Image of Young and Armstrong pitching at Aggie PITCH 2019.

Young (right) and Armstrong (left) pitching at Aggie PITCH 2019

In 2017 Stephanie Young competed at her High School science fair with SKYPaws, “spaghetti monster of wires” that would allow veterinarians to wirelessly monitor their patients post-operatively. Now, SKYPaws is led by Stephanie Young and her co-founder Brianna Armstrong. “When we started this we weren’t sure if it was something people really wanted. With each competition that we won it was another step of validation” stated Armstrong, “What is exciting, has built our confidence, and is still humbling is that the people we pitch to in the veterinary space really see this as a thing that needs to happen” she concluded. “And even people who aren’t in the vet space” added Young. “We need to make this change and shape our standard of care in this direction,” said Armstrong. 

 Animal patients will chew through wires attached to them, which requires veterinarians and their staff to visually monitor patients in order to assess their recovery and health. If there is a problem with a patient, such as a sudden drop in blood pressure due to internal bleeding, they often aren’t aware of the issue until it’s too late. SKYPaws accurately monitors veterinary patient vitals such as heart rate and blood pressure without the need for wires. Their devices saves lives and provides the means for unprecedented levels of patient care within veterinary medicine.  

Picture of Armstrong pitching SKYPaws during the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge, at which they won 1st place and $3,000

Armstrong pitching SKYPaws during the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge, at which they won 1st place and $3,000

THE RIGHT CO-FOUNDER 

It should be noted that in addition to launching a tech startup, Young and Armstrong both have part-time jobs and are full-time students at Texas A&M University. Young is a junior Animal Sciences major and Armstrong is a fourth-year veterinary medicine student. When asked how they manage such hectic livesArmstrong resolutely stated: “We have each other.” 

Young and Armstrong met in the Fall of 2018 after being introduced by a faculty member within the College of Veterinary Medicine. The two have developed a level of trust that allows them to lean on one another when life is particularly daunting. “If I were gone, I could fully trust her with the company. She can handle this and much more. Our co-founder relationship is very much like a marriage. If you don’t have the communication and trust and overall shared values that you’re both set on then it’s not going to happen.” commented Armstrong. “We met to become founders, but we’ve grown to become friends before founders,” said Young. 

Being entrepreneurs has also taught Armstrong and Young how to prioritize the myriad of responsibilities in their lives“It all boils down to time management,” said Armstrong. “My schedule is planned to the minute every day” Young stated“Now when I study I have to be productive because it’s the only time I have to study. And, honestly, it’s made my test grades a little higher. Both founders also commented that they schedule down-time to avoid burnout and to still enjoy life as studentsYoung commented, “I have my entire life to be an adult. I’ve learned a lot about don’t wish your life away too quickly”

Image of Young and Armstrong giving a presentation on SKYPaws during Season Premiere at Startup Aggieland.

Young (right) and Armstrong (left) giving a presentation on SKYPaws during Season Premiere at Startup Aggieland

MORE THAN ENTREPRENEURSHIP 

Armstrong and Young’s experience as founders have challenged them to grow as entrepreneurs, but also as professionals and individuals. SKYPaws has made Armstrong more prepared for her career as a veterinarian and has even elevated her experience at school. “I wouldn’t have gotten the same thing out of veterinary school here without having taken these opportunities. It’s shaped how I view the profession,” she commented. Because of the positive impact that entrepreneurship has had on her life, Armstrong firmly believes more veterinary students should be involved in the world of innovation and entrepreneurship. “[When you’re a student] you’re learning medicine, learning how to be a doctor, and learning how to think critically. But you aren’t getting any exposure to what is happening in this industry that you’re going to be a part of.” From legislature to novel pharmaceuticals Armstrong explains how during vet school you’re isolated from the working field and solely focused on school. “If I hadn’t gone to the Veterinary Innovation Summit and the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy I would not have this new-found appreciation for the industry. I now understand how a veterinary hospital is run and the business behind it,” said Armstrong. Because vet school is so rigorous many students don’t have the time to attend conferences and trade shows where one would typically learn more about industry trends. And so, Armstrong created the executive position of Innovation Ambassador within the Veterinary Businesses Management Association at Texas A&M. The Innovation Ambassador explores and learns about new trends and technology in veterinary medicine and share them with other students. There is an issue within the profession with inflexibility. My hope is that with some of these new efforts students will see that there’s more to the DVM than they ever could have imagined. The only way we’re going to change the profession’s thought process as a whole is to impact the upcoming veterinarians. Texas A&M is one of the few schools that is implementing programs that allow for this growth mindset.” said Armstrong. 

