COLLEGE STATION, TX – November 19, 2020 – The student team of Alexander Kondziolka and Jonathon Thierer from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has won the $40,000 First Place prize in the Humana-Mays Health Care Analytics 2020 Case Competition sponsored by health and well-being company Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) and Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.

Over 700 master’s level students representing over 70 major universities in the U.S. registered for the national competition to compete for $70,000 in total prizes. The fourth annual competition was held virtually and was open to all accredited educational institutions based in the United States. Full-time and part-time master’s students from accredited Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Information Systems, Master of Public Health, Master of Business Administration programs, or other similar master’s programs in business, healthcare, or analytics, were eligible to enter.

Alexander Kondziolka and Jonathon Thierer received the top prize following a virtual presentation on Thursday, Nov. 12 to an executive panel of judges. The Second-Place prize of $20,000 was awarded to Christopher Painton, Yilun Sun, and Ruiwen Wang from the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business, while the Third-Place prize of $10,000 was presented to Kamala Pillai, Jack Sampiere, and Chloe Xu from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Anderson School of Management.

“Advanced analytics have helped Humana identify those members who are at the highest risk for COVID-19 in order to make quick and personal outreach to them,” said Heather Cox, Chief Digital Health and Analytics Officer for Humana.  “This is just one example of how analytics can enhance our industry in resolving challenges and help us deliver better care and improve outcomes. This year’s participants applied similar ingenuity and thoughtfulness to their approaches and ideas, and their dedication to finding solutions was remarkable.”

The analytics case received by the students was designed to be multi-faceted and complex, similar to a real-world business problem. This year’s competition focused on social determinants of healthcare that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Transportation challenges are one of these determinants. Students were asked to create a model to predict which Medicare members are most likely struggling with these issues. The goal was to propose solutions for overcoming these barriers to accessing care and achieving members’ best health.

“Mays Business School is a model academic institution championing responsible research and teaching on every aspect of decision making in businesses. To that end, I am pleased that the students’ analyses will help Humana shape the way the industry delivers healthcare,” says Arvind Mahajan, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at Mays Business School. “This case study is an example of how students learn to apply their analytical skills to solve complex business problems which can have a social impact, and in this case, improve the lives of patients and their families.”

The teams were judged based on the following criteria:

  • Quantitative analysis identifying key business insights
  • Professionalism, data visualization, and presentation skills
  • Ability to provide meaningful implications and recommendations based on results/insights

This is the fourth year of the competition, which has grown to be one of the top healthcare analytics case competitions in country.

For more information, visit HumanaTAMUAnalytics.com.

 

About Texas A&M’s Mays Business School

Mays is a full-service business school that steps up 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, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its programs and for faculty research.

 

About Humana

Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) is committed to helping our millions of medical and specialty members achieve their best health. Our successful history in care delivery and health plan administration is helping us create a new kind of integrated care with the power to improve health and well-being and lower costs. Our efforts are leading to a better quality of life for people with Medicare, families, individuals, military service personnel, and communities at large.

To accomplish that, we support physicians and other health care professionals as they work to deliver the right care in the right place for their patients, our members. Our range of clinical capabilities, resources and tools – such as in-home care, behavioral health, pharmacy services, data analytics and wellness solutions – combine to produce a simplified experience that makes health care easier to navigate and more effective.

More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the Investor Relations page of the company’s web site at www.humana.com, including copies of:

  • Annual reports to stockholders
  • Securities and Exchange Commission filings
  • Most recent investor conference presentations
  • Quarterly earnings news releases and conference calls
  • Calendar of events
  • Corporate Governance information

 

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Mays Business School, Texas A&M University

Blake Parrish

979-845-0193

marcomm@mays.tamu.edu

 

Humana

Lisa Dimond

832-330-4702

ldimond@humana.com

Categories: Uncategorized

The Global Consortium for Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) recently honored the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship with the 2020 Exceptional Contributions in Entrepreneurship Research Award. GCEC awards are designed to showcase and celebrate the very best of university entrepreneurship.

The award for Exceptional Contribution in Entrepreneurship Research honors a center that is dedicated to supporting the creation of new entrepreneurship knowledge through research that advances the discipline. Dr. Michael Howard, Academic Director of the McFerrin Center, commented, “the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M supports and advances world-class research in the field of Strategic Entrepreneurship; the study of how and why some organizations – whether start-ups or established firms – are successful in identifying and pursuing new entrepreneurial opportunities, while others are not. Our scholars have established an impressive track record of entrepreneurship research, publishing and often serving as editors or editorial board members in top academic journals, demonstrating the broad impact of our center in the academic community.”

