Bob Metcalfe

Attendees mingle at the second Startup Job Fair on Friday. Thirty Austin startups came to recruit UT students from all majors.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Nick Spiller | Daily Texan Staff

UT Austin’s Startup Job Fair on Friday welcomed 30 Austin startups that are interested in enlisting Longhorns to their teams. The fair was created and is hosted by the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency (LEA) of Student Government and is sponsored by my office, Liberal Arts Career Services (LACS). Last Friday’s fair was only our second ever but we plan on hosting them every semester. The next fair is planned for March 10th, 2015 during UT Entrepreneurship Week. 

The first thing Bob Metcalfe, UT Austin’s Professor of Innovation, did when he walked into the fair last Friday was tell LEA Director Amanda Barrington and me why he loved the idea of this event. He referred back to when two Y-Combinator partners visited his Longhorn Startup Seminar in October. They told the group of about 100 students interested in entrepreneurship that they probably aren’t the best positioned for being the core founder of a new business. 

Instead, entrepreneurial students should consider working at a well-funded startup like one of the 27 that their Y-Combinator has produced that are worth over $100 million (according to a 11/21 tweet by Y-Combinator President Sam Altman). Typical college students are committed to a full class load, a few student organizations, a precious social life and recruiting. You can’t just throw your own startup on top of that unless you sacrifice something else. Plus, being paid to work at a startup allows you to learn the entrepreneurial process on someone else’s dime. 

Working for a startup also gives you the opportunity to play a real role in a special mission to change the world. At our breakfast this semester, I told fellow UT Friar Society members one thing when it was my turn to speak. “If you are in this room, have graduated in the last 5 years and are a consultant then you should quit your job and help start something.” The reason I said that was to combat a disheartening idea put forth by Peter Thiel, one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley, in his book “Zero to One.” 

Thiel describes our society as one that thinks optimistically about an indefinite future. Our best graduates are going into fields where they’ll create few concrete plans to build a better world but still expect it to be better in the future. Management consultants go from project to project implementing operational efficiency procedures with no long-term interest in the future of the business. Lawyers step in and solve other people’s problems then get out of the way. Investment bankers rely on the tenet that nobody knows whether the market will go up and down and therefore rely on diversification of assets. 

This indefinite optimism is inherently unsustainable according to Thiel. How does the future get better when nobody plans for the improvement? 

I’ll admit the quickest route to what we traditionally consider success (financial security, job prestige, etc.) is probably a career in consulting, investment banking or law. In that sense, it makes sense the best students are pursuing these fields. However, at a University that prides itself on producing people that will change the world, shouldn’t our graduates enter fields with more agency over the future? 

Working for a startup, you will have agency not only over your life but a new part of the world. Startups develop a vision for the future and grind it out to make that vision a reality. Founders play the leading role in this but, of course, it couldn’t be done without help. Employees contribute directly to the success or failure of every startup while still earning a consistent salary that can help pay bills and student debt. Good startups set aside stock to offer their employees as an incentive to offset lower salaries. Then once the startup takes off, you can cash those stock options in and use those funds to launch your own company. 

Hundreds of students visited the Startup Job Fair last Friday in search of a startup to join. If you missed the fair, there is a startup networking event (or ten) happening every night in Austin. Otherwise, join us during UT Entrepreneurship Week on March 10th for the next UT Austin Startup Job Fair.

Spiller is a rhetoric and writing alumnus. While a student, he founded the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency of Student Government. and worked as a Daily Texan opinion columnist. He writes about UT entrepreneurship on his blog at UThinkTankNick.com and can be found on Twitter @Nick_Spiller.  

Louise Epstein, a former Austin City Council member and entrepreneur, was named the managing director of the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Innovation Center on Thursday. Launched in 2011, the center guides faculty and students through the process of creating a start-up company and aims to to help UT become a major entrepreneurial campus.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After being appointed managing director of the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Innovation Center on Thursday, Louise Epstein plans to make entrepreneurship a bigger part of the school.

The center, launched in 2011, provides support to students and faculty, primarily from the engineering school, through the process of establishing a startup company. The center offers a variety of programs, including seminars, labs and mentorships. 

“What started out as a class and a lab has grown to [a center with] businesspeople and faculty,” said Epstein, former City Council member. ”I’m just here to take it to the next level.”