Being an entrepreneur has taught Young to never doubt her skills or allow others to tell her she can’t achieve something. “Entrepreneurship is a lot of learning on the fly and then doing it. If you fail, fine! Do it again.” said Young. In order to succeed at competitions such as The IdeaRaymond Ideas Challenge, and Aggie PITCH Young had to streamline SKYPaw’s circuitry and programming to create a minimal viable product. As an animal science major, she had a limited background in programming and had no access to soldering equipment. So, Young did what any clever student would do. She changed her minor to computer science for a semesterShe used her access to the Fischer Engineering Design Center and her programming classes to help fill the gaps in her skill set. Her new knowledge even helped her develop facial recognition software during an internship with Mars“I’m the type of person who if you tell me I can’t do something, or won’t do something, I 100% will.” said Young, I had people tell me you can’t fix this code because you’re not an engineering major. But I did and I can fix it.” 

Image of Young and Armstrong giving a presentation on SKYPaws during Season Premiere at Startup Aggieland.

Young (right) and Armstrong (left) giving a presentation on SKYPaws during Season Premiere at Startup Aggieland

BEING A YOUNG FEMALE FOUNDER 

Recent data shows that in Q1 of 2019 15% of United States venture capital investments went to companies with at least one female founder with only 2% invested in startups with all-female founders. In addition to being female founders, Young and Armstrong are young students. Because of this, they’ve faced a lot of push-back in the investment and entrepreneurial world. “There’s nothing that anybody ever does where someone doesn’t doubt them. It’s just something where you say I’m still going to do my best to make this happen. I don’t feel it from the veterinary side as much as the investment and business side” said Armstrong. “If I were [older] and a male and doing this it would be a completely different story” commented Young. Even when the two are faced with challenges they persevere and do their best to learn from their experiences. Young attended the first-ever Mars Leap Ventures Academy in 2019exclusively for women founders. After pitching SKYPaws to a panel of mock investors she was picked apart with personal questions about her age and experience“I came out of there and I was angry. I started talking with several of the other ladies and they told me that a lot of these investors aren’t saying this just to tick you off. They want you to step back and reframe what they said, and they want you to prove them wrong so that you can move on to the next step.” stated Young. Rather than view her age as a handicap, she uses the flexibility of a student schedule to capitalize on as many opportunities available to SKYPaws as possible. She pours her youthful energy into her company and the payoff is evident. In less than two years the duo has won over $30,000 in competition prize money, participated in the Leap Ventures Academy, are members of the current LaunchPad Lift cohort, and just signed with a manufacturing firm in Houston, TX to begin production of the beta series of SKYPaws devices. The team has also attended multiple entrepreneurship academies and have been keynote speakers at veterinary conferences. 

Their experiences as young female founders have caused Armstrong and Young to be even more dedicated to SKYPaws success. They hope that if their efforts will help the next generation of young, female founders find their confidence to follow their passion. “We’re creating a device that’s going to impact the industry in a positive way.” said Armstrong, If we do this, all the way and are successful people will know us. They’ll know these two women created this disruption in the veterinary space. And we’re doing it at such a young age. These two ordinary people did it so I can do it.” 

Armstrong and Young holding a large check at the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge where they won 1st place and $3,000

Armstrong (left) and Young (right) at the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge where they won 1st place and $3,000

Throughout our interview, Young and Armstrong repeatedly said “if SKYPaws is successful” rather than “when SKYPaws is successful”. When asked why their answers only further illustrated the maturity and sense of responsibility that Young and Armstrong bring to their venture. There’s always a thought in the back of my head that 3 out of 4 startups fail. And it’s again, from a place of feeling humble. I’m so grateful for everything that we’ve learned thus far and how much opportunity has come from this and how far we’ve actually gone. It’s just been incredible experience after incredible experience. Now that we’re getting into the investor phase, I’m even more conscious of the fact that we could take money from people. And still not make it. That is really difficult for me. We could do everything right, take this as far as we can get it, but at the same time that’s someone else’s money that’s in our hands. We could do everything right and still not make it. It’s a reality check for myself.” said Armstrong. Young too is humbled by the immense opportunities they have been given. She refuses to allow their current success to inflate her ego. “Every startup wants to be the one that makes it. There’s is that chance we could be one of the 3 out of 4. But we’re going to take [SKYPaws] as far as we can. We’re going to do our best to bring our gifts and attention to this company and try our hardest. A lot of my “if” comes from not being too cocky.” stated Young, There’s a difference between speaking something into existence and manifesting it. Just like there’s a difference between being positive and being cocky and thinking you deserve it. All of this stuff, I still feel undeserving and humbled to be a part of it.” With such inspiring and dedicated founders at the helm of SKYPaws, it’s hard not to believe that they will beat the odds.

