Things that Matter: Baylor’s LAUNCH Program Helps Entrepreneurs Get Ideas Off the Ground

August 7, 2017

Kevin Ludlum (middle) and Calvin Richard (right) of God Strong Fitness discuss elements of their presentation with Monica Vardeman, program manager of the LAUNCH Innovative Business Accelerator.

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Media contact: Eric M. Eckert, (254) 710-1964
WACO, Texas (Aug. 7, 2017) – Baylor University’s LAUNCH program has a simple mission statement: Enable accelerated commercialization of things that matter.

Greg Leman, Ph.D., a clinical professor of entrepreneurship in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, is the founding director of LAUNCH. He said a thing that matters has two qualities: personal importance to the business owner and a positive impact on society.

Leman knows from experience that entrepreneurs need passion for their ideas to overcome the inevitable challenges of starting a business. He was awarded two patents during his 11 years as an engineering scientist with the Cabot Corporation, and has several patents pending.

However, a personal connection is only a small part of the equation compared to the idea’s potential to help others.

“I think every great business is a social enterprise. If you’re not doing something that’s good for the world, then why are you doing it? To have a highly successful business, it must resonate with a lot of people, so it has to be doing something good. It needs to matter in the grand scheme of things. What’s the purpose? You’re going to need to know that to succeed,” Leman said.

“All Under One Roof”

The LAUNCH innovative business accelerator helps promising start-ups and established companies grow by providing an individualized combination of four strategic areas:

• Live coaching
• Networking with clients and experts in a variety of fields
• Expansion into global markets
• Office space in the business incubator

Along with a group of engineers and researchers, LAUNCH moved into the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaboratives (BRIC) when it first opened in 2013. Leman said a business accelerator was always part of the design for the building and serves a crucial role in fulfilling the facility’s purpose.

“The idea of the BRIC is that everything needs to get from the scientist’s bench to real value in the marketplace, all under one roof. That required a business accelerator of some kind to help innovators go from idea to product in the marketplace,” Leman said.

Horsing Around

One of LAUNCH’s first clients was Brian Garner, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Garner’s idea came to him in 2007 after researching hippotherapy, a technique used to treat stroke patients and people with conditions like cerebral palsy and autism. Riding a horse causes patients’ muscles to stretch as if they were walking to improve strength, coordination and range of motion.

Garner wondered if using a mechanical horse rather than a live one would produce the same therapeutic effects. That way, patients with horse allergies could still benefit from the treatment, and inclement weather wouldn’t affect a session.

In 2014, after testing four prototypes, Garner had a finished product called BearBack. LAUNCH helped him develop a business plan and connect with potential clients to start his new company, Chariot Innovations.

“Coming from an engineering background, I just don’t really think that way,” said Garner. “The major thing that I think LAUNCH helped me do is get connected with people.”

Now, 12 BearBack mechanical riding units are in use at hippotherapy treatment centers, and Chariot Innovations is still growing. Garner recently hired two graduates of Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business to help him balance the responsibilities of running a company with being a full-time professor.

Improving Higher Education

Chariot Innovations was Garner’s first business venture, but experienced entrepreneurs also can benefit from LAUNCH’s coaching services, Leman said.

That’s the case with Higher Education Innovation (HEI) and CollegeChoiceToday, two companies currently occupying the business incubator. The founders of both companies have served in various leadership roles for years and are now seeking to change the future of higher education.

When assisting clients like HEI and CollegeChoiceToday, LAUNCH guides entrepreneurs towards the right questions rather than providing them with easy answers, helping them focus their time and energy wisely.

“These are experienced people, they’re not naïve,” Leman said. “We’re really about providing the value of a sounding board and spotting inconsistencies in your thinking. It’s not some esoteric insight or brilliance. It’s just being there with another perspective and being willing to challenge people. We're able to confront kindly.”

Over her 20-year career in higher education administration, Mary Darden, Ed.D., saw colleges face shrinking financial resources and dwindling retention and enrollment rates.

After reading that Harvard Professor Clayton Christenson estimated half of U.S. colleges would close in 15 years, Darden felt she had to do her part to prevent his prediction from coming true.

“I believe that higher education is the big game-changer. I believe that it is the answer to solving hunger and poverty, the answer to a higher quality of life. We need to expand the opportunities rather than reduce them,” Darden said.

HEI works with nonprofit colleges and universities to increase enrollment, form partnerships and communicate their strengths to the public. Unlike a traditional consulting firm, HEI doesn’t require colleges to pay for the company’s services until enrollment increases past a certain point.

Darden said HEI might have failed early on without the guidance she received through LAUNCH. Instead, she’s had success with her first client, Wayland Baptist University, and is expanding to two additional states.

The “Thud” Factor

While HEI’s goal is to give prospective students plenty of universities to choose from, CollegeChoiceToday focuses on helping them choose the one that will suit them best.

Rick Cochran, founder of CollegeChoiceToday, was riding his motorcycle through downtown Waco in 2014 when he decided to quit the corporate world to invest in the next generation.

His idea was to use technology and data to help students identify their strengths, choose a career path and attend the college that would best prepare them for that field. Students using CollegeChoiceToday pay a one-time fee and have access to a personal coach throughout their high school and college careers by way of video calls.

Cochran said the coaching team at LAUNCH provided a unique perspective on the idea and connected him with other talented individuals in higher education. LAUNCH’s support also reassured Cochran that CollegeChoiceToday was a worthy venture.

“The LAUNCH program gave me what I call the ‘thud factor,’ the credibility factor,” Cochran said. “If Baylor endorses this and is really willing to put you into the program, there is something of significance to what you’re doing 'something that matters.'”

by Kassidy Woytek , student newswriter, (254) 710-6805
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit Hankamer School of Business and follow on Twitter at Baylor_Business.