University awards professor for fostering entrepreneurial success

Christina Breitbeil

A mechanical engineering professor received an award from the University’s Austin Technology Incubator for his contributions toward helping future technological entrepreneurs Wednesday.

Michael Webber, an associate mechanical engineering professor and UT alumnus, is the inaugural recipient of the John Sibley Butler Distinguished Alumni Award. The award is presented only to alumni of the Austin Technology Incubator, a support program for students interested in creating their own technology start-ups.

Webber, a member of the program’s leadership staff, said he believes receiving the award could be a result of his longstanding involvement in Austin Technology Incubator, also known as ATI.

John Butler, the award’s namesake and former director of University research institute IC2 — Institute for Innovation, Creativity and Capital — which ATI is part of, said Webber’s professional past has been essential to ATI’s success.

“[Webber] grew up at Austin Technology Incubator,” Butler said. “He was an intern at ATI … [and then became] a professor at UT. It’s important that he understands how to create a company.”

Webber said ATI’s focus on fostering student mentorships with established professionals in the field is important for producing successful student entrepreneurs.

“I think that the incubator is not producing products, but instead it’s producing people, entrepreneurs,” Webber said. “Students are an important part of that recipe. It’s really important because if you look at the most impressive [company] startups, they are mostly started by students — Google, Yahoo, Facebook.”

ATI also presented the Laura J. Kilcrease Civic Entrepreneurship Award to ATI alum Manoj Saxena, a software entrepreneur who works with IBM.

The Kilcrease Award is meant to recognize those who have not only succeeded as technological entrepreneurs, but have also taken significant steps to give back to their community and mentor student entrepreneurs.

Laura Kilcrease, the award’s namesake and founding director of ATI, said the award is important to students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship.

“It means a lot [for students], because people like Manoj [Saxena] hire graduates of UT and also come back and act as mentors to students,” Kilcrease said. “[Saxena] is someone who has been active in helping our students and faculty. How many times does a student get an opportunity to be in front of a serial entrepreneur and get mentorship and advice from them?”

Kilcrease also emphasized both Webber and Saxena are influential to the success of other entrepreneurs in multiple ways.

“What they epitomize is how the University both helps to grow successful entrepreneurs in our region and, through ATI’s internship program, helps to grow future faculty, like Michael Webber,” Kilcrease said.