By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Last summer, Gerard Sanders became the new dean of the College of Business at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Sanders comes from the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business and brings numerous credentials in management and finance, including a doctorate in management from the University of Texas. Working with Center for Innovation and Technology Director Cory Hallam, Sanders is pursuing some ambitious goals for student entrepreneurship.
In the next five years, the Business College wants to launch ten student tech startups annually. The school currently turns out two to three startups a year between its biannual $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition and its faculty research.
Sanders and Hallam have multiple objectives in mind to accomplish this goal, starting with changes to the College of Business.
“There are a lot of good things happening here. There is a lot of potential. But we are spread a little too thin, and we need to focus,” Sanders said. “Entrepreneurship is one area that will receive that focus.”
Sanders said the college suffers from an overabundance of majors, minors, and concentrations that often overlap and drain administrative resources. By pruning and simplifying those degree plans, he hopes to allow students more class options with fewer concentrations so they can get more out of their education.
“Students can get all these same classes within a smaller program infrastructure,” Sanders said.
Administrative and financial resources will now be focused more than ever on student entrepreneurship training. The college plans to double its entrepreneur-focused faculty and all new faculty hires, regardless of discipline, will need to have an interest in entrepreneurship as well as some private sector entrepreneurial experience.
The Business College is also working on a new, more flexible curriculum structure that would allow students to learn several entrepreneurial skills required to start a business in the same three hour course.
“We want the educational experience to mirror closer to the actual entrepreneurial problems, and address the educational need there,” Sanders said.
Hallam also wants to open up graduate level Business College classes to students in other departments such as computer science – giving those students more entrepreneurial tools while also adding diverse perspectives to the classes.
“It actually builds the quality of the class because you end up with very good students from different disciplines which then expands the thought process of the class,” Hallam said.
Hallam hopes to create a similar approach with the CITE (Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship) program’s $100,000 Student Technology Venture competition, which pairs business and engineering students to create products. The goal is to expand the competition to include students in computer science, material science, physics, and other tech departments who could work with business students to launch a technology company as well. In the five years since the competition began, 650 students have participated and a total of 85 business plans have been presented. Hallam believes getting students from other departments in the mix will significantly grow the competition and result in more companies.
Of course, none of those startups will get off the ground without some financial backing. To that end, Sanders and Hallam plan to create an endowed student startup seed fund. The endowment — which is simply a large chunk of money in a bank that generates interest — would have to be several million dollars to be effective, but once established it would provide a better way to fund startups.
“Right now, if we have student startups that are struggling for money, Cory has to get on the phone and call someone and say, ‘Hey, $2000 would really help this little company,’” Sanders said.
“We need to grow that donor base and endow it so that you are not having to ask every year but now know you have built an endowment that funds this many companies a year,” Hallam said.
There are a few more ways the College of Business will boost entrepreneurship as well. This October, the UTSA student CEO organization will partner with Venturelab to hold a 3 Day Startup event on campus similar to other 3DS events held at Geekdom of San Antonio.
To facilitate long-term entrepreneurial collaboration between students, Sanders wants to create an entrepreneur-only dorm space in one of the current residence halls. The space will even be equipped with offices and a board room where students can hold meetings with clients. The Business College is still in the initial planning stages for the space but plan to have it set up in three to four years.
While UTSA’s future goals for student entrepreneurship are important, it’s also important to look where it has been. UTSA’s student CEO organization has more than 100 student owned and operated business. The Business College’s CITE program has seen more than 1000 students go through their tech boot camp. The biannual $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition averages around 20 competing companies a semester and the exiting companies have applied for a total of 12 patents.
Multiple student startups exiting CITE have already gone on to hire experienced CEOs, create prototypes, and raise significant funding. Examples of such companies are Technophysics Solutions, Leto Solutions, Cyclosa, Lapara Medical, and Invictus – some of which have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even if students do not move forward with their initial venture, Hallam is confident that they will be able to use their acquired entrepreneurial skills to start additional companies in the future.
“We are trying to unlock their inner entrepreneur,” said Hallam. “We would expect that the rest go out and work in companies and launch products or services – work five to ten years – and at that point they are in the right age bracket to understand the market niche they are familiar with, they understand the business they are in, and at that point they tap into their inner entrepreneur and spin off a company…and 10 years after that we ask them for a donation.”