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Less than a year after they graduated, Shira Sue Carmi ’05 and Cate Han ’05 founded a consultancy that supports creative businesses — and reflects their own entrepreneurial spirit.
Israeli designer Mirit Weinstock was just 27 when she launched her clothing line, Reine, in Tel Aviv. Less than three years later, the up-and-coming designer — who trained under Alexander McQueen and Lanvin in Paris — decided to build Reine into an international business.
Weinstock approached Shira Sue Carmi ’05 of Launch Collective, a boutique consulting firm that provides expertise to small and midsize creative companies as they launch and grow into sustainable, established brands. Launch Collective developed an international growth strategy for Reine and partnered with Weinstock to manage the line’s sales and marketing expansion in the United States. Today the brand can be found in more than 20 stores across the country.
Reine is just one of many business success stories generated by Launch Collective, which was founded by Carmi and Cate Han ’05 less than a year after they graduated. Comprising experts from such industries as law, accounting, finance and market research, the “collective” focuses on creative start-up businesses — young companies that demonstrate a need for business strategy and fund-raising expertise. “The idea was to formalize those informal networks a lot of entrepreneurs end up forming for themselves,” explains Carmi.
Carmi and Han connected to a similar network at Columbia, where they took advantage of the School’s many opportunities for entrepreneurs. They first worked together when both were consultants to the Little Pie Company — a New York City bakery famous for its sour cream apple walnut pie — through the School’s Small Business Consulting Program (SBCP). Founded by MBA students, the SBCP provides pro bono consulting services to entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and other local businesses. Carmi and Han helped the owners of the Little Pie Company develop a financial model and business plan. “That experience really sparked the interest in me for this kind of work,” says Carmi.
Carmi and Han also participated in the Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program, a course that gives select students the opportunity to present business plans to professional investors. Through the program, students consult with seed funders to refine their presentations, while sponsors — venture capital firms, Internet incubators, law firms, technology providers and accounting and consulting firms, among others — provide financial support, pro bono services and advice. Han’s business plan for DDMotion, an IP company with designs for an energy-efficient transmission, won the School’s A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition in 2004.
After they graduated in 2005, Carmi and Han worked as independent consultants — Carmi in fashion and Han in digital media. While they focused on different industries, their entrepreneurial clients faced similar issues, and the two realized that they wanted to go into business together. “We had a vision for what we wanted to do that exceeded the capacity for what we could handle as independent consultants,” says Carmi.
Today Launch Collective has offices in New York and London and focuses on the design, retail and media industries. Carmi and Han mentor both new and seasoned entrepreneurs and hope to raise a fund to capitalize on their client companies’ growth. “We get to know our clients and their work styles intimately,” says Han, who is also a CFA. “We’re ideally positioned to find good investment opportunities.”
The company has started to attract larger companies in addition to start-ups. “Both are interesting and worthwhile,” says Carmi, “but it’s important for us to stay true to our core and continue working with creative businesses.”
Upcoming Panel Discussion
Columbia Entrepreneurs: Past, Present and Future
Tuesday, March 13, 2007, 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Rotunda, Low Library
* Registration fee is $30. To RSVP, please contact Alumni Relations at (212) 854-8815.
Please join us for a conversation among Columbia Business School entrepreneurs — including alumni, students and faculty members — moderated by Professor Murray Low, executive director of the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship. After the panel discussion, network, share ideas and enjoy a bazaar of select alumni-launched products. Speakers include Ron Gonen ’04, cofounder and managing director of RecycleBank; Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi ’00 (EMBA), founder of Physique 57; Jamie Meiselman ’02, founder and managing partner of Surfpark Holdings; and Jon Mudder ’97, owner of Bellavitae.