Twenty Aggie-led startups competed in the only university-wide business plan pitch competition.
By Lara Robertson, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS March 8, 2022 – The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship hosted its fifth annual Aggie PITCH at the Doug Pitcock ’49 Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center Monday evening. Now open to both current and former students, Aggie PITCH is the only university-wide business plan pitch competition at Texas A&M and seeks to identify the best Aggie business pitches from across industries and sectors.
For the 2022 event, a total of 20 startups were selected as finalists to compete for the coveted McFerrin Cup and a share of more than $35,000 in prize money. Split into three divisions —Full Pitch for both current and former students and Elevator Pitch open to both — the competition gives startup founders the opportunity to pitch their business in a fast-paced, high-energy format to a panel of anonymous judges and an audience of students, professionals, mentors, possible investors and fellow Aggie entrepreneurs.
In the Full Pitch divisions, 10 teams were each given 10 minutes for their pitch. In contrast, the Elevator Pitch competitors were only given a 1-minute allotment for their pitch. Although the anonymous panel of judges was tasked with ranking and selecting the winners of the Full Pitch division, audience members were invited to take part and cast their vote to select for the winners of the Elevator Pitch division.
Finalists’ ventures at this year’s Aggie PITCH represent a variety of industries including agriculture, information technology, consumer products and energy technology, among others, and are now automatically admitted into an exclusive group of startup founders who are eligible to represent Texas A&M University at national and global entrepreneurial competitions.
Flux Works LLC took home first place in the Full Pitch division for current students and was awarded $7,500. Bryton Praslicka ’24, startup lead, reacted with, “Winning to us means that people are excited about our technology. People believe in our technology. And winning this demonstrates that, and that’s really incredible.” Flux Works LLC, a developer and manufacturer of magnetic gears, has now met their fundraising goal and plans to use the prize money to buy back their intellectual property from Texas A&M and move into product development.
Taking home top honors and also $7,500 in the Full Pitch division for former students was Wide Afternoon, LLC (Ovie). Ovie aims to solve the problem of food waste in homes with a digital smart tracking system and plans to use their winnings to purchase prototype samples to get their product into user homes for testing. “Winning Aggie PITCH is so amazing because it validates our idea, where we’re at. And to have our peers and industry professionals that we respect acknowledge that our company is on to something, and believe in us, it means the world. It’s fuel,” stated Ovie lead Stacie Thompson ’02.
“Aggie PITCH continues to be a highlight of our year at McFerrin. The energy in the room is palpable, from both the pitch teams and the audience members getting to experience an event like this,” stated Blake Petty ’98, executive director of the McFerrin Center. “In only our fifth year of Aggie PITCH, we’ve continued to see growth in both the quantity and quality of pitch competitors. Seeing entrepreneurs, specifically Aggie entrepreneurs, pitch their startup businesses to such a diverse, engaging crowd is something I’ll never grow tired of.”
2022 Aggie PITCH Winners
Full Pitch Division | Current Students
1st Place ($7,500): Flux Works LLC [Bryton Praslicka ’24, Daniel Zamarron ‘22]
2nd Place ($5,000): Teale [Narendra Vishnumolakala ’22, Connor Ust ’22]
3rd Place ($3,500): Flow-Pax [Haley Clark ‘23]
Full Pitch Division | Former Students
1st Place ($7,500): Wide Afternoon, LLC (Ovie) [Stacie Thompson ‘02]
2nd Place ($5,000): ClaraTech [Clara Orlean ‘20]
3rd Place ($3,500): SageSpectra [Madi Heck ’21, Mark Golla ‘22]
Elevator Pitch Division
1st Place ($1,500): South Texas Security Gates [Carson Neal ‘22]
2nd Place ($1,000): Imperium [Donald Bowen ‘25]
3rd Place ($750): Unravl Hair [Zanbria Asante ‘18]
The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship serves as the hub for entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University. The McFerrin Center’s goal is to enhance entrepreneurial education by providing training, networking and assistance to enterprising students, faculty and former students.
The McFerrin Center enables the startup and growth of countless businesses and provides competitive opportunities, professional development and financial support to aspiring entrepreneurs in the Aggie community through the support of a robust volunteer mentor network, corporate supporters, faculty and staff.
The McFerrin Center defines entrepreneurship as an attitude that acts upon opportunity. In this spirit, the McFerrin Center strives to deliver programs and events that are inspiring, engaging, motivating and life-changing. This philosophy has resulted in the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship offering more than 30 unique programs each year that positively impact the lives of thousands of students, veterans and other professionals seeking to blaze their own trail as an entrepreneur.
Media Contact: Lara Robertson, communications manager, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, 979- 845-1724, firstname.lastname@example.org
11 faculty members at Mays Business School rank in the top 2% of scholars worldwide. A broad-scale effort analyzing citations of almost 7 million scholars was conducted by Stanford University and Elsevier BV, resulting in a publicly available standardized database containing the top 2% of cited scientists in the world.
We are so fortunate to have such a vibrant group of faculty at Mays Business School who are invested in providing lasting impact at the college and beyond. They include Michael A. Hitt, Leonard L. Berry, R. Duane Ireland, Venkatesh Shankar, David A. Griffith, Rajan Varadarajan, Albert Cannella, Lorraine Eden, Murray R. Barrick, Xenophon Koufteros, and Chelliah Sriskandarajah.