This is the 3rd GCEC award for the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship. In 2017 the McFerrin Center received awards in Outstanding Student Engagement & Leadership and Outstanding Contribution to Venture Creation. Blake Petty ’98, Executive Director of the McFerrin Center, commented, “GCEC represents the world’s premier university-based entrepreneurship programs, and the McFerrin Center is incredibly proud to be recognized for Texas A&M’s world-class research across such a wide spectrum of entrepreneurial topics.”

Entrepreneurship Centers who receive this award are evaluated upon the following criteria:

  • Volume of research produced by those associated with the entrepreneurship center or program
  • Quality of outlets in which the research was published or disseminated
  • Potential of the research to significantly advance the discipline of entrepreneurship
  • Number of faculty and staff involved with entrepreneurship research
  • Support for research in the discipline of entrepreneurship beyond publishing (e.g., reviewing, journal management, hosting conferences, serving as discussant)
  • Demonstrated ability to connect research efforts to other aspects of center programming (e.g., teaching, co-curricular programs, community engagement)

In addition, Texas A&M University won 2nd place in the 2020 SEC Student Pitch Competition. Stephanie Young ’21 represented the University at this year’s competition where she pitched her vet-tech startup, SKYPaws, LLC. SKYPaws is a novel medical device that provides accurate, real-time post-operative animal patient data for veterinarians and their staff. The device is an integral tool for saving patient lives and identifying postoperative complications. The McFerrin Center is responsible for identifying a student entrepreneur to represent Texas A&M University at the annual competition. McFerrin Center Assistant Director LauraLee Hughes ’08 worked closely with Young to prepare for this year’s competition. “Stephanie is a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit and student talent at Texas A&M, and we are so proud of her taking second place at this year’s SEC Pitch Competition. She worked persistently leading up to the competition on perfecting her pitch, which conveyed not only a very compelling business opportunity but her undeniable passion for making the SKYPaws device a reality. We are excited for Stephanie to add this as one of her many entrepreneurial achievements while at Texas A&M and look forward to her continued success,” said Hughes.

On Tuesday, November 17, 2020, Texas A&M University was once again recognized by The Princeton Review as a top university for both graduate and undergraduate students interested in entrepreneurship. This is the fourth consecutive year that Texas A&M University has been included in the Princeton Review ranking. This year, Texas A&M was ranked #35 for Undergraduate students and #26 for Graduate students. The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship is responsible for providing a ranking application to Princeton Review each year.

Categories: McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

The 2020 Raymond Ideas Challenge took place on Sunday, November 15. The day-long competition was converted to a completely online ecosystem to ensure that the 20-year tradition would take place regardless of the state of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. The annual competition challenges undergraduate and graduate students at Texas A&M to dream up the next big innovation that will change the world. The mission of Raymond Ideas Challenge is to encourage students to develop their idea and their entrepreneurial mindset; the student’s ideas should be novel, feasible, and impactful while also solving a problem.

Although many students apply each year, only 40 teams are selected to participate on competition day. The Top 40 finalists compete in front of over 75 experienced judges and entrepreneurs from the business and academic ecosystems. Finalists are then invited to pitch their idea during two rounds of judging. The finalist’s presentation can only be 5 minutes long, and each finalist receives 5 minutes for Q&A. During Q&A, judges are encouraged to challenge the participants to think about their idea like a true entrepreneur. The interactive approach provides students with valuable experience in developing business concepts, writing skills, and presentation abilities that will be pivotal in their professional careers.

Julia Felder ’24 and Carmen Gaas ’24 won 1st place and $2,000 for their idea, Alzheimer’s Gamma Frequency Therapeutic Device. This non-invasive, wearable device emits gamma frequencies that suppress the production of amino acids found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. The device consists of two parts, a specialized pair of glasses and earbuds that work together to promote brain function without impairing the wearer’s daily life. “We want to inspire the next generation of inter-disciplinary female innovators to persist through the challenges they face and achieve things that they previously thought were impossible,” commented Gaas.

