Meet the Six UT Arlington Student Startups Awarded $85K at the Maverick Entrepreneur Program and Award Fund’s MavPitch Competition

Established by an anonymous alumnus to encourage UT Arlington students to explore their business ideas, the Maverick Entrepreneur Program and Award Fund is one of the few student-focused entrepreneurship programs in the country that awards these levels of cash funding to assist emerging startups.

Since 2018, the Maverick Entrepreneur Program and Award Fund has awarded more than $1 million. Its latest award: $85,000 to six startups founded by student entrepreneurs from The University of Texas at Arlington at the 2021 MavPitch Business Competition grand finale.

The Maverick Entrepreneur Program and Award Fund was established in 2018 by an anonymous alumnus to encourage UT Arlington students to explore and execute their business ideas. Since its inception, more than 700 students have participated in the program.

“It’s one of the few student-focused entrepreneurship programs in the country that awards these amounts of cash funding to help the startup businesses,” Jeffrey McGee, the program’s organizer, said in a UTA release. “We are trying to nurture and strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit and community here at UT Arlington.”

McGee, an associate professor in the College of Business’ Department of Management, oversees MavPitch’s two phases.

About the program

During Phase I, all UTA students are invited to submit a three-minute video pitch of their venture. From there, the top submissions present a six-minute pitch to a panel of judges, who then select the award recipients.

Each winner then moves on to Phase II, which offers mentoring, coaching, and access to other entrepreneurial resources. They are also given the opportunity to participate in a second pitch competition.

This year’s Phase II featured the Deep Dive accelerator, a partnership between UTA and TechFW, a local nonprofit dedicated to assisting emerging entrepreneurs in launching and growing tech companies.

For seven weeks, 13 student-led startups worked diligently throughout the summer to curate their business plans and formulate a strong pitch for the last phase of the pitch competition.

Kimberly Mayer, associate vice president of research and interim executive director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Innovation at UTA, said the competition inspired student participants to start picturing what their ideas would look like as legitimate businesses on the marketplace.

“These student-led ventures have the potential to generate positive impacts on our economy, offering new products and services and creating jobs in our community,” Mayer said. “The quality of business ideas the students put forward in MavPitch is always impressive.”

This year’s judges included Evelyn Torres, CEO of Solaris Technologies Services; Srini Gorty, partner and CTO at CorePlus World, founder and CEO of Leap Metrics, and founding partner of Verge Ventures; Andrew Feghali, founder and president of Aeroblaze Laboratory; Molly Sandlin, founder and president of CAET Project Management Consultants; Mirna Masri, founder of Arlington Wellness Chiropractic Center; and James Sellers, founder and president of Sellmark.

Meet the first-place winners

At the 2021 MavPitch Business Competition, Hashira Studios—founded by Jacqueline Gomez and Julio Sanchez—took home the top prize of $25,000, following the $15,000 in initial funding the startup won last May.

Hashira is an anime-inspired clothing studio that designs and creates original apparel for customers wanting to represent their favorite show in a modern and minimalistic way.

The entrepreneurs found a strong base of customers who prefer subtle creations that reflect their anime interests, rather than clothing with large, apparent references. From December 2020 to June 2021, the team grew their monthly sales from $4,581 to $51,195.

“We received one million views on one of our designs,” Gomez said. “Everything is made to order, so there’s no overstock.”

Second-place winners

Carissa’s Custom Costumes, from Carissa Knitowski, and Soirée, from Virginia Bartin, tied for second place, each receiving $15,000 on top of $8,000 from May.

Carissa’s Custom Costumes is a full-service costume business that creates every aspect of an ensemble—hair and makeup, props, armor, garments—for conventions and festivals. Customers are able to choose between an entirely custom outfit, ready-to-wear garments, or catalog of patterns.

Soirée is a specialty, affordable meal-kit delivery service for dates and special occasions. The team provides various recipes consumers might want, along with premeasured ingredients, specialty supplies, and easy-to-follow instructions.

Third-place winners

$10,000 went to the three student entrepreneurs in third place:

Founded by Abigail Werner, Petal aims to transform the way consumers shop by reducing the use of plastic bags. Consumers can purchase reusable totes that are equipped with mobile barcodes. Every time a user shops, they can scan their smartphones to gain incentives to be redeemed for cash, special offers, sweepstakes, or charitable donations. Petal also received $15,000 in May.

Pinch Master, from Lucia Dominquez, manufactures width-adjustable grip-strength-training equipment for mountain and rock climbers. In addition to its products, which are made from polyurethane using 3D printing technology, Pinch Master also offers lifestyle content for outdoor sports fans. The startup also received $8,000 in May.

Deependra Thakur’s iPark is building a centralized parking system that offers parking experiences and solutions. The startup’s products include: sensors that track the real-time occupancy of each spot, then aggregate the data in the cloud; a mobile app allowing users to find, book, and navigate to the nearest spot at the lowest price; and a management system that gives operators a bird’s-eye view of their parking. iPark also received $10,000 in May.

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