Watch the full Freed Family Pitch Competition Finals!

Recap: Freed Family Pitch Competition Finals 2023


Written by Brynn Spicher

On the night of October 26, 2023, four undergraduate student startups went head-to-head in the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center’s Freed Family Pitch Competition Finals. These University of Texas at Austin students pitched their startups to an elite panel of judges in competition for the $60,000 prize pool.

Endowed in by UT alum Billy Freed and family, the Freed Family Pitch Competition is an annual competition where undergraduate students pitch their startups to a panel of qualified judges from a variety of industry backgrounds in competition for non-dilutive grant funding. This competition, previously known as DisrupTexas, allows students’ ideas to come to fruition, empowering them to turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality. A one-of-a-kind opportunity for experiential learning, students are able to hone their pitching skills, refine their business strategy, receive detailed feedback from industry experts, and form valuable relationships with key players in the Austin startup ecosystem. Due to the generous gift from the Freed Family, this year’s competition was able to offer the largest non-diluted funding opportunity for undergraduate students at UT.

Starting with over 70 applicants, this year’s competition was narrowed down to 16 teams that competed divisionally in the virtual Semi-Finals that were held on October 14th. The top team from each of the four divisions were selected to advance to the Finals — BoBo, Merge Conflict Studio, Sensibed Tech, and STEMkidz.

HKEC Director, Luis Martins, began the night with welcome remarks to introduce the competition and panel of judges. This prominent panel, providing their time and feedback, consisted of Kalyan Banerjee, Co-Founder & CGO of Lumenci; Toni Jacaruso, President of Jacaruso Enterprises; David J. Neff, Operating Partner of Ecliptic Capital; Athena Simpson, Founder & Investor of Unrestricted Ventures; and Quoc Tran, CFO of FarBridge.

Pitching first were Phillip Baek and Ashauntee Fairley with BoBo, an app that gives roommate living a lively twist, creating a game offering personal suggestions and rewards for chore management by leveraging machine learning. Next up were Samantha Preston and Srikar Sadhu for Sensibed Tech, a medical technology alerting nurses of the formation of dangerous pressure ulcers in bedridden patients. Angelica Sharma then presented her startup, STEMkidz, which hosts computer science and robotics camps for kids, leading future generations in STEM. The last presenters were Melody Geiger, William Sords, and Joseph Horak for Merge Conflict Studio, a minority-led indie video game development studio that centers marginalized perspectives and advocates for a more environmentally conscious society.

From left: Quoc Tran, Toni Jacaruso, Srikar Sadu, Samantha Preston, Ashauntee Fairley, Phillip Baek, Angelica Sharma, Tyler Freed, Billy Freed, Kalyan Banerjee, Melody Geiger, Joseph Horak, William Sords, Athena Simpson, and Luis Martins.

Following the pitches, judges had a tough deliberation period to rank the competitors, all agreeing that the students showed great promise in the entrepreneurial world. Luis Martins announced that, after careful consideration, the third place prizes of $5,000 were to go to the Merge Conflict Studio and Sensibed Tech teams. The second place prize of $10,000 went to BoBo, and the first place prize of $20,000 went to STEMkidz. In addition to cash awards, each team was also awarded $5,000 in AWS credits.

The Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center extends it’s warmest thank you to all participants, judges, staff, and attendees of the 2023 Freed Family Pitch Competition, as well as the Freed Family. The HKEC wishes all the founders success in their startups, and eagerly looks forward to the next annual Freed Family Pitch Competition!

The HKEC offers a variety of dynamic resources to UT Austin students, including competitive funding opportunities, networking events, informative article series, mentorship and more. To learn more about the entrepreneurship resources that the HKEC has to offer, visit our website and subscribe to our newsletter to get involved with future opportunities!



Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center

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