Sometimes, the benefits of being a university student far outweigh the actual cost of attending college. Take Comet Accelerator — an experiential program that pulls student teams from The University of Texas at Dallas and throws them into a 10-week non-credit, no-fee class designed to turbocharge their innovation ideas.
Student Turned Mentor
This semester, one of the CometX (as Comet Accelerator is known) motivators will be Shahzil “Shaz” Amin, a 2011 alumnus of the Naveen Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas. Amin, technically a venture adviser with Blackstone LaunchPad at UT Dallas, will be on hand to push, challenge, provoke, inspire, encourage and deliver the cold truths of entrepreneurship to the 10 start-up teams selected for this semester’s CometX program.
Amin, a tough-speaking, no-holds-barred kind of guy, knows of what he speaks. He was working on his BS/Finance degree while ramping up his first entrepreneurial venture Blue Track Media, a mobile advertising-technology platform he started right out of high school. His second startup, Plugged Inc., is a premium audio manufacturer he started during his senior year in college. In April 2014, Blue Track Media was acquired by Karlani Capital. Amin is a now a managing partner with Karlani, where he invests in entrepreneurs and startups from around the world.
“I attended Creekview High School in Carrollton,” Amin said. “I wouldn’t say I had a tremendous amount of confidence when I started my own company. … It wasn’t my confidence that made me start this company. It was the fact that I had no other choice.
“It wasn’t my confidence that made me start this company. It was the fact that I had no other choice.”
“My father was murdered when I had just turned 16,” he said. The result: His mother supported him and his older sister on a low-wage job.
“That was when I had to grow up and become the man of the house. This was the first real turning point of my life … As I turned 18, gearing up for my first semester at UT Dallas in 2007, I took a risk in starting my own company knowing very well that I was giving up that ‘college experience,’ “ he recalls. “Somebody had to [help] the family and I knew it had to be me. I took $1,000 of my savings and started my own company working 18-hour days throughout my four years at UT Dallas. Since then I’ve never looked back.”
Amin’s dream in high school was to be a professional basketball player. That clearly didn’t work out. And while he’s grateful for his university education, he said it’s not where he learned his most valuable lessons.
The ‘School of Hard Knocks’
“I tend to tout the school that most people have not attended — the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ — basically experiencing and learning from all the crazy, hard experiences that life throws at you. Nothing came easy for myself or my family,” he said. “We emigrated from Pakistan and didn’t get our citizenship until I was 20 years old.”
“But I guarantee you that I would not be who I am today if I didn’t attend the ‘School of Hard Knocks.’ It taught me what true grit and hustle really is.”
“But I guarantee you that I would not be who I am today if I didn’t attend the ‘School of Hard Knocks.’ It taught me what true grit and hustle really is. And I plan on sharing all these things with the CometX participants.”
Bryan Chambers, the UT Dallas Blackstone LaunchPad director, said Amin will be on hand to coach the CometX student-teams and top UTD Ventures. “We’re lucky to have someone as experienced as Shaz engaged, and giving back to UTD,” Chambers said. “He’s very authentic and the students are attracted to Shaz because of his ability to relate to them.”
CometX is less about creating an idea and more about learning skills needed to move that idea into the marketplace.
“A lot of coaching gets done at CometX,” Chambers said. Topics range from elevator pitches to startup financials to business formation and founder partnerships. “We’re giving Shaz a lot of autonomy in talking with students, because that’s what we think will work best.” he said.
Amin is excited to get with students.
“I’ll be preaching all the things I’ve learned over the past 10 years of being both an entrepreneur and investor,” he said. “I was exactly in their shoes not too long ago, so I get it. It’s important to me that the participants get the unfiltered side of entrepreneurship because many people don’t understand what they signed up for.”