Blackstone LaunchPad Startup Weekend

    Friday, April 26 - 28, 2019

  1. Overview
  2. Schedule
  3. Speakers
  4. Judges
  5. Coaches and Mentors
  6. Sponsors
  7. Organizing Team
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Blackstone LaunchPad Startup Weekend

Friday, April 26 - 28, 2019

Friday, April 26 - 28, 2019
Event starts at 5:30 pm

Rolfe Hall, Lecture Hall 1200
Los Angeles, CA 90095

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Blackstone LaunchPad Startup Weekend: An Exclusive Startup Experience for LaunchPad Students

April 26th-28th @ UCLA

Are you a student in a Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program? Do you have an idea you'd like to pursue or a problem you'd like to solve but don't know where to start or who to start with? 

The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Startup Weekend is the place to look for a team, create a prototype of your idea, validate your business idea, and receive feedback from experienced entrepreneurs, all in one weekend.

What's Different?

Techstars Startup Weekend is run in over 700 cities and 150 countries worldwide each year. The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Startup Weekend is unique in a few ways:

  • Exclusive to LaunchPad Students: Attendees must be freshman or sophomores enrolled in a University with a Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurship program.
  • Multi-Campus: Out of thousands of Startup Weekends, this is THE FIRST multi-campus event to be held in the history of the program
  • Event Scale: 4 students from 26 LaunchPad Programs in the US and Ireland will attend
  • Techstars-Organized: The event is fully supported and organized by the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars team.
  • Follow-on Programming: Students that participate become “Student Entrepreneurs in Residence” and are empowered by Techstars to return to their Universities and lead their own Startup Weekend.
Where does the event take place?

Address:  Rolfe Hall, Lecture Hall 1200, Los Angeles, CA  90095 

Interactive Campus Map:
Maps, Directions, and Parking:

Please park in Structure 3, 215 Charles E. Young Drive, North. There are visitor pay kiosks available on the north end of the structure.

Startup Weekend is a full weekend long experience. The experience includes:
  • 6 full (and delicious) meals over the course of the weekend
  • Benefits and discounts from our global partners
  • One-on-one time with amazing mentors
  • A new network of students like you, ready to change the world.
  • All the internet and coffee you can consume.
How does this work?
On day 1, you’ll have the opportunity to meet other attendees and pitch your idea (if you have one). Attendees select the top ideas based on this pitch event, and teams are formed. The rest of the weekend is devoted to working on that startup idea, including marketing research, forming a basic business plan, and creating a pitch. On Sunday, all teams will have the opportunity to pitch in front of judges, and the winner will be announced.

Your idea / startup should be something you have *not* worked on extensively. Startup Weekend is designed to be an entrepreneurial experience for attendees that haven't started a company before, and the days are built around working on a brand new idea from scratch. So, if you already have an active startup, you really won't get much out of the event, and neither will your teammates!  If you do have an idea, be open to coming up with something new for this event, or jumping on another team to assist and lend a hand. 

The idea you pitch and the problem you set out to solve can span social, educational, financial, environmental, or other issues. Over the course of the weekend you'll be challenged to create a prototype of your MVP, or minimum viable product, that fits the needs of your target customer. You'll get feedback, iterate, and likely pivot your approach entirely!

  • What’s the team size?
    • Teams will ideally have 3-5 members.
  • Can I work with students from my school or my friends?
    • Probably not! :) Teams will be a mix of students from multiple schools - you probably will not work with any other students from your University. (This great networking and team-building experience is all part of the fun!)
  • Who is going to guide us through the weekend and give us instructions?
    • Team formation and the weekend overall will be guided by our awesome facilitator, Carley Jacobson! You’ll never have to question what you should be working on.
    • We will have mentors on site to help you Saturday and Sunday morning.
  • Is there food and caffeine?
    • Don’t worry - all meals (and snacks) are provided throughout the day(s)!
  • What should I wear?
    • Dress comfortably! You will be at the venue for long hours, so wear whatever makes you comfortable.
  • What should I bring?
    • It’s a good idea to bring a laptop, charger and a notepad for researching ideas, creating your pitch, etc.
  • Is there a prize for winning?
    • You get the great honor of saying you “won” the inaugural Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Startup Weekend. But really, all attendees are winners - you got an amazing experience and learned from the best on what it’s like to start a company.
Interested in participating? This is a *closed* event - please contact your LaunchPad campus leadership to apply!

