UT Austin Panel on entrepreneurship during Austin Startup Week.

Austin’s universities play a critical role in the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the first university tract during Austin Startup Week, Ashley Jennings, program manager in the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Austin, led a panel discussion on the importance of entrepreneurship on campus with experts from local universities.

The University of Texas at Austin recently launched an entrepreneurship minor for undergraduate students.

Jennings asked the panelists what kinds of universities are good at entrepreneurial programs.

There are many kinds of universities and for some, it’s a natural fit and for others, it’s not, said Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com and professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at UT Austin.

The U.S. has 100 first-tier research universities and those are good candidates for having active entrepreneurship programs because they are building new knowledge, Metcalfe said. Not all universities are good candidates for this, he said.

MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and UT are all good at new venture creation, Metcalfe said.

New venture creation is a part of entrepreneurship, said David Altounian, interim dean of The Bill Munday School of Business and MBA program director at St. Edward’s University.

“Not all entrepreneurship is technology driven,” Altounian said. “Somebody that starts a new service business or a new type of food business, CPG, is in my mind, an entrepreneurial venture. There are some schools that are better at that type of new venture creation and there are some that are better at changing the world types of technology changes.”

St Edwards is a liberal arts college that doesn’t have an engineering school but its students are entrepreneurially focused, Altounian said. They are most likely to create the next consumer packaged goods company, he said.

Entrepreneurship is a direct route to exporting innovation and expertise on campus into the business community, said Kirstin Spindler, director of IncubatorCTX and business faculty at Concordia University Texas.

The University plays an important role in entrepreneurship, said Hector Gomez Macfarland, director of the Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Huston-Tillotson University. His center focuses on minority groups and women to increase their representation in tech entrepreneurship, he said.

The center is new and plans to be open to the community with training programs and mentoring programs, Macfarland said.

There is also a big difference between the definition of a small business and a startup, Metcalfe said.

“Startups begin with the intention of being huge,” he said. “Whereas many small businesses are going to be small forever. And so there is a different biology to these startups.”

Many startups also face a “Valley of Death” in which it’s difficult to get funding, traction or they face other obstacles. The successful startups can cross that valley, he said.

“If there is a valley of death, I advise you not to ride down into it,” Metcalfe said. Build a bridge or find another way to go around it, he said. There are a number of programs at UT Austin that can help startups get across the valley of death, he said.

When Metcalfe moved to Austin eight years ago, he looked up the biggest venture capital firm in town: Austin Ventures, which has since quit making new investments. They told him that they don’t do business with the University of Texas because it’s too difficult and not worth it, Metcalfe said. Today, UT is overflowing with entrepreneurship ventures and it is actively working with the venture capital community, Metcalfe said.

St. Edwards focuses on small and mid-sized businesses and new venture creation, social enterprise and family-owned business, Altounian said.

“We are focused on new venture creation as opposed to inventing the next Facebook,” he said.

Concordia University will celebrate its 100th year anniversary in 2026, Spindler said. It launched its incubator a little over a year ago, she said. It really caters to serial entrepreneurs in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s. It also focuses on student startups. Most students work with the startups in the community, she said. Concordia’s Incubator partners with G51 Partners and Tech Ranch, she said.

UT Austin is creating a new post-doctoral fellowship that will allow students from the sciences to work on entrepreneurial efforts at UT Austin for two to three years, said Melissa Taylor, assistant dean for strategy and planning in the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin.

It’s also launching the University of Texas Inventors program this year aimed at getting undergraduate students involved in entrepreneurial ventures, she said. Students will work on problem statements from faculty members, companies and the US Army Futures Command Center, Taylor said.

“We envision this serving thousands of students,” she said.

Jennings asked the panelists what students need most to pursue entrepreneurial ventures on campus.

Funding is one of the biggest obstacles to students becoming entrepreneurs, said Macfarland, director of the Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Huston-Tillotson University.

Metcalfe agreed that funding is a key problem, but he thinks the problem lies with the quality of the startups.

“We need better startups,” Metcalfe said. “The money will come if the startups are better.”

Concordia needs mentors and opportunities for hands-on learning with companies, Spindler said.

St. Edwards teaches students math and entrepreneurial skills to bootstrap their ventures and understand profit and loss statements so they can land a micro-loan or angel investment to get their ventures launched, Altounian said.

Jennings asked the panelists about entrepreneurial success stories spinning out of their programs.

Metcalfe mentioned a former student who had visited him this week to say thanks. The former student had gone through the Longhorn Startup Lab program five years ago and has since moved to San Francisco. He recently raised $2 million in seed stage funding and had seven figures in revenue. Other startups success stories spinning out of Longhorn Startup Lab include Cerebri AI, which has raised $9.5 million in funding and has more than 40 employees. Professor-led startups spinning out of UT Austin include Apptronik, Diligent Droids and GenXComm.

Altounian mentioned Xelpha Health, co-founded by Lauren Welch, a student at St. Edwards. Xelpha Health that provides a healthcare platform for patients and healthcare providers in Kenya, Africa.

Concordia’s latest success story is HopZero, a data security company, Spindler said. They went through Tech Ranch’s Venture Forth program and one of the founders got his MBA from Concordia and they are incubator member, she said.

Some students have already started businesses at Huston-Tillotson University, said Macfarland. One of the students from Africa launched his own clothing line which has met with great success in Texas, he said.