Two Syracuse University LaunchPad alumni teams selected for Fall LaunchPad Fellowship

Two young women posing in front of mannequins draped in saris
Nikita Chatterjee and Brianna Howard, co-founders of PAANI

LaunchPad alumni Nikita Chatterjee ’20 and Brianna Howard ’20 and G’21, co-founders of PANNI, and Daniel McMurray ’19 G’20, founder of CommunitYouth, were chosen from more than 125 student venture applicants to the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Techstars and Future Founders for a fall fellowship program to help a new wave of social impact entrepreneurs. 

The 40 founders selected for the prestigious program are tackling social issues in the areas of healthcare, mental health, sustainability, education, employment, and more. They represent a wide array of higher education institutions, including Syracuse University, Cornell University, Trinity College Dublin, New York University, and University of California and University of Texas system schools.

Today’s college students are more engaged in social issues than any generation before them.  Their passion for social issues is spilling over into their professional and career choices – including entrepreneurship. More and more, burgeoning student entrepreneurs are demonstrating that they care about having a social impact.

According to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an estimated one-third of all startups around the world are aimed at social good. And that’s especially true for younger generations of entrepreneurs. The report found that among entrepreneurs aged 18 to 34, there are more social entrepreneurs than commercial entrepreneurs. Confirming this trend, the 2020 Student Entrepreneurship Outlook survey, conducted by Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars, found that nearly two-thirds of respondents were motivated by their impact on societal change and creative problem-solving.

In response to this, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Techstars and Future Founders created this fall fellowship program with a focus on impact entrepreneurship.

Selected startups include a subscription box for parents and teachers with resources addressing social justice topics, an app for teachers in developing countries that allow them to share videos on effective teaching practices without the internet, and a mental health service that offers a comprehensive, accessible platform to non-English speaking communities. Additionally, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact small businesses around the United States, one of the selected startups is working to connect small businesses that have been hurt commercially by the pandemic with volunteer university students and graduates with applicable skills.

PAANI is the winner of many Syracuse campus startup competitions.  Co-founded by Chatterjee and Howard, it is a clean water filtration system that utilizes the cultural behaviors of women in places like the slums of India.  The advanced multi-layer PANNI water filtration system is built into a sari cloth, a traditional garment worn by women throughout India. The fellowship will help with further prototyping, testing and development.

CommunitYouth is a youth participation organization founded by McMurray to work in partnership with municipalities, politicians, educations and civic organizations to give youth a voice in civic affair, to engage them in issues affecting their interests, and to foster citizenship and participation.

Both ventures began as student ventures in the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at Syracuse University.

During the eight-week virtual program, student fellows will take part in coaching sessions with LaunchPad Campus Directors and receive mentoring from Blackstone Campus Ambassadors and Techstars Entrepreneurs and Advisors during a LaunchPad ‘Mentor Week.’ They’ll learn about leadership and team management; press, media, and digital marketing; and financing, fundraising, and budgeting.

Each fellow will also receive $5,000 in non-dilutive grant funding to support their time working on advancing their startup companies.

The LaunchPad Powered by Techstars initiative helps students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers.

To learn more about the fall cohort, check out the Fall 2020 LaunchPad Fellowship: Social Impact – Student Venture Lookbook.

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