Bob Metcalfe, engineering professor and faculty director of the Innovation Center, said the center created the new managing director position to ease the expansion of ongoing programs. Metcalfe, who is also a co-inventor of Ethernet, said Epstein will be responsible for managing staffing, budgeting and fundraising for student and faculty startup projects.

“We’re scaling up,” Metcalfe said. “We’re developing new programs, and we need more horsepower, in particular someone who can run things as opposed to someone who is mentoring and teaching students.”

Epstein hopes the center helps to turn UT into a major entrepreneurial campus on par with Stanford University or Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to Epstein, the growing entrepreneurial community in Austin and the support from UT are vital to the success of the center. 

“South By Southwest isn’t anywhere else,” Epstein said. “The people in this community who are actively promoting entrepreneurship and innovation is unbelievable.”

As managing director, Epstein said she will help with future programs at the Innovation Center and will be responsible for the management of the Innovation Center’s flagship program, Longhorn Startup. 

Epstein served on the Austin City Council in the early 1990s. In 1997, she founded Charge-Off Clearinghouse, a company that collects and sells portfolios of charged-off debt. In 2010, Epstein served as the entrepreneur in residence of the McCombs School of Business and later worked as a fellow at the IC2 Institute, a University think tank aimed at developing theories and practices around entrepreneurial growth.

Ben Dyer, the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Cockrell School of Engineering and a mentor for the Longhorn Startup program, said the center has started to explore new ideas for programs, although none are ready to be revealed to the public.

“[Epstein] is the first step toward a bigger vision,” Dyer said. ”We have a lot of thoughts on the chalkboard and lot of opportunities.”

Dwayne Smurdon, psychology senior and Predictable Data founder, said UT provides networking opportunities for entrepreneurs. 

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Austin, which Forbes calls America’s No. 1 boomtown, has become a technology hub as a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship has come to town — and the University of Texas is trying to catch-up and ride that wave.

The University and students groups are working to encourage entrepreneurship on campus, but some students who are starting companies say UT is still far behind in resources other colleges that have played the entrepreneurial game for decades provide. And while entrepreneurial-minded student organizations on campus said they have expanded their outreach this semester, UT is in the middle of addressing a confusing intellectual property policy that may discourage students from pursuing entrepreneurship, as it leaves a student company’s profits exposed to the University’s hands.

As the UT System wrestles with its own policies, some student are trying to encourage entrepreneurship. The student-run Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency is hosting UTEWeek through Thursday, which is meant to introduce students to entrepreneurship opportunities on campus, according to Grant Heimer, finance senior and director of the agency.

“This year, we’re having 18 events in a span of seven days, and we’re involving almost every single group on campus that is involved in entrepreneurship in some way,” Heimer said. “In the last year, a lot more people have heard about us, and that’s been the biggest factor in our growth.”

One of the most important resources students say the University provides is the opportunity to network. Psychology senior Dwayne Smurdon returned to school after several years of running his own businesses largely for these connections. Smurdon, who is now running a data cleaning company, Predictable Data, said he held off of seeking funding for his company so he could focus on finishing his degree.

“I really came back not only for the academic experience but for the network of people I would meet,” Smurdon said. “There is a great value of that.”

One of those connections is engineering professor Bob Metcalfe, who has dipped a toe into every entrepreneurial pool on campus. Metcalfe teaches Longhorn Startup, a semester-long class that helps kick-start student businesses.

The University recently granted Metcalfe new space in Welch Hall for student entrepreneurs on campus. While not as big as its previous office in the engineering building, Metcalfe said the space will function as a co-working space and said he plans to move his office there to further encourage students to use it.

“That space is to put a gathering point for entrepreneurs to bump into each other, have collisions, share ideas, be inspired, recruit each other, build teams,” Metcalfe said.

Multiple students pointed to Stanford as the model campus for student startups.

One of Stanford’s most prominent resources is StartX, a competitive business incubator managed by Stanford students that provides funds to students or faculty launching businesses. Metcalfe said the University is working on developing a similar fund, but the more important issue is the quality of Austin’s student startups, not the amount of money backing them.

“Money is not the problem,” Metcalfe said. “There is a big debate about this — some people believe Austin needs more money, I believe Austin needs better startups. As we grow them, the money will arrive.”

Another challenge UT’s student entrepreneurial scene faces is a lack of gender diversity. Computer science junior Taylor Barnett, president of the Technology Entrepreneurship Society, said she has been trying to encourage women to join the scene but has not had a lot of success.


