Montana State University

Army veteran with strong ties to national service selected as director of MSU Blackstone LaunchPad

January 22, 2015

Les Craig of Baltimore, an Army veteran who is a specialist in data analytics, a consultant, mentor and active volunteer in a variety of organizations, has been hired as the new director of MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad, an organization that helps students and alumni launch new business ventures. Photo courtesy of Les Craig.

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Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State University has announced that Les Craig, an entrepreneur and veteran of the U.S. Army, has been selected to serve as executive director. In this role, Craig will work with MSU students and faculty to expand Blackstone LaunchPad on the MSU campus and provide mentorship and venture creation support to entrepreneurs. Craig will begin his duties on Feb. 2.

Prior to joining Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU, Craig served as co-founder and a vice president at RedOwl Analytics in Baltimore, where he led the product, client services, and analytics teams. He has served in both conventional and special operations forces in the U.S. Army. Following his service in the Army, he worked at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and then the Central Intelligence Agency where he was a technical operations officer.

In addition to his professional responsibilities, Craig serves as a mentor in residence for Johns Hopkins University Technology Ventures and works regularly with the COMMIT Foundation and the Station Foundation, two nonprofits that help veterans transition from active duty to the private sector. He is the inventor of two software patents. Craig is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics. 

“Les brings much talent and expertise to Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU,” said MSU Provost Martha Potvin. “His experience in creating successful business ventures and mentoring entrepreneurs will benefit our students directly through his interactions with them and indirectly through the networks and connections that will result as the program continues to mature.”

“We could not be more excited to welcome Les to the Blackstone LaunchPad team,” said Amy Stursberg, executive director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “His vast experience as an entrepreneur and a veteran uniquely qualifies him to lead our program at MSU. We look forward to continuing to grow the program at MSU under his leadership.”

Craig said those experiences taught him that he was an entrepreneur, and that entrepreneurism is how society truly innovates solutions to real problems.

"I deeply believe in the Blackstone LaunchPad initiative and am committed to encouraging students and alumni to pursue entrepreneurial careers,” Craig said. “My passion is coaching, teaching and mentoring others. The opportunity to work with Blackstone and MSU to carry out this mission, in the community of Bozeman, is a dream come true."

Since opening its doors in November 2013, Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU has assisted 202 students and 131 ventures. One of those ventures, PocketNC, was selected to compete for a $25,000 prize at the nationwide Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day held in New York City.

The Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU is a collaboration between the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Montana State University, the University of Montana and Headwaters RC&D. The program is made possible by a three-year, $2 million grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. The program is open to all students at MSU and the University of Montana, regardless of major.

Blackstone LaunchPad is an interdisciplinary, cross-campus entrepreneurship program designed to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path and develop student’s entrepreneurial skills and mindsets through individualized coaching, idea and venture creation support. Modeled after a program at the University of Miami and further developed and expanded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Blackstone LaunchPad is currently available to more than 350,000 undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and faculty at 15 colleges and universities nationwide. 

Martha Potvin (406) 994-4371, mpotvin@montana.edu