#aMAYSing former student, Stephanie Murphy, Owner and Chairman at MEI Technologies, Inc. and Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, LLC, recently shared some news with the EMBA Class of 2020 during their celebration ceremony…

First, get to know her:

I received my undergrad in AgriBusiness from Texas A&M and then went on to work at MEI Technologies (then is was Muniz Engineering).  My father founded MEIT in 1992, I began working there in 2001.  Over the next ten years, I worked in various corporate departments and had taken on leadership roles within the company.  We began succession planning for MEIT and I was interested in additional formal education (MBA) to help prepare me for my next roles within the company as an executive and an owner.  I attended an Aggie 100 lunch with my father who was receiving an award, and Ricky Griffin happened to be a guest at our table.  He was talking about the Executive MBA (EMBA) program and the new location at City Centre.  I applied to the program and found it to be competitive with other programs and very convenient in terms of location and my work schedule.

After graduating in 2014, I had an opportunity to take an idea developed at MEIT and launch a new business providing testing in the harsh environment of space as a service.  In 2015 I founded Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, and in 2018 we launched a testing platform that is permanently attached to the International Space Station.  We privately own the facility, known as MISSE, and offer government agencies, academia, private companies, and now individuals access to the low earth orbit space environment.  We are part of a small group of companies offering commercial services in space and at the forefront of developing a new space economy.

My EMBA prepared me for the launch (literally) of this new company not only through the academics, but also set a cadence of hard work and efficiency for me.  I made great relationships and connections, and have gone on to participate and serve in other organizations as a direct result of the network I built during my time in the EMBA program.

 

Mays: How did the idea about sending the EMBA Class XX Coin come to gain traction?

Aggie Ring in front of a Space CertificateSM: I was meeting with Julie [Orzabal, Director, Texas A&M Executive MBA Program] and had expressed an interest in staying engaged with the EMBA program. We were chatting about the Class XX graduating and their program coming to an end. I shared with her that I sent my husband’s Aggie ring into space, and I commented to her how cool it would be to send their class coin, which typically travels around the world with students, on the ultimate trip into space.  I committed to sponsor that trip for the Class XX coin, and Julie let me announce it to the class via Zoom on their last program day.

 

Mays: Can you detail exactly what will happen, as planned, for the EMBA Class XX Coin?

SM: The EMBA Class XX coin was delivered to our headquarters in Houston.  It will be put into our vacuum chamber and the pressure will reduced to 10-6 torr (0.000000001 atmosphere) and the temperature will be raised to 60oC (140oF).  This removes contaminants and particulates from the coin and prepares it for space flight. It is then moved into our 10K clean room, where our engineers integrate the coin into a MISSE carrier along with other experiments bound for the space station.  Our carrier is packed and delivered to NASA Johnson Space Center, then shipped along with all the other cargo manifested on our flight to the International Space Station.  NASA will ship the cargo to the launch site, either Florida for a SpaceX launch, or Virginia for a Northrup Grumman launch, and it will be packed for launch.

It will launch in spring 2021, where the coin will experience acceleration forces of about 3X to 4X gravity.  Once docked to the ISS, the astronaut crew will unpack our carrier from the cargo.  An astronaut attaches our carrier, containing the Class XX coin, to the MISSE transfer tray and send them through the airlock into space attached to the ISS robotic arm.  The robotic arm and other robotic tools plug our carrier into the MISSE facility, which we will then control from our operations center here in Houston.  The Class XX coin will be exposed to the harsh environment of space, including extreme temperature changes that can range from -40oC to 60oC (-40oF to 140oF), while it orbits the Earth approximately 16 times per day.  At this point, the coin is traveling almost 5 miles per second and is about 240 miles above the Earth.  We expect it to stay for about 6 months totaling over 75,000,000 miles on its trip in space.

At the end of this mission, the carrier is returned into the habitable portion of the space station by the robotic arm and the transfer tray.  The astronauts load it, along with other cargo, for a ride back to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon capsule.  Once retrieved by NASA, the carrier is returned to our office in Houston, where our engineers de-integrate and unpack the carriers.  At that time, the coin will be returned to Class XX and happy hour to follow!

 

Mays: What’s next after the EMBA Class XX Coin?

SM: In 2019, we were the first company to sign a reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA to allow us to purchase resources from NASA (launch, astronaut time, etc) to send commercial items to the International Space Station.  This allows us to open space access to private individuals, not just researchers, for personal use.  In 2021, we will be selling space for Aggie Rings and other personal mementos to fly in one of our carriers just like the Class XX coin.  For about the price of an airline ticket for international travel, an Aggie ring can complete a mission to the space station and return to its owner.

