By HOJUN CHOI
Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News
Now he gets to travel to Los Angeles in January to represent UT in a national startup competition.
Recess, a company that seeks to promote entrepreneurship among college students, organized the competition. Recess hosts interactive social events and networking opportunities that have helped college startups raise more than $150 million for their ventures.
Five student-led startups at UT took the stage Friday night to pitch their ideas to a panel of five judges from Austin’s entrepreneur community. Each company gave a five-minute pitch, followed by a five-minute Q&A session with the judges.
Judges ranked the competitors and their proposals on five main criteria: overall pitch, business plan, ability to capture market share, novelty and purpose of product or service.
Deuce Thevenow, co-founder of Recess, told Silicon Hills News that they selected the judges for their reputations as movers and shakers in Texas’ startup and entrepreneur scene.
“Austin is a thriving hotbed for startups right now, it seems that all the big tech companies are looking to move into Austin,” Thevenow said. “It has really ignited a flame for attracting talent, and the levels of ideas keep on getting better and better.”
Aggarwal, who co-founded his tutoring company with a friend as a sophomore at Neuqua Valley High School in Illinois, said he began his company after performing poorly in school and found that tutoring services were not as affordable as they should be.
“There is a growing problem in America; academic resource centers all across America are simply charging too much,” Aggarwal told the judges. “What this means is that many students in high school, middle school and elementary school are not getting the attention and help they need.”
To reduce the financial burden on parents looking for tutoring services for their children, Aggarwal said the company decided to contract high school students with high achievement levels that could teach just as well as tutors employed at more established services such as Kumon.
Already operating in three different states, Aggarwal told judges he is currently looking for funding to hire more tutors and branch operators for further expansion, along with a website overhaul to complement that growth.
“I showed them that it was a proven concept with a good reputation and a working business model, the only thing that lacked was money for exponential success,” Aggarwal said.
For winning the competition, Aggarwal received a package of resources for various services for early-stage companies, such as Customer Relationship Management software and credit card processing. He was also granted admission into SoftLayer’s Catalyst program, the incubator for the Dallas-based cloud services company that IBM acquired for $2 billion in 2013.
The University of Texas was the tenth college campus destination for the company’s Music and Ideas tour with guest speaker panels as well as a music concert along with the pitch competition.
The winners of each of these college tour destinations, including Aggarwal, receive a three-day all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to compete against each other at the national level as a part of Recess’ Field Trip, a networking and training convention.
“For the first time, investors will have the opportunity to work with us so it unlocks a lot of potential,” Aggarwal said.
More than 150 people attended the event, which took place at the Student Activity Center auditorium on the university’s campus.
“I saw a great entrepreneurial spirit down here from the Longhorns, and we were stoked to be a part of it,” Thevenow said.
Preston James, who was selected as one of the five judges, serves as one of the two resident entrepreneurs at the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Austin. He said universities play a critical part in the startup ecosystem.
“The University of Texas is a major player in the Austin startup ecosystem, and it’s fantastic that the university is opening up its doors and encouraging students to consider the entrepreneurial in addition to more traditional corporate paths,” James said.
Below is list of the four remaining student-led startups that participated in the competition in Austin along with a short description of their company.
DeliverU – A delivery service startup offering a platform allowing college students to have their groceries delivered to them.
Lady Epicure – Food startup that lets customers build their own all-natural ice cream popsicles to the shape and flavor of their liking.
Plot Guru – A mobile application offering a marketing platform for businesses through the gamification of online streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix.
SockDocks – A startup selling an apparatus that allows its users to wash and dry their socks without having them mismatched.