UT can and should be higher ranked for helping student entrepreneurs

Nick Spiller

For two years running, UT-Austin has landed among the top 10 schools for graduate entrepreneurship programs, as listed by both the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine. The 2014 rankings, which came out in mid-September, credit programs like Texas Venture Labs and the Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship for the achievement. However, the undergraduate program on-campus was left off the top-25 list for what is at least the second year in a row.

How does a world-class university, with 40,000 undergraduates, located in Austin, Texas, a hub of entrepreneurial activity, remain off any leaderboard of entrepreneurial education? Dr. John Sibley Butler, director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, told the Texan that the lack of entrepreneurial courses and innovative resources for undergraduates makes the difference between UT’s entrepreneurship programs being ranked or un-ranked.

Adding courses and opening startup incubators would institutionalize the hard work that has been done to grow student entrepreneurship by faculty such as Butler, Professor of Innovation Bob Metcalfe and former UT-Austin President William Cunningham. The problem is, these improvements won’t come until the student body demands them.

The Princeton Review took many factors into account to derive the rankings, including the proportion of the university community actively and successfully involved in entrepreneurial endeavors, the number of scholarships available for student entrepreneurs, the number and size of grants for entrepreneurial projects and school support for business plan competitions.

And there are Texas schools that ranked in the top-25 for entrepreneurship undergraduate programs, including the University of Houston, which came in at
number two, and Texas Christian University, which came in at number 22. Our good friends in Norman, OK, are also ranked — at number six.

Admittedly, administrators at UT-Austin don’t necessarily have the resources to implement the programs that would make UT-Austin the top school for entrepreneurship. Student entrepreneurs, moreover, may be too focused on the immediate business of starting a company to focus on putting in place long-term entrepreneurship-supporting infrastructure at UT. 

Given all that, how should we push for better support for entrepreneurs?  We need to support student entrepreneurs like fans support players on their favorite teams. Students who do so exist and are colloquially referred to in the startup community as “founderati.” Founderati are big fans of startups, and I’m a big founderati myself. Last year, I served as the Founding Director of the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency, an agency of Student Government.  By definition, the agency is a group of founderati serving student entrepreneurs. Its volunteers have worked hours each semester with the UT administration and entrepreneurial organizations to produce resources for student entrepreneurs. But the agency is just a start.

Despite the disheartening fact that students can evidently start companies better at OU than UT-Austin, our school has the ingredients to be the best college for entrepreneurs in America. Forbes contributor Patrick Hull recently cited Austin as one of ten up and coming cities for entrepreneurs. Hull’s reasoning? The buzzing startup community, influx of young professionals and creativity-driving events like SXSW that populate the city. And in the middle of Austin, on the 40 Acres, students enjoy the opportunity to work with world-class faculty in any field they choose. So next year, let’s aim to make it to the top 25 — if not the number one slot.