About The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship

The Texas A&M McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship provides encouragement, education, networking and assistance to entrepreneurially-minded students, faculty and staff. Founded in 1999, The McFerrin Center is part of Mays Business School’s Department of Management. The McFerrin Center provides experiential learning opportunities through workshops, competitions, guest speakers, and other events and programs such as Aggie 100. Texas A&M faculty and students benefit from the center’s educational programs, extensive business community network, and entrepreneurial support services.

Categories: Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Startup Aggieland, Students

Over the past few weeks, our world was upended by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and communities of every size began to grapple with a “new normal”. Businesses, governments, and families are scrambling to find creative ways to interact with their customers, constituents, and peers. Along with the health crisis, we’ve seen our retirement accounts plummet, friends lose jobs, and experienced an unprecedented level of uncertainty. While many of us are asking questions about how we can help others in our communities, there have been beacons of hope in the form of a global philanthropic response. The spectrum has ranged from billionaires stepping up with massive financial commitments to people singing from their balconies. Across this entire spectrum, the heart of generosity and philanthropy is shining through.

Philanthropy, at its core, is about the love of mankind. It’s looking out for the person next to you in times of trouble. It’s caring for the vulnerable when others disregard their wellbeing. It’s moving towards those that are on the margins. It’s loving people. As we grapple with the reality of a global pandemic, I am confident we’ll continue to see boundless and sacrificial generosity. If you are sitting there thinking that philanthropy is bound to the ultra-wealthy, you are wrong. Philanthropy right now is as simple as walking next door to check on your neighbor (standing 6 feet apart of course!). So, here are some tips for you to be philanthropic and generous with your time, treasure, and talent amidst the uncertainty of -19.

  1. Be honest about your own needs. Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do because it requires a significant level of vulnerability. There is no shame in needing help or requiring assistance though. Before looking outward, take a moment to assess your, or your family’s, situation. Do not hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or your local nonprofit sector for assistance.
  2. Be honest about your capacity for financial generosity. Maybe you are someone that has been consistently generous with what you have. Maybe you are just now getting started in your journey towards generosity. Either way, now is the time to act. Consider making a financial gift to your local community foundation or relief fund. If you can’t find anything similar to that, then giving to your local food bank or health clinic will go a long way in helping alleviate some of the immediate burden our communities are facing.
  3. Be purposeful with the “small things”. Share stories of others that are uplifting people in their communities. Write encouraging notes to nursing home residents. Call friends that work in healthcare and are risking their lives every day. Check on your neighbors. There are numerous “small acts” that make a difference.
  4. Be hopeful. There is no doubt that this is going to hurt for a period of time, but we will get through this. I am hopeful that through trial and tragedy, our relationships, families, and communities will emerge stronger.

Generosity and compassion are critical to a thriving and healthy society. Our response will resonate through generations as people look back and see that in the middle of uncertainty, we were active in how we loved the people in our communities.

Categories: Donors Corner, Entrepreneurship, Featured Stories, Mays Business, Programs, Selfless service, Spotlights, Staff, Strategic Philanthropy, Texas A&M

EDITOR’S NOTE: Irvin Ventura ’21 traveled to Chile in January of 2020 as a part of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship’s study abroad program. This program supports Mays Business School’s Strategic Mission and Grand Challenges. Below is his reflection on his time in Chile and the impact it had on him as a student, entrepreneur, and Aggie.

Learn more about study abroad experiences offered through the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship.


Traveling abroad indisputably challenges your notion of reality and exposes you to a new understanding of consciousness and human existence. I have had the privilege of traveling to multiple Latin countries during my time at Texas A&M, but I can honestly say that visiting Chile has had the greatest intellectual impact on my appreciation for nature and understanding of entrepreneurship.

The geographical sights of Chile are truly breath-taking. The country has an array of natural landforms to be captivated by, from the snow-covered Villarrica volcano to the crystal-clear waterfalls in the Huilo-Huilo Biological Reserve. Witnessing the different landforms in Chile left me astonished by the beauty that nature is capable of producing. As Americans, it is very easy to forget about how mesmerizing the creations of nature can truly be, as we are often focused on our work, school, and other implications of Western civilization. Chileans pursue many of the same things that Americans do as far as entrepreneurial aspirations, but they don’t forget about the beauty and power of nature; they embrace it. Environmental conservation is something that has become a widespread concern in America since about the 1960s, but in Chile, it is a lifestyle that has been passed on for generations. The Mapuche tribe, which is an indigenous group in Chile, is largely responsible for the passing of these principles. When conversing with locals, many of them explicitly expressed to me how important environmental preservation is for their culture. From a more observant perspective, I was able to see that they truly practice what they preach. The streets of Santiago are relatively free of litter, and the fields of Villarica will not hold a speck of litter either. This was one of the most inspiring parts of the trip.

