Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program: 2021 Final Pitch

HKEC Director, Luis Martins, Program Manager, Amanda Golden, and Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program Pitch Finalists and Judges.

On Thursday, April 29, 2021, four undergraduate students had a chance to pitch their business idea for a prize pool of $20,000, as part of the second Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program final pitch competition hosted by the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center (HKEC) at the McCombs School of Business. This semester, the program was conducted in partnership with Bank of America, which sponsored five students in the program with the goal of increasing diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship.

As a part of the pre-accelerator program, students spent 14 weeks establishing product-market fit for their startup concepts by interviewing potential customers, establishing a value proposition, examining possible customer segments, and conducting market and competitor research. They also developed an minimum viable product (MVP), researched effective pricing strategies, and learned the importance of building productive customer relationships. This intensive due diligence helps founders mitigate the number one reason startups do not succeed: failure to ensure product-market fit for their proposed solution.

The four students were part of the a 20-student cohort of the Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program, first launched in January 2020. FAF student founders worked all semester on validating a problem in the market they are passionate about solving. These founders were supported by a group of ten Graduate Assistants and met with mentors who used the benefit of their experiences to help students design and refine their customer discovery strategies.

Throughout the semester, founders attended weekly seminars that hosted guest speakers utilizing the expertise of university faculty and community partners. Guest speakers helped founders better understand how to apply the different aspects of customer discovery to their individual startup concepts and provided an overview of common frameworks helpful for validating a problem or solution.

The program culminated in a final pitch competition featuring four of the strongest vetted businesses.

The virtual competition featured guest judges Ashley Rose, CEO and Co-Founder of Living Security, Jason Hurtz, managing director at Accel-KKR, Maureen Brown, CEO and Co-Founder of Mosie Baby, and Ted Kondis, retired senior executive and commercial leader in the SaaS industry.

The competition began with Antonio Cardoso De Almeida, who gave his pitch for Hibachi.AI, a tech program which aims to make complex intersections safer through blind spot recognition. Next up was Diego Balderas Allison with his startup concept Re:sole, a modular footwear system that allows runners to repair as they wear and consume footwear more sustainably. Fabrizio Mata represented El Maletín, a digital media platform with a focus on Latin America that aims to help users stay informed, entertained, and learn more about the business world in five minutes or less. Lastly, Sydney Fischer pitched ModernTrial, a clinical trial platform with a mission to optimize operations for patients and providers around the world. At the conclusion of the pitches and Q&A, the judges met to decide how to divide the cash reward.

Dr. Luis Martins, HKEC Director, briefly spoke about the Forty Acres Founders program before revealing the awards. He stated that HKEC started the program in order to, “put the arms of UT around [the founders] and help [the founders] launch ideas in the best way [they] can.”

The pitch competition winnings were defined as a “meaningful contribution” that will energize and power the most promising ideas. After much deliberation, Re:sole and ModernTrial both took home a $10,000 prize.

Dr. Martins closed out the competition with a few parting thanks for the students who pitched saying, “it’s been wonderful getting to know [the founders] and to really think about how [they] are working through these important problems that [they’re] trying to solve.”