We have an AMA scheduled for student on Monday, April 9th at 3:00 pm EST. To register, please follow this link:

Still have questions? Feel free to reach us at

See what it's all about

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Friday April 26th

5:30 pm
Arrive at the venue and get checked in

6:00 pm
Dinner & Networking
Eat food, share ideas, practice pitches, get to know fellow participants

7:00 pm
Review agenda for the weekend and introduce speakers, coaches, and community leaders

7:30 pm

8:00 pm
Pitches Start
Line up to give your pitch

8:30 pm
Attendees vote for the top pitches

9:15 pm
Form Teams
Teams start forming and discussing ideas

9:30 pm
Wrap Up
Facilitator closes the evening with letting participants know what to expect the next day

Saturday April 27th

8:30 am
Arrive, simple breakfast & coffee

9:30 am
Begin Work
Teams learn the fundamentals of customer validation and how to think about their MVP. Teams get out of the building to do customer validation with their target market

12:00 pm

2:00 pm
Coach Meetings
Teams begin meeting with mentors, subject matter experts who guide them on their journey

4:00 pm
Check In
Group check-in to share triumphs and challenges

6:30 pm

7:15 pm
How to Pitch Workshop
In Rolfe Auditorium

10:00 pm
Teams can continue to work on the their pitches but space wrap up begins

Sunday April 28th

8:30 am
Arrive, epic breakfast & coffee

9:30 am
Mandatory Pitch Practice
Mandatory pitch practice with pitch coaches

10:30 am
Snacks and breaks for the teams

11:00 am
Final presentations! (Typically 3 minutes + 2 minutes QA per team)

12:30 pm
Judges deliberate

12:45 pm
Winners Announced
Celebrations and lunch, and networking with mentors and judges

1:00 pm
Lunch Served & Networking Beings

2:00 pm
Event Concludes


Antonio Neves
Career Success Speaker | Author | Award-Winning Journalist

Antonio Neves is a workplace and college leadership speaker, corporate event and awards show emcee, author and award-winning broadcast journalist. He's the author of three books including, '50 Ways To Excel In Your First Job (and Life).'

For nearly 10 years, Antonio has helped professionals and organizations increase workplace engagement, improve communication and soft skills, create a culture of accountability, create momentum on what matters most, and build a culture of allies.

Antonio's clients and audiences worldwide are some of the largest brands in the world including: Google, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Stryker,, Credit Union National Association, Stanford University, major trade associations, conferences and more.

Antonio's advice, opinions and writing regularly appears in,, and several other national outlets.

An award-winning journalist, Antonio worked in the television industry in New York City for over 10 years as a business correspondent, host and producer with top networks including NBC, PBS (Macneil/Leher), Advertising Age, BET Networks and Nickelodeon.

A former NCAA Division I student-athlete, Antonio is a graduate of Western Michigan University (BBA) and Columbia University (MS). Antonio lives with his wife and two kids in Los Angeles.

Specialties: Talent development, Onboarding, Engagement, Communication, Soft Skills Development, Leadership, Retention, Executive Coaching, Journalism, Career Success, Team Building, Offsite Facilitation, Media Training, Orientation, College, Emcee.

Braven Greenelsh
Founder & CEO Three Good

Braven is currently Founder & CEO of his sixth venture, Three Good. He is Chairman of the Board for the award-winning digital branding agency La Visual in Culver City and currently serves as Interim President for AMP Los Angeles, a Non-profit Creative Youth Development program he CoFounded in 2014.

As a serial entrepreneur, investor and executive leader, Braven's expertise is creating brands and businesses that flourish. Leveraging over fifteen years of experience as a partner to scores of tech startups and enterprise-level corporations, his unique skill set offers value-add to any institutional fund, holding company or brand that needs to get started, or restarted!

