UT alumni share tips for starting student-run businesses

Brooke Sjoberg

Having recently launched his company in 2016, Ellomix, UT business and cultural studies alumnus Neil Tanner said he used the skills and connections he cultivated on campus to get his business off of the ground. Ellomix is a social music sharing app still in development.

Tanner said his ties to UT were crucial in creating the physical aspects of his business, especially recruiting employees.

“Take advantage of free and available resources,” Tanner said. “You have world class experts in their field, so take advantage of building those relationships as much as possible. All the different CEOs and special guests that come to campus, go to as many of those as possible.”

There are many resources on campus for student entrepreneurs. So many, in fact, Tanner said it may be difficult to know how and when exactly to use them, or how to go about starting a business of your own.

“Starting young, figuring out your passion as (quickly) as possible,” is key to starting a truly successful business, Tanner said.   

Starting young is something all too familiar to 2017 business alum Walker Drewett, who started his business as a senior in college. Jumping right into the “doing” part of starting a business is what he said helped jump-start its success. Drewett said he and his roommates started out washing cars at night themselves before they could hire car washers for NuWash.

“We started running NuWash out of our kitchen pantry where we proceeded to wash the first 4,000 cars ourselves at night time while working on the business during the day,” Drewett said. “A couple of us were still finishing up our senior (year) at UT at the time, so we had a full two semesters of school left.”

While they were running the business completely by themselves, Drewett said they were trying to figure out their product market phase and how to deliver their service and build out the technology to make their business model work. Drewett said the best advice he would give to anyone currently at UT and thinking about starting a business would be to surround themselves with like-minded people.

“No one is going to have the home run business idea in the beginning. Surround yourself with people that think with a business mindset, that know that they want to create and build a business but have no idea what it is yet,” Drewett said. “Participate in programs like Longhorn Startup Lab or the Longhorn Startup Seminar.”

Another resource available to local entrepreneurs is Capital Factory, an organization which connects venture capitalists and startups, as well as facilitates the building of projects. Capital Factory is located downtown.

Luke and Joshua Gall, co-creators of Ultimate Drill Book, said starting their business and learning how to develop the necessary programs was a labor of love. Joshua Gall currently works for the University as an assistant band director.

“Initially, because Luke and I are both teachers, we thought this would be something we could have as teachers for our students,” Joshua Gall said. “That immediately transferred into something that would be applicable to students across the world.”

As the brothers worked out the logistics of starting their company, they learned some important lessons about creating a business. Joshua Gall said maintaining the momentum of a fresh idea is just as important to the entrepreneurial process as being okay with asking for help from industry peers.

“I think that the best thing somebody can do when they’ve got an idea, is to be excited about it,” Gall said. “Find people who have experience doing this. The entrepreneurial community is filled with people who are excited to help other entrepreneurs.”