Annie Zhang: Countdown to Launch


I always get a little restless as April turns into May–maybe it’s because the weather is getting warmer or because semester-end projects are due soon. My best friend even teases that I have an incurable case of “itchy feet” and I guess it’s true. This year I’ve been more restless than ever because the countdown to Launch has begun.

Anxious, excited, intimidated, hopeful. Although this is the second time I’m counting down to Launch, I still clearly remember what it felt like the first time around. From the moment I joined the student facebook group, to the moment I set foot in Simmons Hall, it was already terrifyingly clear to me that the month ahead of me would be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Everyone seemed to be so accomplished and so smart. Not to mention, the curriculum was completely foreign to me. It felt like everyone was ready to hit the ground running while I was just learning to crawl. In hindsight, this was a blessing. Little did I know then that I was surrounded by 43 of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Little did I know that these were the people that would push me to grow. Little did I know that they would be the support system that would ceaselessly lift me up, even a year after Launch.

If you're the smartest

A year later, most of my peers and I can now joke about how we were all equally nervous at the beginning of Launch. I mean, when you put that many creative and determined minds in the same room and tell them that they have a month to bring their visions to life, it’s overwhelming to say the least. However, I’ve come to learn that at the end of the day it’s okay to be nervous or even to have absolutely no idea what’s going on. What matters is how you choose to react to the countless opportunities that will present themselves:

  1. Be as prepared as possible. Going into Launch having done the pre-work and brainstorming is like having a life raft after being thrown into an ocean. You’ll thank yourself later for taking the time to work through each step. And who knows? You might even be bringing the winning idea with you to Launch!
  2. Proactively connect with people. Launch is one of those communities where diverse, talented and passionate people make an effort to really learn from each other and grow together. It’s not just the students either, being at MIT (the crossroads of the world) gives you the chance to seek out some of the most interesting and people and thoughts you’ll come across.
  3. Approach everything with an open mind and open heart. Sometimes things don’t go the way you had them played out in your head. Learning to be an entrepreneur is about rolling with the punches and always springing back. Never be too stubborn to try something new.

Even though this is my second time around, pre-Launch still feels like a rollercoaster as it slowly rattles and rumbles to the top. You can feel it coming, but you don’t yet know how fast or far the drop will be. You don’t yet know how many loops there are, or if you’ll be flipped upside down. All you can do is throw your hands up and start to count down. T-minus 35 days.

Jennifer Tran: Discovering CIC and Venture Café

Cambridge is buzzing with amazing learning opportunities outside of the Launch classroom. Last summer when my friends and I weren’t in class or hard at work on our companies, we scoured the city for new experiences and entrepreneurial activities. Some of my favorite finds were the Cambridge Innovation Center and the Venture Café.

The Cambridge Innovation Center, or CIC, was a hub of activity that housed over 600 startups. The brief descriptions on door plaques displayed the wide variety of ventures being explored at the CIC. As I observed entrepreneurs from all of the startups meet in communal break rooms to exchange ideas and collaborate, I imagined that someday my team’s startup would have an office at the CIC surrounded by innovators and creators with the same passion for their work.

Venture Cafe

Russell, my teammate, and I also made trips to the Venture Cafe in search of valuable advice and exciting connections. Venture Café is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building communities of innovators and entrepreneurs, and every Thursday evening the space lights up with networking opportunities and entrepreneurial advice. Everyone from angel investors to designers to scientists meet to make business deals and personal connections. The times that we visited, the energy and excitement of the room was palpable. We conversed and tested different pitches for our company, the Bridge Initiative. We gained tips and ideas to grow not only our businesses but also ourselves as entrepreneurs.  As the night progressed we became much more confident in approaching people and asking questions about our companies and the business path. Everyone from the fledgling entrepreneurs to the seasoned investors showed an amazing amount of passion and excitement for everything they spoke of. We heard from so many diverse minds: from a solar energy engineer who explained the mechanics of a solar panel and the future of alternative energy to a restaurateur who detailed the process of turning a brick and mortar operation into a sleek app-based service.

Visiting the CIC and the Venture Café were only a few of the amazing opportunities for learning and inspiration.  They were a great opportunity for team bonding and being able to connect to the vibrant startup community sparked creativity in the toughest parts of launching our startup.

