Propulsion: the strategic vision behind NEXT’s Launchpad 2023

What will take your startup to the moon? Well, imagine the rocket needed to get you there.

Picture a rocket ship set for the moon. What does it need? To start, a lot of force. Without enough power and support, especially in the early stages, a rocket can’t leave the atmosphere. It needs momentum, driven by continued acceleration, until it hits escape velocity?

I picture a startup like a rocket: a vehicle that needs a big push to get off the ground, then sustained momentum to reach escape velocity. The business is the rocket, the founder is the pilot — and the funding, resources, mentorship, branding, talent pool and business infrastructure is the force.

That’s what NEXT Upstate’s appropriately-titled Launchpad 2023 provided for the Greenville entrepreneurs who received $95,000 worth of services last Thursday. Meant to lift Greenville startups to the next level, the Launchpad program was designed with the understanding that, beyond investment dollars, “force” means different things to different founders.?

Force isn’t just money thrown at a new business. Launchpad provides a framework to grow the startup, tailored to the specific recipient of services, be it marketing, hiring, legal services or branding. A founder who has enough money, but lacks training, talent, mentorship and community — in other words, a supportive ecosystem like #StartupGVL — could be doomed to fail.?

The key services, provided by local companies SLANTDFS Creative ConceptsSCRAFind Great PeopleWycheElliott Davis and Designli, are the building blocks to getting your business to “escape velocity.” The services, based around a model of learning and support, reframe of the idea of the superhero founder.

We live, after all, in a culture of performative genius, of influencers and copycats, where it can be hard to tell the difference between Steve Jobs and Elizabeth Holmes.?And beyond worshipping the visionary individual, the modern entrepreneurial narrative perpetuates the myth that you have to do it all — marketing, sales, coding, pitching, HR, web design, etc.

But maybe it isn’t the founders who try to do it all who succeed. The smartest founders are often those who understand their personal limitations and find co-founders and team members with complimentary skills. Looking at their business, they quickly identify the most important aspects the company is performing the worst at — and seek help.

That’s why Launchpad 2023 was strategic in giving entrepreneurs in Greenville the specific kind of boost it needed. It didn’t give seed money to companies that weren’t ready for it, nor offer branding to companies that already had great branding.?

And it wasn’t a competition, but rather a collaborative celebration. As I looked out into the Greenville ONE second floor lobby, snacking on crab cakes, I saw founders pat each other on the backs and congratulate each other as prize winners were announced. Here were business owners who applied for the same services and cheered their fellow entrepreneurs on, celebrating the wins of other companies like they would their own.

Some startup scenes can be nasty, with businesses competing with one another over limited resources in an environment defined by gatekeeping and criticism.

#StartupGVL couldn’t be further away from that.?

Perhaps it’s the city’s history as a friendly town, combined with the trend of increasing wealth and resources in the past decade. Founders have legitimately adopted a cooperative attitude with one another, an attitude reflected by not just those who ran Launchpad but also those who attended.?

Every founder there had a chance to make their own win that night, by swapping ideas, contact info and success narratives with other Greenville entrepreneurs. Launchpad was exactly that — a launchpad for local startups, an opportunity to meet that person who’ll give your business that much-needed force.

Wei-Huan Chen

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Wei Chen

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