First UT Fish Bowl helps student entrepreneurs get their feet wet

London Gibson

UT Austin’s first ever Fish Bowl business pitch competition will help entrepreneurial-minded students get their feet wet before jumping into the shark tank.

Fish Bowl, a low-stakes idea-building competition hosted by Texas Convergent and UT’s new Blackstone LaunchPad, fills a void for students who might not have business resources but are still looking to develop ideas.

Pitch competitions — such as Texas Shark Tank, which takes place in the spring —  are common at UT. However, these competitions usually cater to students from entrepreneurial or technological backgrounds, said Rohan Trivedi, product manager for Texas Convergent. The Fish Bowl aims to engage a broader audience.

“We noticed that the individuals … eventually succeeding and receiving funding are people who are well within the process of getting their startup onto the market, so people who already know what they’re doing and already have the resources to make things happen,” finance sophomore Trivedi said. “The purpose of Fish Bowl is to attract individuals who don’t necessarily have a full-fledged idea, but do have an idea they want to pursue.”

Students who are business or science and technology majors have more opportunities to participate in pitch competitions, said Aaron Estrada, a student fellow at the Blackstone LaunchPad.

Estrada, a geography senior, said though there are multiple entrepreneurship organizations on campus, he and other participants realized there was not a pitch competition marketed to the average student. Fish Bowl was formed to provide a space for other kinds of students to develop business ideas, Estrada said, and to empower women to become entrepreneurs.

“That’s what this space is about: empowering the person who’s not necessarily the business major or computer science major, but more of the liberal arts person — the music student, the women and gender studies student,” Estrada said. “That’s what this space is about: diversity and inclusion.”

The competition takes place Nov. 11, when 15 teams will pitch business ideas to a panel of judges, Estrada said. The top three teams will win cash prizes, which are yet to be determined, and every team will have the opportunity to receive constructive feedback from the judges, Trivedi said.

The judges for the competition have not yet been decided, but Trivedi said they may range from UT professors to Austin startup founders to members of local technology incubator Capital Factory.

Dilan Hira, president of Texas Convergent, said if the teams presenting are able to impress the judges, they may gain connections from the experience even if they are not prizewinners. Teams have secured mentorships or funding after similar competitions, such as Texas Shark Tank, said Hira, computer science and finance senior.

“It really gives the competitors and the teams an opportunity to build their network and … form relationships with these judges,” Hira said.

Trivedi, who helped come up with the idea of Fish Bowl and get it running, said the competition will be held again next fall.

“This is a great way to start entrepreneurship early,” Trivedi said. “We think it’s a great way to get people into this entrepreneurial mindset and eventually have them create and do great things in Austin.”