-art CORE Research Facilities and equipment with technical assistance.  CNYBAC also offers virtual client tenancy to provide access to expert partnerships, Creation Garage with 3D printing, a phenomenal and vibrant innovation ecosystem, conference room access for meetings, and attend events.  In addition, it offers a large number of workshops, training programs and an annual Medical Device Innovation Challenge.

Find funding for your idea

Business Competitions — Business plan competitions are the perfect way to gather initial funding to get your startup off the ground. Visit the LaunchPad website to learn about and apply to our competitions hosted every spring and fall with more than $125,000 up for grabs annually. In addition to many campus competitions hosted by the LaunchPad including ‘Cuse Tank, the Impact Prize, the Hult Prize, the ACC InVenture Prize, the Hunter Brooks Watson Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards, Compete CNY and the RvD iPrize (sponsored by the iSchool), be sure to also check The Panasci Business Plan Competition and The Orange Tank Pitch Competition, both hosted annually by the Whitman School of Management.  In addition, the LaunchPad helps prepare students for competitive funding opportunities such as LaunchPad Techstars Fellowships and national competitions such as Startup Grind and the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards.

Dorm Room Fund — Dorm Room Fund is a student-run seed investor focusing on student startups.  Teams can apply to pitch for $20,000 in funding and entrance to a community of mentors from companies like Venmo and Buzzfeed.  They can also become part of a network with other startups working towards the same visions and pursuing their own lofty dreams.  Work with the Syracuse LaunchPad to meet Dorm Room Fund representatives and get your company ready for funding.

Techstars Accelerator — For startups which have considerable traction, applying to one of Techstars’ three-month accelerators could be the stepping stone to turn your startup into a successful company. Held all over the world, the accelerators plunge your team into a world of high-level mentoring, funding, and a supported path towards future sustained growth and prodigious success. Applications to the various locations open around six times a year and applications are reviewed for eight weeks from the closing date.  Learn more about what it takes to become a Techstars portfolio company from the LaunchPad.

Starting a startup is no easy task, but the wealth of resources Syracuse University has to offer provides essential support to make the road slightly less grueling. From entrepreneurial communities to funding competitions and hands-on opportunities, Syracuse strives to make our campus community one where ideas not only flourish but are encouraged to fruition.

By Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow

Insights: What do entrepreneurs have in common?

what do entrepreneurs have in common?
The author, Sasha Temerte ’23

Do you ever wonder what drives an entrepreneur to go against the grain? To stray from the easy, predetermined path laid out for us all?

After interviewing dozens of entrepreneurs, I noticed that certain patterns began to emerge. Perhaps entrepreneurial spirits are cut from a similar cloth. Call it a multipatterned and diverse cloth, if you will, but one cloth nonetheless.

It seems that in the making of an entrepreneur, there is one trait that rises above all else: passion.

What drives someone to leave behind the safety net of a salaried job? Passion.

What drives someone to work tirelessly every waking hour that they’re free? Passion.

What drives someone to take leave for a semester or graduate without a job lined up because they believe in their idea? Passion.

Of course, with this passion comes an idea that the entrepreneur must be passionate about. There appears to be two categories in which most entrepreneurs fall:

1. The creative freelancers

2. The innovative business ventures 

Whether someone owns a freelance marketing business, creates and sells art, or is working on the next big novel tech venture to pitch to angel investors, there is an element of creativity involved. After all, it is creativity and innovation that are at the heart of non-conventional careers.

This brings us to the following question: Well, where do these ideas come from?

Typically, a backstory or a set of values.

Take, for instance a freelance photographer. Their vision may be inspired by a unique outlook or original style that the photography sphere lacks. Perhaps they aim to tell the stories of those who lack a voice through photos because maybe they, too, once lacked that same voice until stumbling upon photography.

Or take, for instance, the founder of an environmental sustainability company. Perhaps they spent a lifetime experiencing the disastrous impacts of pollution in their community, and now they abide by a mission to revolutionize the environmental field, so that no one else has to experience what they did.

It is stories and values that underlie human nature, that drive decision making, that inspire action. This is no different for an entrepreneur.

Now, a common belief is that entrepreneurs are major risk-takers. And they are! Well, to an extent. It is true that many entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk than the average person. But for some—those who are balancing entrepreneurship as a side hustle they hope to grow rather than diving all in—entrepreneurship is a long-term game for freedom, rather than a risk.

Typically, this risk tolerance or consistent side pursuit stems from a single plaguing desire: to escape the 9-5. Beyond passion, a deeply rooted aversion to the entrapments of a 9-5 (the fear of losing flexibility, the love for independence, the yearning to travel or set the rules as boss) hold much greater weight than any potential risk involved.  

