In conversations across campus—in classrooms, over coffee and in labs—new ideas emerge every day. With hard work and research, many of these ideas beat the odds and successfully find their market niche. With guidance from faculty and support from alumni and friends, the McCombs School is empowering entrepreneurs across the university to accelerate the pace of innovation on campus.
“The vibrancy we see in the system today is due to pioneering effort going back to the days of Dean George Kozmetsky and even before, which blossomed into initiatives across campus supporting innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and commercialization,” says Dean Tom Gilligan.
The freshly minted Texas Venture Labs (TVL) is among the newest resources available to the university’s entrepreneurial community. TVL will serve as a hub for university entrepreneurship, connecting student and faculty innovators from schools across campus with resources within the university and the Texas entrepreneurial community.
Rob Adams, director of Texas Venture Labs and Venture Labs Investment Competition (formerly Moot Corp) and lecturer in management at McCombs, developed the Texas Venture Labs model through practice nurturing emerging companies through the early stages of their growth. “We’ve been running a skunkworks [informal] version of this approach for years, and we know how to do it consistently,” Adams said. “This is the model we are expanding.”
More than $25 million has been raised over the last 10 years by new ventures launched through the entrepreneurial drive of McCombs School students and faculty. Eight of these companies raised $1 million or more in funding, and two were successfully acquired by larger companies.
Innovation for the Good of Business
One of these early success stories is Phurnace Software, a developer of software that simplifies the process of installing and upgrading Java applications for large companies. The company was co-founded by McCombs graduate Daniel Nelson, MBA ’06, and fellow Longhorn Robert Reeves, B.A. ’02, who went on to win the Global Moot Corp competition in 2006. Phurnace was acquired by BMC Software in January 2010.
“This is a great example of a company finding compelling market pain and aggressively pursuing it,” said Adams. “This was a true Texas-born and built success story.” Calling the school a “launching pad,” Nelson credits the McCombs School for arming him with the tools to make his idea a reality. “[McCombs] provided me with a framework…a structure under which to develop and plan and think about next steps and think about what it would take to be successful,” he says.
In an expression of their appreciation for the school’s support, Nelson and Robert and Maia Reeves, B.S. ’09, donated $100,000 in seed funding to TVL to ensure the continued growth and development of the spirit of innovation on campus.
Innovation for the Good of Students
Austin-based investment manager and entrepreneur Beau Ross, MBA ’88, has the real-world perspective to appreciate what TVL will mean for future graduates. Ross leveraged the skills he gained at McCombs to found, grow and eventually sell Premier HR, an SAP implementation company. Ross is now an active angel investor and partner in Eldorado Energy Partners.
Ross sees TVL as the next step in the search for innovative learning opportunities for students at McCombs. This spring, Ross and his wife, Kathryn, donated $100,000 in seed funding because he believes the impact of TVL is far reaching. By supporting Texas Venture Labs, he says, one can “help create real life opportunities for students to participate in investment deals with the objective of helping them get better jobs, with the positive byproduct of attracting the best students and new recruiters, thereby bolstering the entrepreneurship program.”
“Beau’s continued involvement in mentoring students, providing financial scholarship and helping endow programs that differentiate McCombs from other schools will benefit future MBAs for generations,” says Jim Nolen, distinguished senior lecturer in finance at McCombs.
Innovation for the Good of Texas
Husband and wife team, Bob, BBA ’75, MBA ’80, and Marcie Zlotnik, BBA ’83, combined their business acumen to found the Houston energy company StarTex Power in 2004. Bob serves as CEO and Marcie as chairman and COO. Together, they were finalists for the 2009 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. This spring, the Zlotniks gifted a lasting legacy in support of innovation at the McCombs School, establishing a $1 million chair in entrepreneurship.
To Bob, the value of innovation at McCombs extends far beyond the Forty Acres. “If people go to school in Texas, they’re more apt to stay in Texas. The better the university is, the better off the state will be,” he says. “If we can retain our students and keep them here, it will help raise the quality of life for all Texans.”
Recruiting and retaining top-notch faculty is key to the McCombs School’s continued success and competitive edge. Faculty members form the foundation of the school’s academic mission, and it is their work that both energizes students and facilitates innovation across local, state and national economies.
“The chair that was granted by Bob and Marcie Zlotnik will greatly enhance the ability of the state of Texas to maintain its strong entrepreneurship tradition,” says John Sibley Butler, director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, the IC² Institute and professor of management at McCombs. “Texas, as a state, is influencing other states and other countries and teaching them that entrepreneurship is a principle source of jobs, prosperity and wealth. The University of Texas at Austin stands at the very center of this mission.”