From Idea to IPO: Entrepreneurship at UT

Looking to start a business? Have a new technology? You're in the right place. The University of Texas at Austin is home to an entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports student, faculty and Central Texas businesses from idea to IPO.

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This story is part of our series "Eyes on Innovation," which explores UT's world-changing ideas, fascinating discoveries and new ways of doing things.

Austin Technology Incubator

"We get you funded." The Austin Technology Incubator's (ATI) tagline says a lot about how it helps young technology startups get off the ground. Founded in 1989 and celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, ATI offers seed- and pre-seed-stage tech startups expert guidance and invaluable connections to local mentors and potential investors. ATI is a unit of UT Austin and is affiliated with the IC2 Institute.

In a report released this week, the incubator's efforts have clearly paid off for Austin, Travis County and Texas. The report, commissioned by ATI and published by the Bureau of Economic Research at UT Austin, finds that 39 ATI graduate companies companies that have flown out of the nest, so to speak generated 6,520 jobs and produced $880 million in economic impact for Texas between 2003 and 2012.

"By any economic metric, ATI's effect on the Austin technology ecosystem has been profound," said Jim Jarrett, the report's lead researcher.

Multiple companies from that era went on to receive significant venture capital funding, become publicly traded or were purchased by other firms. Many of the companies' founders went on to establish other startups, took on leadership positions in major corporations and returned to ATI to mentor other startups.

"Director Isaac Barchas and his team at ATI have been integral to tapping into Austin's entrepreneurial spirit and making our city a technology capital," said university president Bill Powers.

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Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs

Another entrepreneurial engine on campus is Texas Venture Labs (TVL). Now in its eighth semester, the TVL Accelerator pairs graduate students from across the university (including the schools of business, engineering, law, natural sciences, pharmacy and communication) with companies to help them move through the earliest stages of growth.

For instance, teams of students may help a company complete a "market validation," a process that sizes the potential market and quantifies its value. It's a step many startups fail to do or don't know how to do.

"We ask, 'Where is this company in its life cycle, what is the company's team good at, and what are they lacking?'" explained Jaime Sutton, MBA '13 and a member of the TVL Practicum (the classroom framework for the students who work with the companies), in a 2013 story about TVL.

Since the accelerator launched in 2010, more than 87 companies have participated in the accelerator, and TVL companies have raised more than $193 million. And its success is breeding more startups, according to TVL director Rob Adams.

"We're starting to see an interesting trend of second generation TVL companies, with graduated TVL students using the accelerator for ventures of their own," he said.

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Longhorn Startup

Longhorn Startup gets undergraduates into business, gathering students into interdisciplinary teams to start real companies.

During the semester, Longhorn Startup Lab students work on developing their companies (which they must already have in progress before applying to the program), participate in lecture series and networking events, and receive hands-on mentoring from entrepreneurs and experts.

"We want our entrepreneurs to be as celebrated as our athletes," said Longhorn Startup founder Bob Metcalfe at a recent UT System Board of Regents meeting. Metcalfe is the Cockrell School of Engineering's professor of innovation and the co-inventor of the Ethernet.

The Longhorn Startup Seminar is a course for individual students wishing to benefit from the classroom sessions and who may have entrepreneurship opportunities in future semesters.

And Longhorn Startup Studio is Metcalfe's newest venue for getting faculty into an entrepreneurial mindset. Each month during an informal gathering co-hosted by Metcalfe and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the regional business and entrepreneurial community learns about the newest products and inventions coming out of the Forty Acres.

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Office of Technology Commercialization

Moving technology and innovations from the laboratory to the marketplace is the charge of the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC).

Working with faculty innovators and inventors, OTC staff members navigate a methodical process that identifies market potential, protects faculty intellectual property, seeks potential investors or partners and manages the commercialization agreement. Over the past decade the OTC has earned more than $128 million in licensing revenues.

"My vision for OTC is to diligently work with partners inside and outside of the university to spur innovation and bring the research performed by our world-renowned faculty to the marketplace," said OTC director Dan Sharp when he joined the university in January 2013. "The efficient transfer of these innovations to the private sector is critical."

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These organizations represent only a sampling of the entrepreneurial activities in full swing at UT Austin, helping students and faculty realize their visions and making a real economic impact on the city, the region and the state.

Home page image via John Martinez Pavliga/Flickr, under the Creative Commons license

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