Christian College Student Sparks Inspiration for a Startup through Finding Church Community
Written by Monica Garza
“I would consider myself an entrepreneur, but the reason why is not because I’m involved with a startup. I think an entrepreneur is someone who, in all facets of your life, is wanting to push the status quo… [entrepreneurship] involves mental fortitude, perseverance and creativity.”
Meet Trenton Balcombe, a second-year undergraduate finance major at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) from Frisco, Texas. He is also the founder of ChurchSearch, an online platform that connects people to churches by helping them narrow down the options to find their best fit.
Coming from Legacy Christian Academy, Balcombe first entered UT his freshman year looking for a church community similar to the one he had back home. Not knowing many people at UT yet, navigating his church search by himself quickly became difficult. Struggling to find a Christian community that was the perfect fit, he noticed a lack of support for college students looking to get involved with religious organizations.
In the midst of his less than ideal search process, Balcombe wrote down in his journal his idea for creating a online platform that would connect people to churches and provide more information on each community. Before the end of his freshman year, this idea would become a startup that aims to ease the struggles Trenton felt in the church discovery process. “How that’s done is through dynamic filtering with all the different features that people are looking for in churches…to make the search experience as valuable as possible in providing valuable information but in a concise and appealing way.”
His early upbringing, where he was exposed to the entire entrepreneurship process through his father’s own startup ventures, has largely fostered Balcombe’s entrepreneurial spirit and interest. “[My father] and a friend co-founded a technology company…and he worked in business litigation and consulting for most of his life.” Though already semi-retired, his father also currently is a part of a venture capital firm to assist other entrepreneurs. The summer after Balcombe’s junior year of high school, using his network and parent’s connections, he pursued his own independent small business to help kids in soccer through training. After dipping his toes in the water of the startup ecosystem, he continued to hold an strong interest in entrepreneurship.
Coming into college, Trenton knew he wanted to get connected to an entrepreneurship community. While researching the startup ecosystem at UT during his first semester, he decided to apply to the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center’s Forty Acres Founders Program. The semester-long program educates student founders on the skills needed to vet an idea, understand market demand, and develop a product that addresses validated market needs.
Besides being in the Men’s Soccer Club, Silver Spurs, and Beta Upsilon Chi Christian fraternity, Balcombe also became a member of the Forty Acres Founders Program upon his acceptance. He applied to the program with a different idea but as his concept progressed, he, on an impulse, decided to pivot to the idea he originally jotted down in his journal, which later became ChurchSearch. “I really got involved by just going for it and I really enjoyed it.”
Being surrounded by the supportive environment of the Forty Acres Founders Program helped further his idea with the knowledge and experience he gained. “I can make more progress when I’m in structured environments,” Balcombe explains. The collaborative atmosphere of the program helped motivate him to keep pursuing his idea:
“One of the most valuable things about [the Forty Acres Founders Program] was being able to meet up and talk to my graduate assistant and mentor. All the different [mentors] have valuable industry experience. I was matched with [my mentor] because she’s on the board of her church and we were able to talk about [our] perspectives. I really benefited from our conversations. I remember trying to figure out target market and she walked me through how to do that.”
The program helped facilitate Balcombe’s entrepreneurship journey by helping him clearly define the problem he aims to solve and his proposed solution, as well as establishing the fundamentals of how to get a company off the ground. “The people I was able to meet [through the program], I was able to stay in contact with, get advice from and learn from one another…being a part of that community and meeting those people was another valuable thing, and I still benefit from that today.” The Forty Acres Founders Program helped Trenton develop his concept and bring it to life.
Trenton’s hard work paid off when he was ranked as one of the top five concepts from his program cohort, leading to him pitching his concept to a panel of elite judges in competition for up to $20,000 in funding. During the 2022 Forty Acres Founders Pitch Competition, which caps the end of the program each semester, Trenton ranked 2nd place and took home $5,000 to put toward making ChurchSearch a reality. To read a recap of the competition, click here.
Trenton’s involvement in the UT startup ecosystem did not end there, as he now spends time in the Longhorn Startup Lounge and off campus at Capital Factory. Through these resources, he has connected with many entrepreneurs and mentors in Austin. “I’ve been able to network with people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.” Balcombe also landed an internship at a private equity firm.
As far as what’s on the horizon for Trenton and ChurchSearch, he is currently working with a team of developers on a beta version of the platform, which he hopes to roll out by the beginning of the 23–24 school year, just in time for the next wave of freshman looking to connect with church communities.
To people looking into possibly pursuing entrepreneurship, Balcombe offers his words of advice: “Take a leap of faith. You won’t ever fully know everything but you can still go out and do it.” He encourages people to take advantage of campus resources and that there is no shame in not knowing everything. “Just go out and do something and see what happens.”
To learn more about the Forty Acres Founders Program, visit uthkec.com. The Spring 2023 Forty Acres Founders Pitch Competition will be held on April 20th at 2:00pm in Crum Auditorium. For RSVP information, click here.