BMCC Student Wins Blackstone LaunchPad Ideas Competition

Gesy Duran
Human Services major Gesy Duran.

January 26, 2023

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) student Gesy Duran has won the Consumer Products and Services category in the Network round at the 2022 Blackstone LaunchPad Ideas Competition. Duran, one of five student winners from across the United States, will receive a $10,000 grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

Duran, a Human Services major, won for her idea Wheel-eating, a portable tray that helps adapt any table to accommodate a multitude of wheelchair types—increasing quality of life for wheelchair users during mealtime.

Students in the BMCC Blackstone LaunchPad program gain skills that support their entrepreneurship journey. Blackstone LaunchPad works with colleges across the United States to deliver entrepreneurial skill-building programs and work-based learning that help students launch successful careers. The program provides training and support through partnerships with higher education institutions, nonprofits and employers to increase access to career-building opportunities.

To prepare for the Ideas competition, students attended intensive workshops, participated in coaching sessions and undertook other tasks in groups and individually.

Business Management Professor Roderick Shane Snipes, the Deputy Chair of BMCC’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Degree program, said he believes spending time directly with students is the primary way to help get their ideas off the ground.

“Gesy is a great example of this type of one-to-one coaching,” said Snipes. “The LaunchPad at BMCC is here for every student who is ready to take an idea and grow it. We also have workshops to help students better understand how to bring their ideas to fruition. This program is great for career-minded students who may not be sure about what entrepreneurship is all about.”

An idea inspired by personal experience

Duran’s idea first came to her when she and her wife went out to a local restaurant. When Duran tried to place her wheelchair under the table so she could eat comfortably, it wouldn’t fit.

There are many different types and sizes of wheelchairs and a significant number of them don’t fit under restaurant tables due to their height or other obstacles. The distance from the wheelchair to the table’s actual surface can lead to the wheelchair user losing balance or spilling food on themselves.

As an alternative, Duran asked a server to bring a large serving tray, which she placed vertically over the wheelchair’s arm rests.

“That’s when I had the idea for a portable, more secure tray that could help adapt any table to accommodate all wheelchair types, including mine,” said Duran. “With Wheel-eating, wheelchair users like me can eat comfortably, even if the chair doesn’t fit under the table.”

Duran says she’s witnessed other wheelchair users facing similar issues at restaurants and other venues where they are forced to eat from the side of the table.

“Now, thanks to BMCC and Blackstone LaunchPad, I’ll be able to hopefully help others like me and make eating out more pleasurable,” said Duran.

Although life slowed down for millions of Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic, that wasn’t the case for Duran. She became a parent, enrolled at BMCC and found the Blackstone Launchpad. She’s also been playing for the CUNY wheelchair basketball team and has started cooking for her family on a regular basis.

Ultimately, Duran said Blackstone LaunchPad has proven instrumental in helping her believe her idea could actually come to fruition.

“I would recommend Blackstone LaunchPad to other BMCC students regardless of their academic majors,” said Duran. “I didn’t think I would win with my simple idea. But you have to believe in yourself and trust your idea.”

  • Human Services major Gesy Duran won the Consumer Products and Services category
  • Duran will receive a $10,000 grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation

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