According to Fortune magazine, Mays Business School at Texas A&M University has the top online business analytics program in the country. Factors highlighting the success of the MS Analytics program include selectivity, demand, and brand, per Fortune’s methodology.
One component to the ranking outcome emphasizes the MS Analytics program enrolling its most recent class with an average of over 12 years of full-time work experience and an average incoming undergraduate GPA of 3.42. With a mix of computer science, business acumen, business math, and statistics, this online/face-to-face, flexible format degree allows students to select from many diverse paths in data science while incorporating business and leadership skills.
“We are so pleased to see our program recognized at the national level,” said Jerry Strawser, associate dean for graduate programs. “This ranking reflects the outstanding efforts of our program leadership – Myra Gonzales and Javier Aldape – as well as the faculty and staff who create a valuable learning experience for our students.”
MS Analytics program director Myra Gonzalez shared, “As a young, quickly-growing industry, we are committed to the mission of Mays Business School: to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. We designed our program to be an inclusive learning environment, while also focusing on an excellent customer experience (CX) through our cohort model. Those efforts, in addition to our quality faculty and curriculum, have enabled a strong graduation rate launching excellent data leaders into the marketplace.”
With over 300+ data science/analytics programs in the nation, students have many options. Texas A&M’s MS Analytics offers a formal education led by prestigious faculty with terminal degrees or strong ties to industry. Each year, the program enrolls 65 students from all backgrounds. Faculty and students create synergy in the program. “Our faculty members’ capability, paired with our students’ persistence and thirst for excellence, enable the quality and the success of the MS Analytics program,” added Gonzalez.
“In today’s challenging and rapidly changing global markets, firms gain significant benefits by using sophisticated tools and techniques to analyze, interpret, and use data in competitively relevant ways,” shared interim dean, R. Duane Ireland. “Our MS Analytics program presents learners with opportunities to develop skills through which they can help their firms succeed by working with data effectively. We are thrilled for our MS Analytics program to receive Fortune’s number 1 ranking! Congratulations to our outstanding students and to our faculty and staff who collaborate with them.”
Texas A&M’s MS Analytics program is currently accepting applications for the fall 2022 cohort. Visit the MS Analytics site for an overview. To request more information, contact Javier Aldape, Program Manager at 979-845-2149 or email@example.com.
On November 12th, the theme “Reinvent Your Narrative; Leading with Strength and Resilience” echoed throughout The Zone Club at Kyle Field. Mays Business School’s Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference program offered a wealth of inspirational ideas and a chance for women leaders to network, while several sessions touched their hearts with stories of overcoming great life challenges. The conference was made possible thanks to the financial support of corporate sponsors BP, PwC, Reynolds & Reynolds Sales Leadership Institute, EY, Randstad, and Lockheed Martin.
Approximately 350 women professionals and Texas A&M University students filled the room, while another 150 attended virtually. “If I’m being honest, it was so cool to be at Kyle Field, on Ring Day and celebrating women,” said Morgan Young ’02, vice president at Lockton Dunning Benefits in Plano, TX. “To know that each and every person there has a crazy busy life, yet they took the whole day to invest in themselves and grow personally and professionally – it made me feel so proud to be a part of a university that gave us this opportunity. And the chocolate cake was insanely good!”
The focus and energy of the conference resonated with everyone in the audience—including those who attended this conference in the past. “Previous years’ conferences were amazing in their own right but were more or less good reminders for me,” said Jaime Ledford ’06, a senior business program manager for Amegy Bank in Houston, TX. “I appreciated the applicable learning this year, specifically the ‘Leading with Strengths’ where we were able to see how strengths have a strong side and a shadow side.”
Women enjoyed being back together in person. Review the full #MaysWLI ’21 photo album.
The first-time attendees also applauded the conference’s presentations. “The quality of speakers stood out to me; they showed humility, leadership, strength, courage, and transparency,” said Tracy Foster ’96, associate agency director and chief financial officer at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service in College Station, TX. “In this day and age, it’s so refreshing to see women leaders who can speak about their challenges and obstacles with a focus on reaching a hand to lift other women leaders in growth personally and professionally.”
Attendees learned new ideas and received the motivation to put them into action. They also left with plans to attend the 2022 conference, which is scheduled for Friday, October 14, 2022 with Chevron as the title sponsor. “I’ve already gone back and bragged to the women leaders in my office and encouraged them to come next year,” Young said. “The thoughtfulness that went into planning the day, the order of the speakers and variety of information was terrific.”
Rewriting Life’s Narrative
The conference focused on helping women become proactive in their lives through questioning society’s social constructs. “We can go through life accepting constructs just as they are presented to us, but there is a great deal to be gained from examining their meaning and the manner which they are applied,” Texas A&M’s Interim Vice President and Associate Vice President for Diversity Annie McGowan told the audience. “Cues that suggest marginality or a lack of a critical mass in a particular setting can impact the way that we feel about being in that space.”
The day’s program focused on learning how to view these cues and then interrupt the impact on lives. “The better equipped we are to process the impact of these cues on our own narrative and those of others, the more we can dedicate our important resources to blazing a trail into the domains of our choices,” McGowan said.
Strong, Resilient Leadership
The conference didn’t shy away from addressing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created significant stress for women in trying to learn to combine work and home. BP Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Dawn Constantin shared her journey to find balance, even as she struggled with depression caused by the pandemic as well as BP’s reorganization. She found that she had to learn how to come from a place of strength by being true to herself. “To me, that means showing up and being your genuine, authentic, real self, no matter what situation you’re in,” she said. “To be yourself, you have to know yourself and spend time with yourself. What gets you excited? What gets you out of bed in the morning?”
