Alejandro Weibel, Dakota Gordon, Ian Beckcom and Andrew Miller formed Homeroom, a company that runs an online learning management system, as part of the 1 Semester Startup class. Photo by Elizabeth Dillon. Daily Texan staff.
Two weeks ago while staying up late cramming for a test, finance senior Ian Beckcom wished he could talk to somebody about the questions he had before he took the exam the next day.
Beckcom said he wondered what it would be like to chat with professors and fellow students while he studied and why there was not already a technology to meet this need. His answer reminded him of why he and three other classmates decided to form Homeroom, a software company that runs an online learning management information system similar to Blackboard.
Beckcom and his team were one of the 20 teams that presented a 5-minute company investor “pitch” to a crowd of more than 200 students, professors and local entrepreneurs at the 1 Semester Startup “Demo Day” showcase Thursday night. 1 Semester Startup is an interdisciplinary course that began this semester and allows undergraduates with startup companies to gain first-hand experience in running and developing successful businesses.
Engineering professor Bob Metcalfe, finance professor John Butler and computer science specialist Joshua Baer lead the class. Baer said the class consists of 75 enrolled students from across all majors and 25 mentors from the Austin entrepreneur community.
“The biggest value comes from bringing experienced mentors to spend time with the students,” Baer said. “Some of this you can’t get from textbooks.”
In order to be a mentor, entrepreneurs need to have started one or more startup companies. Students meet with mentors once a week to convey updates, challenges and progress.
Baer said along with the mentorship program, the professors wanted students to take care of their health and focus on their planning, writing, speaking and selling skills. He said engineering and computer science students are not usually taught the latter three skills.
Russell Hinds, a managing partner at RSH Ventures, mentors Beckom and the group behind the Homeroom startup. Hinds said he loves working with the group because there’s a lot of passion but not a lot of business sense of what might be important to an investor.
“With students, a little bit of advice goes a long way,” Hinds said. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish in this special environment. It’s a spiritual getaway for an entrepreneur, doing more than what they expected in a short period of time.”
Computer science senior Andrew Miller, also a part of Homeroom, said the team is working to develop a beta version of Homeroom and has professors and students that have agreed to try the program out once it is finished.
“The fact is that this class is a set up, it’s low risk, ” Miller said. “If we fail we’re not $50,000 in debt.”
Miller said if the company does not work out, there would always be next semester for more opportunities.
Rudy Garza, an investor at G-57 Capital, said he saw three student pitches he would follow up on and potentially invest in.
“As far as students startups go, it’s interdisciplinary and that’s monumental,” Garza said.
This article was originally published in the Daily Texan on December 2, 2011, as “Students gain experience by pitching companies“