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Paying for B-School With a Startup Pitch

Two entrepreneurs recently won the first Texas Venture Labs Scholar Awards: scholarships to the Texas MBA program and help for their startups. Learn more.

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Think an MBA degree is only for future consultants and Wall Streeters? Think again.

Last month, two budding entrepreneurs won the first-ever Texas Venture Labs Scholar Awards, the result of the first pitch contest to award an MBA scholarship from a top business school to prospective students on the basis of their business ideas.

“Many of our best MBA startups come from students seeking our top-ranked entrepreneurship program, arriving with a business idea and using coursework to incubate their idea,” said Assistant Dean Tina Mabley, MBA ’98, director of the full-time MBA program at the McCombs School of Business and a member of the finals judging panel. “With the TVL Scholar Program, we are recognizing and funding this fast-growing cadre of MBA applicants.”

Sally Yoon, Texas Venture Labs Scholar Award winner

Sally Yoon makes her pitch for Night Owl Market at the Texas Venture Labs Scholar Competition. [Photos by Steve Moakley for TVL.] 

Courtney Leffall of Dallas won with his pitch for GrillMobile, a rack that’s designed to hold a grill in a pickup truck bed for easy tailgating. Sally Yoon of Cincinnati won with her pitch for Night Owl Market, a late-night marketplace featuring food trucks, food booths, artisans and live music.

Leffall and Yoon are two of 12 semifinalists who traveled to Austin in February to pitch their startups in the competition. Of that group, four were chosen for the finals round. Other finalists included Patti Fisher of Blacksburg, Va., who pitched Editor World, a marketplace for online editing and proofreading; and Vikas Bhakta of Ithaca, N.Y., whose Ve Go startup provides mobile hotel check-in and check-out.

Leffall said the GrillMobile idea came while he was already working on a solar startup idea with his father that he was planning to enter into the TVL contest.

“Then my dad texted me a picture of this thing he had made for his pickup truck to hold his grill,” said Leffall. “He had no idea of the potential value.” Leffall recalled that he told his father that developing a business to sell the GrillMobile would be faster and likely profitable enough to fund the solar business.

Rob Adams and Christina Mabley present Courtney Leffall with a winning check at the Texas Venture Labs Scholar Awards

Texas Venture Labs director Rob Adams, left, and Assistant Dean Tina Mabley, right, present Courtney Leffall with his Texas Venture Labs Scholar Award. Leffall pitched a business plan for a portable tailgating grill. 

Yoon, who found out about the contest from her boyfriend, a current McCombs student, said she is looking forward to replicating her Night Owl Market concept in Austin. “This is such a great place for food trucks and music,” she said.

Leffall and Yoon each won a scholarship to the Texas MBA program. Also, their startups will be accepted into the Texas Venture Labs Accelerator, and they will both be automatically considered for a TVL summer internship and for a prestigious position as a postgraduate Accenture TVL Venture Partner. Each winner’s prize package is worth up to $175,000.

Leffall and Yoon will still need to be accepted into the MBA program, and both say they have already applied.

“The Texas Venture Labs Scholar Program pulls together all the attributes that entrepreneurs look for when starting a business,” said Rob Adams, the director of Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs and a member of the finals judging panel. “Combining these attributes the Austin startup ecosystem, McCombs’ top-ranked MBA and entrepreneurship programs and the significant track record of Texas MBAs starting businesses on graduation with scholarship funding enables entrepreneurs to radically accelerate the development of their businesses while earning their MBAs at McCombs.”

A version of this story originally appeared on McCombs TODAY.