By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
For six semesters, Longhorn Startup Lab has focused on turning undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin into entrepreneurs.
Some of the students, with companies like Burpy, a grocery delivery service, Lynx Labs, a 3D modeling camera, MSpaces, Airbnb apartment rentals, and Clay.io, HTML 5 game developers platform, have gone on to raise money and develop their ideas into thriving startups.
Many companies like Zilker Motors, which wanted to create a car that travelled 100 miles on a gallon of gas, have failed.
But that doesn’t deter Bob Metcalfe, UT professor of Innovation, Ethernet inventor, 3Com founder, Joshua Baer, specialist of computer science and founder of Capital Factory, and Ben Dyer, UT Entrepreneur in Residence and founder of Peachtree Software. The three teach Longhorn Startup Lab which involves students creating companies and working with seasoned entrepreneurial mentors and listening to guest speakers like Bert Hurt, founder of Bazaarvoice and Michael Dell.
Some day, they expect one of those undergraduates will come up with the next big thing and go on to be as successful as Dell.
On Thursday at the Lady Bird Johnson auditorium at UT, 11 Longhorn Startup companies presented their startups, including six, which had participated in the class the previous semester. And one, ShorePower, a solar power solution for marinas, announced its dissolution because of a lack of interest from its target market.
Yet, a few companies have already gotten traction.
Micromulsion, which creates microgels for cell cultures in bioengineering research, announced it has received a seed stage investment from Mark Cuban, billionaire and keynote speaker at last semester’s Longhorn Startup Lab Demo Day.
Prepify, which provides free online training for students taking the SAT, won $20,000 as the national winner of the Walmart Net Impact “Better Living” social venture competition.
Waterford Media, a mobile role-playing game developer, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1,000 for its first game, The Runners.
Three startups targeted the hot wearables market including AirType, a virtual keyboard for tablets, Freeput, a headband device for the disabled that controls a computer’s mouse and keyboard by tracking eye movement, and Everywhere Energy, a shoe insert that harvests kinetic energy to power a cell phone.
“AirType is not a toy,” said Sidhant Srikumar, a junior majoring in computer science at UT and the CEO of AirType. “It’s a keyboard. More importantly, it’s your keyboard.”
AirType, which is expected to cost $60, learns how a person types and writes. Srikumar said.
“Welcome to the future of computing on the go,” he said.
Everywhere Energy seeks to solve the problem of dead batteries for cell phones through an insole insert into any shoe tied to a battery packet that fixes to the side of the shoe. That battery packet, charged through kinetic energy from walking around, can be removed at the end of the day to charge a cell phone battery.
“But this is not a first world problem, this is a digital world problem,” said Darla Hollander, a senior in electrical engineering and CEO of Everywhere Energy. “For example, in Uganda, its projected in 2015, 70 percent of Ugandans will have cell phone subscriptions, yet only 9 percent of them will have access to electricity.”
They have to walk to charging stations and pay to charge their mobile phones every time, she said.
Everywhere Energy’s first project, Eversole, which harvests energy as people walk, is projected to retail for $80, she said.
Everywhere Energy expects to launch a Kickstarter project soon to finance its beta product.
“So the next time you look at your phone battery, think of Everywhere Energy and be your own battery,” Hollander said.
A year ago, Michael Baumgartner got run over by a sports utility vehicle and ended up in the hospital. The devices available to him in the hospital didn’t allow him to use his computer. His disability left him frustrated. That experience convinced him of the importance of the work Freeput is doing, he said.
“Wearable technology is changing the way people do things,” he said.
Freeput’s software records electrical activity recorded by certain body movements like eye movements and communicates those to the computer to manipulate a mouse. Freeput has already tested a prototype of its product.
“We’re confident we can have our device ready for market by 2015,” Baumgartner said.
“Freeput, it’s the mouse you control with your eyes,” he said.
The other companies presenting included Basedrive, a server-based storage system for law firms, UpNext, a mobile app that gauges wait times for restaurants, SocialToast, an app which integrates with Facebook to let college students find their friends at local bars and PineCone, a system to help companies onboard new employees.
Overall, entrepreneurial activity at UT has been on a rise for the past three years since Longhorn Startup Lab launched.
The next big company could come out of Longhorn Startup Labs, a dorm room, an incubator or the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency’s new headquarters. The agency started a year and a half ago and one of its big goals was to get a dedicated space on campus, said Grant Heimer, its outgoing director.
“We now have our own space,” Heimer said. It’s moving into an old apartment building behind the student services building. The 600 square foot space will be called UThinkTank and it will host LEA offices, meet-ups, co-working and events.
“It’s nothing fancy. But we think it’s perfect for students to pursue entrepreneurship,” he said.