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SoftLaunch prepares students to launch ventures

Austin Ruhle

Austin Ruhle pitches his venture, Caromation, to judges during the 10-minute venture pitch circuit.

SoftLaunch – part of Launching the Venture offered to Executive MBA students at UNC Kenan-Flagler – is a course and series of workshops that help students gain the knowledge, skills and connections needed to launch a business or social venture.

The six-session program concludes with student teams participating in a round-robin competition in four circuits. Teams receive consultations from coaches in the areas of marketing, strategy, finance and law, and give a 10-minute venture pitch to a panel of judges.

Throughout the course, students developed ventures offering goods and services in various industries, including retail, food/beverage, information technology and health care.

Not all participating teams intend to actually launch their course venture, but team members who plan to do so leverage the assignment to fine-tune their business plans before graduating from the program.

SoftLaunch played a crucial role in the development of LaChaun Banks’ (EMBA ’17) venture – Black Wall Street, a members-only cigar bar and lounge.

“This class forced me to look at hard facts and the market in a way that I didn’t before,” Banks says. “It gave me real, expert advice from business owners as to how I present my message, allowed me to look at securing funding in ways I never thought of and gave me the tools for a successful pitch.”

Angela Tafur

Angela Tafur receives feedback on her venture, Soga, after pitching to coaches.

More than 40 coaches volunteer at the event, sharing their expertise and recommendations throughout the day.

Kyle Buchanan (EMBA ’17) benefited from the coaches’ feedback about his location awareness platform ShareWave. “They challenged all of the assumptions I had about my venture,” he says. “I came out of the course with a better value proposition, a tighter elevator pitch and the confidence to continue developing my venture.”

ShareWave received the Coaches’ Progress Award for the venture that made notable growth throughout the program. George Adams, Ryan Smith, Glen Harvin and Mark Miller, all EMBA 17, received the Coaches’ Choice Award for Southern Comfort, a light-weight, protective radiation suit.

Taking a look at past graduates of the program, SoftLaunch can be the spark to transform career trajectories. Ryan Stone (EMBA ’04) left his executive path to start a multi-million-dollar business that he created in his SoftLaunch Class.

“My entrepreneurial journey started accidentally. I was in the MBA Program and intended to climb in my organization, a Fortune 500 energy company,” says Stone. “As part of our launch class Professor Zoller told us to come up with a problem we would like to solve and then figure out how to solve it. Based on what we learned and the coaching we received during the course, we started a company called JetPool.”

The course is taught by Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and T.W. Lewis Clinical Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler.