Ready, set, launch: Inside Trinity’s student startup programme

Photo by Aisling Crabbe

Amidst over 100 years of history, something new and exciting is emerging. Here in the Graduates Memorial Building, entrepreneurial students are offered a rare chance to develop their startups with the expertise, space and encouragement needed for their startups to become viable enterprises.

Launchbox first began in 2013 under the initiative of the then-Dean of Research, Vinny Cahill and ever since, places on the 12-week programme have been massively sought after by inventive Trinity students who recognise it as the ultimate platform from which to catapult their startups into the market.

At the heart of Launchbox is ideas, although this may be considered the most difficult part. “The main challenge is still based in the ideation phase,” says Luke Cullen, Founder and CEO of Applaud Events. “They need to look at the big picture and really invest some time into building an idea of the market size and viability of the business.”

The application process can, perhaps surprisingly, help with this. Far from being alienating, applying for Launchbox is quite supportive. Before submitting a final application, companies have the option to meet with Alison Treacy, Programme Manager of Launchbox for ‘Launchbox Sprints’- three, 15-minute-long sessions to guide applicants through the process, that come highly recommended by previous applicants.

“Alison is really helpful as she’s been doing this for a while, so she’s seen quite a lot of pitches. She gives really insightful help and information,” say the team of Luminary Hub. Pitches are written, revised, and rewritten until raw ideas have been moulded into something presentable. Should a company be lucky enough to be shortlisted- and luck must surely be required, given the competition- an interview with a Launchbox representative takes place.

Then there is Pitch Night. Here, shortlisted companies sell themselves opposite a panel of experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. That night was “great craic,” says Cullen. “You get to learn from other startups pitching, receive feedback on your idea, and gain more vital experience in selling your business to people.” Accommodating as always, Launchbox even managed to facilitate the Luminary Hub team who were abroad in the US, skyping them so they could pitch to the judges.

It can be a tough process, but for those fortunate enough to secure their 12-week stint in the GMB it’s certainly worth it. Nearly all the uncertainty that comes with setting up a company is set aside for the summer as participants are given time to grow. Far from merely providing office space, Launchbox offers advice to startups on pitching and funding rounds, as well as organising workshops with CEOs and other founders- all of whom are no doubt well versed in the trials and tribulations of business.

There is a sense of security: startups are guided around potential pitfalls that their forefathers can spot from afar, their corporate family grows with every new connection they make, and the young startup itself has a chance to develop personally. “People have this idea that startups are built by a few committed people in a garage, but that’s not to be confused with building a company in a vacuum. The critical feedback and constructive criticism we have received from future customers and people in the ecosystem are invaluable to our development.” explains Anika Riley of Work Smarter.

When those 12 weeks draw to a close Demo Day will take place, where all the companies will give a final pitch. So how do the participants feel Launchbox has helped them as their time draws to a close? “It really is a vital component to any startup’s journey, to develop in a pre-seed accelerator that focuses on both developing the founders, and equipping them with the network needed to succeed. It adds credibility to the venture,” says Cullen.

The lessons companies learn, such as advice on legal issues, like founder agreements, coupled with introductions to venture capitalists, future accelerators, leaves each company in Launchbox feeling far better equipped than most student startups could ever hope for. The rarity of this opportunity does not go unappreciated. As Riley says, “It’s a tribute to Trinity that the college believes in us enough to afford us this opportunity.”