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UT Venture Labs Starting Up Startups –

As a city, Austin consistently ranks at the top of the list for entrepreneurship and small-business creation. Part of what contributes to the city’s strong entrepreneurial spirit is the various business programs available locally.

In March, The University of Texas at Austin announced the creation of Texas Venture Labs, a program that connects entrepreneurs, investors and students with the goal of getting projects funded.

UT McCombs School of Business faculty member Rob Adams co-founded Texas Venture Labs with Randall Crowder, executive director for Central Texas Angels Network, a nonprofit investment organization.

Crowder said the university has always had entrepreneurial education opportunities, but the new program formalizes all the resources available.

“We want to be able to give the UT System, specifically UT-Austin, a very compelling model to foster entrepreneurship in the real world,” Crowder said. “We are also a part of the community and we’re here to support local entrepreneurs.”

Texas Venture Labs welcomes its first class of 31 graduate students from UT’s business, law and engineering schools this fall. Students earn three credit hours for the course and will have the option of enrolling in a second semester for an additional three credit hours.

Matt Chasen was a student in Adams’ New Venture Creation class, a precursor to Texas Venture Labs. Through the class, Chasen developed his idea for uShip, which launched in 2004 and is the largest online shipping marketplace, with revenues of more than $5 million.

“To me, it felt like having high-end entrepreneurship consultants directly supporting me as I was building the business plan and launching the business,” Chasen said.

Through Texas Venture Labs, selected entrepreneurs submit their business ideas. Students, working in teams of five, gain real-world experience by helping to create business plans, conduct market research, create lead generation tools and other services businesses need to acquire funding. Typically, these services would cost $10,000 to $20,000 in professional services and a significant amount of the business owner’s time.

At the same time, the students work with potential investors to find potential business opportunities and to conduct all of the necessary research.

“We want to fill that void and help the entrepreneur, investor and student get what they want,” Crowder said. “It’s like an internship program on steroids.”

As the program develops, Crowder said the goal is to open it up to undergraduate students in fall 2011. All participants have access to a strong mentoring network that continues beyond graduation, Crowder said.

“This is something you can get excited about,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to you: Some of these entrepreneurs can get funding and turn around and hire these students.”

Leon Chen, co-founder and co-owner of Tiff’s Treats, was a freshman business student at UT in 1997 before Texas Venture Labs existed. Chen, who regularly speaks at UT business classes, said the university’s renewed focus on entrepreneurship is greatly in demand among students.

“There’s definitely more of an entrepreneurial spirit in the business school now,” Chen said. “It’s a matter of seeing the success of former students; it’s an attitude.”

Crowder sees Texas Venture Labs as a benefit not only to UT, but also to the larger Austin community in supporting the local economy.

“Austin is at a crossroads right now,” Crowder said. “We can’t sit and wait in the shadow of the semiconductor boon. There are a lot of people innovating in Austin, and we want to give them the best possible chance to be funded.”

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