Brewing New Tech Startups at UTSA

BsN7NIzCAAAGneuA can ban on the Comal River in New Braunfels prompted a University of Texas at San Antonio engineering team to create a solution.

They created the PalmKeg, a mini-keg sized insulated beer cooler to make transporting beer on the river easy.

“It’s the perfect eco-friendly beer container,” said Amber Ernst, senior at UTSA majoring in entrepreneurship and art.

The team created a prototype of the product and plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in August, said Nic Villarreal, who graduates at the end of the summer with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. The device also serves as a vacuum-insulated growler and the team has talked with independent brewers about selling it, Villarreal said. The device is expected to retail at $99.

BsN7JQNCQAAIm9sThe PalmKeg team consists of Ernst, Villarreal, Peter Mancuso, who graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering earlier this year and Bradley Tanton, an entrepreneurship business major who graduates in the fall.

The team pitched their idea at Geekdom last Wednesday as part of the conclusion of a summer entrepreneurship class offered for the first time by UTSA. Anita Leffel, assistant director of the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, fashioned the six-week class after the popular 3 Day Startup program, spun out of the University of Texas at Austin. Nine students participated in the class.

“The best products come from a true need and a market and product fit,” Leffel said.

The UTSA Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship turns out about 15 to 20 entrepreneurial ventures annually, Leffel said. CITE, led by director Cory Hallam, creates a pipeline for students, faculty and businesses to develop new technology ventures.

The eight-year-old program recently landed $300,000 worth of funding from Rackspace’s Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation. And it received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. That NSF funding designates UTSA as an Innovation Corps Site. It’s the first university in Texas to receive that designation from the NSF.

That funding will allow CITE to provide each student startup in its program with seed stage funding to allow them to prototype their products and provide capital to get them to the proof of concept stage, Leffel said.

The $300,000 grant from the 80/20 Foundation spans three years and is focused on creating more startup companies for San Antonio, said Lorenzo Gomez, the foundation’s executive director.
CITE’s programs include the semiannual $100K Student Technology Venture Competition and the Technology Entrepreneurship Boot Camp.

One of the grand prizewinners of the 2014 CITE competition recently moved into Geekdom, the technology incubator and coworking center located in the Rand building downtown.

The support for CITE is about connecting the different parts of San Antonio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Gomez said. CITE is doing a great job of showing students how they can become entrepreneurs, he said.

“There’s a high likelihood the next Rackspace will come out of CITE’s program,” Gomez said.

Geekdom supports the CITE startups by providing them with a discount on membership and office space, Gomez said. But the grant from the 80/20 Foundation is for the CITE to use to support the program, he said.

UTSA appointed Teja Guda, biomedical engineering assistant professor of research, as another assistant director of CITE. The program also plans to hire a full-time program coordinator in the next few months.
So far, more than 500 students at UTSA have competed in CITE’s technology business competition. That has resulted in 80 new ventures.

“Several past competition winners have established startup companies, secured funding, hired CEOs and are on their way toward commercial success,” according to a UTSA news release. “The center also fosters the more than 100 student-owned businesses on campus in the Roadrunner Business Incubator.”

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