Throughout his career, he's been afforded the privilege to work with brands like FOX Studios, Sony Pictures, On Assignment, IAC, Discovery Channel, Toyota, Lincoln Motor Company, Omnicom, Intuit, Yahoo!, WME | IMG, Billabong, and Seven Denim.

Event Judges

Hafidha Benyahia
Entrepreneur & Co-founder @ RideSVP

Hafidha Benyahia is an entrepreneur with international experience in the healthcare, tech, mobility, and sustainability sectors who is passionate about innovations and improvements.

During a seven-year career as a clinician in two different countries, she learned to tackle high-responsibility jobs in a fast-paced, constantly changing and highly regulated environment. She moved from Europe to Los Angeles a few years ago, leaving her country, family, and career to pursue a larger vision of serving the community through tech and innovation.

Driven by her mission, she went back to school to study Business at UCLAx where she was awarded the Laurel Hummel Scholarship, recognizing international students who demonstrate academic excellence, communication skills, and exceptional promise through their coursework.

After graduating, Hafidha worked with world-class institutions and startup innovators to help them succeed. She was the liaison between the emerging health tech companies and the Health Systems to transform healthcare as we know it. She was intimately involved in every stage - from ideation and workflow integration to measurement and evaluation. She focused on product management, strategy, implementation, user training, and testing projects.

Harnessing her unique and diverse background, she now contributes to the energy transition in the US by improving the efficiency of transportation and changing the way people travel.

Today, Hafidha is the co-founder and CEO of RideSVP, a Cleantech Open alumni company focusing on reducing carbon impact and the number of cars on the roads. RideSVP provides a collaborative carpool platform for people to share a green, social and affordable travel experience.

Kelly Nyland
Founder, CEO Petalfox

As one of the foremost marketing leaders in the tech industry, Kelly's unparalleled go-to-market strategy, unconventional marketing prowess, and ability to foster growth from small businesses to a global scale, make her one of this industry's most coveted executives.

Harnessing her background in technology and innovation, she has founded a new lifestyle brand, Petalfox, that will transform the way get the things we love on an everyday basis.

Kelly is a pioneer leader who has introduced emerging tech products to mass market through play. She has launched leading consumer brands in drone, robot, music, and wearable tech categories. Her executive roles span international marketing, sales and experience design. In her previous role at Snap Inc (the parent company of Snapchat), Kelly was responsible for the global marketing & sales launch of Snap’s newest consumer product brand, Spectacles. This release championed a playful advertising campaign and temporary pop-up kiosks which garnered international curiosity and was recently awarded 6 Cannes Lions awards at this year’s Cannes Festival.

Professional [global] experience includes: brand building, performance marketing, business development, Ecom & digital marketing, retail channel strategy & merchandising, packaging, product development, event management, PR & communications, social media, influencer marketing, growth, revenue, sales, creative director, experience design.

Product line(s): smart glasses, connected toy, consumer robots, app-cessory, CE; augmented reality, mobile games, game system; connected music; apps ; headphones; portable & stationary audio systems; automotive installed, portable & Bluetooth headsets; interactive point-of-sale kiosks; digital photo frame; MFI, iPhone, IPad, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire, Windows 8 & phone compatibility.

Kelly has built global omni-channel relationships with Apple, Amazon, Ecom, Specialty & Luxury retailers in 40 physical countries and 70 online.

Bhavini Soneji
VP of Engineering @ Headspace

An established leader in the software industry with over 15 years of experience in architecting and delivering highly scalable software solutions for B2C as well as B2B.

• Experienced at delivering gen 1 as well as multi gen solutions used by 100s of million users worldwide.
• Extensive experience managing budget and establishing and building team from scratch.

• Repeatedly recognized as a ‘High Potential’ employee in Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft
• Handpicked by SVP for the Leadership Development Program, 2006-2007 and 2014-2015.

