COLLEGE STATION, TX, June 29, 2020 – Texas A&M’s Executive MBA program has been named a top ten public program by The Economist, the international publication headquartered in London. The program, delivered at CityCentre Houston, is ranked the #1 public program in Texas, the #9 public program in the U.S., the #21 overall program in the U.S., and #37 overall globally.
TheEconomist survey was based on feedback from current students (classes of 2020 and 2021) and Former Students (alumni) from the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Texas A&M’s Executive MBA program received the top mark in both “Quality of Faculty” and “Student Rating of Teaching Quality” categories above the rest of the 70 international programs ranked this year. The program ranked #2 in the “Student Rating of Faculty” and “Student Rating of Content” categories, a testament to the sentiment current and former students have for the value of the program.
“I am savoring this moment knowing we have been judged by The Economist as the #9 U.S. Public Program,” said Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Arvind Mahajan. “This ranking is a major recognition of the incredible students we have matriculate through our program. The expertise and dedication of our faculty and the hard work and perseverance of these students results in an incredible experience and transformation for each cohort. That vast change is the true output; these rankings are an outcome that measures how our students’ entire lives are improved.”
“It’s wonderful to have The Economist recognize the hard work and dedication that the Executive MBA program faculty and staff put in every semester,” said Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School. “Congratulations to the faculty, staff, and students that comprise this Executive MBA program and the impact each of them makes to advance the world’s prosperity. I want to specifically thank Julie Orzabal, the director of the program, who since its inception 20 years ago, has led executive leaders and gained results like these.”
Applications for the Texas A&M Executive MBA program are being accepted now for the class of 2022. For more information, visit mba.tamu.edu.
In an office park above a swanky pet store in Grapevine, Texas you’ll find the empty offices of CTRL Technologies. The desks are deserted, the 3D printers are still, and the space is eerily quiet without the constant, background hum of electronics. Taking up a large footprint in the office is a fully-operational golf simulation bay. Normally it’s teeming with activity, a place where CTRL product developers go to instantly test hardware and software updates to ensure the product is free of bugs. Now it sits blank and lifeless. CTRL, like many businesses around the world, has closed its office doors to ensure the health and safety of its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. But just because the lights aren’t on doesn’t mean the work stops.
CTRL is 2 weeks away from officially launching its product via a highly anticipated IndieGoGo crowdsource campaign. Time is not a luxury they can afford as the team prepares for a milestone that has been 3 years in the making. The founder of CTRL, Ian Cash ’17, is a contemplative leader with a seemingly unflappable positivity. “I never thought it would be this much work” he says with a chuckle. “When you’re trying to do all of this development, and run a business, and you have 7 people to your name. That’s a lot of stuff to keep up with.”
CTRL is poised to be a major breakthrough is sports technology. Their flagship product is a first-of-its-kind bio kinetic sleeve that comfortably fits on a golfer’s arm. In 30 strokes or less the sleeve learns a player’s unique swing and then provides a hyper personalized coaching experience through the use of data science and AI. CTRL’s technology allows players to practice their game as if they were being trained by a professional coach, for a fraction of the cost. Making the game of golf more accessible to players alienated by a sport traditionally seen as cost-prohibitive. “We’re here to grow the game of golf,” said Cash.
But, what is it about the game of golf that has intoxicated Cash to the point of starting a sports technology company? According to him, it’s all about the thrill of the perfect swing. “It may not have happened to you yet but it will. You’re going to get that one perfect swing. That one swing that’s so good that you didn’t even realize you made contact. It’ll feel like butter it’s so smooth. When you can do that it’s one of the most amazing [feelings] on the planet.” Cash emphasized that every player should be seen as a unique individual, decrying the outdated practices of one-size-fits-all training programs that are common even among professional athletes and trainers. “There’s no cookie-cutter mold for humans,” said Cash. A player’s swing is as unique as their fingerprint and when you train with hyper-personalization in mind that perfect swing goes from rare anomaly to a normal part of the playing experience. “That’s why we’re so focused on consistency. We want you to have that feeling every single time. That’s 100% the reason I do this.”
The sensors in CTRL’s sleeve quickly evaluate the club face, club path, and tempo of a player’s swing in order to provide real-time insights and training recommendations. All of this consumer data could easily be sold in order to boost profit margins. However, Cash says that will never be an option for the company. “We’re never going to sell any of [your data]. From day 1 that has been important to us.” CTRL is committed to radical transparency with customers and uses strict privacy practices in order to protect consumer data. “It comes from the whole team. We really don’t like it when people use our data without our knowledge,” said Cash, “Facebook taught everyone that’s not the way it should go.”