This analysis allows women to determine how they want to show up in every area of life and then choose aligned behaviors. “The more authentic you are and the more genuine you are in everything you do, the more engaging you are,” she said. “People want to listen to you and be with you. People want to work with you—and that’s powerful. That’s walking into the room with strength.”
Constantin also pointed to the importance of resilience. “Everyone has goals, and you have to work for them,” she said. “You have to grit your teeth, put in the hours, ask the questions, be curious, get smarter.”
Resilience also is important in relation to working with other people. Constantin described how she used her knowledge of sports to help build connections with male colleagues. “You have to learn to relate to people, because the people you work with will help you get to where you want to be,” she said. “You have to be able to find that connection point, build that trust, and build that kind of relationship.”
She stressed self-care’s role in creating resilience. “Pay attention to you. Nobody can give 150% seven days a week, 365 days a year. You will drop, so take a break. Pay attention to your physical and mental health,” she said. “This became such an important issue, living through the pandemic.”
Reinventing one’s narrative is critical. “Nobody is perfect,” Constantin said. “It’s really important to seek advice and get feedback because nobody has this all figured out. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone has distractions along the way.”
She encouraged listeners to seek a mentor, coach, pastor, leader, teacher, or friend. “It’s really important to seek criticism and constructive feedback from people you trust,” she said. “It will make you better, so whatever rooms we show up in or want to influence, we can be better over time.”
Two sessions by Dr. Sarah Jaks, associate director of Mays Full-Time MBA Program, helped the audience identify their strengths and then begin to figure out how to utilize them. She encouraged the audience to identify their strengths through determining what they enjoy doing, when they felt their best, and the words that describe their strengths. “Shift your story and tell the story that you want to tell,” she said.
Using the Strength Finders analysis as a basis, Jaks pointed out that every person has all 34 strengths, but some strengths are more prevalent. She encouraged the audience to focus on their top strengths, as opposed to trying to hone what they consider “weaknesses.” Combining strengths also can be advantageous because together they cause an amplifier effect.
Teams also benefit from understanding members’ strengths. Jaks pointed out that this approach allows teams to use everyone’s strengths, understand different perspectives, and operate effectively as a team.
The conference also addressed the importance of helping women who have faced significant life challenges. Mays Interim Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Shannon Deer and Quantum Circles Consulting Owner Cheryl Miller described “women overcomers” who have rewritten their narratives from an earlier life chapter spent in poverty, addiction, incarceration, and/or engagement in the sex trade. “These were stories that at one time were about darkness and destruction that become stories about hope and new life,” Miller said. “We have found that women who have overcome challenging pasts become some of the most productive and loyal employees.”
Citing several examples—including Miller’s own story of overcoming addiction and poverty to raise premature twins—the pair said it’s important to realize that society often unfairly puts middle-class expectations on these women. Additionally, this expectation leads to the creation of assumptions that these women are not able to or willing to do the work to succeed.
Inviting the audience to think back to their early days in leadership, the speakers asked them to consider how they felt—and how those feelings can help turn around the lives of women overcomers. “We advocate for immediate leadership opportunities for women overcomers,” Deer said. “That’s early opportunities to lead, whether that’s in big or small ways.”
Additionally, the co-authors of “Business Doing Good: Engaging Women and Elevating Communities” noted that many of the skills that women learn when they are struggling are useful and valuable skills in business. For example, previous attributes such as being bossy, pushy, and manipulative can be reframed and then used in productive ways.
This session resonated with many attendees—but perhaps none more than Stephanie Davis ’00, the director of educational development of the non-profit, Together for Haiti, which seeks to encourage, equip and empower vulnerable women. “One of the most powerful points the speakers made is that these vulnerable women have been told they have character flaws, but those flaws are just strengths that haven’t been harnessed for good yet,” the resident of Salado, TX said.
The importance of personal resilience also is critical in the face of tragedy. Tara Storch shared her journey after her teenage daughter, Taylor, died in a skiing accident. The family decided to donate Taylor’s organs, which resulted in saving five lives.
Storch described her quest after her daughter’s death. “I had a longing to hear her heartbeat again,” she told the audience.” She did just that, meeting the nurse who benefitted from Taylor’s heart as television cameras captured the moment.
Storch and her husband used this tragedy to make a difference for society through creating Taylor’s Gift Foundation, which emotionally supports organ donor families and shares the importance of outliving yourself through organ donation. “We had to make the best out of the worst situation, so we decided to focus on the good,” Storch said. “The good was that Taylor saved lives and so we decided to create something to honor her legacy and keep her spirit alive. Our sweet girl is still impacting lives to this day.”
Attendees were moved by Storch’s ability to pick herself up and move forward in such a meaningful way after the death of a child. “Tara took one of the most awful situations a mom/parent can experience and turned it into a battle cry of how to outlive yourself,” Young said.
Avoiding the Red Zone
The day’s final session encouraged the audience to consider how they lead when facing pressure and triggers that mark the red zone. “We are not on our firm footing when we are in fight or flight,” said co-presenter Cindy Billington, interim director of Mays Graduate Career Management Center. “It means something has caused us to freeze, but freeze in a way so that our brain, our head, our heart, and our soul are not talking to one another.”
For women to keep their feet planted so they can be at their best requires incorporating their head and their heart, which creates soulful leadership. This type of leadership involves strategic thinking as well as character.
