UT Students Storm the Start-up Scene

Photo Credit: Karina Munguia

Michael Dell, founder and CEO of the multi-billion-dollar computer manufacturer Dell, Inc., was the talk of the UT town the week before spring break.

Dell gave a keynote address as the culmination of UT Entrepreneurship Week, or UTEWeek, which ran from Feb. 28 to March 6. UTEWeek, an annual event hosted by Student Government’s Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency, was organized to incite students to start their own companies. Featuring a startup job fair, a student startup expo and several networking and educational seminars, UTEWeek was just one of the many initiatives on campus that promote student entrepreneurship.

Stimulating student entrepreneurship has become an increasingly relevant concern for students, faculty and administration at UT. Austin, dubbed the “Silicon Hills,” is known to be one of the best places in the country to start a business. It is not hard to see why talented, driven students are excited about and are taking the opportunity to start their own ventures.

Some students are clearly interested in entrepreneurship.

Consider psychology and marketing junior Jane Gergen, who serves as a marketing director for Everywhere Energy, a startup that aims to build a prototype for a shoe that converts kinetic energy from walking into energy to power a phone charger. Everywhere Energy recently won the Longhorn Startup Showcase competition in early March.

Gergen said she enjoys working as a student entrepreneur and is seriously considering working for startups as a career.

“It's exciting to have finally found something worth losing sleep over,” Gergen admitted. “I would love to be able to do this full-time after I graduate. That's the dream, and I have one more year to help bring Everywhere Energy to a place where that's possible.”

Gergen said that working for a startup has taught her a lot about career and personal development.

“I hear a lot of students say they want to wait to join startups until they have more skills,” she noted. “What I've learned is so many successful people don't know exactly what they're doing. Growing up, I used to think people had their defined roles and they were all masters at what they did. Learning that people aren't as perfect as I thought they were was a little scary but also amazing because it means you have the ability to achieve success as your imperfect self.”

“It's about being dedicated and putting in major amounts of time and reaching out for help when you need it,” she said.

Other successful student entrepreneurs include sophomore marketing student Sam Cade, who runs her own cake-baking business and business honors freshman Kade Thomas, who at 13-years-old started a small landscaping company from the money his parents gave him for earning good grades. Thomas’ startup has grown into a business with a gross income in excess of $350,000 over the past two years.

Various startups by undergraduates as well as graduate students have already started making their impact on the local community, such as Burpy.com, a grocery-delivery service, and Beatbox Beverages, a company that creates a unique wine drink mix in a bag, to name a couple.

While some already have the resources to get their businesses up and running, other students might need assistance in developing their products and business plans or accruing funding for their startups. Luckily, there are ample resources, through the university and student groups, that help students through the business development process.

Many colleges and schools within the university provide services to students that can help with the startup process, from initial idea development to taking the product to market.

The College of Liberal Arts, McCombs School of Business and Bridging Disciplines Program all offer courses in entrepreneurship. Students can also take a course called 1 Semester Startup as part of the Longhorn Startup Program, which connects students with resources and mentors that help them refine and develop their business ideas. Additionally, Texas Venture Labs specializes in graduate student entrepreneurial development, holding seminars and competitions to spur innovation.

Student organizations are also a vibrant force in the push to encourage student entrepreneurship.

Groups such as the Technology Entrepreneurship Society and Texas Startup and Venture Capital Group regularly host speakers and events, such as HACKTX, a 24-hour computer-programming competition, and seminars about potentially hot startup topics, such as the controversial virtual currency Bitcoin, to spark students’ imagination and to get creative juices flowing.

According to NPR, in 1992, Dell became the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company at age 27. While he has become wildly successful, he began his career here, as an undergraduate at UT. Students inspired by Dell’s example should take advantage of the resources available to them to start their own companies. Who knows? Maybe the next Fortune 500 CEO is among us right now.