The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship would like to recognize the individuals and businesses that supported the 2020 competition. In particular, they extend thanks to the program’s underwriter, The Frank and Jean Raymond Foundation, and 2020 prize sponsor, Frogslayer. Combined, their financial support provided $10,000 in awarded prize money. Raymond Ideas Challenge is held each fall semester annually. For more information, visit mcferrin.tamu.edu.

2020 Raymond Ideas Challenge Winners:

  • First Place Award of $2,000: Alzheimer’s Gamma Frequency Therapeutic Device – Julia Felder ’24, Carmen Gaas ’24
  • Second Place Award of $1,500 sponsored by Frogslayer: Ai-RIS the Portable Retinal Imaging System – Marcus DeAyala, Tokunbo Falohun, Daniel Kermany, Harsha Mohan, Amir Tofighi Zavareh, Uthej Vattipalli
  • Third Place Award of $1,000 sponsored by Frogslayer: Wax-stic: The Wax That Replaces Plastic – Grant Hankins ’21, Jack Stewart ’21, Ty Thibodeaux ’21
  • Fourth Place Award of $850: Card Stock Exchange – Joseph Escobar ’22
  • Fifth Place Award of $650: Chronos 360 – Hassan Anifowose ’23
  • Sixth Place Award of $450: On.ai – Sanjay Kumaran ’23

Honorable Mentions – $250 Awarded to each winner

  • Construction Shield – Pepito Thelly ’22
  • InterChange – Laura Tolan ’21
  • Career Readiness Marketplace for the 21st Century Workforce – Naomi Woods ’24
  • Virus Breathalyzer: Detecting Bugs with a Single Breath – Nathaniel Fernandes ’24
  • Therapy Doll – Anna Huang ’24, Nyima Sanneh ’24
  • 4 Paws – Reagan Kinley ’21
  • Vacation Sitters – Taylor Castillo ’21

Categories: Uncategorized

Dan Tinker ’96 has had many notable mentors and confidants who have helped to support him throughout his career. Now, as the President and CEO of SRS Distribution, Tinker wants to provide the same support structure for his employees. Tinker graduated in May of 1996 with a degree in Industrial Distribution from the Texas A&M University College of Engineering. He credits the Department of Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University for having a major impact on his career and success. “It prepared me really well for leadership and for managing people and leading teams.” Tinker went on to describe how the ID program provided him with a strong technical background while at the same time providing holistic business education. From finance to strategy, to operations it gave him a well-rounded view of how engineering and business can be used together as a powerful tool.

Tinker is a visionary who fully embraces the entrepreneurial mindset of “Dream big. Be Bold.” He isn’t intimidated by hard work and thrives whenever he faces a problem that seems insurmountable. Throughout his career, he’s lived by the adage of “Small goals don’t stir people’s souls.” Tinker has learned first-hand that when you challenge yourself and your team to achieve impossible milestones that is when the magic happens. It hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn and along the way people have doubted him. “I don’t know if anyone but me early on believed that we were going to achieve what I told them we were going to go do,” commented Tinker. Time and time again, he’s proven that there’s no value in shying away from your passions and goals. It’s only when you are all-in and fully committed to your dreams that you can convince others to do the same.

For Tinker, the best way to encourage others to buy into your big, hairy, audacious goals is by fostering strong company culture. He wants to hire talented people and inspire passion in them by creating a corporate environment that makes them excited to go to work every day. “I want people to get a speeding ticket on the way to work, not on the way home from work. You have to create the right environment to make that happen,” he commented. “I believe talent trumps strategy every time, but the talent is wasted if they’re not engaged and fully passionate about the work they’re doing, the vision of the company, and the mission of the company. Have you ever seen a company with good customer service but bad morale? It doesn’t exist! You can’t do it.”

Tinker engages his highly talented employees by actively living the Aggie values of Respect and Selfless Service. “We want to bring talent here and build wonderful careers for people and change their lives for the better. You end up serving them. As CEO, I’m the lowest person in the company and my job is to serve everyone above me. The front-line employees who serve the customer are at the top.” For Tinker, CEO stands for Chief Excuse Elimination Officer. He believes that his most important role is to eliminate all obstacles and provide all of the resources that their people need to succeed. “That’s my job. I want 5,500 people to come to work that are smarter than me and harder working than me and as a result, they drive the business and I provide them all of the resources and the environment for them to thrive and have fun.” That commitment to culture is evident in the SRS Distribution mission statement; “make money, have fun, give back.” Tinker commented that at SRS Distribution, “We’ve chosen to be a people-first and a culture-led company and a big part of that is a dedication to others and service to others.”