Cash also fervently believes that CTRL should be a self-reliant company in terms of developing its technology. Many startups will outsource product development to third-party companies, but Cash said that at CTRL “we chose to do it all.” From hardware to data science and even app development, CTRL has a team of 7 employees so that all development is completely in-house. “I’m really happy we chose to do that and I think it sets us apart from our competition.” Cash has big plans for CTRL and hopes that one day the company can bring radical transparency and hyper-personalization to a number of other sports. “Golf is our first step. But as we’ve been building we’ve been focused on human motion. Down the line, we’d like to move elsewhere whether that’s volleyball, cricket, swimming, or physical therapy.”
Cash says that being the CEO of a startup is overwhelming, yet incredibly satisfying. “Every single day you get to learn and do a lot more than you ever thought you would.” Cash is an avid learner, absorbing and synthesizing every book, podcast, and webinar he can get his hands on. “That was a core thing when we built our team. Are you focused on learning? Because there’s no chance that we’re working on a problem that you’ve seen before.”
Cash has used his passion for learning to develop a fail-fast company culture built on a foundation of pre-forgiveness. “We know we’re all going to make mistakes. There’s no way around that.” said Cash, “the fastest way for us to learn and grow is to go out there and not be afraid to make mistakes. That’s core value #1 that really inspires everyone. For us, it’s never a scolding. We made a bad call, how can we improve and move forward? You don’t find a lot of places out there that encourage that.”
It’s surprising to find such a young leader who empowers his employees to take ownership of the company’s success. Even some seasoned entrepreneurs struggle to relinquish control, clinging to their titles with white-knuckled enthusiasm. But Cash repeatedly acknowledges that without his team there would be no company. “There’s no room for selfishness when everyone is making sacrifices for the common good. Everyone has really made sacrifices to be here and even more sacrifices to make sure no one left. My team has to feel like they can make choices and if they make the wrong one it’s okay.”
Cash’s passion for hyper-personalization is evident in the way he leads the company. One of the biggest lessons he’s learned as CEO is that everyone needs to be treated as an individual. “You need to find what makes someone tick. You need to understand why they do what they do and what’s on their mind. You need to truly understand them as a person. Learning your team and making sure you take the time to do so, it’ll make you so much more effective in the workplace.”
Don’t let Cash’s encouraging demeanor fool you. His journey as an entrepreneur hasn’t been all sprinkles and smooth sailing. CTRL has experienced many setbacks, pivoted more times than Cash can count, and is set to launch publicly during a global pandemic that has crushed the United States economy. But Cash won’t let these difficulties cloud his vision. “You get hit left and right and it feels like it never stops. But you don’t quit. You keep going and you’re going to get through.” A fitting message from an entrepreneur whose company is taking on industry titans such as Nike, Callaway, and Garmin. When all is said and done Cash is pursuing his dream in an industry that he loves and he tries to keep that in mind when things get difficult. “We’re working in golf. It’s the most fun you could have!”
From his leadership style as CEO to CTRL’s hyper-personalized technology, Ian Cash ’17 has built a company devoted to the individual. “We all have unique stories. This is going to sound cliché, but it’s really what I believe. Everyone is an individual with different backgrounds and thoughts and I think that should be celebrated. I think there is value in, quite literally, every person out there.” Cash is building a company that puts people before profits. A natural occurrence when a CEO wears an Aggie ring.
EDITOR’S NOTE: CTRL, formerly Alba Golf, was a client of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship’s Business Incubator and was a prize winner at Aggie Pitch 2018. If you’re interested in supporting this Aggie startup you can follow them on Instagram or share the CTRL IndieGoGo campaign with the golf lover in your life.
About the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship
Since its inception in 1999, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has served as the hub of entrepreneurship for Texas A&M University. Offering more than 30 enterprising programs each year, the center engages student and non-student entrepreneurs in a variety of opportunities to enhance their entrepreneurial skills. From business plan competitions to entrepreneurship certificates to the Reynolds and Reynolds Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, the center’s programs are touted as transformative and inspiring.
SkyStations and Interwoven Collective are 2 of the 50 student entrepreneurs that will receive a $5,000 grant to focus for 8 weeks on advancing their student startup.
SkyStations, an electric air taxi service provider, and Interwoven Collective, a transparent, ethical retail company, have been selected to participate in the LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship during which college students from the U.S. and Ireland will be provided additional opportunity to validate their strategies and advance their businesses. During the program, student fellows will participate in coaching sessions with LaunchPad Campus Directors as well as mentoring from Blackstone Campus Ambassadors and Techstars Entrepreneurs and Advisors. Students will also have the opportunity to hear first-hand from entrepreneurs like Allbirds Co-Founder Tim Brown, Techstars CEO and Co-Founder David Brown, CareMessage Co-Founder Cecilia Corral, and SparkCharge Co-Founder (and LaunchPad Alum) Josh Aviv during the LaunchPad Lessons Learned speaker series.
