Huddled on an oversized blue couch in a modest room on the first floor of the Student Organization Center, a team of students is analyzing their next investment.
Their conversation moves from market analysis to the cost of building a new prototype. UT Austin alumni and faculty mentors provide guidance based on their real-world experience as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
The operation is called the Genesis Program.
The idea behind it is simple.
Build a fund to invest in the next generation of Longhorn startups and innovators on the Forty Acres.
The radical part? Genesis places students on both sides of the investment table.
As of last week, Genesis raised $1,203,460 in funding on HornRaiser to support their mission, with more on the way. Making it the biggest HornRaiser of all time!
The Genesis Program offers all students, graduate and undergraduate, a chance to take a leadership role in investing in startups founded by their peers. Student leaders also partner with alumni to mentor the companies they fund, guiding student founders through the challenges of entrepreneurship.
Genesis was created following the results of a yearlong study conducted in 2015 by the Longhorn Engineering Advisory Delegation (LEAD), UT Austin’s young alumni engineering advisory board. LEAD had one overarching question: At a university with more than 50,000 students, why weren’t there more student startups on campus?
LEAD found the biggest roadblock was not a lack of motivated student founders or ideas, but limited funding.
To solve this resource gap, a team led by mechanical engineering senior Katherine Allen, chemical engineering junior Jeff Auster and entrepreneurial alumni launched Genesis in 2016. The program quickly attracted interest from students across campus.
“For the first time, student entrepreneurs had a source of real cash to build their ideas, and all students now had access to hands-on learning by serving as venture capital investors,” said Auster.
Although UT Austin has several organizations that assist student startups, they currently focus on graduate and MBA students. The Genesis Program is the first dedicated source of startup capital for both graduate and undergraduate students.
“I think that Genesis has been very entrepreneurial,” he said. “They have a peer investing model, with guidance from alumni in the VC space as well as various mentors, which is really nice to see – students investing in other students.”
Applications for funding have grown each semester, and the program has invested in 16 companies across a wide variety of majors and colleges.
Genesis portfolio companies are working in numerous sectors including renewable energy systems, advanced drone technologies, medical products, and software applications and platforms.
Many teams have members from more than one college, and it’s common to find founders offering advice to one another at Genesis-organized meetups; while working in the LEA Co-Lab, a coworking space on campus; and at the Longhorn Maker Studios, UT’s largest makerspace.
Genesis plans to use the proceeds from its HornRaiser to not only fund more ventures, but also enhance the greater startup ecosystem at UT.
“This is just the beginning of a permanent resource on campus,” said Allen. “Genesis will continue to back more and more talented students each semester, provide them continued support as they grow, and teach student leaders how to be investors in the ecosystem.”
As support continues to pour into the Genesis Program, the future of student entrepreneurship at UT Austin now shines brighter than ever.