How do you inspire an employee workforce of several thousand individuals? For Tinker, it’s simple.
“The way you do that, in our mindset is to let [our employees] be the entrepreneur.” He wants his team to take ownership of their role in the company and let them be the strategist locally. Tinker wants his team to know that their input and decision-making skills are valued by the company and that they are trusted by leadership to make calls independent of the corporate mandate. Rather than trying to force a cookie-cutter approach on their 390 locations, SRS Distribution instead provides centralized tools and resources, such as technology support and talent management, and encourages their employees to leverage an entrepreneurial mindset. “All of our employees think of themselves as owners and founders of the company. They have a different level of pride and engagement.” This commitment to employee empowerment and success is evident through the SRS Distribution employee shareholder program. All 5,500 employees have some sort of equity in the company. “Every time we’ve sold the company or had a liquidity event every employee stockholder got a payout. In fact, we’ve already made over 115 millionaires in the company, from the employees, and my goal is to make hundreds more in the next 5 years. We have a warehouse worker in Portland who makes $18/hour and is already a millionaire because of his small investment in the company in 2008,” said Tinker. “That’s the fun part. You can have great financial success and not keep it all at the top. You can share it broadly if you have the right structure and right equity program.”

For an Aggie entrepreneur who is so fiercely passionate about selfless service and supporting the goals and dreams of others, it would be remiss not to include recognition of the individuals who have played a major role in supporting Tinker’s career. The most notable champion for Tinker’s career is his wife, Audrey Tinker ’96. “My wife is the smart one in the family. She has her Ph.D., Masters, and Undergrad all from A&M and has taught at A&M. All I know is how to sell stuff for more than I paid for it. She’s the real brains of the family,” said Tinker. The two met freshman year in college and have been together ever since. She played a huge role in his career since Tinker’s first job out of college. At the ripe age of 22, Tinker was able to convince the leadership at Cameron Ashley Building Products to promote him to the branch manager. “It was a hard sell, but they did give me the worst branch in the company which was in Little Rock.” Audrey agreed to uproot her life in Texas to move to Arkansas so that Tinker could pursue his career. In just 1-year Dan turned that branch from “dead worst” to branch of the year out of 165 locations. During his time reinvigorating the Little Rock branch, Tinker experienced tremendous growth as a leader. He learned how to motivate your team to be passionate about their work. He discovered the impact that a talented, experienced employee can have on a team’s morale and a business’s bottom line. Tinker distinguished himself as a force in Little Rock. It wouldn’t have happened without Audrey by his side.

Another individual who was monumental in supporting Tinker is Mr. Ronald Ross, Chairman of the Board at SRS Distribution being one in particular. Tinker met Ross while he was a student at Texas A&M and Ross was serving on the advisory board for the Department of Industrial Distribution. For over 2 decades Ross has served as a mentor and font of wisdom for Tinker. “We have a great friendship. I consider him to be a second father to me. He was a mentor right out of college and taught me how to acquire businesses, how to value companies, and the operations of the business as well,” said Tinker. Ross was actually responsible for hiring Tinker at Cameron Ashley Building Products. He is also a co-founder of SRS Distribution alongside Tinker. “It started with buying a small bankrupt company in Florida that only had 6 locations and 30 million in sales. In the past twelve and a half years we’ve done 84 acquisitions, 133 greenfield new openings, and our sales are now approaching 4 billion.” Ross’s wisdom, leadership, and mentorship have been integral to the leader that Tinker is today.

Dan Tinker ’96 is the President and CEO of an almost $4 billion-dollar company. He’s a living example of how the education and values provided by Texas A&M can serve as a springboard for success. But the greatest lesson that can be learned from the story of the 2020 Summit Award Recipient is that when you treat people with respect and invite them to be a part of your dreams, great things can and will happen.

Categories: McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

The COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread lockdown associated with it has been a shock to most organizations, causing leaders to adapt to the impacts of sudden changes to the way they do business with external stakeholders (e.g., customers) as well as how they manage their workforce. As we have seen, the severity of this shock has created immense challenges for even the most stable and well-resourced firms. For businesses that are resource constrained or that operate in unstable environments, which includes most entrepreneurial firms and small businesses, this unforeseen shock may pose an existential threat to their ability to stay in business.