Launch Summer Program

Launch – We help high school students start companies.  Launch is a program for aspiring high school entrepreneurs held at MIT in Cambridge, MA, providing the skill set and mindset training needed to start real companies.

This blog chronicles our 2013 summer adventures and progress, our students’ lives and businesses, and everything else along the way.

Scroll down to see the reverse chronological posts or use the categories to the left to filter for different topics.

To find out more about the summer program, visit our website.

Launch Weekends – Success!

The first Launch Weekends event was held at MIT on March 22 with great success – students learned why high school students are at an ideal age to start companies, learned valuable tools to focus their startups, and practiced the creative process of coming up with ideas, filtering them based on what investors look for, and pitched their ideas.

The impact – students reported an increased confidence in both their skill set and mindset required to start a company, and believe more strongly that they will start a company sooner.  We can’t wait to see your ideas come to life!

The next Launch Weekends event will be held at Northwestern in Chicago –



GreatPreneurs Interview with Launch Founder Laurie Stach

Founder Laurie Stach explains in a GreatPreneurs interview article 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.”

The article also includes a discussion of the encouragement of young students to pursue entrepreneurship, whether entrepreneurs are born or made, and the MIT experience.  See the article for more!

Win a FREE application v2

We are still accepting applications for our 2014 programs at MIT until December 15, 2013 for early admissions and until January 31, 2014 for regular admissions.

We’re also offering another chance to score a FREE application to Launch. To win, you must Like the Launch FB page and Reply to the post on the Facebook wall by Friday, December 13: “What does it mean to be a great entrepreneur?” We’ll waive the application fee for the student with the best response!

We look forward to your replies!

Win a FREE application to Launch

Since October, Launch has been accepting applications for our 2014 programs at MIT. We’ve loved seeing all of your applications roll in and are super excited to put together two new talented cohorts for next year.

If you haven’t applied yet, it’s not too late! You have from now until December 15, 2013 for early admissions and until January 31, 2014 for regular admissions. Best of all, we’re offering you a chance to score a FREE application to Launch. To win, you must Like and Reply to the following prompt on the Launch FB page by Friday, November 29th : “What’s the biggest challenge to overcome in starting a successful company?” We’ll waive the application fee for the student with the best response!

So send in your replies and keep those applications coming!

Rahul Agarwal: The Skyline

Past the horizon, I can see the expanse of opportunities,

Waiting, wishing for me to emerge,

Not as someone molded for society,

But as myself,

Ready to embrace change,

Ready to make a difference.

-Excerpt from “The Skyline”, by Rahul Agarwal

I wrote this piece of prose when I was at Launch this summer. I was inspired not only by the Skyline of Boston, but by the amazing individuals I was with. They really changed my perspective to one that ensures that I follow what I am passionate about. They have changed my outlook to show me life shouldn’t be about the money, but about caring about a cause or doing something you find important. They have shown me that the people you surround yourself with are really what make life so special and unique.

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Parent Feedback

Launch:  Great program. Our son learned more  about business and entrepreneurship in just the 4 short weeks of Launch than I did in 4 years of undergraduate business school and 2 years of graduate school. The program has given John a real sense of “can do” realization that he can build a viable business. Laurie and the whole Launch team were simply amazing!

– Bob Peurifoy, parent of John Peurifoy

Samantha Burns: Launching Passions and Friendships

Launch demonstrated that in the entrepreneurial realm, being passionate is one of the greatest assets. From love grows the best businesses and the strongest friendships.

– Samantha Burns, co-founder and CEO of Unbounded Travel

If you were presented with 29 new best friends tomorrow, what would they be like? Would they be from your same town? Be interested in the same things you are? At Launch last summer I was given this very opportunity, but these 29 friends were from all corners of the world.  Among them were master computer programmers, insomniac bakers, Indian classical dancers, and soccer gurus. We were so extraordinarily different, but the bonds we formed were founded on the fact that we are all passionate. It didn’t matter what fueled our passion– for me, it was going to night lectures on genomic research at the Broad Institute, for another friend, it was playing tennis on the MIT courts after class. The defining element of Launch students is that we are not afraid to love something.

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Jill Klinvex: Unique Opportunity at MIT

One of our amazing Summer 2013 students, Jill, spoke to her school paper about her experience at Launch. Read an excerpt below and the full article at The Echolier.

