By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Texas State University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is launching a free or lower-cost program to help startup and mid-stage tech companies, offering mentoring, education and helping them collaborate with key elements of the Austin startup ecosystem.
The new program, called Spectrum, allows companies to engage at any point, from ideation on, and to exit the program whenever they feel they’re ready. The SBDC already had a program to help entrepreneurs, but Spectrum will be focused on tech companies in areas green energy, biotech, gaming, hardware and software and mobile applications. It will partner with the University of Texas’ IC2 Global Commercialization Group and the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center.
Dr. Jeanette Hill, founder of Spot On Sciences, spoke at the Spectrum launch about her experience with mentors at the SBDC. Hill, who has a background in pharmaceutical research and has created products before, still was overwhelmed at the idea of starting her own company.
“I had no idea how to start and run a startup business,” she said. “At my first meeting with my SBDC advisor we started writing on a white board, took pictures of all the ideas we’d come up with, wiped that off, started writing again…three whiteboards later we had a plan.”
The advisor, she said, pointed out she was going to want to shorten the name she had chosen Spot On Bioscience. “He said ‘You’re going to need to sign contracts and you’re going to use initials.’ I’m so glad we’re not known as the S.O.B. company,” Hill said. “They helped me do a video about how to use the device and they are my biggest cheering section when I do pitches. They’ve also given me training. I didn’t want to learn how to use Quickbooks, but I need to.”
Dick Johnson, SBDC certified business advisor and certified technology commercialization advisor, explained that the mentorship part of the program would help companies decide if they were a good fit for the marketplace and identify strengths and weaknesses. This would include an assessment of a company’s IP, where it currently is in the life of the business and its team. Other organizations contributing to mentoring and education will include IC2’s Global Commercialization Group which will share its Innovation Readiness self-directed program created for entrepreneurs in developing nations, and the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center. Ron Lehman, state director of the TMAC explained how that organization can help companies go from ideation to prototype to manufacture, assisting with finding funding and vendors. The mentorship program is free.
Johnson said Spectrum will not compete with Austin’s incubation and acceleration programs but supplement them. Of the hundreds of companies that apply to local incubators and accelerators, only a few are chosen. Spectrum can help entrepreneurs prepare to apply and provide assistance for the ones that do not get in.
The program also includes an education component with classes and workshops at various times and places. The effort will be to provide a smorgasbord of options for tech entrepreneurs. Some of the classes are free, others offered at a rate far below competitors.
Peg Richmond, SBDC certified business advisor, said Spectrum wants to take “a deeper dive into the subject matters. We don’t want to stay at a high level. We want the content to be entrepreneur driven.”
Early courses, which they’re calling “information transfer” will include courses on funding, team building and IP considerations.
The third piece of Spectrum’s program includes collaboration with players in the existing ecosystem, including government agencies.
“The government has a lot of money in its’ pockets,” Johnson said. “It’s also very interested in job creation, because that’s what pays taxes.” States, chambers of commerce and others are interested in attracting high-paying jobs into the area.
Entrepreneurs need to understand and build the infrastructure necessary to support their ventures.
“A lot of entrepreneurs spend a lot of time and energy going from event to resource to event,” Johnson said. “We can help people make smart connections, the right resource at the right time.”
“We want Spectrum and our team of advisors to be that go-to information source. ‘What’s the best way for me to navigate and work in the Austin community to foster the growth of the Austin community?’” Johnson said.
Spectrum’s logo, which looks remarkably like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover, shows a rainbow entering a prism and coming out as beams of light. The meaning behind it, explained SBDC director Joe Harper, was that people could come in to the program at all phases of development and have multiple exit points, depending on their needs.
Spectrum is looking for more partners who can offer training, mentoring, venues and other support.