Billington also tied soulful leadership to self-care, noting that regularly taking specific actions—whether meditation, laughter, running, aromatherapy or chocolate–boosts dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins in the brain. “These help you access your soul, and your soul is what is going to bring you back into perspective, so the fight or flight comes back into center,” she said.
Soulful leadership also requires changing one’s internal dialogue. “Reinventing your narrative really starts with what you tell yourself,” Mays Director of Diversity Nancy Hutchins said. “Seventy-seven percent of our thoughts are negative. It’s important to think about the things you say to yourself on a daily basis and focus more on positive self-talk. Your thoughts and words influence your actions and decisions.”
Participants left with a better understanding of how to proactively navigate their careers and their lives—and how to empower others to do the same to help advance the world’s prosperity. “You need to be able to identify and use your strengths. What is the use of a strength if you don’t use it?” one participant said. “Use it for yourself and use it for others—and remind others to use it.”
Cheers and applause erupted in the Cocanougher Center Friday, November 5th as the Business Honors program held its annual “Signing Day,” allowing Business Honors students to celebrate selecting – and announcing to the world – their second major while surrounded by friends and family. All students in the program pursue a primary major in Business Honors and are able to add a second business major to their curriculum if they choose. The event also allowed students unable to celebrate last year because of the pandemic a second chance to celebrate this milestone in the program.
“After a year and a half of college not being what they expected, having fun with friends at an in-person event is important for these students,” said Jeff Glenn, Program Coordinator for the Business Honors Program. “These students are great people and we want to help them make great memories here.”
The support of advisors, staff, and peer leaders is what makes the Business Honors program invaluable to students. “The community in Business Honors has been so special to me and getting to have so many people here cheering me on makes me feel amazing,” said Bailey Rogers ’23, who “signed” to a second major in Management at the event. This sense of community was at the heart of the event as students cheered each other on and celebrated each other’s success.
“The one thing that stands out to me about Mays is events like this. It’s a very collaborative nature that we have here,” said Travis Cantwell ’22, Academic Coordinator for the Program. “We’re not competing against each other here, we are trying to Advance the World’s Prosperity together.”
To apply for Business Honors at Mays Business School, visit the Business Honors website.
A $20 million gift from Adam C. Sinn ’00 will support students and programs in Mays Business School’s Department of Finance.
A $10 million gift—and a pledge for an additional $10 million—from Adam C. Sinn ’00, a commodities trader and owner of Aspire Commodities, will help Mays Business School’s Department of Finance enhance the quality of education it provides and offer financial support to undergraduate and graduate students.
“I applaud Mr. Sinn’s willingness to invest in our university,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, president of Texas A&M University. “Contributions such as these not only help elevate the department but provide a brighter future to our students for generations to come. We appreciate his support of our mission.”
In recognition of Sinn’s $10 million gift through the Texas A&M Foundation, the department has been renamed the Adam C. Sinn ’00 Department of Finance. This is the second named department at Mays, following the naming of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting in 2017.
“On behalf of Mays Business School, I want to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Mr. Sinn for his extremely generous support,” said Dr. Duane Ireland, interim dean. “Through Mr. Sinn’s gift, we will have opportunities to continuously increase the value of our students’ educational experiences. The type of support we are receiving from Mr. Sinn reflects the unique relationship between Mays Business School and Texas A&M University with former students.”
Sinn’s gift includes $7.5 million for undergraduate and graduate scholarships to assist finance students whose financial challenges might prevent them from attending college. The gift will support students from Sinn’s hometown in Hoopeston, Illinois, and nearby Cissna Park, Illinois, as well as those from Dorado, Puerto Rico, where he maintains a residence today.
If there is an insufficient number of eligible finance students from those regions, a portion of Sinn’s gift will benefit Aggies enrolled in Mays’ Trading, Risk and Investments Program (TRIP), which prepares participants in the fields of energy trading, investments and risk management by combining exceptional class instruction with hands-on, internship-based experience. Sinn’s gift will cover part of participants’ graduate fees as well as a portion of their undergraduate tuition.
“Considering that the cost of education is increasing for most graduate programs, this gift will allow us to provide a significant level of financial support to TRIP students across the program annually,” said Mays Reliant Trading Center Director Detlef Hallermann ’89, who serves as the TRIP director. “This is a monumental achievement.”
In addition to the current gift, Sinn pledged an additional $10 million gift to be funded over the next five years in support of student and faculty success initiatives in the department.
Sinn’s gift offers the department’s latest indicator of success. “In our world of higher education, philanthropy is more than a fundraising tool; it is actually a metric of performance,” said Mays Executive Associate Dean Sorin Sorescu. “Named departments can be seen as a seal of approval from influential, successful individuals like Mr. Sinn, who has had tremendous career success and is encouraged by what he sees in our programs at Mays. We are so honored to have his support.”
The department’s undergraduate program ranked 34th nationally in 2021 by U.S. News and World Report. In 2021, Eduniversal Best Masters rated the department’s Master’s in Real Estate Management 3rd globally and the graduate portion of TRIP 15th globally. Also in 2021, the department’s Master of Science in Finance Program was ranked 10th among U.S. public programs by TFE Times.
Prospective student interest in the department’s programs is also increasing. More than 1,000 Aggies are enrolled in finance programs for the 2021-22 academic year, a 30% increase over the past five years.
