The Maverick Entrepreneurship Program and Award has given over $500,000 to help students start their own businesses since it began in fall 2018.
The program started when an anonymous donor gave over $2 million to foster entrepreneurship in UTA students, management associate professor Jeffrey McGee said. The program is open to all students.
“You don’t need a business; you just need a business idea,” he said.
Two years later, the companies launched through the program have generated close to $1 million combined, not counting the original starting prize winners are given, McGee said.
Several companies have successfully opened because of the program and about half of them are still active, electrical engineering professor Robert Magnusson said.
Although any student can participate, the program is run by the College of Business and the College of Engineering. McGee helps coordinate the program through the College of Business. In the College of Engineering, Magnusson leads the program with electrical engineering professor Venkat Devarajan.
Magnusson and Devarajan teach engineering entrepreneurship while McGee teaches an entrepreneurship course in the College of Business. Students aren’t required to take the classes to pitch, Magnusson said.
“This is just starting out and we really want more determined students to participate and get the money and start companies,” he said. “We definitely need that.”
Students submit a three-minute video pitch of their business idea in the first phase, then give a six-minute pitch in person if they are selected. If judges like the pitch, students receive up to $15,000.
McGee said they award about a dozen students during this phase.
In phase two, the top candidates who win in the first phase can compete to win up to an additional $25,000 toward their business, McGee said.
The best pitches can get up to $40,000 between both phases, he said.
Alumna Ariel Leslie and LaTasha Starr, industrial and manufacturing engineering doctoral student, pitched their business called Este²m Builders in 2018. It is designed to enhance the STEM experience for young students aged three through 18, Leslie said.
The program is a way to network and learn from others, Leslie said. The judges awarded Este²m Builders $35,000 between phases one and two, according to the program’s summary report.
“It’s easy to be very nervous and it’s easy to feel like your idea isn’t that great, especially when you’re pitching with other great competitors,” Leslie said. “But LaTasha and I have always had confidence in each other.”
Este²m Builders currently has six employees, runs an after school program once a week in two different locations and has sold over 1,000 STEM project kits, Leslie said. They are looking to expand, she said.
Alumnus Ali Farzbod is the founder and CEO of Nano Liquid Solutions, which judges awarded $33,000 to, according to the program’s summary report. Through his research, he built a blood-testing machine that could give results in 20 minutes with just one drop of blood.
Currently, doctors have to send blood samples to labs to be tested, and the process can take days, Farzbod said. Doctors could store this device in their office and produce results in minutes.
Farzbod expects to have a working prototype within two years and a product on the market within four, he said.
Everybody needs to learn to communicate their message and their vision, especially when pursuing entrepreneurship, Farzbod said.