The intriguing aspects of Chilean culture stretch far beyond their environmental concerns. Due to Chile’s unique history, its culture is influenced by many different backgrounds. For example, many schools in Villarica actually teach German as a result of early German colonization. Many small businesses have German-influenced names and architectures as a result of this, too.

Meeting the entrepreneurs was definitely a highlight of the trip. I had the opportunity to work with an array of businesses, from wood-craft shops to jewelry shops. Each of these businesses had their own unique obstacles they were looking to overcome, but nevertheless they were all extremely grateful to be meeting with students from Texas A&M. They were very open to the suggestions we gave them, asked insightful questions and even fed us. I was a translator for my group, which was definitely a bit of a challenge at times, but it was well worth it when I was able to see how much the entrepreneurs appreciated everything we did for them.

From an entrepreneurship standpoint, I gained a new perspective on a few things. Entrepreneurs in Chile served as problem-solvers for the community, just as American entrepreneurs do here. One of the main differences is that they generally want to make enough to get by and provide for their families; scaling their business is not much of a concern for them. Here in America, entrepreneurship is often associated with scaling-up and becoming the next Amazon or Google. However, most Chileans define success as being able to provide for their families year-round on a consistent basis. This is an idea that I found surprising initially, but after conversing with the entrepreneurs I began to understand why. Scaling means more costs, time, resources and much more energy that the entrepreneurs would rather use to spend time with their families.

Another new perspective I gained was the importance of competitive advantages. In American entrepreneurship, one of the early stages of starting a business is developing a competitive advantage. Business owners strive to create a competitive advantage for themselves to rise above their peers. In Chile, markets are very homogenous. Everyone in markets essentially sells the same thing for the same price, thus the idea of competitive advantage is not something people think about. We found that the lack of competitive advantage was holding many ambitious entrepreneurs from reaching the next level of their business. Many of them were exhilarated when we introduced them to these ideas.

The McFerrin Global Entrepreneurship trip to Chile has been one of the biggest highlights of my college career. I am certain that I will look back on this experience many years into my professional career and still appreciate every moment of it. I fell in love with the Chilean culture and have enthusiastically shared aspects of it with my peers back in College Station. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people while over there and am ready to explore other countries who seek help from Aggies!

Categories: Entrepreneurship, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Students, Uncategorized

Analytics gurus and industry leaders highlighted real-world uses of analytics to strengthen cybersecurity operations and counter threats during the Texas A&M Analytics Forum hosted by Mays Business School at the CityCentre Houston campus. Attendees represented a wide cast of industries including non-profits; oil, gas, and energy; telecommunications; and retail to name a few.

Two individuals stand behind a Texas A&M Analytics table“Organizations that have accumulated valuable data have fallen victims of cyberattacks that have caused millions of dollars in damages. Analytics can help predict these vulnerabilities and protect companies from these threats.” said Myra Gonzalez, director of the Texas A&M Master of Science in Analytics program (MS Analytics). “The purpose of this event was to provide a venue for people in the Houston business community as well as faculty, staff, and students to get together, discuss analytics, and share best practices.”

John Stultz, Principal Solutions Architect in Fraud and Security Intelligence at SAS Institute was the first keynote speaker. He shared that data preparation is 80% of the effort in fraud detection, much like in other types of analytics work. He also shared how organizations can consider derived measures for cyber risk, as well as use cases in which machine learning can assist to fight vendor, supplier, and procurement fraud.

The amount of content to share was so vast that Mays had a second keynote from Paul Brager, Author, Speaker, and Researcher in Cyber. He explained how organizations can leverage cyber analytics to protect critical infrastructures. Brager’s talk also highlighted that cyber analytics is not new, adversaries have become increasingly more dangerous, and the need for analytics is essential to fight cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, and cyber sabotage.

A Venn Diagram on a screen with the middle labeled Data ScienceSeveral presentations were conducted by MS Analytics former students. Pablo Ormachea ’16 currently serves as VP of Data Science for a lending company in the D.C. area, and urged data scientists to “refit” and constantly re-deploy models to stay ahead of the game.

Yoel Kluk ’16 hosted a presentation that gave valuable insights from data on types of behaviors that drive criminal activities, and the challenges that organizations face in the quality of the data, and how to measure it.

Tom Broussard ‘17 and Jeff Westenhaver ’17 presented on best practices to mine data for quality and anomalies.

Presentation with Critical Infrastructures listedParticipants also gained insight into how businesses can benefit from training in statistical methods used in analytical decision-making, common obstacles to big data and analytics, and how companies might build an analytics culture. Participants were able to see a demonstration of how open source programs can be incorporated with SAS tools.

