Competition invites student ideas


Raveena Bhalara

Graduate student Harish Jakakumar greets competition judge Brett Newswanger of Xeris Pharmaceuticals Wednesday afternoon in the McCombs School of Business

Andrew Messamore

Entrepreneurs proposed plans for businesses ranging from pharmaceutical companies to investment advising firms as part of the final round of the Texas Venture Lab Competition on Wednesday.

In the competition, graduate student entrepreneurs proposed their original business ideas to a panel of judges who would invest in their startup and make it a reality if they won. The judges questioned the four teams on criteria ranging from consumer interest to the profit margins facing investors. Each team aimed to earn the approval of the panel so they could progress to the global competition, where they could compete against teams from around the world for a possible investment of over $100,000.

The winning proposal came from MBA students Michael Garel and Harish Jayakumar, who said they wanted to create a business providing retailers the ability to monitor consumer purchasing behavior through cameras that use video analytics.

While his proposal for an “Expedia for the pet boarding industry” was one of the four that did not win, MBA student Travis Skelly still plans to go ahead with this proposal and find investment.

“The competition is about offering you free feedback,” Skelly said. “It forces you to get out there, go through the process and build the connections and momentum that will ultimately help your proposal.”

MBA student Rohit Sharma’s proposal for a cloud-based automated investing program was also not selected, but he said this business is needed in the market and that he will continue to seek support.

“It’s about giving investors empowering tools to get their resources back on their side,” Sharma said. “As investors we haven’t demanded the tools we need to control our resources, and I looked at it as making a business out of a business world problem.”

The judges spoke to the audience before the competition about their own personal experiences as entrepreneurs seeking to startup their own businesses.

“It’s about extreme highs and extreme lows,” said judge Robert Reeves. “You’re going to make a big deal one day and be living off of Ramen the next. It takes a certain intestinal fortitude, and it’s going to take much longer than you think it will to get a company going and to start making a profit.”

Judge Aaron Lyons, who works as graduate team manager for Venture Labs, said the competition is ultimately about preparing students for the real world.

“It’s a practice run, and a lot of people out there don’t have the opportunity to go out there and do the real thing,” Lyons said. “It gave me a lot of confidence in being able to provide the clear, crisp answers that investors are going to want to know. Hopefully, that keeps you going in the long run.”