UT Dallas is part of a growing trend to encourage entrepreneurial efforts by students, faculty and staff. The U.S. Commerce Department noted in a report that “hundreds of colleges and universities … are creating entrepreneurship programs with the short-term objective of creating educational value for their students and the long-term goal of driving economic growth.”
At UTD, the Blackstone LaunchPad is part of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. LaunchPad has a campuswide reach through its range of programs and events, some of which are highlighted here.
UNIBEES App Attracts Deal Seekers
Graduate students Abinav Kalidindi and Chandra Achanta remember the day, shortly after they arrived on campus, when they saw students carrying multiple slices of pizza.
“We knew there must be free food at an event that we hadn’t heard about,” said Achanta, a business analytics master’s student in the Naveen Jindal School of Management. “We did some research on how to get that into people’s hands.”
They made it happen by developing a phone app called UNIBEES to help other students find freebies and giveaways on campus. What Kalidindi calls “the power of free” has attracted 12,000 app users on four campuses — UT Dallas, UT Arlington, UT Austin and Texas A&M.
Students looking for deals use UNIBEES to find free food, movies, campus events and discounts at restaurants. The app even provides walking directions to each event. It’s a one-stop shop for Generation Z users, who are not as likely to check official University media or use traditional social media like Facebook, said Kalidindi, a finance master’s student.
The Jindal School’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provided seed money and helped Achanta and Kalidindi tap into a network of conferences, mentoring and competitions. UNIBEES also received $5,000 by placing second out of 109 other startups at the 2016 UT Dallas Big Idea Competition.
Blackstone LaunchPad provided coaching and venture creation support.
When they graduate in May, Achanta and Kalidindi said they will work full time to expand the app into a national brand for colleges and universities.
New Startup Launch Track for Computer Science Students
Another example of the growing entrepreneurship on campus is the Jindal School’s partnership with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science to develop the Computer Science Software Startup Launch Track.
In the track, computer science students interested in launching a software-based startup company can complete entrepreneurship courses that will count toward their degree.
Making Their Pitch on the Big Stage at Big Idea Competition
A team led by a doctoral student from the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) took the top prize at the finals of the 2017 Big Idea Competition. The prize money will help the startup — NeuroRehab VR — hire developers, put together a sales and marketing team, deploy the applications to five clinics across the U.S. and ensure the applications conform to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations.
NeuroRehab VR develops virtual reality games to help patients recover from strokes, neurodegenerative diseases or traumatic brain injuries. In addition to winning the competition’s $15,000 first-place prize, NeuroRehab VR received the $2,500 Diversity and Inclusion Award.
Veena Somareddy, an ATEC PhD student who co-founded NeuroRehab VR, said: “We’re trying to bring something that wasn’t already there. We’ve gotten validation from our patients and therapists. Now getting it from Guy Kawasaki and everybody else means a lot.”
Kawasaki, a brand evangelist and best-selling author, shared his tips on “The Art of Innovation” in the keynote address and served as a judge. Other judges were Jeff Williams BS’87, a partner at Interlock; Julie Nickols, an attorney and partner at Haynes and Boone LLP; Courtney Caldwell MBA’06, co-founder of ShearShare; and Robert Metcalfe, Ethernet co-founder and a professor at UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering.
The competition, formerly the Business Idea Competition, featured startup ideas ranging from wearable robotics that help patients with knee injuries become more mobile to drones that municipal governments can use to detect air pollution.
Second place was awarded to Elaine Wang and Trusit Shah, who created Cthrough, a mobile app that enhances the user’s experience at attractions like zoos and museums. Wang is working on a master’s in management science and Shah is pursuing a doctorate in computer science.
Alta Air, whose members were Konan Mirza and Jason Tran, both finance and economics double majors in the Jindal School, and electrical engineering student Yosias Kassaye, took third place. They also won for the best undergraduate idea. Their concept involved a modular drone design with interchangeable sensors.
Skyven Technologies earned the Biggest Social Impact Award, and UT Dallas’ Brain Performance Institute received the $2,500 award for the biggest and most innovative idea.
Steve Guengerich, who heads the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said that of the 144 students who entered the competition, 53 percent of them were from schools other than the Jindal School. That is an increase of more than 50 percent over last year.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the students and the learning experience,” he said. “I am just thrilled that we have the support from people like Dean Hasan Pirkul and Dr. Joseph Picken, who both helped cook up this whole scheme to say that events such as this one are as important as what we’re doing in the Jindal School on the academic side.”
Bryan Chambers, program director at Blackstone LaunchPad, was impressed with the quality of the pitches but is already looking to the future.
“Our faculty, our staff — we’ve got really big visions for where we think this event needs to go,” he said. “We plan to do it bigger and better next year.”
Sponsors and community partners included Interlock Partners, Tolleson Wealth Management, Capital Factory, the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, the Dallas chapter of TiE and MassChallenge Texas.
Entrepreneurship Program Climbs Three Spots in Rankings
The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine placed the Jindal School’s MS in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at No. 19 in its list of the Top 25 Best Grad Programs for Entrepreneurs in 2018, up three spots from last year’s ranking.
Madison Pedigo, director of the innovation and entrepreneurship academic programs at the Jindal School, was pleased with the improvement in the ranking.
“Each year, we improve our program in multiple dimensions,” he said. “This includes adding new courses, increasing enrollment and improving our support programs, such as Blackstone LaunchPad and the Big Idea Competition.”
More than 300 schools that offer entrepreneurship majors, minors, concentrations or degree programs participated in the 60-question rankings survey.