SkyStations is a member of the McFerrin Center student business incubator and has been making significant progress in its business model and supply chain. Founder Daniel De Clute-Melancon also took home an Honorable Mention award at the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge. His startup wants to provide innovative transportation systems for individuals living in major metroplexes.
“We are thrilled to have Daniel and Mallory representing Texas A&M in the LaunchPad Startup Fellowship program this summer. Both of these young entrepreneurs are driven to change the world and during their time at the McFerrin Center, have each made tremendous progress in developing their business venture. The experience, resources, and network now available to them through the LaunchPad Fellowship will be incredibly valuable in helping them to achieve their next milestones and get even closer to realizing their entrepreneurial dreams.” said LauraLee Hughes, Assistant Director of New Ventures at the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship.
The LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship was developed this spring in response to a number of current challenges facing college-aged entrepreneurs: According to recent research by Glassdoor, internship opportunities dropped 52% this summer. These opportunities are crucial to informing future young entrepreneurs about their own startup ideas and helping land traditional full-time positions after graduation. Reduced professional entry-level job opportunities and strains on family finances have also increased pressure for students to ‘earn a paycheck’, and potentially postpone or forgo taking a risk on a startup idea.
Mallory Gale, the founder of Interwoven Collective, was actively engaged with the McFerrin Center of Entrepreneurship and looked forward to taking advantage of the McFerrin Center’s Mentor Mashup events and networking opportunities during the Spring of 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit her plans were suddenly derailed. When asked how it felt to be selected for the LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship Gale commented, “When I received my acceptance email, I immediately started crying. In the weeks prior to my acceptance I had spoken to two of my partners in Ethiopia, one leader was worried about mothers in their program starving because of the pandemic and our other partner had sent all but two of her employees home during what should have been their busiest season. Receiving a $5,000 grant means that we could provide work in the most crucial time. That means women can come in and actually have a job that day. That means businesses have more runway for payroll where every $144 is a living wage for a month. This Fellowship is not just supporting my business, but providing demand for businesses that protect some of the most vulnerable groups in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia.”
In addition to coaching and mentorship from LaunchPad Campus Directors and Blackstone Campus Ambassadors throughout the 8 weeks, students will also get the chance to participate in a Techstars Mentor Week. The LaunchPad Student Startup Fellowship will conclude July 31, 2020.
About McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship
Since its inception in 1999, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has served as the hub of entrepreneurship for Texas A&M University. Offering more than 30 enterprising programs each year, the center engages student and non-student entrepreneurs in a variety of opportunities to enhance their entrepreneurial skills. The center’s programs are touted as transformative and inspiring and have helped hundreds of student entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams.
About Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars
The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship network helps students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers. Open to all students and recent alumni in all majors, the campus-based Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars network enables participants to access mentoring, grow their network, and access the resources to accelerate the success of their business. For more information, see www.blackstonelaunchpad.org
About Blackstone Charitable Foundation
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded at the time of Blackstone’s IPO in 2007 with substantial commitments from the Firm’s employees. Influenced by the enterprising heritage of the firm and its founders, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship in areas nationwide and globally. Through its investment expertise across several asset classes and geographies, Blackstone has a unique perspective on the global economy and a heightened understanding of how entrepreneurial activity is often the crucial catalyst in the growth of successful businesses, industries, and communities. For more information, see http://www.blackstone.com/foundation.
Techstars is the global platform for investment and innovation. Techstars founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars operates three divisions: Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs, Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships, and Techstars Communities. Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 2,200 companies with a market cap of more than $26 billion. www.techstars.com.
Shortly after COVID-19 brought a halt to business as usual, entrepreneur and Texas A&M alum Alfredo Costilla-Reyes read about farmers across the United States having to dump produce due to supply chain disruptions. They poured gallons of fresh milk into manure piles, dug ditches to bury millions of pounds of onions, and plowed ripe vegetables back into the ground. With restaurants, hotels, and schools closed, farmers lost half of their buyers overnight. Meanwhile, grocery stores and food banks experienced shortages because they didn’t have enough equipment like refrigerators to accommodate all the excess food.
“I was reading about farmers having big problems reaching customers. They need a marketplace, and it shouldn’t be so difficult,” Costilla-Reyes said over a Zoom call, smiling brightly in front of a virtual background of a library packed with colorful books. “But for a lot of them, to try to figure out how all this online stuff works is stressful and cumbersome.”
