College has come under fire from students involved in the Fossil Free TCD campaign group as it emerged that their meeting Wednesday evening was removed from the Blackstone LaunchPad space, situated in the Berkeley library. The group were reportedly informed that the LaunchPad space is “place for capitalism.” The meeting had to be relocated despite the group having used the space before and the LaunchPad being empty at the time.
The group had been invited to develop an upcoming presentation by a member of staff in the LaunchPad and had been using the space for a week. Senior sophister history and political science student, James Senior said: “we’re normally the only people in there. They’ve seemed really nice and welcoming, and took photos of us one day.”
When a member of the group enquired about the use of a television lead, the director of Blackstone LaunchPad, John Whelan, confronted the group. “[He] said he couldn’t associate with the campaign and we shouldn’t be here. [Our] first reaction was laughter as we thought he was joking, then he said he was serious, and we should leave but returned to his office.” Mr. Whelan returned to the group shortly and removed them from the space, citing that it couldn’t be used for political activism and that it was “a place for capitalism”.
In a statement to Trinity News, Mr Whelan said that “[t]he Blackstone LaunchPad space in Trinity is reserved during office hours for entrepreneurial students and events. All students engaging in entrepreneurial activities are welcome to use our LaunchPad space. We define the term entrepreneurship broadly to encompass social enterprises and not-for-profit ventures. However all such ventures must aim to eventually generate capital through their activities in order to survive and progress their idea.”
He went on to outline social entrepreneurship promoted in by the space, saying “we have supported many social enterprises since the space opened in February. For example, “CriServ”, an app to assist refugees as they migrate from war-torn areas, and “Small Farms” a student start-up that will produce protein in a carbon-efficient way through cricket farming. Next week the space will play host to a Skype call we have arranged between the UN Food programme Incubation Centre and the Trinity Enactus Society. The space also hosted and sponsored the “Dev, Meet Tech” hackathon in February. The goal of this hackathon was to use ‘technology to provoke positive social change’. We are inspired by the student entrepreneurs we have been working with so far. They wish to change the world, but they do so by creating viable and sustainable businesses that generate capital and create jobs in order to achieve their aims. Political activism, whatever the stance taken by our students, without entrepreneurship is unfortunately not relevant to our mission, and therefore will not be hosted in the space. Any activities run by or for students that aim to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship around campus are welcome.”
LaunchPad is an initiative of the Blackstone Group’s charity arm aiming to provide student entrepreneurs with the tools and resources necessary to bring their ideas to fruition. Blackstone, an investment bank, has billions of dollars worth of shares in fossil fuels. In 2012, Blackstone invested US$1.5 billion in Cheniere Energy Partners to help it build the first natural gas liquefaction export facility in the continental U.S. The project, still under construction, will be one of the first links between American gas reserves and the global oil market.
At that time, the CEO of Blackstone Energy Partners David Foley predicted that by 2039, 70-75% of electricity would be generated by fossil fuels. In January 2015, the firm’s president, Tony James, confirmed that the company was “scrambling” to invest more than US$10 billion in energy companies after the dramatic fall in the price of oil. In addition, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) has also previously sold Blackstone loans once worth over €1.3 billion.
Senior said of the situation: “It is really disappointing that college space is now available for private companies to purchase, and then decide what political ideologies the students who use it must have. It’s also ironic, given that our case is so heavily financial and capitalist.” Senior sophister political science and geography student, Ben Rimaud remarked “to be honest I was stunned, I couldn’t believe what he was saying.”
On its website, Blackstone LaunchPad is a “experiential entrepreneurship program open to students, alumni, staff and faculty offering coaching, ideation and venture creation support.” It was modelled on a successful program at the University of Miami under the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. A launch for Irish branches of the initiative was attended by taoiseach Enda Kenny on July 1 last year. The meeting was attended by the heads of Trinity, National University of Ireland Galway and University College Cork. Trinity’s branch of LaunchPad was opened on February 19, and branches are also open in the NUI Galway and UCC campuses.
Update 24/03/16, 12:31pm – The contents of a statement received by Trinity News from LaunchPad director John Whelan were added to the piece.