“We’re happy to foster discussion about the challenges that companies face and share ideas to stay ahead of the game,” said Gonzalez. “We can’t wait for next year’s event!”

Presentation slides and more information can be found at https://mays.tamu.edu/ms-analytics/sas-day/

The free event was hosted by Texas A&M University’s MS Analytics Program, which offers an analytics master’s degree available in Houston and across North America via live video stream to teach working professionals the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly data-driven world. The event was hosted in partnership with SAS®.

Categories: Alumni, Energy, Entrepreneurship, Executive Speakers, Former Students, Jobs, Mays Business, News, Programs, Students, Texas A&M

November 14, 2019 (College Station, Texas) – Texas A&M University has once again been recognized as a top university for both graduate and undergraduate students interested in entrepreneurship by the Princeton Review. For the third consecutive year, Texas A&M University ranks within the top 25 U.S. schools, coming in at #22 for Undergraduate students and #23 for Graduate students.

Texas A&M boasts a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem that includes the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, which operates Startup Aggieland and Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars. Blake Petty, Director of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship stated, “We proudly acknowledge this recognition on behalf of the vibrant entrepreneurial community continuing to grow throughout Texas A&M. Our campus culture is rooted in developing students who want to change the world, and our recognition as a top 25 entrepreneurship program for 3 consecutive years proves we excel in this area.”

The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship is housed within Mays Business School but its resources and programs are available to all future, current, and former students of Texas A&M University. Dr. Eli Jones, Dean of Mays Business School commented, “We are excited to once again be recognized for the importance we place on entrepreneurial education at Texas A&M University. Entrepreneurship is a strategic pillar of the Mays Business School’s mission, and recognition of our excellence in both Graduate and Undergraduate programs speaks well to our emphasis.”

Specialized entrepreneurial programs are also offered through the Texas A&M Colleges of Engineering, Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine, Liberal Arts, Architecture, the School of Innovation and many other academic units across campus. Students at Texas A&M have a myriad of pathways to pursue entrepreneurship and innovation during their college careers.

More than 300 schools reported data about their entrepreneurship offerings to Princeton Review. Rankings are based on entrepreneurial curriculum, student, faculty and staff entrepreneurial ventures, extracurricular offerings, and scholarships and aid provided to students pursuing entrepreneurship.

Categories: Entrepreneurship, Mays Business, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Programs, Rankings, Texas A&M

Meet Connor Pogue, Startup Aggieland’s newest entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR). Connor is the CEO and co-founder of Exosphere Fitness, a consumer fitness product that looks like a yoga mat, but functions as a full gym.

Ever since he was a little kid, Connor dreamed of being a doctor. “The plan was that I would be an orthopedic surgeon and my brother would be a physical therapist and eventually we would open a practice together,” he said. However, during an internship at a hospital, Connor quickly realized his dream had changed, “I was already getting frustrated with the paperwork and healthcare industry. I would look around and think about how I could make things better but wasn’t actually able to make a difference.” After graduating from Texas A&M in 2016 with a BS in Kinesiology, Connor made the difficult choice to turn down his acceptance into medical school. Instead, he enrolled as a graduate student in Mays Business School and eventually earned his MS in Business. “I enjoy what I do now,” he commented. Connor still achieved one of his childhood dreams though; his brother is the co-founder of Exosphere Fitness. “I’ll never forget the moment my mom saw our first prototype,” he recalled, “she looked at it and then just hugged me and said ‘I love you, but you’re crazy.’”

Now, Connor is working on his startup full-time, serving as Startup Aggieland’s newest EIR, and has several contracts as a business consultant. Connor is most excited about helping Texas A&M students achieve their goals as entrepreneurs. “I love working with students,” he said, “I love the passion of student entrepreneurs. I don’t care what their idea may be. I’m driven by their passion and the work they’re putting into their dreams.” As an EIR, Connor will help students engage with the Startup Aggieland community and provide guidance and support as they explore their ideas and launch their companies.

About Exosphere Fitness

The Exosphere Gym is deceptively powerful. The entire system weighs a little over 20lbs, but users can do over 100 exercises with 5-200lbs of resistance. “Our slogan is ‘this isn’t a gym you put in your home. It’s a gym made for your home,’” said Connor. The entire gym is designed with today’s modern lifestyle in mind, allowing for maximum benefit while taking up minimal space in your home. When your workout is complete, the gym folds in half with a single movement and can be stored under a bed, in a closet, or behind your sofa. The founders also developed the system to be safe for users and their families. Free weights and heavy, gear-laden machinery can injure or fall on children but not the Exosphere Gym. “The entire device is completely self-contained and incredibly safe.” Exosphere Fitness is a finalist for the 2019 Extrapreneur Award presented by Extraco Bank.