The enormous amount of information that is being disseminated concerning the situation, much of which is contradictory, has only compounded the effect of the pandemic and lockdown on leaders’ abilities to chart a course through this crisis. At the same time, there is much more unknown than known about COVID-19. This creates a state of affairs in which there is too much data for leaders to digest, and in spite of this information overload, there is also more uncertainty about the future than most leaders have ever faced. Again, even CEOs of large organizations, who have entire teams of advisors, have admitted that they do not know how the next two to three years will unfold[1]. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, trying to balance the wave of data that this crisis is generating and plot a path forward into the murky future can be particularly overwhelming and depleting.

Fortunately for many entrepreneurs and small business owners, they are not alone in their struggle to respond to the pandemic and the lockdown. Although it is common to portray small and entrepreneurial ventures as being led by a lone individual at the top of the organization the reality is that the majority of these firms are helmed by a team.[2] In my research on new venture teams, I define these people as “the group of individuals that is chiefly responsible for the strategic decision making and ongoing operations of a new venture.”[3] While this definition focuses on firms in the early stages of the entrepreneurial process, companies at all stages of development tend to have some form of top management team that collectively guides the organization.

The distinction between the lone entrepreneur and a venture team is important. Research has shown that teams have advantages over individuals when it comes to decision making. Teams can gather more information, offer more perspectives, and develop a greater number of approaches, often leading to more creative and effective solutions than those generated by individual decision-makers. Another advantage of team-based decision making involves what happens after the decision is made. Specifically, rather than a single leader having to explain to employees why the decision was made and trying to get them to buy into that course of action when the decision is made by a top management team, the result is a group of leaders who had a say in the decision process and therefore feel committed to communicating and executing the decision.

That’s not to say that team-based leadership is all roses. As anyone who has suffered through a strategic offsite can attest, group-based decision making is far slower than having a single leader call the shots. Moreover, just because the group setting allows all team members to contribute does not mean that they necessarily will. Introverted members may be reluctant to voice their insights, and extroverts may dominate discussions even if they are not the experts on a given topic. Stalemates in which group members cannot come to agreement and groupthink in which teammates fail to critique proposed courses of action can also erase the potential benefits of team-based leadership.

For leaders seeking to take advantage of the power of teams to help navigate their venture through these uncharted waters, the question that arises is how to maximize the benefits of their leadership teams while mitigating the downsides. My research suggests three components of high-functioning teams that are particularly relevant to the challenges caused by this pandemic.

1. A climate of psychological safety.

Over time, organizations develop a system of shared values and beliefs that guide the behaviors of their employees; we call this organizational culture. The same thing happens within teams, only we refer to it as team climate. What is the climate of your top management team? Is that climate helping or hindering your ability to lead in this time of crisis? Why? Odds are that your answer to those questions will involve the presence or absence of psychological safety in your team. Psychological safety refers to the extent to which team members collectively feel that they can speak up, take risks, and be creative without fear of being punished or ridiculed for doing so.[4] Put another way, in teams with high psychological safety, team members are comfortable making themselves vulnerable to one another. A great deal of research indicates that a strong climate of psychological safety is key for high team performance, and it is not hard to understand why.[5] Think about your current team, which is currently facing unforeseen challenges that likely require creative solutions. In developing these solutions, it is critical that all members feel comfortable sharing their unfiltered thoughts and ideas, and constructively critiquing those of others, which is what happens in teams with high psychological safety. When psychological safety is low, your team is like a racecar that is running on four of its eight cylinders, because members are holding back their boldest ideas and sharpest critiques due to fear of the consequences. Fortunately, one of the best ways to develop psychological safety in teams is for the leader to model it,[6] and a crisis presents an opportune time for you to show some vulnerability to your team members, thereby encouraging them to do the same.