 

Mays: Why is this special and important to you – and why you think it’ll be special for others?

SM: Sending an item into the space environment and having it returned is such a unique experience that has been limited to very select scientists.  We have the opportunity to enable that experience for private companies, organizations, and individuals on a limited basis for the first time in the history of space exploration.  I think it’s amazing that one could send their Aggie Ring, which connects Aggies instantly and represents Aggie values, on a unique mission into space.  The eagle on the ring symbolizes agility, power, and the ability to reach great heights, and what better way to celebrate that than by sending it beyond the sky?

Explore Stephanie Murphy and Texas A&M’s MBA Programs

Stephanie Murphy  TAMU EMBA

Categories: Alumni, Entrepreneurship, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, MBA, News, Perspectives, Programs, Spotlights, Students, Texas A&M

“Creative destruction” is a phrase used by Joseph Schumpeter, an early 20th century economist and probably the “OG” scholar in the field of entrepreneurship. Schumpeter was talking about the role of entrepreneurs in our society as agents of change. Entrepreneurs recognize opportunities that others often miss and create new markets for products and services that sometimes have the potential to disrupt or even destroy established industries.[1] In a sense, change and market disruption is nothing new to entrepreneurs. For that reason, we can anticipate that their skills and unique way of looking at the world will play a critical role in our social and economic recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of us shy away from risk. We try to live our lives and achieve our desired goals while mitigating risk as much as possible. That’s one reason why we struggle with such unexpected and extreme developments as those set-in motion by the global pandemic. In fact, we may feel that our “risk-meter” is off the charts, with few options for bringing it back down. There are reasons to suggest that entrepreneurs, on the other hand, perceive risk very differently. Research shows that they tend to make an objective assessment of the level of risk in the market environment and then work to control or guide outcomes in the best way possible, given that degree of risk.[2] Under the current conditions, entrepreneurs may react by simply resetting their risk estimates at a higher level. With this updated information, they can start planning new strategies and taking actions to improve their likely outcomes, while many of the rest of us remain focused on, or even paralyzed by, the risk itself.

There are other characteristics and perspectives we associate with entrepreneurs that may help them face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. First of all, entrepreneurs are persistent. They find ways to thrive in harsh business environments. We have observed this in emerging markets, areas of the world often lacking financial capital, legal, regulatory, and other resources and institutions we tend to take for granted in developed economies. Entrepreneurial activity still emerges in such settings, growing organically through informal economic systems outside of the traditional institutions.[3] Entrepreneurs are also resilient. They find new paths forward in the aftermath of devastating events. Research following the 2008 global financial crisis shows that many young, entrepreneurial ventures were well-positioned to weather the storm.[4] Startups are generally smaller and may be more agile than established firms, making it easier for them to quickly react and adapt even to extreme and unexpected changes.

Entrepreneurs know how to build businesses through conventional planning, but they have other tools in their toolkit that can help them react and adapt. The business planning process we frequently teach in MBA programs involves causal thinking, the careful assessment of how current conditions and possible strategies can lead to future results. This calls for upfront resource planning, the development of market and production strategies, and the analysis of which outcomes are most likely to occur after executing the business plan. Many entrepreneurs certainly have this skill – think of the carefully constructed plans they often present to investors when seeking capital investment. This process is popularized in TV and streaming shows such as Shark Tank or Elevator Pitch. The problem we have right now is that COVID-19 has thrown everyone a curve. We don’t necessarily have the context to effectively analyze and predict future outcomes. For that reason, most causal-thinking business plans probably aren’t going to work until we get further along in this extraordinary period of uncertainty.

Fortunately, many entrepreneurs can leverage other tools to successfully identify and pursue opportunities, even under difficult conditions such as those presented by the COVID-19 crisis. First, rather than wasting time in the current market environment writing up a wish-list of resources, they would like to have (and are unlikely to get), entrepreneurs are very good at bricolage; making use of what is at hand to construct something useful.[5] The closest many of us get to using bricolage is probably when we have to scrounge something for dinner – we grab some cans from the pantry, leftovers from the refrigerator, maybe pulling the odd tomato from the plant growing on the back patio. Luckily, entrepreneurs tend to be much better at this technique.

