Student entrepreneurs need space on the 40 Acres

Nick Spiller

Former UT-Austin President Robert M. Berdahl wrote in the University’s most recent master plan,  “Linking people to a place through a shared sense of commitment is what building a community is all about.” Looking at entrepreneurial epicenters like Austin and Silicon Valley, you’ll see Berdahl’s quote rings true. These epicenters possess powerful communities of people with a commitment to startup life. While our diverse campus represents communities from across the world, we only recently began to witness the emergence of a student community of entrepreneurs. 

For the past year, I have served as the founding director of Student Government’s Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency (LEA). LEA’s mission is to grow the entrepreneurial community at UT, and to do that, we need space on the 40 Acres dedicated to student entrepreneurs and their ventures.  Given this space, I believe we could turn our budding community of entrepreneurs into a Texas-sized network of new businesses. 

But how do we justify spending money and space to provide world-class facilities  for the use of the admittedly  small subset of students who call themselves “entrepreneurs”? 

Consider the Texas athletic program: The costly preparation, game-day theatrics and world-class facilities that go into Longhorn football games are astonishing. And yet the University funds our football program, and all of our athletics programs because in actuality these programs fully fund themselves and provide returns. According to USA today, which obtained this information through an open records request, in 2011-2012 our athletic program brought in more than $150 million in revenue, including a $25 million operating surplus. In short, the University allows athletic facilities to take up substantial space on campus because athletics are financially beneficial. 

If we support our entrepreneurs like our athletes, Longhorn entrepreneurs will match the Longhorn athletics program in financial benefits for the University and for the community. Once successful, Longhorn entrepreneurs will build companies that employ hundreds or thousands of people, in the process creating personal fortunes, like Michael Dell’s, that they will share with public institutions like UT-Austin. 

Michael Dell may have launched a company from his bathtub in Dobie, but a community of entrepreneurs needs an entire pool of space. And locating this space in the center of campus would only help to bridge the lifestyle gap between being a student and being an entrepreneur. The result? More students graduating with honest experience as successful (and unsuccessful) entrepreneurs and fewer students struggling in bathtubs to become the next college-dropout success story.

Spiller is a rhetoric and writing senior from Michigan.