The department prides itself on cross-campus interdisciplinary partnerships and high-impact programs that provide students with cutting-edge academic knowledge and industry best practices. Additionally, innovative opportunities such as Aggies on Wall Street and the Reveille Fund, a student-run investment fund, require students to apply their learning.
The remaining portion of Sinn’s gift will support the department’s efforts to recruit top faculty and create and expand these types of innovative programs. Funds may also support the Master of Science in Finance, career development offerings, educational travel opportunities, etiquette dinners, and training in personal skills. These offerings are designed to create well-rounded graduates who can make an immediate impact when they start their careers.
“When we can do more as a finance department, it’s not only our department and the students in Mays who win. Texas A&M also wins,” said Interim Department Head Christa Bouwman. “These interdisciplinary programs and partnerships are very valuable.”
Luck and Hard Work
Sinn grew up in Hoopeston, Illinois, which like many Midwestern small towns, particularly those not proximate to an interstate, had its share of successes and struggles in the 1980s and 1990s. The area’s economy primarily revolved around agriculture and particularly growing and canning corn and other products; Hoopeston is the Sweetcorn Capital of the World.
Minimum-wage jobs like one Sinn held at a hog farm during high school and good-paying blue-collar jobs in the local industries remained to a degree but became less available over time. However, Hoopeston maintained a strong Midwestern work ethic that influenced Sinn. That work ethic was bolstered greatly by his parents and grandparents, who he described as being part of “hard-working Middle America,” and his role models for hard work. Sinn’s father started a small business as an electrician and his mother performed office functions for the business. His parents saved ardently so they could provide some assistance to their sons if they chose to pursue college degrees.
Sinn was also fortunate that his local Rotary Club was a strong supporter of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. He studied abroad in Japan for a year through that program, which was instrumental in him learning to be open to new experiences and places.
After consideration, Sinn set his sights on Southern Methodist University, which offered degrees in international business and Japanese, and qualified for numerous scholarships, which paid for his entire education there.
However, he soon realized that he didn’t feel at home at SMU. Several of his college friends transferred, including one who enrolled in Texas A&M—and Sinn quickly followed. “Texas A&M was exactly what I was looking for. I liked the culture and the camaraderie,” he said. “It was an easy place to flourish, and I liked the college town environment.”
But he also discovered Texas A&M was harder academically, and he found himself in the mid-tier of students scholastically. He said, “I decided that if I couldn’t get the grades, I would beef up my resume. I had three internships, was involved in several organizations, and held jobs while I was a student.”
His penchant for hard work paid off. After initially being declined for an internship with Dell, Sinn offered to work for free. Impressed, the company representative invited him to reapply. He did when another opportunity arose—and was quickly offered a job when the interviewers realized that the Aggie knew more about the company than they did.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in finance in 2001, Sinn wanted to pursue a career in trading, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who bought and sold livestock in the small livestock business founded by his great-grandfather and sons. However, it took him a while to find his niche. He briefly worked in accounting and finance jobs before he was in the right place at the right time—without a job when Lehman Brothers folded—to step into energy trading. “People sometimes end up in a spot due to sudden life circumstances,” said Sinn, who now operates one of the largest speculative trading firms in the commodity market. “It’s what you do with that situation that can determine the course of your future and whether you reach the next level.”
Sinn has embraced Texas A&M’s core values during his career. Now, his selfless service through creating this endowment will help middle-tier students avoid taking on student loan debt. “I want others to not have a financial burden so they can attend the best university on the planet,” he said, adding that these scholarships will also help position finance students to be successful in their lives after college. “I hope to lay the foundation so that at some point in time, these students can bet on themselves like I was able to do when they need to. The person who is financially burdened by rising educational costs may be unable to take that shot.”
Mays faculty, staff and students appreciate Sinn’s commitment to selfless service as he opens doors for the next generation of Aggies. “He wants to give people an opportunity,” Hallermann said. “He’s got an unbelievable talent for trading power and electricity, but when he looks around, his focus is always, ‘How do I help people get to where they need to be?’”
About Mays Business School
At Mays Business School, our vision is to advance the world’s prosperity. Our mission is to be a vibrant learning organization that creates impactful knowledge and develops transformational leaders. Mays Business School educates more than 6,400 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing, and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools for its programs and faculty research.
About the Texas A&M Foundation
The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aspires to be among the most trusted philanthropies in higher education. It builds a brighter future for Texas A&M University, one relationship at a time. To learn more, visit txamfoundation.com.
McFerrin Center has received the Nasdaq Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence Award celebrating the unique achievements and outstanding efforts of top entrepreneurship centers around the world.
The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University is pleased to announce it is joining an elite group of academic entrepreneurship centers as the newest recipient of the Nasdaq Center of Entrepreneurial Excellence Award. Bestowed upon McFerrin Center leadership at the 2021 Global Consortium for Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) annual conference in Baltimore, MD, this award recognizes the dedication and impact the McFerrin Center has made in serving the entrepreneurial community at Texas A&M, across the State of Texas, and beyond.
Founded in 1999 and housed in the Mays Business School, the McFerrin Center serves as the campus-wide hub for entrepreneurship at Texas A&M and is at the core of a flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Central to their mission is the belief that anyone can be an entrepreneur and that successful entrepreneurial skills are best developed through cross-disciplinary and experiential learning. Embodied in the variety of experiences and programs offered, the McFerrin Center has become established as a leader in co-curricular education, applied research, and community engagement in entrepreneurship. Specific accomplishments recognized by the Nasdaq award include:
McFerrin Center’s annual offering of 30 unique programs and engagement of 14,000+ students from across 13 different Texas A&M colleges and A&M System campuses, along with countless other Former Student, non-student, and veteran entrepreneurs.
