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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT students develop fidget tools for young professionals

Lorianne Willett
Anna Buendia (left) and Simi Thakur (right) sit in an FAC classroom on July 1, 2024.

Public relations sophomore Anna Buendia and Simi Thakur, an advertising and health society senior, did not know crossing paths on a ski trip with Absolute Texas, a UT spirit organization, would result in a thriving business partnership.  

Although they had never met before, Buendia got a concussion and Thakur decided to take the day off after rolling down the mountain, so the two stayed back. As the pair explored the town, the topic of a fidget tool prototype Buendia created in high school came up. Thakur was captivated, and the two went back to the hotel where they sat on the floor and talked for hours. After winter break, the two decided to collaborate in launching Sensate Sensory Tools. 

Targeted towards college students and working professionals, Sensate specializes in creating sleek and discreet fidget tools that attach to everyday items, including an Apple Pencil, keyboard and phone case. Sensate received two StartUP Grants through the UT entrepreneurship hub LaunchPad, which provides funding and mentorship for student-led startups. This summer the pair will participate in a nine-week accelerator for early-stage ventures. 

“When I met Simi, I was like, ‘Okay, this is a person who’s equally as passionate as I am,’” Buendia said. “I just spilled everything … I just told her (as) much as I possibly could.” 

Thakur said her older sister is autistic, and she grew up surrounded by the community. Before she met Buendia, Thakur said she sought out a career at the intersection of business and supporting the neurodivergent community.

“My dad is always like, ‘You’re gonna meet your co-founder, … you’ll be sitting and talking at a bar and you’ll just get on the right topic and it’ll start,’” Thakur said. “That’s literally how it happened.”

When searching for resources online, Buendia came across LaunchPad, a UT-based entrepreneurship hub that includes a drop-in coworking space at the Flawn Academic Center. At the LaunchPad, Buendia said she met with senior program manager, Diego Rubio, who she coincidentally presented her products to at a high school competition years earlier.

“The majority of the time, we fund students, not the startup,” Rubio said. “I saw that commitment in Anna, and her willingness to learn and grow … I knew that she was going to be one hundred percent committed to whatever she was going to be doing.”

After receiving a StartUP grant from LaunchPad, Thakur and Buendia said they researched by conducting interviews with students they noticed fidgeting and reading subreddits centered on fidget tools. This summer, Buendia and Thakur were selected to participate in the SEAL Summer Accelerator, a LaunchPad signature program, where students and faculty receive intensive mentoring and participate in workshops led by experienced entrepreneurs.

“We were lost,” Thakur said. “We were both going to be in Austin this summer, but I just feel like we needed that structure. So when we found out we got into SEAL, it was like the best day ever.”

Since beginning the SEAL program, Buendia and Thakur said they have worked with a friend to design and 3D print models of their products. Buendia said they hope to expand their team and launch Sensate within the next year. In the long term, she said they hope to destigmatize fidget tools in the workplace.

“If there’s a problem you see, and if you have an idea that could make someone’s life better, then you should go for it,” Buendia said. “Failing just means you tested an assumption, and now you have one less assumption to test. So seek failure. Seek learning opportunities.”

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About the Contributor
Lorianne Willett, Photo Editor
Lorianne is a Journalism and Global Sustainability junior from San Antonio, Texas. Currently, she is the Photo Editor. In her free time, she enjoys reading and playing tennis.