Categories: Entrepreneurship, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

Ahad Azimuddin ’20 is a born entrepreneur. He sees opportunity everywhere he goes and can’t help but want to solve every problem he encounters. He’s also whip-smart and on a personal mission to serve as a pioneer and champion for innovative medical devices. “I really think I can help bridge the gap between medicine and commercialization,” he stated. Azimuddin knew the next step in his career path was medical school but still wanted the ability to explore his interest in entrepreneurship. What do you do when you want to combine your passion for medicine and business? You enroll at Texas A&M University.

Azimuddin is a medical student in the MD Plus program at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. The MD Plus coursework is incredibly rigorous, but when he graduates in 2023, Azimuddin will have obtained both an MBA and an MD. “The resources provided at A&M are just incredible. Other universities and medical schools simply don’t provide these opportunities,” he said.

Texas A&M University is home to the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, a nationally ranked entrepreneurship center that offers over 30 programs and events that develop and support Aggie entrepreneurs. The McFerrin Center also runs the on-campus student business incubator, Startup Aggieland. “So many other people around you are doing incredible things. Being able to connect with those people and learn from those people is huge, and the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship gives you that opportunity. I was always thinking, where are the startups at a university? Where on campus are they? I found Startup Aggieland and realized this is the environment and community where people are doing really cool stuff, and this is where you can learn from them.”

During his first year at Texas A&M, Azimuddin developed a medical device called LCLIP, a laryngoscope attachment that alerts a physician when they’re in danger of causing dental damage and injury to a patient. The inspiration behind LCLIP actually came from his co-founder, Kevin Kotamarti, who dislodged a patient’s tooth while using a laryngoscope as a resident. “We have a provisional patent that’s been converted to PCT and have a year to nationalize. We’re at the point where we’re looking to license our product to manufacturing companies. LCLIP is classified as a 510K addition to an already cleared device. FDA approval is relatively simple compared to a new medication or a completely new device. It’s the path of least resistance which is actually a big value proposition to the manufacturers.”

When asked why he chose to solve this particular problem, Azimuddin said it was because he wanted to serve patients. “People look at a consent form, and no one cares that they saw vocal and dental damage. The patient is focused on brain damage or death. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there and it’s not costing the healthcare industry. 90% of anonymous survey takers said they caused some kind of dental damage in their career. That’s the opportunity that LCLIP has. We’re solving a problem that exists, but no one has given attention because it’s not a big flashy problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Azimuddin doesn’t say “if LCLIP succeeds” instead he says, “when LCLIP succeeds.” It’s not that he believes failure isn’t an option; it’s simply that he already sees his first foray into entrepreneurship as a success. “So far, our first try is going really well. But if something doesn’t work out, if something doesn’t happen, we’ve gained so much knowledge for the next time we’re trying to get a device off the ground. We’re not treating LCLIP as if it’s our last idea. It’s our first idea of many, and it’s been an amazing learning experience. Hopefully whatever we gain from LCLIP, whether it’s knowledge or capital, will be immediately invested into the next project.”

In addition to launching a startup, in 2019 Azimuddin took home 1st place at Aggie PITCH and Raymond Ideas Challenge. The cash prizes from these competitions have helped offset the cost of LCLIP. Azimuddin was also recently hired by a local medical device startup, Saber Corporation after he met the founder through the McFerrin Center’s Mentor Network. “Through Startup Aggieland, I actually got a job, and I’m now employed by Dr. Alan Glowczwski. He’s been the best mentor for LCLIP and also for medical school in general. He’s someone I’ll probably be 20 years from now.” Azimuddin pointed out that this support system has been invaluable to LCLIP and that it’s important for entrepreneurs to remember that you can’t do everything alone. “At Startup Aggieland, you meet a bunch of mentors, and I’m really glad I found a mentor who has gone through medical school and who I have so many similarities with. This is an opportunity that I get because I’m here at Texas A&M. I don’t think I’d have these same opportunities in many other places.”

Earning your MD is difficult enough but combining it with the rigor of an MBA program seems like a recipe for exhaustion. However, Azimuddin says that pursuing his passion for entrepreneurship will make him a better doctor in the long run. “Yes I can be a doctor, but there’s so much more to being a doctor. This initial year has attuned my brain. Going through medical school with this mindset I’ve developed, I’m going to be spotting things left and right. I’m kind of worried that I’ll lose track of everything because there are so many things I want to fix.”

Categories: Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

After a decade of shaping the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Dr. Richard Lester has decided to step down as Executive Director and return to teaching full-time as a clinical professor at Mays Business School.

