UT startups take business ideas to New York City conference

Amarachi Ngwakwe

In November, UT student startups took their ideas to New York City to participate in the third annual LaunchPad Propel conference.

The two-day technology conference, hosted by Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars, a worldwide network focused on expanding entrepreneurship, brought together over 200 student entrepreneurs from across Blackstone’s LaunchPad network, giving them a space to develop and accelerate their businesses.

Each of the more than 25 LaunchPad campus centers around the world were tasked with nominating up to four teams to participate in the conference. UT’s Blackstone LaunchPad nominated HiPR Innovation, a pressure-relieving medical device, Plexus Technology, a communication system for music festivals, Tesla ride-hailing service ElecTrip and clothing rental service Swayy to attend.

Rajya Atluri, business honors and Plan II senior and co-founder of Swayy, said the conference offered a unique opportunity to pitch her business on a national platform.  

“Austin is a big startup space, but there are a lot of people in New York and California who typically aren’t here,” Atluri said. “We were able to meet mentors and attend workshops that we wouldn’t normally get access to.”

Of the four nominations, the leading team from each school was selected to compete for $40,000 in cash prizes. Teams were evaluated based on their business model, its viability, team strength and presentation quality after presenting their ideas to a live audience and a panel of judges. 

Of the four UT teams, Swayy was chosen to compete. A University of Southern California team called Credit Starter, a credit-building service, won first place. 

“(Credit Starter) was super interesting to me,” Atluri said. “I see how it could have an impact across the financial industry because college students are an entire demographic who don’t have this history.”

For two days, all students participated in one-on-one sessions with mentors in their industry, attended business workshops and heard from industry experts.

Krishan Sachdev, a recent health and society graduate and HiPR Innovation team member, said attending a national competition exposed him to diverse ideas and issues that helped widen his perspective. 

“We were inspired by ideas (from) across the country,” Sachdev said. “The (other) students come from a very different perspective and are focusing on regional specific challenges that are out of our purview.”

Eliott Lee, mechanical engineering senior and co-founder of ElecTrip, said the conference helped him realize the variety of startup businesses on the market.

“I always see the same UT startups at different competitions,” Lee said. “Having (a new) perspective gave me insight on what it’s like to be (involved in) a startup on a different campus.” 

Nina Ho, assistant director of UT’s Blackstone LaunchPad, attended the conference with  students and said each team received individualized advice from experts in their respective fields.

“(Sachdev) got paired with a mentor that is exactly one year out from where his company is,” Ho said. “It was more helpful to meet someone a year out versus 20 years out because they are just a few steps ahead.”

Sachdev said the most impactful portion of the program was being in a room of startup legends such as Nick Taranto and Josh Hix, founders of the meal-kit subscription service Plated. 

“(We) had really well-known startup entrepreneurs that were lecturing us, and the takeaway I got was it is so possible,” Sachdev said. “It became real that if we continue on this path and focus on what we’re doing, we too can be on the other end of the spectrum sooner than we expect.”