By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
They might have to make a business plan, find funding, do market research, sell products or services, stay on top of legal issues and intellectual property rights and sometimes figure out manufacturing.
This weekend, 150 University of Texas at San Antonio students got an edge on their competition. They covered these topics in less than eight hours in UTSA’s CITE Technology Entrepreneur Boot Camp. The camp featured ten speakers, including Rackspace Hosting co-founders Pat Condon and Dirk Elmendorf.
“Follow your own path. Don’t follow conventional wisdom necessarily,” Condon said. “Some of the conventional wisdom that we did follow that we shouldn’t of was: don’t serve your customers because you can’t make money doing it. Our history is littered with doing things because a lot of other people were doing it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should be doing it that way too.”
Condon and Elmendorf discussed the triumphs and pitfalls of their experiences, speaking at length about a time when Rackspace’s customer support was more abysmal than fanatical. They encouraged the students to push forward with their ideas even if they didn’t feel qualified or smart enough to see them through.
“When you read hacker news, Techcrunch, all that stuff — it always feels like the founders are these anointed geniuses that are passed down from – well, there is founder worship,” Elmendorf said. “Because we give this presentation inside Rackspace, I never want someone who is joining to think it was founded by geniuses and they couldn’t contribute. We were idiots! We got lucky and we worked hard. If you can stick it out and do all those things you can make it.”
Other presenters included YUMIX founder Alex Garner, Jackson Walker Attorney William R. Borchers, and It’s 2Cool Ltd. CEO Deb Prost.
“I hope that I can inspire some of these folks to really take that nugget of an idea that they have and do all the blood, sweat, and tears that you have to do to get to where you really can market a product,” Prost said.
Held biannually, the CITE boot camp is open to students and faculty members and is designed to both inform and encourage students towards a life of entrepreneurship. The students came from a wide variety of situations. Some were getting ready to enter the $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition with a team and a product. Others were part of the student CEO organization, part of the Certificate of Technology Entrepreneurial Management program, or simply entrepreneurship-minded students hoping to develop their skills.
“We’re taught in our program that whenever you have the opportunity to sit down and talk to people in the tech space that are from a different perspective, it’s always a good idea,” Business Senior Somer Baburek said.
Baburek is currently in the Business College’s entrepreneurship program and is preparing to enter the $100,000 competition with a medical device that wirelessly monitors fetal heart rates in labor and delivery. She attended the event to gain business knowledge and look for additional engineers for her team.
Engineering Senior Davis Richardson is also preparing for the competition, and attended to get better acquainted with the business side of startups. Richardson will be entering the competition with a device that trains students to design hydraulic systems.
“This is a really interesting opportunity because in the engineering college we spend all of our time looking at how to develop products internally,” Richardson said. “It’s not until here, or in electives, that we really get much insight into how this works outside the design process.”
Ph.D. Biomedical engineering students Ramon Coronado and Tony Yuan also attended the boot camp to buff their business skills. The two students are in UTSA’s Certificate of Technology Entrepreneurial Management program – an optional track designed to give Ph.D. students extra entrepreneurial training so they can launch their own businesses. Coronado and Yuan are currently preparing to launch Mobile Stem Care – which will help veterinarians take advantage of stem cell advancements.
“We have a lot of science in academia but no one around the department can teach us about business,” Coronado said. “Before this course we didn’t have the chance to see how to translate the technology [to market].”
The event also attracted younger students as well. Sophomore David Barrick is not involved in a competition or an entrepreneurship class, but he does have a few ideas for a tech company and attended to learn more about obtaining patents and talking to investors for seed funding.
“I saw this conference on a Tweet in Twitter for UTSA. I have been thinking of starting a tech company, so I saw this and said, ‘yea, this is for me’” said Barrick.
As of this weekend, 1,300 students have now gone through the CITE Technology Entrepreneurship Boot Camp at UTSA. CITE, short for Center of Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, is an interdisciplinary center for the colleges of engineering and business directed by Cory Hallam and Anita Leffel. While the boot camp is an achievement for the university, Hallam also sees the event as an essential part of an effort to grow the startup community, and the local economy, of San Antonio.
“We have to feed the pipeline of entrepreneurship in San Antonio, and these are students who will found companies now, found companies later, participate in three day startups, go be part of Geekdom,” Hallam said. “It’s great to be a contributor for San Antonio in that pipeline.”