Student entrepreneurs pitch startups to Austin investors

Audrey Zhang

UT student entrepreneurs pitched their own companies, from a food delivery app to a service connecting homeless people with jobs, to Austin investors Thursday.

The event was the culmination of two semesters of work for students in the Longhorn Startup Lab, a spring semester class for students developing technology startups. Students received course credit for working on their startups and were mentored by successful entrepreneurs.

Each team of entrepreneurs had a specific vision for their startup. Nikhil Dixit, computer engineering graduate student and founder of drone company Hylio, said his group’s goal was to spread the use of delivery drones.

“To us, the power of drone delivery is far too great to be restricted to any one company,” Dixit said. “We want to give that power to everyone. From small businesses to disaster relief organizations, [our product] is poised to change the way we use delivery.”

At the event, students explained to the Austin community why people should invest in the companies. They discussed the merits of their companies and expected benefits from the projects.

James McGinniss, engineering graduate student and team lead of transportation startup Texas Guadaloop, said the mentorship element helped his company become more legitimate.

“[Through the class] we’re working with Capital Factory, so we have the right team of entrepreneurs behind us to help us transition from a sort of research group into a real start-up over the summer,” McGinniss said.

After the pitches, electrical engineering professor Bob Metcalfe interviewed venture capitalist Mike Maples Jr. They talked about characteristics of a good investment and their experience with startups.

Maples said he started investing because he realized companies would develop from changes in the Internet.

“It occurred to me that something big was happening in Silicon Valley,” Maples said. “I thought that the web was moving from the web of pages to the web as a platform. And I thought a bunch of important companies would be created.”

When looking for a good startup, he looks for companies with the potential to evolve, Maples said.

“My basic theory of how I invest is, I look for ideas that are highly exponential,” Maples said. “A metaphor I like to use is Godzilla. You start out as this tiny little radioactive egg and turn into this creature that destroys everything. My job is to determine radioactive eggs, to determine if they have that energy to morph into something powerful.”