2. Healthy conflict norms.

The pressure and stress caused by the pandemic will undoubtedly lead to higher incidents of conflict within organizations and teams. All of us are just a bit more on edge than usual. Some leaders seem to feel that conflict among team members is good, or even necessary, to achieve high performance. Team conflict has been studied for decades, and the conclusion from this body of evidence is clear – most of the time, conflict hinders team functioning. To understand why it is important to consider the two main types of team conflict. Task conflict refers to disagreement among members regarding how to complete the task at hand. Relationship conflict also involves disagreement, but it emanates from interpersonal issues among team members, and typically includes tension, annoyance, and animosity. Although task conflict slows down team decision making, when it is present in small and controlled doses it can contribute to higher group performance.[7] Relationship conflict, on the other hand, always harms team functioning and performance. The takeaway for leaders is to observe how their team handles conflict. Often, disagreements begin as task conflict and then escalate into relationship conflict. This is where leaders need to be managers and help develop norms for “healthy fighting” within their team. If those norms do not currently exist one shortcut to harness the bright side of team conflict is to publicly appoint one group member the role of assigned critic, also known as a devil’s advocate. Because this member is tasked with critiquing the rest of the team’s ideas, they can do so and in turn generate healthy task conflict without activating the interpersonal dynamics associated with relationship conflict.

3. Balance between stars and role players.

It does not take an avid sports fan to notice that oftentimes the most successful teams are not filled with star athletes, but are comprised of a mix of star performers and lesser-known “role players.” Research indicates that teams that are balanced in this way often outperform more talented teams because teamwork requires maintenance, and while not glamorous, someone has to do it.[8] And in the face of this pandemic, this “dirty work” is more critical than ever. There is a tendency, in times of crisis, to not focus on the details as closely as usual or to let more mundane team duties pile up in the background while focusing on the immediate threat to the business. In addition, most of us are in more fragile emotional states than usual right now which can cause emotional instability within the team on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, teams that have members who are willing to roll up their sleeves and stay focused on the details, handle the mundane tasks in the midst of the crisis, and take care of the emotional needs of team members will be able to more effectively respond to the challenges that arise over the coming months and years. Put another way, in the words of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when it comes to critical moments, leaders should “forget high flyers” and count on their consistent performers, who he has dubbed his “dependables.”[9] So consider your current team and ask yourself who is handling the dirty work while you and your star performers tackle the big problems? Who are your dependables? If the answer is no one then you are setting yourself up for failure, or worse yet, burnout as you try to lead and micromanage at the same time.

In considering these three elements of high functioning teams in light of this crisis, you may realize that you have deficiencies in your team. Indeed, perhaps strengthening some of the weaknesses in your top management team was on your “to-do” list even before this pandemic-induced crisis. As I described above, some of these weaknesses may be addressed by making changes to your leadership behavior. But correcting other shortcomings may require changes to the membership of your team. If that is the case, there is some good news. Economic downturns present the optimal time to recruit and select top managers.[10] With the current economic challenges hiring may be the last thing on your mind. However, by seizing opportunities to upgrade the strength of your venture team during this time of uncertainty, you will be positioning your firm to thrive in the future, no matter which “new normal” becomes reality.


[1] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-to-employees-on-coronavirus-crisis-we-need-the-world-to-do-well/

[2] Beckman, C. M. (2006). The influence of founding team company affiliations on firm behavior. Academy of

Management Journal, 49, 741-758.

[3] Klotz, A. C., Hmieleski, K. M., Bradley, B. H., & Busenitz, L. W. (2014). New venture teams: A review of the literature and roadmap for future research. Journal of Management, 40, 226-255.

[4] Edmondson, A. C. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 350-383.

[5] https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it?

[6] Coyle, D. (2018). The culture code: The secrets of highly successful groups. Bantam.

[7] Bradley, B. H., Postlethwaite, B. E., Klotz, A. C., Hamdani, M. R., & Brown, K. G. (2012). Reaping the benefits of task conflict in teams: The critical role of team psychological safety climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 151-158.

[8] Bolinger, A. R., Klotz, A. C., & Leavitt, K. (2018). Contributing from inside the outer circle: The identity-based effects of noncore role incumbents on relational coordination and organizational climate. Academy of Management Review, 43(4), 680-703.

[9] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/13/bill-belichick-leadership-rules.html

[10] https://hbr.org/2009/05/the-definitive-guide-to-recruiting-in-good-times-and-bad

Categories: Uncategorized

In an office park above a swanky pet store in Grapevine, Texas you’ll find the empty offices of CTRL Technologies. The desks are deserted, the 3D printers are still, and the space is eerily quiet without the constant, background hum of electronics. Taking up a large footprint in the office is a fully-operational golf simulation bay. Normally it’s teeming with activity, a place where CTRL product developers go to instantly test hardware and software updates to ensure the product is free of bugs. Now it sits blank and lifeless. CTRL, like many businesses around the world, has closed its office doors to ensure the health and safety of its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. But just because the lights aren’t on doesn’t mean the work stops.

