Startup Aggieland: By Students, For Students
Stepping into the offices of Startup Aggieland isn’t like walking into any other office on the campus of Texas A&M University. The décor is unusual, to put it mildly, as Jimi Hendrix wails on guitar from a lobby painting, and there’s a Ping-Pong table in the conference room. It’s an environment meant to stimulate creativity and innovation, and as it launches this month, the student staff is ready to welcome fellow Aggies into the university’s first business accelerator.
Located in the Texas A&M Research Park on the western edge of campus, Startup Aggieland is open to any Texas A&M student — regardless of major — who is operating a business, has a strong business idea or is generally curious about entrepreneurship and innovation. The startup provides, free of charge, business resources including workspace, mentoring and networking opportunities, all within a student community of innovators and collaborators. Startup Aggieland will celebrate its grand opening on Thursday (Jan. 24) beginning at 4:30 p.m., and all are invited to come and tour the facility.“Startup Aggieland is a cross-college, collaborative community designed to help student entrepreneurs with businesses or strong business projects to further develop,” says Blake Petty, assistant vice president for innovation and business development at Texas A&M, who helps guide the startup’s student operators. “Aggies are constantly developing business and product ideas on their own, but what’s really exciting is that all students are welcome to grow those ideas here. We’ve got students in ag, engineering, computer science ― it’s not just business majors.”
Petty says the startup is a place where students with different skill sets can come together and rely on one another’s strengths.
“There may be an engineering student with a great idea for a product but no business knowledge; meanwhile there are other students who know exactly how to build a business but lack their own business idea,” he notes. “Sometimes all they need is a venue in which to cross pollinate these ideas, talents and knowledge. Once they’re prepared to become a business, we've got office suites that can serve as their headquarters. We’re not designed to be a long-term solution, just a chance to get anchored and accelerate, and hopefully they’ll outgrow this space, move on and open their space to the next entrepreneurs in line.”
Startup Aggieland may not be the first business accelerator based on a college campus, but it is one of the few that has been developed and launched by students.
“Students in a business planning class wrote a business plan for their ‘prototypical’ accelerator and that eventually became Startup Aggieland,” Petty explains. “In giving the students a founding role in our development, they’ve taken ownership of it. We in administration are just their guardrails ― the students are the driving force.”
Still, an integral part of the Startup Aggieland initiative is the involvement of faculty as well as members of the community who can serve as mentors and advisors to the startup’s student staff and clientele. The startup facility has a classroom, dubbed “The Think Tank,” where Don Lewisfrom Mays Business School teaches an entrepreneurial business course. Petty hopes that as the startup grows, so too will a network of mentors and service providers such as attorneys and consultants who can offer their services and advice, making Startup Aggieland a hub for students to network with and learn from successful entrepreneurs.
Petty says each tenant of the startup is assigned a student from the startup’s Student Leadership Council (SLC) as a point of contact.
“Our student leaders meet with client companies to monitor progress and answer questions,” he notes. “We call them ‘wranglers.’ They become advocates, champions and advisors for the client companies and, in the process, wranglers learn valuable entrepreneurship and leadership skills. It’s nothing short of inspirational to see how the students are working with their peers.”
Texas A&M junior Margaret Fleming first heard of Startup Aggieland from one of her professors and decided to volunteer there, eventually earning a spot on the SLC. A finance and business honors major from Houston, Fleming works as the liaison between the startup’s student entrepreneurs and the Texas A&M Women’s Former Student Network (WFSN).
“I work closely with the leadership council of WFSN to link its members to students at the startup to provide guidance for the student entrepreneurs,” Fleming explains.
She also serves as the startup’s Potential Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) Chair, in charge of interviewing student applicants who are seeking Startup Aggieland services. And Fleming is a wrangler, collaborating with particular student entrepreneurs.
Through her experience working at Startup Aggieland, Fleming says she’s learning many skills and acquiring the knowledge needed to succeed in business.
“I’m learning about the steps small businesses have to take, what paperwork needs to be filed for taxes and other technical elements. I am also learning how to be a part of this environment at Startup Aggieland, where there are people from all walks of life ― younger, older and from different backgrounds,” she notes. And she’s acquired another invaluable business skill at the startup: “I’ve learned how to make coffee!”
While he’s best known for co-developing a touch-free computer screen called ZeroTouch ― an achievement that landed him in a national Best Buy commercial ― Texas A&M graduate student Jon Moeller is operating a new enterprise out of Startup Aggieland, a computer technology business he’s dubbed moeller.io.
Moeller’s product, freeSoC, is “a platform for makers, hobbyists, artists, designers and anyone else interested in creating interactive objects or experiences,” he explains. “At its core, it is a microcontroller, essentially a small programmable computer you can use in combination with a variety of external devices like servo motors, LEDs, sensors and more, to create interactive experiences.”
As a Startup Aggieland tenant, Moeller occupies an office and takes advantage of the facility’s other resources.
“They're providing me with advisorship, connections with other businesses, and they've got a host of resources to help small startups overcome some of the roadblocks along the way,” he notes. “One example is Rackspace which provides one year of free managed web hosting to Startup Aggieland members.”
Rackspace Hosting is a San Antonio-based cloud computing company co-founded by a former Texas A&M student entrepreneur, Graham Weston, who graduated from the university in 1986. Weston, the Mays Business School’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Awardee in 2011, has developed a strategic relationship with Startup Aggieland and offers free Rackspace Hosting services to the startup’s clientele. “If paid out of pocket, webhosting could run upwards of $20,000 a year if you're running a web-based business,” Moeller contends, “so these kinds of resources are key.”
For more information about Startup Aggieland, visit the facility at 1700 Research Parkway, Suite 150, or email StartupAggieland@tamu.edu.
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