“While at MIT, Klinvex was able to make contact with other people on their way to success. “The people there were incredibly intelligent, with incredibly high ACT scores. One guy was an intern at Google before participating in Launch. My head instructor actually designed for BMW… It was great,” says Klinvex. 

[The program] was completely life-changing,” Klinvex affirms. “I would recommend it for anyone. It really does broaden one’s horizons.” Her experience at MIT stands as an example for other young people who desire to go beyond just daydreaming and to have meaningful adventures.

Didomi screenshot

Jill and her teammates worked on Didomi, an app designed to improve the donation process for nonprofits and donors alike. To keep updated on their progress, visit their site.

“We’re all in good hands”

One of our wonderful and enthusiastic entrepreneur mentors reflects on his experience working with Launch students at his site here.

Panos Panay

The way I see it is this: entrepreneurship, like any other creative discipline (music, art, dance etc.) needs practice, early exposure to influences and experiences, and should be embraced as something both fun and expressive from an early age. The earlier this starts the better — these early experiences, like becoming comfortable with a musical instrument or swinging a tennis racket, fine-tune and develop instincts that serve would-be business-launchers well down the road.”

Panos Panay is the founder of SonicBids, which connects bands with music promoters to the tune of 750,000 gigs since its creation.

Student Feedback

Launch made me realize my true passion in life. I’ve never really found classes at school too interesting. But Launch was so amazing. I don’t want to do anything else but business. It also made me realize the possibilities and abilities I have and should take advantage of. It makes me want to reach and go further and do more.

Student Feedback

Launch was probably the most self-fulfilling, empowering experience that I have ever gone through. I can honestly say that I have changed as a person from the last few weeks and I have no regrets. It was incredibly difficult to leave, because I knew I had grown so much and met some of the greatest people in the world. I was able to look inside myself so much throughout the program, and the process of looking within myself and learning more about who I am made it all worth it.

Giving the parents a taste of life at Launch

Although we don’t think the parents of Launch students will ever truly be able to understand the magic of what happened here this summer, we tried to give them a taste of it on the last day of classes by inviting them to their own private class session.  They performed one of the simulations and walked through a few of the early activities, laughing and questioning and engaging in the same way their kids had done just four weeks earlier.

Among these activities is the “Real Deal”, from one of our strategic partners, Peak Learning.  This tool allows you to select the most important motivating factors to you from a deck of cards, which can then be a powerful foundation for a discussion with your team about how to work with one another.

We hope the parents have a bit better understanding now of their kids’ transformational summer.


Entrepreneur Panel: Keys to Success

Today’s panel covered topics ranging from growing beyond the initial startup phase, to keys to success in entrepreneurship, to general advice on how to achieve your dreams.

The panelists today included:

Launch_jonathan sheffiJonathan Sheffi – Co-founder and Product Marketing Director of Clinical Future



Launch_michael schrader

Michael Schrader – Co-founder and CEO of Vaxess Technologies



Launch_adam berreyAdam Berrey – Investor; CEO of Clinical Future

And the winners are…

Judged top overall:  Amadi

“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.”

Leah Rothfeld, Ikya Kandula, Jyothi Vallurupalli

amadi2 AmadiPitch2

Best Execution: AnyMeal

“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 month, 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.”

Drew Bent, Michael Matias, Nadine Shalaan

anymeal2 AnymealPitch

Best Story: Unbounded Travel

“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.”

Samantha Burns, Ben Latz, Rohan Sinha

unbounded3 UnboundedPitch

Thank you to our pitch judges!

Pitches today are attended by potential angel investors and a panel of esteemed judges.  Judging criteria is based on business viability, potential value, and pitch delivery.

  • Viability: the project team has addressed risks associated with customer development, has a product that is viable and protectable, has a strong competitive advantage, and attractive financial potential.
  • Potential value: there is attractive margin potential, cash flow, and value creation.
  • Pitch delivery: all team members contribute to the pitch, transition well, provide strong introduction and conclusion, communicate all key messages, stay within the time limit, and respond well to questions.

