Founders and inventors require more than a golden idea to build and maintain successful new businesses. They need knowledge and resources to attract investors, meet customer demand and generate profits.
For students at The University of Texas at Arlington, the Blackstone LaunchPad at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Innovation (CEEI) facilitates access to a global network of mentors and advisers, delivering proven startup resources and unique training opportunities.
Rise and grind
Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to train their finger muscles. But for Lucia Dominguez and her family of rock climbers, grip strength is the difference between a successful ascent and an accidental fall.
When Dominguez’s brother-in-law developed an adjustable 3D-printed hand grip, the UT Arlington business administration student recognized its potential to assist amateur climbers.
“Rock climbing is an intimidating sport, and it can be expensive to get started,” Dominguez said. “If we could commercialize this device, it would offer an affordable grip-training alternative for new climbers who don’t have easy access to the gym.”
Dubbing the invention the Pinch Master, she looked for opportunities to transfer the product to the marketplace. Dominguez entered UTA’s MavPitch business pitch competition, hoping her business plan would receive generous startup funding from the Maverick Entrepreneur Program and Award Fund. Her idea won third place and a prize of $12,600. A few days later, she received an unexpected invitation.
Kimberly Mayer, executive director of the CEEI, asked Dominguez to apply to attend Startup Grind, a global conference for entrepreneurs made available to UTA students through the University’s Blackstone LaunchPad.
Hands-on experiences like those offered by Startup Grind teach young entrepreneurs practical lessons about how to transform their ideas from paper to product. Blackstone LaunchPad sent Dominguez and peer Carissa Knitowski, founder and creator of Carissa’s Custom Costumes, to the San Francisco meeting with all expenses paid.
“At Startup Grind, I learned from professional entrepreneurs and innovators about the day-to-day operations of a startup company,” Dominguez said. “Now I have a better understanding of how to put our idea out into the world.”
Mayer said resources offered through Blackstone LaunchPad give UTA students the opportunity to share their ideas with peers from around the country.
“UTA’s student entrepreneurs demonstrate that their ideas are competitive at a national level as they participate in Blackstone LaunchPad programs,” Mayer said. “The caliber of their work is inspiring. I am always impressed.”
Venture capital crash course
UT Arlington construction management student Hussein Matar dreams of returning to his native Lebanon to build infrastructure that will improve the lives of its citizens.
“One day, I would like to own a construction company that helps communities live better lives,” he said. “While I am in school, it is my goal to take advantage of every opportunity to learn how to be a good business owner.”
When Matar learned about Blackstone LaunchPad’s Bridge Venture Fellowship, he applied right away. The fellowship is a three-week crash course in venture capital that culminates in an in-person recruitment event with Texas-based firms.
During the course, Matar collaborated with peers from 10 schools within the University of Texas System and exchanged ideas with industry professionals.
“The fellowship opened my eyes to investment and fundraising practices that will help me in the future,” Matar said. “The tools I received from Blackstone LaunchPad have laid a strong foundation where I can start to build a company.”
In fall 2021, in collaboration with Blackstone LaunchPad, the CEEI hosted its inaugural Ideas Competition, where students with no prior entrepreneurial experience practiced their skills of distilling and presenting ideas.
Among this year’s winners is Kashish Dhal, a doctoral candidate in UTA’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Dhal is the founder of Apex Robotics, a developer of drone autopilot software.
Drones equipped with Apex Robotics’ software increase inspection safety and efficiency by keeping humans away from dangerous environments. First responders are expected to be a key market for the product, which can be used to search for suspects in barricaded locations or identify victims trapped in fires.
At the competition, the best ideas received $1,000 to foster research and development.
“The money will help us discover potential customers by visiting conferences and other places of interest to validate our business hypothesis,” Dhal said. “We will invest any remaining funds into the professional development of the company’s team.”
Other winners from this year’s competition include:
- Joshit Mohanty for his idea to commercialize an autonomous, ultraviolet mobile sanitizing robot.
- Nicolas McClintic for his startup, The Wholesome Post, a nonprofit digital media company that focuses on creating and promoting positive, wholesome content online.
Xoriunstance Brown, CEEI operations director and Blackstone LaunchPad campus director, said the skills students gain through entrepreneurial activities will support a variety of career paths.
“UTA’s emerging entrepreneurs are learning skills that are beneficial to careers in any industry,” Brown said. “They develop compelling, concise communications, collaborate with individuals from varied backgrounds, and plan complex business operations, including financial and product management. Their experiences in Blackstone LaunchPad programs will take them far.”