Leading innovations in entrepreneurial curriculum through the launch of the Master of Science in Entrepreneurial Leadership (MS-ENLD), an online Graduate Entrepreneurship Certificate (pending approval), as well as many other individual courses and modules taught across campus by the McFerrin Center team.
Support of world-class research initiatives that have resulted in over 20 research publications and recognition of research faculty with multiple prestigious awards within the last 5 years.
Engagement of multiple corporate and community partners, such as the Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation, along with a robust Mentor Network of over 220 individuals from a variety of fields and professional backgrounds.
Achieving long-term financial support, including a $10M naming gift from the McFerrin family, a $2M endowment by Reynolds & Reynolds Corporation for the Texas A&M Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans program, and numerous other grants, sponsorships, and charitable donations.
Created in 2000 by Nasdaq in association with GCEC, this Excellence Award honors select centers that have made and will continue to make enormous contributions in advancing entrepreneurship as the force in economic growth throughout the world. It also represents the highest honor that a university entrepreneurship center can receive.
When asked what this award means to the Center, Executive Director Blake Petty responded, “No one performs great work simply for the recognition they may receive. However, there are certain honors reflecting such a high standard of excellence, that acknowledgment reinforces the value and importance of that work. The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has a small but fierce team doing amazing and impactful things across the entire university, and beyond. We are both humbled and proud to receive this recognition of excellence in our efforts.”
The Nasdaq Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence Award adds to a number of other recognitions that the McFerrin Center has earned in recent years, including GCEC’s 2020 Award for Exceptional Contributions in Entrepreneurship Research, and consistent rankings in the top 30 institutions for both undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship programs by Princeton Review.
About the McFerrin Center
The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship’s goal is to enhance entrepreneurial education by providing training, networking, and assistance to enterprising students, faculty, and Former Students. The McFerrin Center defines entrepreneurship as an attitude that acts upon opportunity. In this spirit, the McFerrin Center strives to deliver programs and events that are inspiring, engaging, motivating, and life-changing. This philosophy has resulted in the McFerrin Center offering over 30 unique programs each year that positively impact the lives of thousands of students, veterans, and other professionals seeking to blaze their own trail as an entrepreneur.
The McFerrin Center enables the startup and growth of countless businesses and provides competitive opportunities, professional development, and financial support to aspiring entrepreneurs in the Aggie community through the support of a robust volunteer mentor network, corporate supporters, faculty, and staff.
For more information on the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, visit mcferrin.tamu.edu.
About the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers
The GCEC is the premier academic organization addressing the emerging topics of importance to the nation’s university-based entrepreneurship programs. It has become the vehicle by which the top, established entrepreneurship programs, as well as emerging programs, can work together to share best practices, develop programs and initiatives, and collaborate and assist each other in advancing, strengthening, and celebrating the role of universities in teaching the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. The GCEC membership includes 250 of the top university-based entrepreneurship programs from across the globe, and each year their conference is held on the campus of a GCEC member school. For more information on the GCEC, including its awards, visit their website.
This fall the James Benjamin Department of Accounting at Mays Business School held its annual Outstanding Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) Alumni and Accounting Hall of Honor Awards Dinner honoring the 2020 and 2021 recipients of the Lifetime Achievement and Rising Star awards as well as the 2020 and 2021 inductees to the Accounting Hall of Honor.
Honored with the 2020 and 2021 Rising Star Award respectively, Rachel Bentley ’08 and Kyle Koehler ’09 each founded successful companies that uphold the Aggie Core Values. Bentley is the Co-Founder, COO, and President of The Citizenry, a direct-to-consumer furnishings retailer that has pioneered the ethical and transparent sourcing of home goods. Koehler is the Co-Founder and CEO of Wildway, a food production company that supports a, “natural, sustainable, and connected future,” by creating granolas using natural, real-food ingredients. He was also recently featured on Episode 127 of Mays Mastercast (Listen here or watch on Inside Mays).
Receiving the 2020 Lifetime Achievement award was Devina Rankin ’98 the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Waste Management (WM), a Fortune 250 environmental services company with ∼$15B in annual revenue and $22B in assets. She is joined by Brent Smith ’97, the 2021 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, who served as the CFO and Treasurer of Main Street Capital Corporation and has continued to show his generosity by establishing a scholarship for PPA students at Mays Business School. Read more on his journey from a rural Texas farm to CFO in a recent profile.
Along with the presentation of the Rising Star and Lifetime Achievement Awards, Former Students Gary Brauchle ’95 and Shawn Lafferty ’90 were inducted into the Accounting Hall of Honor for their continued support and contributions to the accounting department at Mays Business School.
Duane Ireland was born and raised in Lima, Ohio as part of a family of “railroaders.” He has found memories of hearing stories from his great-grandfather about making certain that trains reached their destinations in a timely manner regardless of the challenges encountered, including those of inclement winter weather conditions. For a young boy, these stories conjured images of brave people trying their best to serve others through their work. For Ireland, following in the footsteps of his great grandfather and grandfather to pursue jobs with the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad company was the logical path for him to take as a career choice.
