For entrepreneurs who intersect with The University of Texas at Dallas, there’s a new source of startup funding. The UT Dallas Seed Fund offers up to $25,000 to any student, alumni, faculty or staffer with a business startup that looks like it has a bright future.
The deal breaker is the new business must pass a rigorous review of venture capital analysts.
Those analysts are typically Naveen Jindal School of Management finance students who take their job very seriously, says Bryan Chambers, program director of the fund, which operates out of the campus Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “They do what a real venture fund does,” Chambers says. “These students function as venture analysts – they manage the application cycle, compare opportunities, get out into the marketplace to talk with competitors or potential clients, analyze what support the new company needs. … It gives the finance students a really rich experience.”
In spring, the UT Dallas Seed Fund made its first two $25,000 awards – one to ShearShare, the other to Cosmunity. Both are apps, but that’s where the similarities end. Cosmunity is a platform specifically targeted to comics, cosplay, gaming and anime adherents. ShearShare connects salon and barbershop owners to independent stylists to fill unused suites and stations on demand.
“We are here to create a culture of support.” Bryan Chambers
Those who receive UT Dallas Seed Fund grants get additional support through Blackstone LaunchPad, a separately funded program on the UT Dallas campus tasked with moving viable business ideas out into the marketplace. The fund specifically targets opportunities presented by those in the broad UT Dallas community. “And once we fund a group,” says Chambers, who is also director of Blackstone LaunchPad at UT Dallas, “our relationship doesn’t end. We are here to create a culture of support.”
Chambers says the university offers, among other things, technical, marketing and investor relations assistance. “The goal is to choose the very best” startups, he says, and then make sure those startups are successful.
“UT Dallas is leading the charge in North Texas on supporting young businesses.” Steven Guengerich
“UT Dallas is leading the charge in North Texas on supporting young businesses,” says Steven Guengerich, chairman of the UT Dallas Seed Fund and executive director of Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The cross-disciplinary approach we take ensures that our students, faculty, staff and alumni get the best support possible as they grow their startup.”
ShearShare was the brainchild of Courtney Caldwell and her husband, Tye. When Tye expanded his salon several years ago, cosmetologists and barbers were more interested in day usage, rather than long-term contracts. Tye decided to host cosmetologists on a per-day basis. Courtney, a 2006 MBA graduate of UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management, had long been in corporate marketing. They saw an opportunity for an app to match stylists with available stations in salons. Since then, ShearShare has earned wide recognition including with Y Combinator Fellowship, TechCrunch, Black Enterprise and LaunchDFW.
Chambers is excited about the UT Dallas Seed Fund from two perspectives – obviously it helps budding entrepreneurs through the lean days of startup. But also, for current students, it provides a real look into the lives of venture capitalists. Chambers teaches the course (ENTP 4v00) that analysts must take in order to be a part of the review process. “Yes,” he says, “students could decide none of the companies reviewed in one semester is worthy of funding.” In real life, after all, there aren’t always winners.
“The UT Dallas Seed Fund is special to us because it is an emphatic endorsement from those closest to our startup journey,” says Caldwell, whose app has received other venture capital investment. “UT Dallas has been there from the beginning, and so we’re thrilled to have been selected as one of the inaugural alumni grant recipients.”