This year’s graduating class at the Austin Technology Incubator really encompasses a couple of years of companies, said Isaac Barchas, its director.
He skipped a graduation year last year, he said.
But the group of 21 companies have “tremendous diversity of focus from social media management to drug delivery to robotics controls.”
“What most of them do is hard and valuable,” Barchas said. “It’s not flashy and sexy.”
ATI focuses more on companies that serve business to business markets than consumers, Barchas said. ATI is the nonprofit unit of the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. Since its founding 23 years ago, ATI has assisted hundreds of companies and helped them raise more than $1 billion in funding.
“In general we work with technology companies rather than marketing companies that are enabled through technology,” Barchas said.
One such company is Calxeda, which Barry Evans founded at ATI. Calxeda makes high-performance low power semiconductors that power Hewlett Packard’s servers used in large data centers.
“Creating something out of nothing, that’s the audacious idea of the entrepreneur,” said Evans during his graduation keynote address.
In a little office by himself in 2008, Evans re-worked his business plan “a thousand times.” His favorite time of the day was when he ran out of coffee and he would venture into the hallway to meet with other entrepreneurs. And at night, he would cruise the incubator looking for a better chair, he said.
“ATI helped me create something that was special,” Evans said. “And something that I think will be big.”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees. It named Calxeda one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. (Google, IBM and Facebook also made the list.) Venture Capitalists also see the company’s value. They’ve invested $48 million in Calxeda.
“I thought Calxeda would be big, but I didn’t know what that would look like,” Evans said.
While dreaming up big ideas is nice, “there’s power in the doing,” Evans said. “Big, when you find it, is awesome.”
Calxeda has a lot of potential, Evans said. But the company tries not to wallow in its success. Its mantra is “TSBW – This Shit Better Work,” which it ends every meeting with, Evans said.
“When you are running a marathon and you finish two miles, you don’t say wow this is great, you think I’ve still got 24 miles to go,” Evans said. He says his company is in “corporate puberty.”
ATI contributed greatly to Calxeda’s success by plugging Evans into that startup vibe and introducing him to startup veterans, Evans said. He told the other graduates to make it their personal mission to give back and make Austin a great place to start a business.
ATI also showed a short video highlighting some of its alumni’s successes like Big Foot Network’s sale to Qualcomm.
Ed Taylor, founder and CEO of Collective Technologies, gave a short talk about his experience with ATI as its first company. In 1989, Taylor read an article in the San Jose Mercury News about Austin trying to lasso tech firms through the formation of ATI. The article said the whole city was behind the project.
“That was so different than San Jose where everyone is trying to cut your throat everyday,” Taylor said.
He called up Laura Kilcrease, the ATI director, and flew to Austin. She met him wearing a black and white dress and took him around town in a red porsche to meet everyone from the Mayor to George Kozmetsky, founder of ATI. Taylor moved his company to Austin.
The first offices were depressing and run down in an old warehouse building at Metric Blvd. and Kramer Lane, Taylor said. When Taylor was trying to land a Lotus software contract with IBM, the team wanted to do a site visit. The place was nearly vacant and a mess. But Kilcrease called a local office supply store, which agreed to lend a warehouse worth of Herman Miller office chairs, desks and other furnishings. Taylor convinced some of his contractors to sit in the chairs and act like they worked there. Pencom landed the contract. Taylor took the company public in 1997. He has since started two other companies in Austin.
“I still very much feel a sense of responsibility to pay back people along the way,” Taylor said. “Truly successful entrepreneurs always find the time to give something back.”