Unexpected circumstances created different possibilities for Ireland, though. Raised by his mother and grandmother, the three of them left Ohio and moved to Amarillo, TX where his mother and grandmother began working at the Amarillo Air Force base. Ireland entered the seventh grade at this time. He continued with music, playing the clarinet, saxophone, and piano. He started playing these instruments at a young age as a result of influences from his grandmother and great grandmother, both of whom thought that being a musician would be a wonderful life for their grandson and great grandson.
Being a First-Generation Student
Ireland’s family encouraged him strongly to become the first among them to attend college. This strong support was instrumental in his decision to pursue a college-level education. Although involved deeply with music through his high school days, he did not desire to pursue music as a college major, concluding that he lacked the passion (and the talent!) to become a professional musician. Because of his developing interest in understanding how some organizations are able to serve stockholders and societies effectively, he decided to major in management at Texas Tech University as an undergraduate student. “I really enjoyed studying management and its role in organizations’ success. Because of this, I decided to remain at Tech to pursue my MBA degree,” Ireland said.
With a master’s degree in hand, Ireland accepted a position as a strategic planner for a regional government agency serving the Lubbock, TX area. He enjoyed this work, both from the perspective of helping people as well as from trying to understand why some agencies were more successful than others.
Wanting to learn more about factors leading to organizational success caused Ireland to return to Texas Tech to pursue his PhD. Focusing on strategic management and entrepreneurship, he accepted a position as an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University (OSU) following completion of the terminal degree. Ireland noted that “my time at OSU was wonderful in that I worked with terrific colleagues, one of whom—Mike Hitt–became a career-long collaborator.” While their paths diverged for a while, Ireland and Hitt found themselves both working in Mays Business School beginning in 2004. In addition to spending six years at OSU, Ireland held appointments at Baylor University (17 years) and the University of Richmond (four years) prior to becoming an Aggie.
Scholarship as a Critical Part of His Career
An active researcher, Ireland’s scholarship finds him examining questions related to strategic entrepreneurship, merger and acquisition success, and organizational learning routines, among other topics. Over the years, he served in many editorial positions including a three-year term as editor of the Academy of Management Journal. He also served as the 69th president of the Academy of Management. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Management and the Strategic Management Society and is a university distinguished professor at Texas A&M University. He is a recipient of an Association of Former Students’ Distinguished Achievement Award for research.
Throughout his career, Ireland has held numerous leadership positions, beginning with an initial term as head of the department of management at Baylor. At Mays Business School, his leadership positions are those of Head of the Department of Management, Executive Associate Dean, Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship, Acting Dean, and now Interim Dean. “I am honored by the opportunities I have had to serve students, staff, faculty, and other stakeholders in various leadership roles. In each instance, my commitment has been and is to work as hard and as effectively as possible to be a good steward of the trust that others place in me,” Ireland said.
Service as Interim Dean
Ireland says the following to describe his leadership philosophy: “I believe very strongly that collaborating to integrate our efforts allows us to rely on synergy as a means of creating value for those we seek to serve.” In his view, synergistic collaborations are the foundation through which Mays can create value for its students and for the entire university community. As Interim Dean, Ireland recognizes the abundance of talent among Mays Business School’s students, staff, faculty, and supporters. By relying on this talent, he is confident that Mays Business School’s best days are to come. “I am very proud to be an Aggie and to be a part of Mays Business School and Texas A&M University. Truly, the possibilities in front of us are endless and incredibly exciting. I look forward to what I know will be a fascinating and highly-productive time for us in the years to come,” he said.
Freels ’81, Hill ’83, and Marks ’79 are honored at the ’21 Outstanding Alumni Awards dinner
Three business leaders—W. Miles Marks Jr. ’79, Bradley R. Freels ’81, and Randy L. Hill ’83—were honored as the 2021 recipients of Mays Business School’s Outstanding Alumni Awards. Fittingly, the trio of Former Students received their awards at a banquet Thursday, Oct. 21 at Kyle Field’s The Zone Club, which overlooks the gridiron where the Aggies recently celebrated their landmark victory over Alabama, ranked number one at the time.
The prestigious award, launched in 1992 and awarded previously to 91 Aggies, honors Former Students who are transformational leaders in their profession and community. These business executives also have offered their time, talents, and treasure to support Mays Business School’s vision to advance the world’s prosperity.
These recipients embody the Aggie core values of excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service. “We know all Mays Business School graduates are outstanding; these three are the best among the best,” said Mays Interim Dean R. Duane Ireland. “Individuals who receive this prestigious award are those who live their lives daily in ways that create value for others.”
Miles Marks ’79
Currently serving as a managing director of Avalon Advisors, LLC, a Houston-based wealth management firm, Marks has enjoyed a stellar career in corporate and non-profit finance. After earning a BBA in accounting and an MBA in management with a concentration in finance, he worked with First City National Bank and Texas Commerce Bank.
In 1997, Marks was recruited to serve as the President and CEO of Texas A&M’s 12th Man Foundation. “I think leaders are motivated by excellence,” he said. “I felt like at Texas A&M, the opportunity to be with the 12th Man brought the opportunity to impact and bring excellence to my own school.”
During his 15-year tenure with the Foundation, Marks was responsible for the organization’s strategic planning, organizational development and management, financial management, media relations, volunteer management, charitable fundraising, and special events. He initiated the Eppright Distinguished Donors Program and the John David Crow Legacy Society. Marks also was a driving force behind creating naming opportunities at every level of the athletics program. His work helped lay the foundation for Texas A&M’s move into the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Marks was the recipient of the National Association of Athletic Directors of Development’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Marks always has been very active in his community. While in College Station, he was a deacon of Central Baptist Church, where he also taught Newlywed Couples and Young Marrieds. Marks also participated in the Director’s Circle of the Bush Presidential Library Foundation, Texas A&M OPAS, and Breakaway Ministries.