We are joined today by the following people to act on our panel of judges:

  • Maren Cattonar – MIT Deshpande Center Innovation Manager
  • Heather Groat – Associate at CommonAngels, a hybrid angel partnership and fund, and former MIT $100k competition organizer
  • Alex Gruentzig – Consultant at AT Kearney and judge at $100k competition
  • David Ward – MIT research lab, PhD from MIT, and founded an internet startup company
  • Dan Lambert – Founder and CTO of Pushpins

Disciplined Entrepreneurship Book Launch

We were able to see Bill Aulet, director of the MIT Martin Trust Center, launch his new book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship, today at the MIT Media Lab.  As a strategic advisor of Launch, Bill provides foundational support to our curriculum through this great new teaching.  It is an excellent complementary process that can be easily tailored fit with some useful lean startup tools.

Bill signed some copies of his book for our students and stayed for a photo with the students and his “Disciplined Entrepreneurship toolbox”.

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Finance Friday and Money Monday

Today concluded our financial instruction of the Launch curriculum.

We had Finance Friday, where we took inputs of the revenue projections from earlier in the week and added an understanding of the different development, fixed, and variable costs required to run the company, to develop the income projections.  We then started into some discussion of the factors that impact the valuation of a company.

Today is Monday Monday, where we take the projections and valuation considerations to assess what that means for your company’s financing need, discuss what financial resources are available, and what additional non-financial value these resources can give.  Students will then have just a few days to put together their numbers and pitches for Thursday’s pitch day!


The Power of Improv

Several of the students had some good laughs tonight at an improv show of Rebels Without Applause.  Some of the students’ businesses were used as examples in skits and a few students even got pulled on stage as part of the show!

Later in the program, Howie Reith of Rebels Without Applause came to Launch to teach an improv class before the final pitches, helping release some stress and use improv to prepare for the impromptu nature of questions during final pitches.  It was just what they needed before the big day!

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Go Red Sox!

Our students come from over 20 states and 3 countries outside the US. For many, that means it’s their first time in Boston. So we try to throw in a few quintessential Boston activities… and what can be more Boston than the Red Sox?

Click on any image for the full-sized version!

Scavenger Hunt!


Students had the option today of participating in a scavenger hunt.  They were sent with a “T” pass (the Boston MBTA train and bus pass) to different famous places around the city to discover the wonders of Boston outside of MIT campus, see historic landmarks, and enjoy some tasty treats.  Teams submitted photos of their accomplishments throughout the race and enjoyed bragging rights upon successful completion.

Determining your customer persona

An important part of assessing your customer needs and targeting your customer is establishing a customer persona.  This means taking your target customer segment and developing a profile, including a photo, for a specific customer within that segment, preferably one you’ve interviewed during this customer needs assessment week.

When developing Launch, this was easy – the customer persona was the high school version of the founders.  They were able to target and tailor the program based on what marketing they would have found appealing and what they felt was missing in what they wanted in their high school educational experience.  This example was used in class, even using photo examples.  Below are photos of founder Laurie Stach from high school.  No, the shirt with a limit on it wasn’t part of her typical wardrobe – this was for “nerd day” at her school.  :)

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Harvard Innovation Lab Visit

Today, we got to tour the new Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) on the campus of the Harvard Business School.  The i-lab serves as a resource for students from across Harvard interested in entrepreneurship and innovation, helping them grow their ventures at any stage of development and covering a wide range of disciplines.

The Launch students loved seeing the openness of the co-working space, inspirational collaboration and whiteboard methods, and even made some powerful connections by networking and talking about their ideas and learning more about what others were working on.

“The iLab tour was so amazing- and the most important thing was realizing that there is really an infinite potential for idea development and novel solutions to needs.” – Student Feedback


Investor Simulation

Students began taking part in a financial market simulation today to value their businesses. Each of them is able to act as an investor in any of the businesses except their own, gaining exposure to the challenge of evaluating new ventures.  Each team was given an opportunity to pitch their idea to their classmates to try to get the most investor money.

Businesses with high potential see a high initial “stock price”, while those viewed to have less potential by their classmates will be lower. This is intended to act as an early opportunity for teams to learn from market feedback and react accordingly.

The investor simulation has two additional times for teams to pitch updates to their business and for students to adjust their investments.  Ultimately, they want to be holding shares of the teams that are scored highest by the judges at the final pitches to get the highest return.

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MIT Martin Trust Center Visit

Christina Chase, the Entrepreneur in Residence at the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, was gracious enough to give us a tour of the center today.  The Trust Center provides the knowledge, support, and connections needed for MIT students to become entrepreneurs.