CTRL is 2 weeks away from officially launching its product via a highly anticipated IndieGoGo crowdsource campaign. Time is not a luxury they can afford as the team prepares for a milestone that has been 3 years in the making. The founder of CTRL, Ian Cash ’17, is a contemplative leader with a seemingly unflappable positivity. “I never thought it would be this much work” he says with a chuckle. “When you’re trying to do all of this development, and run a business, and you have 7 people to your name. That’s a lot of stuff to keep up with.”

CTRL is poised to be a major breakthrough is sports technology. Their flagship product is a first-of-its-kind bio kinetic sleeve that comfortably fits on a golfer’s arm. In 30 strokes or less the sleeve learns a player’s unique swing and then provides a hyper personalized coaching experience through the use of data science and AI. CTRL’s technology allows players to practice their game as if they were being trained by a professional coach, for a fraction of the cost. Making the game of golf more accessible to players alienated by a sport traditionally seen as cost-prohibitive. “We’re here to grow the game of golf,” said Cash.

But, what is it about the game of golf that has intoxicated Cash to the point of starting a sports technology company? According to him, it’s all about the thrill of the perfect swing. “It may not have happened to you yet but it will. You’re going to get that one perfect swing. That one swing that’s so good that you didn’t even realize you made contact. It’ll feel like butter it’s so smooth. When you can do that it’s one of the most amazing [feelings] on the planet.” Cash emphasized that every player should be seen as a unique individual, decrying the outdated practices of one-size-fits-all training programs that are common even among professional athletes and trainers. “There’s no cookie-cutter mold for humans,” said Cash. A player’s swing is as unique as their fingerprint and when you train with hyper-personalization in mind that perfect swing goes from rare anomaly to a normal part of the playing experience. “That’s why we’re so focused on consistency. We want you to have that feeling every single time. That’s 100% the reason I do this.”

The sensors in CTRL’s sleeve quickly evaluate the club face, club path, and tempo of a player’s swing in order to provide real-time insights and training recommendations. All of this consumer data could easily be sold in order to boost profit margins. However, Cash says that will never be an option for the company. “We’re never going to sell any of [your data]. From day 1 that has been important to us.” CTRL is committed to radical transparency with customers and uses strict privacy practices in order to protect consumer data. “It comes from the whole team. We really don’t like it when people use our data without our knowledge,” said Cash, “Facebook taught everyone that’s not the way it should go.”

Cash also fervently believes that CTRL should be a self-reliant company in terms of developing its technology. Many startups will outsource product development to third-party companies, but Cash said that at CTRL “we chose to do it all.” From hardware to data science and even app development, CTRL has a team of 7 employees so that all development is completely in-house. “I’m really happy we chose to do that and I think it sets us apart from our competition.” Cash has big plans for CTRL and hopes that one day the company can bring radical transparency and hyper-personalization to a number of other sports. “Golf is our first step. But as we’ve been building we’ve been focused on human motion. Down the line, we’d like to move elsewhere whether that’s volleyball, cricket, swimming, or physical therapy.”

Cash says that being the CEO of a startup is overwhelming, yet incredibly satisfying. “Every single day you get to learn and do a lot more than you ever thought you would.” Cash is an avid learner, absorbing and synthesizing every book, podcast, and webinar he can get his hands on. “That was a core thing when we built our team. Are you focused on learning? Because there’s no chance that we’re working on a problem that you’ve seen before.”

Cash has used his passion for learning to develop a fail-fast company culture built on a foundation of pre-forgiveness. “We know we’re all going to make mistakes. There’s no way around that.” said Cash, “the fastest way for us to learn and grow is to go out there and not be afraid to make mistakes. That’s core value #1 that really inspires everyone. For us, it’s never a scolding. We made a bad call, how can we improve and move forward? You don’t find a lot of places out there that encourage that.”

It’s surprising to find such a young leader who empowers his employees to take ownership of the company’s success. Even some seasoned entrepreneurs struggle to relinquish control, clinging to their titles with white-knuckled enthusiasm. But Cash repeatedly acknowledges that without his team there would be no company. “There’s no room for selfishness when everyone is making sacrifices for the common good. Everyone has really made sacrifices to be here and even more sacrifices to make sure no one left. My team has to feel like they can make choices and if they make the wrong one it’s okay.”

