USC has officially opened a Blackstone LaunchPad on its campus to help would-be student entrepreneurs hone their skills before starting their own businesses.

The yearlong resource is part of Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s expansion into Southern California, which included a $3.5 million grant given to USC, UCLA and UC-Irvine, along with Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., in February to set up operations at the three universities.

A Blackstone LaunchPad opened on UC-Irvine’s campus earlier this year. UCLA’s will launch on Monday.

The goal is to bridge the gap between Southern California’s university system and its local business community.

“No one else is doing this,” said Amy Amsterdam, LAEDC’s director of innovation. “Incubators are great. Accelerators are great. But this is different from that and game-changing for students.”

The grant funds a full-time staff on each campus to offer individualized coaching to students in areas such as finance, marketing or legal. Blackstone representatives declined to share how the grant was divided among the three schools.

LAEDC serves as Blackstone’s regional partner to coordinate events among the universities as well as identify mentors in the region.

Coaches can help students shape their vision so they can launch and commercialize their businesses. Unlike school-specific programs, such as Startup Garage for USC Viterbi School of Engineering, LaunchPad is available to students from all backgrounds and interests. Outside mentors are also brought in depending on a LaunchPad’s needs.

Blackstone Group, a New York financial giant, began its charitable arm in 2007 to foster entrepreneurship on university campuses. Blackstone LaunchPads are now on 15 campuses nationwide. More than 8,000 students have used the program’s resources to start 5,000 ventures and businesses, according to Program Director Tony Tolentino.

“We really want for students to test their ideas, pair them with business mentors and ultimate stay (in Los Angeles) when they graduate,” he said.

Staff reporter Melissah Yang can be reached at MYang@labusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @MelissahYang for the latest in L.A. tech news.

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