International relations sophomore Margaret Efthim runs Ready Set Golf, a nonprofit in Boston. Efthim said she has noticed a lack of gender diversity in the UT startup scene. Photo by Shweta Gulati‚Äč.

“A lot of times I will be the only female in the meeting,” Barnett said. “I’ve been trying to do more outreach to the Women in Computer Science group, and other groups, but you can’t force someone to be interested.”

Capital Factory, an Austin incubator that provides mentorship to new startups, lists 60 mentors on its website, six of whom are women. 

In interviews, many student business owners echoed concerns about whether the University owns a student’s intellectual property, which would grant the University access to a share of the student’s profits. Students say the System’s policy is not clear on the question of ownership. In December, Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, created an intellectual property task force to address this and other questions. The task force has not yet released any recommendations. 

“Nowhere in [the policy] does it say that intellectual property of non-employee students belong to the board,” said Juan Sanchez, UT’s vice president for research. “But what it also doesn’t say is intellectual property developed by non-employee students does not belong to the board. That’s what we need.”

Sanchez said the policy, though unclear, does not threaten students’ intellectual property. Greg Fenves, executive vice president and provost and a member of the task force, expressed a different interpretation of the current policy.

“The UT System Board of Regents’ policy currently is that the University can claim ownership of intellectual property that is developed by students,” Fenves said. “We would prefer to see a university policy where students, who develop intellectual property as part of classes that they are taking and paying tuition for, own the intellectual property that they generate.”

Sanchez said UT has never taken the intellectual property from students who are not being paid to do research and development.

Sanchez and Fenves both said they hope the task force will ultimately recommend that the board adapt precise language that states students can keep their intellectual property. Dale Klein, System associate vice chancellor for research, who is also a member of the task force, said Austin and UT’s expanding startup spirit is making the System address this issue.

“I think we’ve seen a whole dynamic change over the last 20 years — both in the city of Austin and the University,” Klein said. “As a result of that, I think we need to clarify our intellectual property policies so we can encourage that rather than discourage entrepreneurship by vague intellectual property requirements.”

Electrical engineering professor Bob Metcalfe speaks during a Student Government meeting Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

UT Student Government is focusing on entrepreneurship on campus, working to create a Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency that will support students interested in innovation.

SG discussed the legislation in its meeting Tuesday night. Electrical engineering professor Bob Metcalfe opened the meeting and spoke about the importance of entrepreneurship. In addition to supporting students, the agency would also connect different entrepreneurship groups across campus. There are currently six different student organizations listed in the registered student organization database that are related to entrepreneurship issues.

Although the assembly debated voting on the agency, it decided to postpone the vote until next week. Josh Gold, student affairs committee chair, said he supported voting Tuesday.

“I think we should pass this,” Gold said. “Bob Metcalfe came today and took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. It went to the committee. It passed the committee. If anyone wanted to make changes, they could do it now in this meeting.”

Some were concerned that the student assembly had not been given enough time to consider and make suggestions on the legislation. The assembly eventually voted to delay the decision a week, and a vote has been scheduled for next Tuesday night.

SG vice president Wills Brown said he did not think there would be any problem passing legislation supporting the agency next week.

“No one questioned the bill itself; they questioned the process to how it got here,” Brown said, referring to claims that not all of SG was able to offer input on the bill. “So it’s fine. It will pass next week.”

Metcalfe, who is the inventor of the Ethernet, came to Tuesday night’s meeting to advocate for the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency.

“What we need [the agency] for is to kindle and fuel entrepreneurial interest among the student body,” Metcalfe said. He also said the agency could serve to affect entrepreneurship policy on campus. Metcalfe said while the University has supported entrepreneurship groups, he hopes the support would increase.

“It’s my goal that our entrepreneurship students be as supported and as celebrated as our football players,” Metcalfe said.

A few days ago engineering professor Bob Metcalfe traveled to Tokyo, Japan to receive the C&C award for his contributions to the development of the Internet from the NEC C&C Foundation.

Metcalfe is known for the contributions he made while working with 3Com, a multibillion dollar networking company that was acquired by computer giant Hewlett-Packard in 2010. Metcalfe worked with the company in the 1980s to develop Ethernet local-area networking products based on the UNIX operating system and TCP/IP network technologies.