My favorite examples of bricolage during the COVID-19 pandemic showcase creative efforts to provide products that help prevent and treat the infection. Cummins Inc. has a stockpile of materials used in producing air and fuel filters for diesel engines. With the shutdown of their engine production line, this inventory would be sitting in giant rolls, collecting dust in a warehouse. Through some creative connecting of the dots, the technical managers at Cummins realized that this material could meet the standards for producing the vital N95 masks that may soon help us begin to safely return to work. We have seen a similar process of bricolage in Ford Motor Company with their use of stock auto parts in the production of medical ventilators. Numerous breweries, distilleries, and even perfume companies are using their materials and equipment to produce hand sanitizer. We can only imagine the countless other acts of entrepreneurial bricolage that are happening all throughout the economy.

Entrepreneurs have another trick up their sleeves. Many of them show skill in effectual thinking. Similar to bricolage, effectuation starts with a look at the readily available skills, tools, and resources.[6] However, the interesting difference in this type of thinking is that it doesn’t start with any particular outcome or destination in mind. Refer to our search of the kitchen pantry at dinnertime – this might involve looking through our available supplies, and instead of preparing a meal, we find spaghetti noodles and marshmallows and decide to start a quick project to build a model of the Eiffel Tower. We had no prior intention of pursuing this project – the available materials, the situation, and our own interests may have organically led us down this path.

Our social network society makes this type of effectual thinking more effective. As entrepreneurs brainstorm various uses for their available skills and resources, they need to test and refine these ideas. This requires a sounding board to communicate their thoughts to potential customers, partners, investors, or others who can help refine and advance the project. Researchers have shown that social media platforms such as Twitter can enhance this process by allowing entrepreneurs to work through their effectual thinking more quickly, getting input from followers, and directing them toward new and unexpected opportunities.[7] Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo provide another example of this rapid feedback process. Investors and campaign participants can preview early-stage ideas, post comments and questions, and ultimately let their money do the talking by offering financial support to worthwhile projects. These social network platforms have dramatically improved the pace and potency of effectual thinking for entrepreneurs.

As we speak, entrepreneurs are undoubtedly scanning the new environment shaped by SARS-CoV-2. They are imagining unexpected opportunities to match available resources to market needs, serving end goals that none of us (including them!) could have anticipated a few months ago. It’s hard to say what they will come up with next, but some areas of activity seem likely. As social beings, we’re all growing tired of these periods of isolation. Entrepreneurs may find new ways to balance our craving for social interaction with our need to control the risk of infection. Internet streaming and digital interaction have been the most obvious domains for these activities, but others could certainly emerge.

Through entrepreneurial thinking, we can crowdsource the restart. Businesses throughout the country face the challenge of reopening while protecting the safety of their customers. We have already seen creative solutions as restaurants and stores find new ways to provide curbside and delivery service, sometimes even offering unconventional grocery products or packaged deals. As they return to in-store dining and service, entrepreneurs will find a wide variety of ways to enable social distancing and limit the risk of contagion. The best ideas are likely to catch on, further speeding the pace of the economic recovery.

We live in unprecedented times; working to balance aggressive actions taken to limit the health impact of COVID-19 with pressures to reopen our businesses and restart the economy. This is creating risk, uncertainty, and challenges to our prior business models and ways of viewing the world. Fortunately, we have an extraordinary group of individuals in our society who often view the world through a different lens. They understand risk, thrive in conditions of uncertainty, and are uniquely equipped to handle these challenges. Fortunately, we have entrepreneurs.


[1] Schumpeter, J., 1942. Creative destruction. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 825, pp.82-85.

[2] Sarasvathy, D.K., Simon, H.A. and Lave, L., 1998. Perceiving and managing business risks: Differences between entrepreneurs and bankers. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 33(2), pp.207-225.

[3] Webb, J.W., Bruton, G.D., Tihanyi, L. and Ireland, R.D., 2013. Research on entrepreneurship in the informal economy: Framing a research agenda. Journal of Business Venturing, 28(5), pp.598-614.

[4] Davidsson, P. and Gordon, S.R., 2016. Much ado about nothing? The surprising persistence of nascent entrepreneurs through macroeconomic crisis. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 40(4), pp.915-941.

[5] Baker, T. and Nelson, R.E., 2005. Creating something from nothing: Resource construction through entrepreneurial bricolage. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(3), pp.329-366.

[6] Sarasvathy, S.D., 2001. Causation and effectuation: Toward a theoretical shift from economic inevitability to entrepreneurial contingency. Academy of management Review, 26(2), pp.243-263.

[7] Fischer, E. and Reuber, A.R., 2011. Social interaction via new social media:(How) can interactions on Twitter affect effectual thinking and behavior? Journal of Business Venturing, 26(1), pp.1-18.

 

Categories: Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Faculty, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship

 

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