Launch Pad participants rise to the challenge


It didn’t take long for, one of the new ventures that are part of RENCI’s 2010 Carolina Launch Pad program, to get noticed.  

The fledgling company run by University of North Carolina students won second place for a commercial venture in the 2010 Carolina Challenge, a competition run by UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Blinkcoupons won additional recognition in the Challenge as best undergraduate team.

“We spent lot of time working on our pitch and our business plan,” said Zaid Farooqui, a senior communications major who launched the company last year. “We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without the office space here at the Launch Pad. It gave us a place where we could really concentrate.”

Blinkcoupons is a mobile coupon company focused on the student market. The company partners with media in college markets—in Chapel Hill its partner is the Daily Tar Heel—to advertise the site to potential customers. Its profits come from the pizza parlors, fast food restaurants, pubs and other local businesses who provide coupons to the site. Farooqui met business partner Corey Harris, a senior majoring in economics and entrepreneurship, last year at an event aimed at young entrepreneurs.  At the time, Farooqui had recently returned to school after taking  time off to concentrate on his first venture,, which he described as “a YouTube for music” that receives more than 1.5 million visits a month.

“I was a sales rep for Universities Directories when we first got together,” recalled Harris. “He had the idea and the technical expertise and I had an interest in the marketing side and a background in marketing, so getting together just made sense.”

First came their successful application to Carolina Launch Pad, the pre-commercial business incubator for UNC faculty, staff and students with technology-focused business ideas. The Launch Pad provides pre-commercial ventures with office space, lap top computer, telephone, Internet access, office supplies and access to experts with RENCI, Kenan-Flagler Business School, the UNC Office of Technology Development and the Triangle area business community.

The Carolina Challenge entry involved many long hours and late nights in the Launch Pad office, as the Blinkcoupons team worked first on its application, then on presentations and a business plan. Winners of the 2010 Carolina Challenge were announced after the final round of competition on March 27.

Future plans for the Blinkcoupons team include forming an additional 18 partnerships with media outlets in other college markets and continuing to participate in Launch Pad activities.

“Along with the office space and the privacy, we’ve learned a lot from David’s (RENCI’s David Knowles, who directs the Launch Pad program) guidance and by being able to tap into the entrepreneurial network on campus and beyond,” said Farooqui.

Farooqui, Harris and Blinkcoupons’ two other employees—Howard Lee and Ashley Klein—all plan to graduate from UNC in December. However, as long as college students look for bargains and Blinkcoupons is there to provide, they are likely to have a continuing presence on campus.