Blackstone Launchpad hires new executive director

Army veteran, data analytics specialist and entrepreneur, Les Craig has been hired as the new Blackstone Launchpad executive director. The program is MSU’s entrepreneurial resource for students, faculty and alumni. Craig brings a diverse skill set to Blackstone Launchpad and wants to expand the program through effectively connecting with students to help them develop ideas.

Craig graduated from West Point in 2003 with a degree in applied math and studies in computer science. He then spent five years in the Army as an infantry officer. Craig was with the First Ranger Battalion and was in Joint Special Operations Command from 2006 to 2008. He left the Army and went to the John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab where he combined his knowledge from the Army with his skills in analytics. Craig coordinated with military commanders and an academic team to use the data collected by the Department of Defense to predict improvised explosive device events in Iraq.

Craig then became a technical operations officer at the CIA. After working for the CIA, he and two other entrepreneurs started Red Owl Analytics in 2012 in Rosslyn, Virginia. The company relocated to Baltimore, and Craig stepped away from the company after three successful years. Still run by one of the original founders, Red Owl continues to be a fruitful company. Craig then started a data sciences services company called The Twenty, in which he remains a partner.

Craig’s desire to move to Montana began when he and his wife took a trip across the state for their anniversary. A father of three, Craig and his wife were trying to figure out where to raise their family. He was looking for opportunities in Montana for two and a half years when he discovered the position at Blackstone Launchpad.

“When I found this opportunity I thought ‘wow, what an awesome opportunity to just learn the ecosystem and be helpful with my background and experience and to be encouraging to students’ … It was like I couldn’t have written a better job description. This is exactly what I want to do and exactly where I want to do it,” Craig said.

The focus of Blackstone Launchpad is to encourage students and alumni of MSU to pursue entrepreneurial careers. The program is for students with any kind of idea they want to develop and those who may want to create their own job and be their own boss. The services are completely free and funded by a charitable grant. If a student walks out of Blackstone Launchpad with a company, they are the sole owners of it. “It’s always hard to start a company, but it’s never easier than when you’re a student,” Craig said.

Craig began his duties on Feb. 2 and has both short and long term goals for the program. Until the end of spring semester his main goal is to raise awareness among students. In the long run, Craig wants to see real companies coming out of Blackstone Launchpad.

“The community has been super supportive and the university has been just unbelievably supportive … All the faculty I meet, everyone has been so helpful, so friendly. Then you layer that on with the day-to-day — the student staff we have in the Launchpad have just been phenomenal; they’re so impressive,” Craig said of his first week. Blackstone Launchpad is located in SUB 251, and all students are encouraged to visit. For more information call 994-4383 or visit montana.edu/launchpad/.