Innovative Students Pitch Tomorrow’s Ideas Today: A Look into the Longhorn Startup Seminar
By Samantha Reichstein
Finishing off their slices of pizza, University of Texas’ students line the walls of the Gates Dell Complex, patiently anticipating their cue to begin.
They have 90 seconds to pitch an idea. Tensions rise. Some are intimidated, others excited.
In an industry where 90 percent of startups fail nation-wide, they know they have a 10 percent chance of winning over the crowd. However, students face the challenge, encouraged to join the startup world.
Ben Dyer, founder of Peachtree Software, one of the top 10 computer developments during the 1980s, hosted the Longhorn Startup Seminar’s second lecture series Thursday Sept. 10, which began with students practicing business pitches to a packed room of classmates.
“Everyone thinks starting your own business is nerve-wracking, and trust me, it is,” Dyer said. “But what’s most important to any business are the connections you make.”
Dyer, along with entrepreneur and Capital Factory founder Joshua Baeur, as well as engineering professor and 3Com Corporation founder Bob Metcalfe, started the seminar in the fall of 2012, with the mission of giving students opportunities to learn the ins and outs of a successful entrepreneurial career.
Within the lecture seminar series, classes are also offered to any university students that count as a pass or fail credit. The fall semester features prominent entrepreneurs in a Q&A–style setting, while the spring semester brings students together in labs, brainstorming and creating potential startup businesses.
Wrestling with the idea of moving to Silicon Valley, Dyer chose to call Austin home for a variety of reasons. Knowing the city’s reputation as a prime technology hub, an innovative arena for apps like Favor and home to Michael Dell of Dell Computers, Dyer knew Austin was no stranger to the startup world.
Now working as a mentor on campus, Dyer is having an effect on students and faculty, as his words of wisdom are beginning to rub off on fellow startup enthusiasts.
Nelson Tao is a 22-year-old economics major from San Antonio, Texas, who left school multiple times in hopes of business success. He came back to UT and joined the Longhorn Startup Seminar, hoping his newest project would gain popularity within the community.
“Living near a college campus, we are in one of the best environments for any startup idea,” Tao said. “There are so many students and faculty members willing to help you, give you opinions or even bring up ideas you never thought of before.”
Tao is now working on an app called Press that provides consumers with a 24-hour dry-cleaning service.
Currently searching for campus representatives, Tao hopes that making strong connections, like Dyer has advised, will seal his Press deal.
“I know firsthand about failing startups,” Tao said. “However, since joining the Longhorn Startup Seminar, I’ve learned that you can lose multiple times, you really just have to win once.”
Kevin King, a senior government and advertising major at UT, caught the startup bug junior year when working as a venture intern with Austin’s Capital Factory, Baer’s downtown business that bring entrepreneurs and investors together with the goal of startup success.
“The daily operations allowed me to be a fly-on-the-wall to a completely new environment,” King said. “I walked away feeling like I now have some of the basic skills to pursue a startup career, if I wanted.”
King was grateful for his internship, but he said he wishes he had the opportunity to take part in the seminar early in his academic career, and encourages ambitious students to do so.
“I hope people realize it is not just an engineering world,” King said. “Startups need advertising majors to sell the idea, government majors to check violations within the idea and communication majors to bring the idea to social media. There is a role for everyone in the UT community to get involved.”
The Longhorn Startup Seminar’s next lecture series takes place Thursday, Sept. 17, open to any student on campus, regardless of course enrollment.