LaunchU Wraps Up Its Inaugural Year at Loyola


Monica Basilio

Finalists pose alongside the competitions organizers and other business school faculty at LaunchU’s final pitch competition on Sept. 16. The LaunchU entrepreneurship competition recently concluded and winners and finalists were announced during the final pitch competition.

Heather Rabassa, Copy Editor

Loyola’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Community Development saw the culmination of their LaunchU program earlier this month, a competition for entrepreneurs in the Loyola community to expand and grow their businesses with the help of mentors and other professionals. 

The program started with a bootcamp May 2022 with 22 people, making up a total of 14 businesses. Participants learned from professionals in various fields, including marketing, finances, and the legal aspects of a business, which included learning about patents.  

The competition, held Sept. 9, showcased the eight finalists, selected by a panel of judges. They were awarded $35,000 split amongst them to help fund their businesses. The finalists, which were faculty, alumni, and students alike, included Srinee Bajaj, David Price, Andreca Johnson, Jonathan Presson, Rich Simmerman, Sal Mannino, Andrea Alarcon, and Aubin Duchier.

LaunchU was introduced to Loyola by the executive director of entrepreneurship, Bara Watts, who was eager to bring the program to the university.

“It was a terrific way for us to help individuals move from a raw idea to being able to launch their enterprise,” Watts said.

Watts believes that entrepreneurship can span across all fields of work, and she said she hopes that LaunchU can help initiate that integration.

“Some of your greatest innovations come from the intersectionality between some of the different disciplines that are here at the university,” Watts said. “It’s a way to build a healthy community. It’s where jobs are created.  It’s where individual prosperity can be gained. It can be a really powerful way to impact the world.”

The program was designed for everyone in Loyola’s community to participate, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and family.

One such faculty member was artistic director and professor of theatre arts, Sal Mannino.  Mannino is one of the creators and visionaries behind the company, an interactive media company that specializes in storytelling. Mannino said he plans to use his funds to hire artists he wouldn’t normally be able to employ for his company.  For him, the diversity of perspectives made the LaunchU program an enriching experience.

“The bootcamp experience was very rewarding.  Especially in a faculty position, I think it’s easy for us not to continue to learn and educate during the summer,” Mannino said.  

Digital filmmaking sophomore Jonathan Presson echoed Mannino’s sentiment, saying that the networking offered by the LaunchU program was invaluable.

“I think the main thing that you can never discount is relationships with the other people in the program and just talking with them and networking with them and getting new ideas that way – no matter what stage your business is in,” Presson said.  

Presson is the creator of, a company that creates and designs commercials for businesses, specifically attorneys. He said his funds will be used to purchase better equipment for his business.

Both Presson and Maninno believe in the future of LaunchU at Loyola and said that they hope it continues to grow and help other entrepreneurs like them.

“It’s going to take off when the whole university is really thinking about entrepreneurship and businesses, even in their own field, and using it as a launchpoint.  The more we can get the word out, the more successful it will be,” Mannino said.

A graduate assistant for the center of entrepreneurship, Alejandra Arguello, said that she hopes that in the future the program will involve even more of the Loyola community.

“I would invite all of the Loyola family and community to not be afraid and to know that every idea is valid and in the end, everyone can be an entrepreneur,” Arguello said.