• Results oriented
• Strategic & Organizational Leadership
• Customer focused
• Program Management • Innovation, Impact & Influence
• Large scale services including few V1s
• Business & Technical Feasibility
• Problem Solving

Daniel Archer
Director Of Engineering at Ritual

Daniel leads engineering at Ritual, where the team is reinventing the future of vitamins. Since joining, Daniel and his team have brought their subscription e-commerce technology in-house to own and control the full end-to-end customer experience. Before Ritual, he co-founded Techstars-backed Naritiv, an early influencer marketing platform for brands on Snapchat, which was acquired by Hootsuite two years in.

Jackie Ros
Regional Director, Americas @ Techstars

Jackie Ros is the Regional Director of the Americas, from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, including Brazil.

Jackie was born in Miami, and she's lived in Mexico City, Boulder, and Switzerland. She is an alumnae of the Techstars accelerator program where she led her company, Revolar, as CEO and raised over 5M from incredible investors such as Foundry Group.

Jackie has experience working with governments and was formerly a Teach For America educator. She's now based in NYC.

Coaches and Mentors

Matthew Bilinsky
Attorney, Weinberg Gonser LLP

Business Attorney / Strategic Advisor / Connector

Kurt Daradics
Entre/Intraprenuer with expertise in product development, cross functional teams, & strategic partnerships.

Passionate and collaborative start-up Business Leader and proven Entre/Intrapreneur with expertise in spearheading product development, cross-functional teams, and startups in the achievement of their pioneering initiatives. Deeply engaged in building communities with a shared vision and goal. Possess an exceptional network of partners, leaders, and innovators, all with an eagerness to discover and bring to life product-market fit.

Recognized by the markets for ability to provide ample, trusted, and verified business leadership to start-up organizations on the rise.

Currently I'm pioneering a new category called "Venture Builder" at Coplex. We work exclusively with Industry Experts to rapidly bring solutions to market. Collectively we have started over 280 companies around the globe and helped raise over $1.5B in VC With 280+ companies created, $1.5B+ in VC, and an aggregate market value of $4.5B+.

Contributed to one of the fastest growth startups ever with Lime as a key member of the Business Development team. Notable contributions including recruiting the CMO into the organization.

Served as a founding member of Esri’s Emerging Business Group, which launched key corporate iniatives including the Esri Startup Program and ArcGIS Hub Program.

Experienced go-to-market success as the Co-Founder of CitySourced, Inc., having built the company from an idea to enduring profitability in less than two years.

Experience and Expertise includes:
+ Sales
+ Marketing
+ Strategic Alliances
+ Business Development
+ Product Management
+ Strategic Partnerships
+ Brand Management
+ Business Intelligence
+ Deal Sourcing
+ Stakeholder Engagement
+ Go-to-Market Strategy & Execution

Justin Kifer
CEO, Modern

Magic happens when previously disparate threads or ideas are brought together to form a new reality. These opportunities aren't obvious to most, but this is where I spend most of my time exploring.

I am an entrepreneur, writer and adventurer. Having spent nearly all of my eighteen professional years creating and building companies, I have found a deep passion for design and storytelling.

Darwyn Metzger
CEO at Phantom Firm

Darwyn Metzger is an Emmy award winning broadcast journalist, and founder and CEO of Phantom, a digital marketing and social media strategy firm that specializes in engineering & seeding subversive digital propaganda on behalf of Major consumer brands, Start-ups, TV shows, Films & Celebrities. Phantom's latest project known as "Pavemint," has been described by NPR as the "Airbnb of Parking," and seeks to transform one of the most archaic practices in American culture, circling the block in the pursuit of parking...

Erick Opeka
President, Cinedigm Digital Networks

As President, Digital Networks for Cinedigm (NASDAQ:CIDM), Erick oversees the company’s over-the-top networks available online, on mobile devices, gaming consoles, and connected TVs. He oversees strategy, development, launch and operations of the company's OTT networks including documentary network Docurama, fandom network CONtv, family-centered Dove Channel, kids network DoveKids, esports network Wham!, MMA channel COMBAT GO, Kpop Network Hallypop, and Chinese entertainment network Bambu.

