Student Founder David Willson Opens Up About His Experience in the ATX Startup Ecosystem
Written by Ali Arnold on September 20, 2022
“Being an entrepreneur means everything [to me]. Being an entrepreneur is the single most efficient way that one person can make a very large and lasting difference on their community or the world as a whole… That’s very inspiring.”
Meet David Willson, a third-year undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin studying Pre-Medical Neuroscience and Entrepreneurship and the founder of Cornerstone, a SaaS startup focused on streamlining project management for residential construction. David describes Cornerstone’s operating goal as “ensuring frictionless home building” by creating a shared platform that unites home builders with home owners, streamlining project management, communication, and payment.
Cornerstone is modernizing and mobilizing the current software offering in an effort to bring the residential construction market up to speed with what’s available in the commercial market. By combining a powerful communication portal with project management services ranging from one-day payment to proposal creation to scheduling, Cornerstone aims to make every aspect of the home building process easier, smoother, and more friendly for everyone involved.
As an Austin native, David is not shy to the world of entrepreneurship. Having spent his childhood watching his father work on a startup venture of his own, Willson had the unique opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in a low-risk environment. David attributes his networking and communication skills to his mother, who has built a career in fundraising for non-profits:
“Between the two of them, things came together where I have great operational and management skills. I am very much an idealist and a creative, very good at creative problem solving from years of helping work on my dad’s startup. I’m also really good at networking and talking to people because I had watched my mom be a social engineer in conversations for my entire life.”
Willson has known he was destined to be an entrepreneur for most of his life. He recalled his experience in the fourth grade selling eggs from his family’s chickens for class dollars he could cash in to get out of homework assignments: “There’s a lot of power in providing something that somebody wants.” He knew he had caught the entrepreneurial bug and never looked back. Later in his high school career, David started a general contracting business, which he now views as the first stepping stone in his path to creating Cornerstone.
As someone who is also a general contractor, Willson “has a lot of compassion and empathy for [residential general contractors] because they are having a hard time managing their businesses. It would be a lot easier for them with a system like Cornerstone, which made us really passionate about building [this company].”
In the spring of 2022, Willson participated in the Forty Acres Founders Program, a semester-long program hosted by the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center that educates student founders on the skills needed to vet an idea, understand market demand, and develop a product that addresses validated market needs. Through the program, David found a lot of value in learning the fundamentals of being a founder:
“Coaching up the skills and adding a fundamental backbone to the way we see the world of entrepreneurship is something that [the Forty Acres Founders Program] did for all of us that was very important and imperative to our skillset.”
David also thanks the program for helping him and his team narrow down their lens for what Cornerstone is and will become. Throughout validation interviews, he kept questioning residential contractors on how they keep themselves organized and came to realize no one had a truly effective system. This insight became the foundational issue Cornerstone seeks to solve.
Aside from the educational benefits, the Forty Acres Founders Program also connected Willson with a great support system of fellow entrepreneurs: “Forty Acres Founders provided me with my first entrepreneurial community, it was an amazing experience.” David says the friends he made during the program still frequently connect even after the end of the program and they “are always pushing each other to do more and be better.”
David offers his word of advice for any fellow students dreaming up a startup venture:
“If you’re driven enough, passionate enough about something, it’s achievable. Chase what you want to do because no matter how hard it is, you will be able to do it. No matter how much time it takes, how many hours of sleep you lose, how many B’s on tests you get, you will be able to achieve whatever it is that you set out to achieve. Stay focused and put in the energy, every day.”
He also encourages other entrepreneurial minded students to utilize UT’s extensive resources, whether that means legal resources, accessible grant funding, educational programs like the Forty Acres Founders Program, or the expanse of faculty, staff, alumni, residential founders, and investors in the Longhorn network.
As far as what’s next for Cornerstone, David couldn’t say much but he did let us know that his team is working on their V2 right now and have some really great ideas being put into action to establish competitor differentiators. His excitement for the future of Cornerstone is tangible and we can’t wait to see what’s in store.
To learn more about the Forty Acres Founders Program, click here. The Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center will be accepting applications for the Spring 2023 cohort starting September 26th, 2022.