And so the idea for Costilla-Reyes’ newest company, DayOneAI, was born. Currently in the initial stages of invite-only beta testing, DayOneAI will help farmers create an online presence in order to reach new customers. Farmers will text information like a description of their business and products to DayOneAI, which will use machine learning and AI to automate a website, online store, and social media accounts. Farmers will also receive alerts about Google and Twitter trends, so they can write targeted social media and blog posts and keep their sites optimized for SEO.
DayOneAI is a direct extension of BitGrange, the company that Costilla-Reyes founded while pursuing his PhD in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M. Having been raised in a family of farmers, Costilla-Reyes wanted to expand his PhD research to help improve the lives of people he grew up with. This desire propelled him to venture over from the Electrical Engineering department to the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship and the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. There, he realized he could combine his interests into a single company, BitGrange, which lies at the intersection of technology and agriculture and builds hydroponic devices so anyone, anywhere can grow produce indoors. BitGrange gained recognition in Mexico, when President Enrique Peña Nieto presented Costilla-Reyes with the Mexico National Youth Award at a reception in Mexico City.
When stay-at-home orders started, Costilla-Reyes realized it would be too difficult to continue developing and deploying hardware like hydroponics. He leaned on his learnings from Texas A&M to quickly pivot from hardware that grows produce to software that sells it: “What we learned through programs like Blackstone LaunchPad and the Techstars Entrepreneur’s Toolkit is that it’s not about you as much as the problem itself. You have to be able to evolve and transform in order to improve the life of as many people as possible.”
Despite the shift in focus, Costilla-Reyes sees DayOneAI as a direct extension of BitGrange. At the end of the day, as long as he’s using technology to make farmer’s lives easier and better, he’ll be satisfied — even if that means shifting to focus on helping farmers be in direct contact with customers, so they can sell food locally and earn more money. “I believe that AI shouldn’t be competing for jobs,” Costilla-Reyes explains. “It has its advantages, like looking for patterns. But growing plants, taking care of customers, caring for the environment, those are all things AI can’t replicate. With DayOneAI, farmers can do what they do best and leave the complexity of building an online presence to AI.”
Over the next few months, Costilla-Reyes will further develop DayOneAI as a participant in Rice University’s OwlSpark accelerator. By the end of the summer, he hopes to complete the private beta, roll out a public beta, pitch to investors in Houston, and start a capital raise ($250K for a pre-seed round, and $1M for a seed round). Rather than be frustrated by the way the pandemic affected BitGrange, Costilla-Reyes is nothing but excited about the new opportunity on hand. “I want to embrace this opportunity… It’s nice to be an entrepreneur and have a company that’s so small because you can switch from one place to another and you have that agility.”
LauraLee Hughes, Assistant Director of New Ventures for the McFerrin Center, home of Blackstone LaunchPad and other entrepreneurship programs, worked closely with Costilla-Reyes as he explored the school’s entrepreneurial offering. She’s unsurprised by Costilla-Reyes’ adaptability when faced with a crisis. “Alfredo is a bright young mind with a true passion for changing the world through technology. During his time as a PhD student, he pursued numerous startup ideas, engaging in almost every program the McFerrin Center has to offer. His entrepreneurial spirit, never-ending desire to learn, and eagerness to help others have made him a true asset to the Aggie entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
More than anything, Costilla-Reyes’ engagement with Texas A&M’s entrepreneurial ecosystem shifted the way he thinks about his work. “When you’re doing a PhD, people tell you that you have to compete, you have to do something that’s publishable. It’s all about I and ME. But if you go to [the school’s accelerator] Startup Aggieland and Blackstone LaunchPad, you begin to learn about other people, and that’s really crucial. I enjoyed grad school so much because I started to think like an entrepreneur instead of a scientist. At first, I wanted to build something to win a Nobel Prize. But now, I want to improve lives. It’s not about my skill, but how I can serve others with my work.”
For other Aggies thinking about entrepreneurship, Costilla-Reyes has a few pieces of advice. First, believe in yourself and don’t give up when you face a failure. “We see these big businesses and think they’re overnight success…. But being an entrepreneur you have so many ups and downs. When I first tried to use hydroponics, I thought maybe I’m not meant for this. But I kept going.” Second, build something that solves a problem — even if that solution isn’t what you originally set out to make. And third, serve others. “If I make a product and the end goal is nothing more than a research paper, I’ve failed. I want my work to be useful for other people. And there’s not a better way to do that than through entrepreneurship.”
Costilla-Reyes’ attitude about entrepreneurship has helped him remain optimistic in the face of COVID-19. “When others see hectic times, horrific economic downturn, entrepreneurs see opportunity… That’s the best way to approach crisis.”