Currently a deacon at Second Baptist Church of Houston, Marks served on the church’s Finance Committee and chaired the Second Baptist School Foundation Annual campaign. He currently serves as an advisory director of Cadence Bancorp, trustee of the Houston Furniture Bank, and chair of the Board of Directors of Houston’s A.D. Players, the nation’s largest faith-based theater organization. A regular guest lecturer at Mays, he serves on the 12th Man Foundation’s Ambassadors Council and the Texas A&M University System’s Chancellor’s Council.
Marks and his wife, Molly, have two daughters, Elizabeth ‘08 and Margaret (who are both married to Aggies), as well as four grandchildren.
Bradley R. Freels ’81
Freels, who holds a BBA and MBA from Mays Business School, has been an integral part of the growth of Midway, the privately owned, fully integrated real estate investment and development firm. He started at the company after graduating from the Mays MBA program and had a key role in opening Midway’s Houston office. Named a partner in 1990, Freels now serves as the company’s Chairman and CEO. He is the sole shareholder of Midway Holdings, LP, the holding company for an integrated group of real estate and investment-related companies that operate under the name Midway.
Thanks to his leadership, Midway has become one of the most active developer/investment owners in the greater Houston area. The company has developed and/or acquired more than 45 million square feet of office, industrial, hospitality, multifamily, medical, and retail properties in the United States and Northern Mexico. Additionally, Midway has more than 5,000 acres of business and residential communities in more than a dozen cities. “As a business, we try to create enduring investments and remarkable places that enrich people’s lives,” he said.
The company’s projects include CITYCENTRE (home of Mays CITYCENTRE, where Mays offers its Executive MBA and Professional MBA programs), East River, Kings Harbor, Green Street, Memorial Green, The Jones on Main, Avenue Grove, Kirby Grove, and Spring Trails. Midway also has developed projects in Bryan/College Station, including Century Square, Cavalry Court, The George, and 100 Park, and currently is leading the development of Aggie Park adjacent to Kyle Field. “What I get excited about is seeing people use those properties,” he said, pointing to Century Square as a prime example of the company’s work. “In College Station, the University was there before the city, so it never had a town center, a heartbeat. That’s what we are creating, and over time we’ll continue to do that.”
The Aggie is very involved in the Houston community. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Houston Partnership and has been involved with numerous national and local business, educational, Christian, and charitable organizations. He’s also proud that Midway encourages employees to be actively involved in the community. “We’re fortunate enough to be able to give everybody a day a month to give back to the community,” he said. “You take those 12 days times 137 people (and) that’s a lot of days and a lot of intersections.”
Freels and his wife, Claudia ’82, have three adult children Clayton ’12, Kevin ’14, and Carly Whitehurst ’17, and two grandchildren.
Randy L. Hill ’83
After graduating from Mays Business School with a BBA in Accounting, Hill went to work for KPMG LLP—and remained with the firm until 2021. “[Texas] A&M breeds opportunities for you to land a good job and then just take off from there,” he said.
He has worked in KPMG’s Dallas and Houston offices, primarily as an audit partner. Hill specialized in serving energy, chemical, transportation, and other commercial clients both in the United States and across the globe. The business leader, who led the KPMG Dallas office’s audit practice for almost a decade, also served clients with his knowledge and skills of corporate board governance, merger and acquisitions transactions, complex audit and accounting matters, and capital market transactions.
In 2021, Hill became a partner in the Dallas office of Opportune LLP. The business advisory firm focuses on helping industry stakeholders manage energy challenges. Hill’s role focuses on bringing value and expertise to existing clients and developing new client relationships in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Hill has remained active in Mays. He was KPMG’s partner liaison with Mays for more than 15 years, helping to guide the company’s investment of time, talent, and treasure into the business school. As a result, KPMG–which was named Mays 2017 Corporate Partner of the Year–led several Mays fundraising campaigns over the years and the company’s gifts include a chair in accounting, a professorship in accounting, a fellowship, a data analytics/technology development endowment, and accounting scholarships. Hill was the recipient of the James Benjamin Department of Accounting’s inaugural Accounting Hall of Honor Award in 2016 and currently serves on the James Benjamin Department of Accounting Advisory Council
This Aggie has been very active in both the Dallas and Houston civic and charitable communities, primarily focusing his efforts on serving disadvantaged and lower-income families. He also has participated in fundraising efforts and activities to support South Dallas initiatives as a member of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas. Hill is active in his church, serving on the business advisory team.
Hill and his wife, Sandy, have two daughters, Bailey and Emma ’21.
Inspiration for Aggies
Throughout the evening, the latest inductees as Mays Outstanding Alumni were honored with standing ovations by more than 130 audience members, which included their family members, some of their classmates, and Mays’ administrators and faculty. Their recognition also offered inspiration for current Aggies who were in attendance, including Brown Scholars, Business Honors students, and Mays’ Ambassadors. “We are very proud of all Mays Business School graduates. We also are very proud of all current Mays Business School students,” Ireland said. “We know that your successes of today lay the foundation for you hopefully to become a recipient of the Outstanding Alumnus Award for Mays Business School in the future.”