Before he was ever formally employed, Dr. Lester was already dedicated to the growth and success of the McFerrin Center. During his time as a Ph.D. student at Mays Business School, he established Texas A&M as a founding member of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) Consortium. “They wanted a guarantee of $150,000, and I told them it was not a problem. I had no idea what I was doing.” This dilemma was a perfect example of Dr. Lester’s entrepreneurial grit. He simply got things done. He raised the $150,000 necessary and EBV has been a signature program of the McFerrin Center since, recently celebrating its 12th anniversary.

In 2008 Dr. Lester accepted the role of Executive Director. He quickly became aware that the Center, then known at the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, was in trouble. “We had two months of salary for our Assistant Director in the bank, and that was it.” The Center had found itself in a position that many startups are familiar with. However, Dr. Lester put his feet to the pavement, quite literally, so he could guarantee the survival of the Center. “I would get out of class at 6 pm on Wednesday and would drive around Texas for the next three days meeting with people to ask if they’d be willing to sponsor an EBV veteran or fund a program.”

Startup Aggieland was the next major milestone in the growth of the Center. “We received a TOP grant out of the University that helped to support us and establish Startup Aggieland.” The five-year grant provided funding for staff, programs, and students involved with the Center through Startup Aggieland. “After that, Startup Aggieland really began to grow organically. The students were all over it.”

In 2017 the McFerrin Family Foundation provided a generous $10 million endowment and renamed the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship to the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship. When he received formal confirmation of the endowment, Dr. Lester described it as a truly a heartfelt moment. “Artie was such an accomplished man with an unbelievable work ethic and love for Texas A&M. He was so bright and articulate, but at the same time, he was just a regular guy. We were all in agreement that we wanted the Center to help develop entrepreneurs like him.”

The Center has grown tremendously under Dr. Lester’s guidance and now boasts over 30 programs including EBV, Raymond Ideas Challenge, Aggie 100®, and 3 Day Startup. It was hard for Dr. Lester to pin-point a favorite program. “I’ve always thought that was the beauty of the Center. There are all of the opportunities that you can get involved with, all of these “on-ramps” for students to discover if entrepreneurship is really for them. Entrepreneurship is a very practical skill, and we teach it to students in experiential ways. It’s common at a University for us to focus too much on the theoretical or research aspect of academia. I see the McFerrin Center as a link between the theoretical side of Texas A&M and the practical skills needed for students to succeed in their careers.”

The McFerrin Center would not be the entity it is today without Dr. Lester’s efforts and guidance. He spearheaded the efforts that have enabled the Center to grow from a struggling two-person team to an endowed center that serves as the hub for entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University. Please join us in offering our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Lester for all he has done to secure the presence of the McFerrin Center for all Aggie entrepreneurs.

Categories: Entrepreneurship, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

Next week, a class of 25 veteran entrepreneurs will be traveling to Aggieland to participate in Texas A&M’s annual Reynolds & Reynolds Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV). EBV is hosted by the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, a member of the Mays Business School. From July 20-27 participants will engage in an intensive, experiential training program where they will learn and practice the skills needed to succeed as small business owners. They’ll be taught by Texas A&M faculty and staff, network with local entrepreneurs, and will depart as honorary members of the Aggie family. This year’s program marks the 12th anniversary of EBV at Texas A&M.

When asked why the McFerrin Center views EBV as an invaluable program, Director Blake Petty responded, “We take pride in the quality and impact of each of our Center’s 30 annual programs, but EBV holds a truly special place in our hearts. For these military veterans – many of whom deal with service-related disabilities – we recognize that transition back into civilian life can be daunting. Accepting additional risks by deciding to launch their own business only compounds these challenges. We aim to provide a comprehensive educational experience and support network to help ensure the success of our EBV participants. We’ve seen this one-week intensive experience save careers, change lives, and build lasting relationships between Texas A&M and these military heroes. As we prepare to launch our 12th annual EBV program – our ‘Maroon Anniversary’ requires that we once again raise the bar on our commitment to serve those who have served our country, and help them successfully launch and grow their entrepreneurial dreams.”

EBV is a 12-month-long program divided into three phases. Phase 1 is a three-week online, instructor-led course where participants shape their business plans. Phase 2 consists of an intensive eight-day residency at a university where participants learn the “nuts and bolts” of business ownership from established entrepreneurs and educators. Phase 3 provides post-graduation support and mentorship through EBV Technical Assistance — managed by the IVMF.

Founded in 2007 at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, EBV has expanded to include ten world-class universities. These institutions deliver EBV to post-9/11 veterans who desire to develop the skills and tools needed to launch and maintain successful businesses. Assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), corporate partners, foundations, and private donors allow participants to attend the program cost-free.

Visit ebv.vets.syr.edu for more information.

