Student entrepreneurs excel at Demo Day

Nick Spiller

While most students were interning, relaxing by the pool and sleeping until noon this summer, a group of particularly enterprising Longhorns was doubling down on its success by preparing to launch startup businesses. Nine teams of UT-Austin entrepreneurs spent their summer in the startup trenches, navigating the Austin Technology Incubator’s (ATI) summer Student Entrepreneur Acceleration and Launch (SEAL) program. ATI is part of UT-Austin’s Innovation, Creativity and Constructive Capitalism Institute (IC2 Institute) and serves to assist Central Texas entrepreneurs in turning new technologies into viable businesses. ATI’s SEAL program helps student entrepreneurs develop big startup ideas and concludes with those students making a go or no-go decision on their business venture. 

Last Thursday at the Blanton Museum of Art, decisions were made at the SEAL Demo Day, at which each team pitched its progress to a room of more than 100 investors, entrepreneurs and fellow students from UT and Austin. The pitches were followed by a networking reception where teams tried to connect with people critical to their success. Many teams were trying to raise seed investments of between $500,000 and $1 million to help them take their ventures to the next level.

While I commend each team for its dedication and hard work, a few startups stuck out as particularly interesting. Since startups are hard to judge by Demo Day pitches alone, I’m also taking into consideration what I’ve learned from various interactions I had with the following teams this summer at Longhorn Startup Camp, UT’s student startup incubator, for which I currently serve as the student manager. 

One of my favorite startups from the event was Favor, an extremely intuitive iPhone app that enables users to request “favors” from delivery drivers. These drivers will bring users anything their hearts desire that happens to be available in the Austin area, ranging from full-course meals to a blue book for your test tomorrow morning. Favor became the most-downloaded iPhone app in Austin only months after launching locally. Zac Maurais and Ben Doherty, Favor’s co-founders, are not UT students but rather visiting student entrepreneurs from the California Polytechnic State University who chose to re-locate their headquarters to Longhorn Startup Camp in May because of the larger customer pool and lower cost of living in Austin.

AdBm Technologies, another interesting startup present at the event, aims to provide offshore wind and oil rig developers with a solution to increased noise regulations. Their technology, SoundShield, has secured $650,000 of its desired $1 million seed investment round and was looking to close the remaining $350,000 at SEAL Demo Day.

The final SEAL team I found compelling, nCarbon, is commercializing a carbon-like material with walls a single atom thick, which will help improve fuel efficiency in gas automobiles. This team is led by three UT Ph.D.’s, two of whom are the lead inventors of nCarbon’s advanced carbon-like material. They are currently negotiating licensing terms with UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization. 

Most encouraging was the variety of industries displayed at the event — everything from energy to food service. Often entrepreneurs are stereotyped as inventors of mobile applications or new websites, but the SEAL event was a refreshing reminder that new business ideas come in all types.

Spiller is a rhetoric and writing senior from Grand Blanc, Mich. Follow Spiller on Twitter @Nick_Spiller.