Blackstone LaunchPad fires up to fuel more bright, successful student entrepreneurs

15 Sep 2016

Edel Browne (left) and Mary Carty pictured at Inspirefest 2016. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Yesterday evening, Blackstone LaunchPad launched its 2016/2017 campus-based entrepreneurship programme at NUI Galway. Claire O’Connell reports.

If you are a student at NUI Galway and you have an idea, or if you are simply curious about ideas, then Blackstone LaunchPad wants to hear from you.

The campus-based entrepreneurship programme has just launched its 2016/2017 programme in Galway, and is hitting the ground running with courses, speakers and partners to support student entrepreneurs with individual coaching, seminars and training related to building a business.

Future Human

Inspirefest 2017

Building on success

Last February, NUI Galway celebrated the first launch for the Blackstone programme outside of the US. Since then, more than 2,000 people have engaged with the Irish programme.

The idea, according to Mary Carty, executive director of Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway, is to build on that enthusiasm and success, and they are hitting the ground running. “We have a new core programme on how to begin a start-up, we will have a new fintech programme later in the semester, and we have new partners who will be working with us, including Druid Theatre Company and the university’s sports department.”

A new team of interns will be getting stuck in, too, noted Carty, drawn from disciplines across the university, including arts, engineering, medicine and health.

“Their jobs will be mainly around recruitment, marketing, events and technology,” Carty explained. “They will be spreading the word.”

Forbes awaits

At the launch yesterday, entrepreneur-in-residence and Inspirefest 2016 speaker Edel Browne talked about Free Feet, a laser device attached to the shoe, designed to reduce gait freezing in Parkinson’s Disease.

Browne, a 19-year-old student of biotechnology at NUI Galway, initially developed the idea as a winning project at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Now, she is crowdfunding to bring the invention closer to market.

“Free Feet Medical are producing technologies to improve mobility, particularly for people with Parkinson’s disease,” said Browne. “We are currently developing a device to treat gait freezing, a common symptom of Parkinson’s. Early-stage studies show a reduction in freezing severity of 40pc using our device.”

Browne will soon travel to Boston as part of Forbes’ latest 30 under 30 contingent. “[That] will provide us with invaluable opportunities to network and meet like-minded entrepreneurs,” she said. “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity and are looking forward to it immensely.”

Browne will be joined in Boston by 19-year old Ruairí McNicholas, a student of business information systems at NUI Galway and founder of gaming hardware company Crono Labs. The start-up creates products to meet the growing needs of the gaming industry, including the C1 Case, a portable computer case that saves desk space, keeps cables tidy and mounts a monitor.

“Attending the Forbes 30U30 will help the Crono Labs team to grow our business, network and get media contacts in the US for our global marketing campaign,” said McNicholas.

Bright futures

Carty, Browne and LaunchPad programme manager Natalie Walsh have all been nominated for Women Mean Business Awards, and Carty is looking forward to a bright future for Blackstone at NUI Galway this year.

“We have had start-ups, people with ideas, people getting jobs through the skills they have developed,” she said. “We want even more now. We want to build on that and expand, and see even more people take the next steps with their ideas.”


Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication