Home Startups UT's First Investment Fund for Undergrads Offers Students A Chance at Startup Life

UT's First Investment Fund for Undergrads Offers Students A Chance at Startup Life

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Auster.

Huddled on an oversized blue couch in a modest room on the first floor of the Student Organization Center, a team of students is analyzing their next investment.  

Their conversation moves from market analysis to the cost of building a new prototype. UT Austin alumni and faculty mentors provide guidance based on their real-world experience as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

The operation is called the Genesis Program.

The idea behind it is simple.

Build a fund to invest in the next generation of Longhorn startups and innovators on the Forty Acres.

The radical part? Genesis places students on both sides of the investment table.

As of last week, Genesis raised $1,203,460 in funding on HornRaiser to support their mission, with more on the way. Making it the biggest HornRaiser of all time!

[[Visit the Genesis HornRaiser to Learn More]]

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The Genesis Program offers undergrads a chance to take a leadership role in finding deals, conducting due diligence and investing in startups founded by their peers. Student leaders can also partner with alumni to mentor the companies they fund, guiding student founders through the challenges of entrepreneurship.

It was created following the results of a yearlong study conducted in 2015 by the Longhorn Engineering Advisory Delegation (LEAD), UT Austin’s young alumni engineering advisory board. LEAD had one overarching question: At a university with more than 50,000 students, why weren’t there more undergraduate startups on campus?

LEAD found the biggest roadblock was not a lack of motivated student founders or ideas, but limited funding.

Although UT has several organizations that assist student startups, they currently focus on graduate and MBA students. Undergraduate entrepreneurs had no dedicated source of pre-seed startup capital, and they had no place to go on campus for hands-on learning about venture capital (VC) and startup investing.

To solve this resource gap, a team led by mechanical engineering senior Katherine Allen and chemical engineering junior Jeff Auster, as well as entrepreneurial alumni, launched Genesis in 2016. The program quickly attracted interest from students across campus.

“For the first time, undergraduate entrepreneurs had a source of real cash to build their ideas, and all students now had access to hands-on learning by serving as venture capital investors,” said Auster.

Luis Martins, the director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, commended the student-led group for tackling the need for more funding for undergraduate startups across campus.

“I think that Genesis has been very entrepreneurial,” he said. “They have a peer investing model, with guidance from alumni in the VC space as well as various mentors, which is really nice to see – students investing in other students.”          

Applications for funding have grown each semester, and the program has invested in 16 companies across a wide variety of majors and colleges.

Recent funding has gone to companies such as Mudra, a medical device startup that builds low-cost prosthetic limbs; and Krew, a city-to-city rideshare service.

[[Read more about How Students Take Ridesharing to the Next Level]]

Genesis portfolio companies are working in numerous sectors including renewable energy systems, advanced drone technologies, medical products, and software applications and platforms.

Many teams have members from more than one college, and it’s common to find founders offering advice to one another at Genesis-organized meetups; while working in the LEA Co-Lab, a coworking space on campus; and at the Longhorn Maker Studios, UT’s largest makerspace.

Genesis plans to use the proceeds from its HornRaiser to not only fund more ventures, but also enhance the greater startup ecosystem at UT.

“This is just the beginning of a permanent resource on campus,” said Allen. “Genesis will continue to back more and more talented students each semester, provide them continued support as they grow, and teach student leaders how to be investors in the ecosystem.”

As support continues to pour into the Genesis Program, the future of student entrepreneurship at UT Austin now shines brighter than ever.

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