Texas Venture Lab: The Role of Universities in Training Entrepreneurs

SandBox Commerce Founder, Ryan Smith, Talking to TVL Fall 2016 Cohort

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of kicking off the semester with 9 other companies who have had the honor of being selected as one of Texas Venture Labs’ Fall 2016 accelerator cohort members. We got to tell everyone about SandBox Commerce’s mission to make mobile commerce simple and effortless for consumers and brands and pitch ourselves to the student groups who will be helping us during the semester.

Here’s how the program works. According to the Texas Venture Labs’ website:

Since 2010, Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs (TVL) has worked with over 115 startups in a wide range of industries. Our companies have raised over $380 million. Thirty-seven percent of companies that participate in our accelerator have successfully raised funds, a statistic that reflects our mission of helping startups reach a funding decision sooner. For some, it may mean bootstrapping when possible or no longer pursuing a business idea if the market is discovered not viable. We’ve done exceptionally well helping advance capital-intensive companies in industries like life sciences and medical devices, but we’ve also been equally successful with technology and mobile companies.
We’ve worked with over 300 graduate students from the McCombs School of Business, the School of Law, the Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Pharmacy and the College of Natural Sciences. As many as two out of three students have gone on to either launch their own business or join an existing startup.

The program takes students from varying degrees and programs and pairs them with an Associate who will be learning the project management side of the business from Accenture and two accelerator companies (one pre-revenue company and one post-revenue company). The students then are given assignments related to market sizing, competitor analyses, legal reviews, etc that will help the startups participating in the accelerator on their missions. This caps off in an end of semester demo day, where local investors come to watch the work of the graduate students and the companies put to the test. SandBox Commerce is extremely grateful and excited to be a part of this program and Texas Venture Labs got us thinking about the role of universities in training future entrepreneurs.

How Universities Can Help Foster Entrepreneurship

  1. Encourage diversity amongst students through cross-disciplinary exercises and classes like the TVL class. SandBox Commerce is a big proponent of diversity as a foundational component of strong product teams. When students leave the university setting they’re going to be thrown into diverse work environments and often need strong teamwork skills — exposing them to this cross-functional dynamic earlier will be foundational to their success. There are a lot of engineering students, for example, in the TVL class who will get their first heavy communication and project work training in this class. This creates more well-rounded employees who are critical to the early stages of successful startups.
  2. Encourage makers and builders — classes like this one put real world exercises at the heart of the curriculum. These exercises encourage students to produce deliverables that are tangible and meaningful. This replaces much of the traditional busy work that takes place within an academic setting. This prepares students for work settings where they’ll have deadlines with economic consequences attached to not completing the work or doing a quality job. It also gives the students practice honing their “builder” skills, which will help them in tougher job markets. The “builder” is someone who doesn’t want to just inherit greatness, they have a drive to be part of the core team that built the company’s greatness.
  3. Foster connections between industry and academia — industry is incredibly important to helping academia prove an ROI on the investment kids and their parents are making in education. When there’s growing concern over the efficacy of graduate and PhD programs, programs like TVL show that universities are still great pipelines of talent, management, and leadership that can help industry grow locally. From recruiting to commercializing new technologies that typically live inside university laboratory environments, programs like Texas Venture Labs prove they can strengthen community ties between academia and industry. A rising tide truly lifts all ships in this context.

SandBox Commerce thinks TVL, in particular, and other similar university programs can be a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity. In what other ways do you think universities can foster entrepreneurship and education amongst their student bodies?

Ryan C. Smith

Head of Product — SandBox Commerce