McCombs Entrepreneur Summer Fellowship 2020 Recap

Summers for college students are traditionally reserved for working internships for job placement or taking classes to get ahead on a degree. For the seven teams of undergraduate and graduate students that took part in the McCombs Entrepreneur Summer Fellowship (MESF), Summer 2020 looked a lot different. These students spent the summer working on their existing startups, from a payment management platform to a healthier alternative for pre-packed lunches, with generous support from alumni donors and The Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship taking their side hustles to the next level.

All 52 applicants for the MESF, each with existing startups, were asked to pitch their venture, which included a persuasive business plan, well thought-out milestones and metrics, and an infectious passion for their vision. Out of that pool, two teams of graduate students won a $5,000 Fellowship stipend, and five teams of undergraduate students won a $3,000 Fellowship stipend, in addition to valuable feedback and validation on their ventures. “The validation from getting into the fellowship really took us to the next level in the eyes of potential investors, as well as for myself,” said Stuart Smith, founder of Helios, a shoe company targeting the gap between leisure and active wear. “After getting in, I was able to network with founders in the space, as well as build better relationships with mentors.”

While many students choose the more traditional route of taking classes or working, students in the Fellowship say their summer was just as- if not more- productive for having enrolled. John, the founder of Empire Learning, a platform that offers training and licensing for real estate agents, said he “didn’t feel guilty for spending 100% of his time on Empire Learning as it was funded (from the Fellowship).” After enrolling in the Fellowship, John was able to expand his platform to 11 states, and doubled his revenues over the summer. “MESF has allowed me to pursue Empire Learning full-time after finishing my MBA, which I am ecstatic about!”

Student founders unanimously reported the Fellowship accelerating their venture over the course of the summer. Because of the impact of COVID-19, tech startups were especially able to capitalize on an at-home population, while simultaneously getting hands-on experience that was hard to come by in a relatively stagnant job market. Samuel, founder of Hybrid, a tech startup that promotes kids learning healthy online behavior, said the summer was transformative. “The initial timeline to this point of development was two years, and I was able to get to my current prototype in three months.”

Admitted teams found the grant money to be particularly helpful in validating their products to the market. “We’re further along in development by magnitudes of scale,” said Lucious McDaniel, founder of Phly, a company focused on managing and processing payments for student clubs and other organizations. “Before the Summer Fellowship, we had processed something like $150 of payments. After the fellowship ended, we had processed hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Since the Fellowship money is granted directly to the student, MESF doesn’t take any equity in exchange for capital. This allows founders to feel comfortable taking capital without worrying about equity dilution, which is a common concern of potential investors in later rounds. Maaz, founder of Halalcart, an online service for niche food markets, found the money to be a psychological safety net to experiment with his business without fear of failure. “It really empowered me to accelerate my work […] I was stuck with the fear of rejection, but MESF gave me the energy to pursue my project beyond college and be okay with whatever comes.”

Overall, student entrepreneurs in the MESF were given the freedom and immunity from financial obstacles to grow their ventures. “Team morale really boosted after we made it into the fellowship,” says Throw-a-Weigh founder, Becky Xu. “Getting in caused us to believe in ourselves and take our work to the next level. The safety net from the grant money allowed us to strive forward without fear of failure because of the structure of the Fellowship.”

If you’re a student with a venture that you want to take to the next level, be sure to apply for the MESF when applications open next semester. The 12-week fellowship lets student founders take their venture from a side hustle to full-time operation, along with receiving valuable advice, grant funding, and validation from the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship Team and community partners.

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