Christina provided business advice to many of the student teams during the tour and was a mentor to one team throughout the program.  A student of the Trust Center, Gabe Blanchet, also came to the classroom on multiple occasions, providing advice to the students both on their businesses and their futures.


Building Resilience with Paul Stoltz


Dr. Paul Stoltz is considered the world’s pre-eminent thought leader on the science of Mindset. He is author of four international bestselling books on the subject, guest lectures for the Harvard Business School Executive Education program, and has his AQ theory and methods integrated into HBS executive development and MBA programs.  Dr. Stoltz joined our classroom all morning to teach how to handle the adversities that we face everyday as individuals and entrepreneurs, and not just cope with them but harness them.

For more on the power of AQ and resiliency training, check out the PEAK Learning website.

Entrepreneur Panel: Innovation

Today, students had the opportunity to ask a panel of successful entrepreneurs about how they came up with their ideas, what they did to test to make sure it was a good idea, and how they had to pivot based on feedback.  The crucial things they learned were that getting customer feedback early is critical, all of these ideas had changed from their early days, and success requires being truly passionate about your idea.

The entrepreneurs gracious enough to spend time with the students were:

Jonathan Yaffe – Co-founder and CEO of AnyRoad

Clemens Raemy – Co-founder and CEO of Safer Taxi

Ryan Adams – COO at Jewish Venture Mentoring Service

Chris Goldstein – Co-founder of Kartis


Unleash the ideas!

Having assessed their overlapping passion, skills, and market opportunities with their teammates, each team had a short list of interest areas that could help them guide their brainstorming session.  Teams grouped together, collaborating and engaging to help each team come up with at least 50 ideas that suited their interests.


Taking a break with BollyX

Classes here at Launch are all good and fun, but every now and then we like to shake it up just to keep things interesting.

Enter: BollyX. Started by some Harvard, MIT and Cal grads, BollyX combines the energy and fun of Bollywood choreography with an intense cardio workout into exciting fitness classes that are now offered around the country.

Of course, this was more than just a fun opportunity for exercise and a little student bonding. This week’s lessons are all about finding the right team and then coming up with a great business idea. At Launch, we believe that a great business idea comes from a combination of Passion, Skills and Market Opportunity. Our students also got to hear from BollyX’s cofounders about how they came up with their business idea and how BollyX combines all three of these things.

  • Passion: All three of the cofounders loved and had practiced Bollywood dance and other forms of dance for years.
  • Skills: Two of the cofounders had previous experience with dance groups and teaching others to dance. One cofounder was even a part of a dance group that made it to the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent!”. In addition, all three cofounders had a mix of business skills from previous business school and work experiences.
  • Market Opportunity: There’s been a huge surge in new exercise trends recently – Crossfit, SoulCycle/FlyWheel, barre classes, Zumba, etc. BollyX fits nicely into this new crop of businesses finding interesting and innovative ways to get people excited to stay fit!

Anyways, we think BollyX got our students’ hearts pumping and their creative juices running… just in time to choose their business ideas! Special thanks to Minal, Mayuri and Shahil for taking time out of their busy schedules to inspire our students!

Business Simulation

Teams had the unique experience early in the program of selling to one another through one simulations, learning the difficulty of this process even when you know your target market well

“The market simulation made us realize what we could have improved on, and even though it was on such a small scale, it’s easily applicable to any size business idea. We mainly learned that surprises are bad and we should really talk to and get to know the customer before we release the final product.” – Student Feedback

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First Day of Classes


Students learn what it means to fail, pivot, and test your assumptions from day one.  This takes the form of hands-on simulations and interactive lectures, where students can often be asked to come to the front of the room to provide summaries or to debate the different sides of a case.

Kickoff Lunch


We kicked off today with a lunch for parents and students to get to know one another, the Launch staff, and be inspired by today’s keynote speaker, Anita Elberse.  Anita is a professor at Harvard Business School of Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries,  a very sought after course, where her research sometimes finds her working with icons such as Lady Gaga and Jay-Z.

Anita shared some great lessons including:

  • Fail spectacularly
  • A good idea / product is only a small part of the battle, it comes down to execution
  • The real value is in the “blockbusters”
  • Be a superstar

Anita also had some fun by putting parents in the room on the spot with their knowledge of pop icons.  All in all, a great way to kick off what will be a fun and intellectually stimulating summer program.