The university takes a multifaceted approach
Time and again, UT has demonstrated that extraordinary things can happen when enterprising minds from industry and academia share the same goals — and the same space. As the university works to advance society through the development of new knowledge, it also fosters an entrepreneurial spirit that runs deep.
Entrepreneurship, after all, not only helps drive the Texas economy, it’s part of the DNA of both the state and its flagship university. In the early 1980s, UT partnered with government entities and semiconductor manufacturers to solve manufacturing problems and gain a competitive edge over international competitors. The resulting Microelectronics and Computer Consortium, or MCC, was soon followed by Sematech, another seminal Austin-based research and development consortium.
To call these and related efforts a success would be an understatement. Collectively, they put the United States ahead of Japan and other nations in developing key technologies. In the process, they spawned a sizeable software industry in Texas, which grew in lockstep with UT’s expertise in the field. And Austin’s transformation into the nation’s 11th largest city began in earnest.
Building on that momentum, the university now has many avenues to educate student entrepreneurs, encourage local startup community engagement, conduct pioneering research, and support tech commercialization. More than ever, UT is an economic engine, and keeping that motor humming along is a priority of President Greg Fenves and his leadership team.
Take Dell Medical School, which welcomed its first class of students over the summer. Mellie Price, BS ’93, a prominent figure in Austin’s startup community, is heading up its technology innovation efforts. Price has built high-tech businesses of her own and championed others through Capital Factory, a co-working space, accelerator program, and early-stage investment fund.
Her mission at the medical school is to build bridges with technology leaders and help drive investment and product-development efforts as part of Dell Med’s overarching goal to improve how patients experience health care.
“Technology intersects nearly every point on the continuum of care,” Price says. “The need for innovation is both urgent and complex.”
On the human side, inaugural med school dean Clay Johnston says he wants students who are good at solving problems and challenging norms, not just taking tests and processing lectures. The first students have degrees ranging from biology and engineering to art and philosophy.
“While test scores and grade-point averages are considerations, we look for applicants with a wide diversity of skills and backgrounds who are comfortable working in teams,” Johnston says. “Our students have already distinguished themselves as leaders and innovators.”
For undergraduates of any major who dream of following in the footsteps of leaders such as Distinguished Alumnus Michael Dell, ’83, Life Member, who famously launched his company from his freshman dorm room, a good first step would be the Longhorn Startup Seminar. The lecture-based fall semester course features prominent entrepreneurs telling the stories of how they founded their companies and answering any questions participants may have. Students pitch their own ideas to the class and participate in “speed-dating” events to meet potential co-founders.
Entrepreneurship not only helps drive
For those ready to take their idea to the next level, the Longhorn Startup Lab follows as an intensive project-based spring course that identifies student entrepreneurs who are building scalable technology companies and matches them with suitable mentors. Students receive course credit for working on their startups.
Operating at a more advanced level, the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) focuses on helping startups compete successfully in the capital markets. A program of the IC2 Institute (the university’s longtime entrepreneurial “think and do tank”), ATI is made up of successful entrepreneurs, investors, tech executives, and consultants, who work directly with students, faculty, and others.
ATI has strong connections with Austin’s angel investor community, local and national venture capital firms, and public funding sources. The incubator is highly selective, typically accepting less than one-tenth of the companies that apply each year, and takes a small percentage stake in each company it works with. In return, it provides strategic counsel, operational guidance, and infrastructure support to startups, helping them transition into successful, high-growth technology businesses.
The newest opportunity for students with startup ambitions comes with the expansion of a foundation-funded initiative to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career option. In June, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation expanded its campus entrepreneurship program, Blackstone LaunchPad, to three Texas universities: UT-Austin, UT-Dallas, and Texas A&M. The three-year, $3 million grant gives students access to a growing network of venture coaches and helps them connect with like-minded people at other universities.
Based on its track record in other states, the foundation says LaunchPad could generate thousands of new business ventures—and jobs—across Texas over the next three years. Stephen A. Schwarzman, Blackstone’s chairman, CEO, and cofounder, says the Lone Star State’s reputation was a factor when the program was looking to expand.
“Texas has a strong business environment,” he says, “and is a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Entrepreneurship and innovation: two words increasingly synonymous with UT as it works to enhance experiential learning opportunities on campus and add to its reputation as an economic driver for the entire state.
Monday, April 17, 2017
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