Sopko to encourage student entrepreneurship as new LaunchPad director

Inspiring entrepreneurship as a viable career path will take a major step forward with the appointment of Bob Sopko as director of the university’s Blackstone LaunchPad (BLP)—a program for helping students turn their ideas into thriving businesses.

“College is a time of discovery of the imagination,” said Sopko, previously manager of Strategic Technology Partnerships in the university’s Information Technology Services department. “There are students who want to use their intellectual firepower to build something.”

When it debuts early next year at Case Western Reserve, Blackstone LaunchPad will provide the fuse.

Blackstone LaunchPad is the result of a three-year, $3.2-million commitment from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, in partnership with the Hudson, Ohio-based Burton D. Morgan Foundation to foster entrepreneurship using both a regional and a national network.

Case Western Reserve is among four area institutions of higher education in Northeast Ohio participating in the project and sharing the grant award. Others include Baldwin Wallace University, Kent State University and Lorain County Community College.

LaunchPad is based on a successful co-curricular program developed by the University of Miami and expanded by Blackstone Charitable Foundation as part of a five-year, $50 million initiative, including campuses in Detroit, Central Florida and Philadelphia.

In his new position, Sopko will integrate BLP into the University Career Center as the go-to resource for advising and mentoring students, faculty and alumni with an entrepreneurial bent for inventing, starting a business or joining the team of a new enterprise.

“Bob Sopko brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion to his new role as director of the CWRU Blackstone LaunchPad program,” said Thomas Matthews, executive director of the University Career Center. “He’s already well known by students who have come to rely on him for his candor, insight and considerable energy.”

“At its core,” Matthews added, “the Blackstone LaunchPad program is an experiential learning opportunity for students who have ideas of their own they’d like to explore, whether for purposes of the challenge itself or the opportunity to create a career.  Either way, Bob understands student-entrepreneurs and will work tirelessly to develop them and the requisite support network to ensure student success.”

A few of the Case Western Reserve students he’s already guided include:

  • Onosys, which was started by 2007 graduates Oleg Fridman, Stan Garber and Alex Yakubovich in a campus dorm room. They devised a pizza-ordering business for the Rascal House, a local chain, which has grown to more than $90 million in food orders and now serves 4,000 stores.  The founders recently sold the business to LivingSocial and their company of 21 trailblazers continues to expand this division that remains headquartered in Cleveland.
  • Joshua Schwarz, a campus student technician, who fulfilled his goal of building 52 Facebook apps in a year—one for each week.
  • Matthew Strayer, a computer science major, who recently was awarded funding by the Third Frontier through Launchhouse to develop a business plan and service around simplifying the use of multiple social networks.

Sopko arrived at the university in 2003 after a marketing and technology career with Revco (now CVS Pharmacy).  He was also vice president of marketing at 1-JOBS.com, built staffing to promote 80 tech career fairs in 40 major markets and over 600 recruiting websites. The company was eventually sold to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.

Sopko will work closely with established campus programs, such as STEP (the Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Program), MEM (the Master of Engineering and Management) and think[ box ] in the Case School of Engineering.

The Blackstone LaunchPad is open to students of all majors to create, develop and test new ideas.  Contact Sopko at bob.sopko@case.edu or call 216.368.1522.

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