He accepted the award and split the about $130,000 prize with his technological partner Norman Abramson, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii.

UT hired Metcalfe to teach engineering and entrepreneurship in Jan. 2011. Metcalfe said Ethernet originally developed from Abramson’s radio-based Aloha Network in the 1970s, which was the first demonstration of wireless packet data networks.

Metcalfe said he never expected the Internet would become so popular.

“David [Boggs] and I built the first Ethernet as a tool for a lab to access a high speed, high quality printer,” Metcalfe said. “We were the first printer to access a building full of personal computers. Turns out, when you connect things you make them more valuable.”

Metcalfe said the Internet has disrupted industries like journalism, telephone and television, but the latest surprise in the Internet world has been Facebook. He said he predicted the next big changes would probably include energy, health care and education.

“We need to solve energy urgently,” Metcalfe said. “The cost of energy, the fact that it’s owned by people who want to kill us and the fact that it’s polluting the atmosphere.”

He said the development of new energy technology could take as long as it took to build the Internet.

Metcalfe said the greatest problem he sees with Internet today is network security and there needs to be a way to improve a network’s defenses.

Ahmed Tewfik, electrical and computer engineering department chair, said he was not surprised Metcalfe got the award because he is known on an international level. Tewfik was one of the professors in the Cockrell School of Engineering who recruited Metcalfe last fall.

Tewfik said he was in graduate school when Metcalfe worked on the Ethernet, and in meeting him, Tewfik met a personal hero. He also said Metcalfe was not the typical university professor because he was outspoken and had a unique way of approaching things.

“I think he will have a great influence on changing the culture at UT to one that’s more like MIT, which is more entrepreneurial in nature,” Tewfik said. “When he came in he and I talked about making a startup entrepreneur course, and it’s now a two-semester class.”

The course is called the 1 Semester Startup Course and provides mentoring from Austin entrepreneurs to students with a startup idea for a company and the chance to develop the company over a semester. After this semester, the course will last for two semesters. The class held their first “Demo Show” Thursday night, in which students presented company pitches to Austin entrepreneurs.

Biomedical engineering senior Mariel Bolhouse is in Metcalfe’s class and presented Magis Isotopes, a company that works to improve the efficiency of nuclear fuel by isotope separation.

Bolhouse said she has enjoyed the experience of having someone of that prestige be accessible and willing to give advice.

“He’s taught me about the status quo,” Bolhouse said. “My company is going on hold and at first I came up with a pitch that was going to be all sunshine and roses. He taught me it was important to be up front if I didn’t have the answer to a problem.“

 

The Cockrell School of Engineering selected Robert Metcalfe, a venture capitalist and inventor, to oversee innovation and entrepreneurship at UT.

Metcalfe brings to the University a variety of experiences, said Gregory Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

“We have been looking to strengthen our entrepreneurial sector. The key was finding the right person to do it,” Fenves said. “Bob Metcalfe was that person. In addition to working with students, Dr. Metcalfe will be fostering more dynamic interaction among faculty, research associates and graduate students, and venture capitalists, industrial partners and early adopters of technology.”

In the 1970s, Metcalfe worked in the Computer Science Laboratory of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where he invented today’s local-area networking standard, Ethernet. During the 1990s, Metcalfe published InfoWorld and wrote an Internet column with half a million weekly readers.

He was also a consulting associate professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University from 1975-83. Since 2001, Metcalfe has been a partner of the Massachusetts-based venture capital firm Polaris Venture Partners and will continue advising the firm.

“I have an established pattern of changing careers every decade,” Metcalfe said. “This is the right change for me. The [Cockrell] School of Engineering is a top-10 school, and I’ve always been an engineer at heart. I thought this would be a great place to make an impact in the field of innovation.”

He said he did not agree with the idea that the ability to innovate was an innate quality.

“Innovators are not born, they are made,” he said. “People see innovation as randomness. They don’t believe that there is any way of understanding or making sense of that randomness. I want to set up a robust system to face that randomness.”

Metcalfe will work as director of the programs centered around entrepreneurship and innovations in the School of Engineering and will work with the McCombs School of Business through Texas Venture Labs.

“[Metcalfe] is not only one of the great American entrepreneurs, he is also an experienced venture capitalist and a respected pundit,” said Jon Flint, co-founder of Polaris Venture Partners. “Those attributes will be a huge asset to UT and the entrepreneurial community in Austin.”