To summarize, the following is the formula for a successful entrepreneur:

  1. Passion
  2. Creativity or an innovative idea
  3. A storyline or set of values that drives the entrepreneurial business
  4. Risk tolerance or an aversion to a 9-5 job

Do these traits resonate with you? Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

We bet you do.

Contact Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars for help developing your idea into a business or check out our competitions to secure funding.

Story by Sasha Temerte ’23, LaunchPad Orange Ambassador

Insights: How to build a successful digital brand

Building a digital brand

In 2020, an estimated 3.6 billion people were using social media, and that number is only projected to increase exponentially in the next five years. As social media platforms establish interconnectivity among those billions of users, ordinary people have the ability to transform themselves into influencers, small business owners, food bloggers, and more. Tapping into Instagram’s bountiful potential for doing just that, I have created a digital brand of my own that has already amassed nearly 250 followers within its first month of creation. Under the username nonnas_cuisine_, I take on the role of a fiery Northern New Jersey Italian grandmother, incorporating classic Italian American slang into every post that I upload to the page. At first, I only uploaded recipes and food reviews, but after witnessing a growing interest in my homemade pasta sauce, I started selling jars and have already made over $150 in profit in the process.

His homemade pasta sauce is as delicious as a fiery Northern New Jersey Italian grandmother

When creating your own digital brand, there are key elements that need to be integrated at all times. Without cohesion and consistency, it will lose trust and loyalty among the masses. If you are interested in building a digital brand of your own, walk through my following tips for guaranteed success:

Establish a Voice, and Stick with It

When creating a digital brand of your own, the first and most important step to take is establishing a unique, authentic voice that is cohesively present in all of your content. For example, if I began speaking in a British accent on my Nonna’s Cuisine page, my audience would be both confused and less likely to engage with my content because of my brand’s unexpected behavior. To optimize viewership among your target audience, your messaging needs to follow a consistent voice and tone so that your audience knows what to expect from your brand. Without this cohesiveness, your brand becomes lost in translation to your consumers, thus minimizing your content’s receptivity tenfold. 

Select a Target Audience

When developing strategic communication, the receiver of that messaging is the focal point for determining whether or not it was both effective and convincing. To generate exposure, your target audience must be receptive to your voice, word choice, overall product and marketing strategy; thus, it is imperative to focus on a niche group of people that will respond most enthusiastically to your brand’s content. You don’t want to waste the time or money invested in uploading posts for people that will pay no attention to them, and so selecting the audience is the perfect fit in order for your content’s metrics to be optimal. In the instance that a target audience resonates with your branded content, they will provide you, the creator, with a number of digital interactions including likes, comments and shares, all of which hold the potential for gaining new followers.  

Talk With Your Audience, Not At It

Traditional advertising models followed a formula of brands consistently marketing at consumers via media channels like television, radio and print, solely communicating what they wanted those consumers to know about their products. In the past 20 years, these advertising models have proven to become ineffective due to the power of social media platforms. Consumers are now content creators of their own, and they know now more than ever what they need. Therefore, today’s consumers seek brands that communicate with them to better understand those needs, as opposed to the tradition of brands shoving unwanted information in their faces. When developing communication for your digital brand, pay attention to your target audience’s needs and listen to what they are saying. Through this listening, you will know exactly what you need to communicate as a brand to your target audience.

Prioritize Earned Media

The best way to grow a following for your digital brand is through the accumulation of earned media. When I say earned media, I mean getting word-of-mouth exposure for your brand. If people are talking about your brand, you are receiving free advertising that directly supports its growth and exposure. As sponsored advertising on social media platforms tend to get expensive, generating free, earned media should be the ultimate goal for propelling your digital brand towards greater recognition among your target audience. By focusing on your product’s quality and establishing a cohesive brand image, you are more likely to get people interested enough to talk about your brand with others. It only takes one person to spark a snowball effect of endless conversations about you, so continuously polish your business until you see positive results.

By following this helpful guide, you should be able to successfully construct a digital brand of your own. As a digital advertising major at Syracuse University with a love for food, I established an authentic brand persona targeted at a large community of student peers that I have developed connections with throughout my college years. By making use of the supportive network which Syracuse provided to me, my idea was able to come to life. When uploading content to my nonnas_cuisine_ page, I am always interacting with my audience to gauge their preferences, dislikes and more importantly, their general mentality as consumers. By doing so, I have over 100 people currently talking about my brand, granting me the earned media I need to develop Nonna’s Cuisine into a successful prospective small business.

Story by Christopher Appello ’21, Blackstone Global Fellow, advertising major, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications; artwork and photo supplied