Turning Ideas into Real Business – UCF

UCF’s Blackstone LaunchPad program is transforming students from all backgrounds and majors into something they might never have imagined: entrepreneurs.
By Robert Stephens January 10, 2022
On most days, you can find Mason Mincey in his garage, living his dream. There are no cars or woodworking tools here. Mincey wears booties to ensure everything, including the garage floor, stays as clean as the inside of a bubble.
“What we’re doing in here is what you’d find Ph.D.s doing in expensive labs,” Mincey says about his three business partners and himself. “We’ve learned to work with whatever resources we have available.”
Mincey, who’s on track to graduate from UCF in 2023, studies plant-based fibers at the nanoscale on one side of the garage. On the other side, the fibers are used for the research and development of high-performance athletic clothing. That’s the differentiator for Mincey and his co-founders of Soarce USA: Their shirts, socks, underwear, and headbands will be derived from plant materials.
“With our research,” he says, “we can make high-quality performance-wear and feel good about protecting the environment.”
Mincey enrolled at UCF as an aspiring aerospace engineer. During his freshman year, he discovered the university’s Blackstone LaunchPad program and a path to entrepreneurship.
“Mason exemplifies the kind of student who comes into the program,” says Cameron Ford, founding director of UCF’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “Blackstone is the investment company behind our LaunchPad. They share my belief that people who develop an entrepreneurial mindset will be better prepared to take risks and adapt, no matter what they do for a career.
“Think about it. One student takes classes, graduates, and interviews for a job. Another student takes the same classes, but also had an idea for lip balm, developed a prototype and a website, and tried to market the product. If I’m an employer, that second candidate has me spellbound, whether they succeeded or not.”
Ford has seen 500-600 students in the LaunchPad center every year since it opened in 2013. Volunteers from the business community mentor students in skills like accounting, marketing, and how to apply for patents.
“This is real-world business development,” says Ford, “but it isn’t just for business students. You can see that from the alumni who have used the LaunchPad.”
Chemistry alum David Nash ’11 ’14MS ’17PhD helped launch IDem Systems in 2015 to help law enforcement agencies quickly detect the presence of illegal drugs. Health sciences grad Victoria Weiss ’16 co-founded Rope Lace Supply in her dorm room with industrial engineering grad Eric Delgado ’16 and sold $250,000 of shoelaces online in their first year. Managementalum Jesse Wolfe ’15 created O’dang Hummus, received mentoring in the LaunchPad, pitched his product on Shark Tank, and is one of UCF’s most recognized entrepreneurs.
“And now,” says Ford, “he comes into the LaunchPad to mentor other students.”
Like Mason Mincey.
Soarce is the fourth idea that Mincey and his partners hatched. They learned valuable lessons from each swing and miss. As freshmen, they developed a drone to help farmers locate patches of dying crops in massive fields, and even took it into the semifinals of UCF’s Joust competition.
“Our pitch didn’t go well,” says Mincey. “We went back to LaunchPad and began to understand that creativity and drive aren’t enough to build an actual business.”
Next, they built a 13-foot rocket as vehicle for organizations without NASA-size budgets to collect scientific data. At a demonstration in Alabama, the rocket blew up at takeoff. Small portions of their own carbon fiber stayed intact, however, and would inspire number-three: a racing drone.
“We had fun and sold some drones, but there wasn’t a big market,” Mincey says. “Plus, it was a toy. I didn’t see it as a business that would make a positive impact.”
In the LaunchPad, Wolfe shared some entrepreneurial wisdom from his trials and errors during the early days of O’dang. For example, you can’t build a business on passion alone.
“He said, ‘You need to think from the customer perspective, a product perspective, and a business perspective. That’s the three-legged stool. And you need to be willing to adjust your original idea,” Mincey says.
Mincey says without those lessons, and without pro bono help from attorneys, designers, and marketing specialists, Soarce wouldn’t have made it past three months, and he wouldn’t be wearing booties in his garage or using plants to perfect textile fibers a million times smaller than a human hair.
“LaunchPad got us on the right track,” he says, “and now we’re onto something cool.”
It’s been said that the Blackstone LaunchPad is a great program for UCF students who have always dreamed of starting a business or those who never could have imagined it.
Brandon Naids ’14 ’16MS is among the latter group.
“I was just a naïve engineering student trying to come up with something interesting for my senior project,” he says of the virtual reality flight simulator he and four other UCF students created. “And I thought it would look good on my resume.”
At the Senior Design Showcase in April 2014, local industry leaders and UCF faculty saw the compact nature of the simulator and heard about the lower cost to make it. Their feedback sparked a fire that changed Naids’ career path before he’d taken his first step on it.
“Every person at the showcase told us to check out the LaunchPad,” Naids says. “I planned to look for an engineering job, but once we met with an advisor at LaunchPad and heard about the help available to turn our project into a product, we thought, ‘Wow, we’re really doing this.’”
Instead of pursuing job interviews, Naids pursued his master’s degree while shifting from an engineering mindset to an entrepreneurial ethos.
“We learned that as business owners you can’t just submit plans and wait for results,” Naids says. “You have to set goals and then be accountable to meet each one of them. A mentor also told us that passion alone isn’t enough to build a business, but it will help you through the tough times — because those time will come.”
During those times, Naids would nervously sit in parking lots for up to an hour before meeting with prospective clients of Talon Simulations. Now, with a real business sitting firmly on a three-legged stool, he sees his team’s simulators used in arcades, malls, 150 Dave and Busters locations, and for U.S. Army recruiting events.
“I never imagined this until we went to UCF’s LaunchPad,” Naids says. “Until then, I thought I’d be doing 3-D modeling behind someone else’s desk. I’m grateful everything turned out this way instead.”
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