Student entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to Mark Cuban and Cotter Cunningham

Anna Daugherty

Student entrepreneurs presented their startup business ideas to a group of business owners and investors including Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star on Shark Tank, and Cotter Cunningham, local founder and CEO of RetailMeNot.

The 14 student groups are within Longhorn Startup, which is a program that offers support and mentorship to student startups.

Joshua Baer, co-founder of Longhorn Startup and founder of Capital Factory, said the event was a chance for students to present their companies, as if they were pitching to investors. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event Thursday. Capital Factory is an Austin-based company that helps local entrepreneurs launch startups.

“This is a culmination of the work of this semester,” Baer said. “We have over 200 investors registered to be here. Most of the 14 groups are not ready for that, but it’s okay. A lot of investors want to get to know people before they invest in them.”

Baer said there was previously a system of support for graduate students in startup businesses, but very little was offered for undergraduate students before Longhorn Startup was founded.

Robert Metcalfe, engineering professor and co-founder of Longhorn Startup, said they were able to offer new resources and registered classes for undergraduate startups.

“We decided to look for something that wasn’t being handled,” Metcalfe said. “There’s a lot of startup activity at UT. It was undergraduate students who were not being helped.”

Biomedical engineering senior Ani Sharma presented MicroMulsion, a new technology for cell culture research.

“I was definitely nervous,” Sharma said. “I thought I’d forget my first line, but it went really well. I’m really happy with the presentation.”

Sharma said he has learned through the semester what it takes to put together and commercialize a product.

“I just want to hear the feedback people give me as we look to move our business forward,” Sharma said.

Cuban said he would be interested in investing in about half of the companies he saw.

“The difference here from Shark Tank is that you have to have sales,” Cuban said. “But other than that, I would say some of the pitches I saw here tonight were better than ones I’ve seen on Shark Tank.”

Cuban discussed his past experiences with business, from his teenage years when he sold stamps to his current ownership of the Dallas Mavericks. He also gave advice to entrepreneurs.

Cuban said an entrepreneur needs to know their business, industry and product. He recommended looking at companies that fail as well as companies that succeed.

“I like to retweet stories about companies that have failed because that’s the most valuable information and those are the hardest stories to find,” Cuban said. “Everybody wants to tell you about their success, but the ones that fail are the most telling.”