Previously, Erick was SVP of Global Digital, where he oversaw the distribution of Cinedigm's 50,000+ hours of content. He managed multi-platform distribution deals, sales and distribution, client management, content strategy, development and operations across all distribution channels, including subscription and ad-supported VOD, EST, and cable VOD.

Prior to Cinedigm, Erick co-founded and ran digital aggregator New Video Digital, growing it into the largest aggregator of independent video content for 650 partners, including all of A&E Networks digital content. Erick also managed home entertainment releases for A&E, MLB and Docurama, including over 20 Academy Award-winning and nominated films.

Erick began his career at Madstone Entertainment, a vertically-integrated exhibitor, distributor and digital cinema pioneer, where he held positions in audience services and marketing. He also served as a lead technology trainer and combat medic in the U.S. Army Infantry.

Erick has been named a Digital Driver seven times by Home Media Magazine. He is a frequent speaker at industry events including Sundance, NAB, CES, IFP, among others. He is also chair of EMA's OTT Growth Council and a member of the Producer's Guild of America.

Erick received his BA from UT Austin and his MBA from Florida State University.

Specialties: corporate strategy, digital distribution, client management, project management, customer acquisition, marketing & advertising, PR, business development, M&A

Esha Shah
Head of Growth, Joymode

Full-stack growth & product leader. Open to advising / consulting for user acquisition, email / dripmarketing, product management, startup growth initiatives, app store optimization, UX / UI and QA.

Ayinde Simon
Product Manager, Pink Dot Academy

My name is Ayinde, I am a passionate and results-oriented product management leader and UX designer focused on culture and emerging technologies. I'm knowledgeable of Product Management, Product Marketing Management, UX Design, Customer Discovery, Blockchain, and Interaction Design. I'm a dynamic and top performing individual, with an inquisitive mind, a flexible spirit and an entrepreneurial drive.

After graduating from college, I started my own consulting firm supporting businesses of all kinds and sizes in developing authentic, strategic marketing and customer engagement plans that would drive revenue. I created a standalone events division; Ayinde Factory. Working with brands like Honest Tea and Krispy Kreme, we threw innovative events that paired national musical acts with brands in order to build community. My strong connection to music led me to found an indie music label; Baby Dinosaurs & Co where I worked on everything from creative direction to international tour management to music video creation for Gen Z audiences.

In all of my roles, I’ve excelled at developing processes, systems, and onboarding approaches. I am a strategic and tactical thinker with a strong focus on processes improvements, quality controls, and project management from start to end. I have excellent organizational abilities, I bring energy, technical expertise, and skills to growing business and quickly scale and iterate on solutions through Product Management.

Finally, with an eye towards the future, and a nagging obsession with fintech, I have turned my focus to the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. My passion for incentivized markets, cultural trends, and cryptocurrencies is immense as well as my curiosity of how people interact and do business today. Success in financial markets needs different approaches and requires quite different skills, knowledge, and talents; and I have focused on product management, UX design, and the role of culture in emerging technologies.

Phil Tassi
Vice President of Corporate Business Development at Interstate Venture Capital

Phil Tassi is Vice President of Corporate Business Development at Interstate VC and works to source early-stage technology deals and to identify global licensing, partnering and acquisition opportunities for Interstate clients. Phil was recently a Venture Associate at Techstars Los Angeles. He focused his work at Techstars on identifying high potential seed and pre-seed stage startups in the Los Angeles area. Prior to Techstars, Phil worked as a graduate intern at NCT Ventures while earning his MBA from The Ohio State University where his focus was on Smart City Technologies. 

Dan Benyamin
CEO, CitizenNet

For nearly 20 years, Dan has developed award-winning technologies used worldwide in a variety of industries. Dan has split his time between large-cap companies and three startups, two of which he was founder and officer.

In 2009, Dan founded and became CEO of CitizenNet. CitizenNet was one of the earliest platforms to leverage natural language processing, semantic analysis, and machine learning in order to predictively market to consumers on social media. Today, CitizenNet is the #1 platform for entertainment and branded content marketing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In 2017, CitizenNet was acquired by Condé Nast, where Dan continues as VP of Data Products.