Categories: Entrepreneurship, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

The feeling never gets old, Kyle Gammenthaler says.

Helping Mays Business School students understand the nuts and bolts of philanthropy by giving away up to $75,000 themselves is always thrilling.

Kyle, who teaches the Strategic Philanthropy class as coordinator of the Certificate in Nonprofit and Social Innovation at Mays, told a crowd of about eighty who gathered for the semester’s check presentations on April 29 that it all started in 2015, when he had “a brilliant idea—that it would be great if students gave away money in a class.”

And this spring, the course’s students, funding recipients, and donors celebrated a huge milestone—passing the $500,000 mark in total giving to organizations in Bryan-College Station.

From $0 to $500,000 in Three Years

With support from Mays administration and generous donors—notably The Philanthropy Lab, a Fort-Worth-area organization that supports about twenty such classes around the country—students provided the first round of funding in spring 2016.

Now, thanks to additional donors, notably the VanLoh family and Cheryl Mellenthin, the class is one of the most successful of its kind in the country.

The VanLohs began donating after seeing the transformational experience their daughter, business honors graduate Grace VanLoh ’19, had as a student in the very first class.

For Cheryl Mellenthin, visiting with Mays students on a Philanthropy Friday was all it took.

“She texted me that night and asked, ‘Where do I send the check?’” Kyle says.

John Sharp ’72, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, attended the April 29 celebration and later said, “The Mays Business School’s philanthropy program is a great example of putting the Aggie values to work.”

Former Student Body President Amy Sharp ’19, a business honors graduate who took the class previously, announced at the event that the two representatives present from The Philanthropy Lab—both Aggies—had decided to give an additional $10,000 in honor of Chancellor Sharp’s visit.

“This has to be the easiest $10,000 Chancellor Sharp ever gave!” she said.

Student-Driven Impact in the Brazos Valley

The eighteen students in the May 2019 class funded eight organizations.

Marketing major and class member Shelby Edwards ’19 says a Charles Dickens quote inspired her to sign up: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

But for Shelby, the class proved to be life-changing.

“I know that what I learned about working with others to make decisions and about how I can make a real impact, even as a younger person, will influence me not only in my profession, but in my personal life, as well,” she says.

The class started the semester by learning about philanthropy and how nonprofits work in general, with a focus on strategic giving and the “why” behind charitable giving.

They crafted their own mission statement as the “why” to guide their decisions: “to thoughtfully invest in nonprofits in the Brazos Valley to move toward their visions and build better communities.”

Next, they chose ten nonprofits for closer review and broke into smaller groups to visit two organizations each. They then shared what they learned with the others and used their strategic approach to make the final decisions on which organizations to fund.

“Giving the money away was an absolute joy,” Shelby says. “The nonprofits showed us gaps in our community that we had not seen before. We were amazed at what they do to make life better for people here.

“My takeaway is that we all have the ability to give money, or time, or effort, not ‘one day,’ but right now, even if we are young and just starting out. We are a generation that can make a difference!”

A Simple but Life-Changing Idea

Business honors Jimmie Fields ’21 explained the powerful concept that inspired the class to fund OnRamp.

“Entrepreneurship is about finding the main pressure point and exploiting it,” he says. “The Jennings family has done just this in the Bryan-College Station area by giving reliable, pre-owned cars to people in need.”

The class gave $11,000 to cover the cost of two cars. OnRamp has provided 23 cars since the organization was founded about eighteen months ago. Other local charities refer clients to the Jennings family for consideration.

“As a pastor at a local church, I meet a lot of single moms who are near poverty and who cannot afford reliable transportation,” Blake Jennings says. “As a result, they find it hard to hold down a job, hard to get their kids to school, and hard to get to doctors’ appointments. My wife and I wanted to do something about it—to serve others just as we encourage our congregation to serve others.”

The Transformational Effect of Mays Philanthropy

Students are transformed by the class in many ways.

For example, Mays graduate Zach Marbach ’17, who took the inaugural class in spring 2016, is now an Associate Program Director with The Philanthropy Lab, as is fellow Aggie Megan Mader ’12. In addition, other students have joined the boards of the nonprofits represented or otherwise made charitable giving a priority in their lives.

“We are incredibly grateful to all who entrust our students to make life-changing decisions with their money,” Kyle Gammenthaler says. “Our next goal: to pass the one-million-dollar mark.”

In addition to OnRamp, the following local charities received funding this semester:

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network
  • Health For All
  • Scotty’s House
  • Sexual Assault Resource Center
  • United Way of the Brazos Valley
  • VOOM Foundation

Categories: Entrepreneurship, Mays Business, News, Programs, Selfless service, Staff, Strategic Philanthropy, Students, Texas A&M