Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program 2022 Final Pitch Competition Recap

By Ali Arnold on May 2, 2022

From left: Christopher Wilder, Alykhan Rehmatullah, Madeleine Montgomery, Russ Holdstein, Trenton Balcombe, Anita Roberts, and Mateo Delaguila

On Thursday, April 28th, 2022, five students of The University of Texas at Austin gathered to pitch their entrepreneurial startup concepts to a panel of judges to take home funding from the collective $20,000 prize pool. Each of the students is a participating member of the 3rd annual Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program cohort, an application-based program of up to 20 students provided by the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center, housed within the McCombs School of Business.

This year’s program was in partnership with Bank of America, who sponsored five students with the goal of increasing diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. The program was also supported by the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center and three newly established endowments; the Gwen and Frank Gordon Forty Acres Founders Endowed Excellence Fund, the Stephen Maeker Forty Acres Founders Endowed Excellence Fund, and the Tucci Family Forty Acres Founders Endowed Excellence Fund.

The Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program aids student founders in developing their concepts from any starting point through weekly seminars, guest speakers, and hands on exercises. Students participating in the program have the opportunity to study potential customers, improve their product, establish product-market fit, and position their product for success within the marketplace. Each student is paired with a graduate assistant as well as a community mentor, and is provided with $1,000 in grant funding.

One of the program’s many goals is for students to leave with a deep understanding of entrepreneurial frameworks and how to apply those skills in real-world endeavors. Throughout the semester, students learn to articulate the story behind their startups and demonstrate for potential investors and customers the need for a proposed service or product and its ability to add value to customers. By establishing a resilient product-market fit, students leave the program with vetted protection against one of the most common reasons startups fail.

This year’s pitch competition, the first of its kind to be held in person rather than virtually, was deliberated by a prominent judge’s panel consisting of Alykhan Rehmatullah, Co-Founder and CEO of Altru; Anita Roberts, Founding Partner of mvmt ventures and Managing Partner of Silicon Hills Capital; Russ Holdstein, Angel Investor, Former CFO of Rolling Stone Magazine, and Founder/Former CEO of Payday; and Will Coleman, Founder and CEO of Alto.

First to pitch his concept was Christopher Wilder with his startup, JCN Farms, which aims to provide all consumers with access to fresh, sustainable produce and diminish food insecurities, malnourishment, food waste, and food supply-chain shortages through innovative agricultural solutions. Next up was Kavya Sethi with Stokens, which is a no-code Web3 platform that looks to integrate the way that entrepreneurs raise capital with the way that they develop community around their venture. Madeleine Montgomery represented aurelje, a concept that uses a jewelry-NFC technology innovation that allows wearers to connect more with memories and relationships by wearing what matters most to each individual. Next was Mateo Delaguila pitching his concept, Locol, which proposes a direct student to small business pipeline to enable students to gain real-world experience and earn income while allowing small businesses to have easy access to student freelancers. Lastly, Trenton Balcombe pitched his startup, ChurchSearch, a platform that gives users a way to tailor their church search around the factors they are looking for in a church, including denomination, type of worship music, and size of the church body.

After the deliberation period, Dr. Luis Martins, Director of HKEC, spoke briefly about the Forty Acres Founders program before revealing the judges decisions. Dr. Martins extended a heartfelt thank you to all donors, mentors, judges, and graduate assistants who helped make the program such a valuable asset for student founders navigating the startup landscape.

It was then announced that after careful consideration, Madeleine Montgomery with aurelje would take home the 1st place title with $10,000, Trenton Balcombe with ChurchSearch coming in 2nd place with $5,000, and Mateo Delaguila with Locol and Christopher Wilder with JCN Farms sharing the 3rd place ranking, each earning $2,500. When each of the finalists was asked what stood out to them about their experience in the Forty Acres Founders Program, each of their answers mentioned the sense of community support and friendship among fellow entrepreneurs they found through the program, noting how encouraging the environment was for their ventures.

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At HKEC, we’re all about igniting world changing ideas and preparing UT Austin student founders with the tools for startup success. herbkellehercenter.com