Prior to CitizenNet, Dan was the Co-Founder and CTO of PhatNoise. The company’s leading-edge designs and products have earned such accolades as Popular Science's Best of What's New, and PC Magazine's Editor's Choice. In 2004, PhatNoise was winner of Frost and Sullivan’s Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award. A year later, PhatNoise was acquired by Harman International (NYSE: HAR), where Dan continued as Vice President of Engineering. At Harman, Dan lead the teams that conceived and built the Drive+Play global line of iPod products. These products have won Macworld’s Best of Show and the Consumer Electronics Association Innovations Award.

Dan holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from University of California, Los Angeles, and is the principle author of more than a dozen patents and scientific articles. Dan is an active advisor to companies and member of the startup community in Los Angeles.

Chelsea Laferla
Founder, Petitas

Chelsea is part of the Blackstone LaunchPad program at USC and recently completed our LaunchPad Lift Cohort, and is joining startup weekend to share her knowledge with other student entrepreneurs. 

Chelsea is Founder at Petitas LA, a clothing company with the belief that every woman should feel beautiful, confident and empowered. Petitas creates clothes by petites for petites - women 5'4" and under. Designed in Los Angeles, Petitas feature high quality fabrics, flattering designs and classic, versatile pieces. 

John Hill
Network Catalyst at Techstars

Traded one passion for another which led me to leave Michigan State University to become the Higher Education Evangelist at LinkedIn. Did it one more time moving from LinkedIn to become the Network Catalyst for Techstars. I have a thing for cool work titles. I also believe "changing the world" can be more than hyperbole. Building relationships and connecting people with opportunity are at my core. I rely heavily on online and offline networks to facilitate each. I am young, smart and global at heart, MSU by passion and driven by nature.

Christine Liou
Program Coordinator at The Basement UC San Diego

Working at the Basement Incubator at UC San Diego. 

Marcel Salapa
Founder, Phoros Nutrition

Founder of Phoros Nutrition and Blackstone LaunchPad Alum.

Participated in UCLA's Blackstone Venture Accelerator and the Techstars Blackstone Launch Pad Training Camp in New York.

Event Sponsors, and Partners

The Blackstone LaunchPad Startup Weekend team is grateful for the support of local community partners without whom this event would not be possible.
Learn how to become a sponsor here.


Organizing Team

Techstars Startup Weekend Blackstone Launchpad is 100% led by volunteer community leaders.
Learn how to get involved here

  • Jackie
  • Courtney
  • Carley

Event Staff

Courtney Gras
LaunchPad Community Director

Courtney is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. After leaving her job at NASA to work with the startup company she founded in college, Courtney uncovered opportunities to improve the local startup ecosystems. Her work has involved relationship building and program management among entrepreneur support organizations, corporations, universities and local government - focused on building bridges, encouraging partnerships, and improving collaboration.Today, Courtney serves as the LaunchPad Community Director at Techstars. The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program helps students succeed. In this role, she is delivering Techstars services to the LaunchPad program, working with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation (BXCF) and the broader Techstars team. 

Jackie Ros
Regional Director, Americas @ Techstars

Jackie Ros is the Regional Director of the Americas, from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, including Brazil.

Jackie was born in Miami, and she's lived in Mexico City, Boulder, and Switzerland. She is an alumnae of the Techstars accelerator program where she led her company, Revolar, as CEO and raised over 5M from incredible investors such as Foundry Group.

Jackie has experience working with governments and was formerly a Teach For America educator. She's now based in NYC.

Carley Jacobson
Innovation Coach, Techstars

Carley works at Techstars as the Innovation Coach for the Techstars Innovation Bootcamp.

Previously Carley worked as a Strategy Designer at Business Models Inc. helping enterprise organizations build transformative strategies using design thinking, business model innovation, and lean methodologies. For 6 years prior, Carley helped grow Autodesk's maker community

Carley holds a degree in Computer Science and Visual Art from Union College and an MBA in Design Strategy from California College of the Arts.

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