Cash’s passion for hyper-personalization is evident in the way he leads the company. One of the biggest lessons he’s learned as CEO is that everyone needs to be treated as an individual. “You need to find what makes someone tick. You need to understand why they do what they do and what’s on their mind. You need to truly understand them as a person. Learning your team and making sure you take the time to do so, it’ll make you so much more effective in the workplace.”

Don’t let Cash’s encouraging demeanor fool you. His journey as an entrepreneur hasn’t been all sprinkles and smooth sailing. CTRL has experienced many setbacks, pivoted more times than Cash can count, and is set to launch publicly during a global pandemic that has crushed the United States economy. But Cash won’t let these difficulties cloud his vision. “You get hit left and right and it feels like it never stops. But you don’t quit. You keep going and you’re going to get through.” A fitting message from an entrepreneur whose company is taking on industry titans such as Nike, Callaway, and Garmin. When all is said and done Cash is pursuing his dream in an industry that he loves and he tries to keep that in mind when things get difficult. “We’re working in golf. It’s the most fun you could have!”

From his leadership style as CEO to CTRL’s hyper-personalized technology, Ian Cash ’17 has built a company devoted to the individual. “We all have unique stories. This is going to sound cliché, but it’s really what I believe. Everyone is an individual with different backgrounds and thoughts and I think that should be celebrated. I think there is value in, quite literally, every person out there.” Cash is building a company that puts people before profits. A natural occurrence when a CEO wears an Aggie ring.

EDITOR’S NOTE: CTRL, formerly Alba Golf, was a client of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship’s Business Incubator and was a prize winner at Aggie Pitch 2018. If you’re interested in supporting this Aggie startup you can follow them on Instagram or share the CTRL IndieGoGo campaign with the golf lover in your life.

About the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship

Since its inception in 1999, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has served as the hub of entrepreneurship for Texas A&M University. Offering more than 30 enterprising programs each year, the center engages student and non-student entrepreneurs in a variety of opportunities to enhance their entrepreneurial skills. From business plan competitions to entrepreneurship certificates to the Reynolds and Reynolds Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, the center’s programs are touted as transformative and inspiring.

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SkyStations and Interwoven Collective are 2 of the 50 student entrepreneurs that will receive a $5,000 grant to focus for 8 weeks on advancing their student startup.

SkyStations, an electric air taxi service provider, and Interwoven Collective, a transparent, ethical retail company, have been selected to participate in the LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship during which college students from the U.S. and Ireland will be provided additional opportunity to validate their strategies and advance their businesses. During the program, student fellows will participate in coaching sessions with LaunchPad Campus Directors as well as mentoring from Blackstone Campus Ambassadors and Techstars Entrepreneurs and Advisors. Students will also have the opportunity to hear first-hand from entrepreneurs like Allbirds Co-Founder Tim Brown, Techstars CEO and Co-Founder David Brown, CareMessage Co-Founder Cecilia Corral, and SparkCharge Co-Founder (and LaunchPad Alum) Josh Aviv during the LaunchPad Lessons Learned speaker series.

SkyStations is a member of the McFerrin Center student business incubator and has been making significant progress in its business model and supply chain. Founder Daniel De Clute-Melancon also took home an Honorable Mention award at the 2019 Raymond Ideas Challenge. His startup wants to provide innovative transportation systems for individuals living in major metroplexes.

“We are thrilled to have Daniel and Mallory representing Texas A&M in the LaunchPad Startup Fellowship program this summer. Both of these young entrepreneurs are driven to change the world and during their time at the McFerrin Center, have each made tremendous progress in developing their business venture. The experience, resources, and network now available to them through the LaunchPad Fellowship will be incredibly valuable in helping them to achieve their next milestones and get even closer to realizing their entrepreneurial dreams.” said LauraLee Hughes, Assistant Director of New Ventures at the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship.

The LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship was developed this spring in response to a number of current challenges facing college-aged entrepreneurs: According to recent research by Glassdoor, internship opportunities dropped 52% this summer. These opportunities are crucial to informing future young entrepreneurs about their own startup ideas and helping land traditional full-time positions after graduation. Reduced professional entry-level job opportunities and strains on family finances have also increased pressure for students to ‘earn a paycheck’, and potentially postpone or forgo taking a risk on a startup idea.

Mallory Gale, the founder of Interwoven Collective, was actively engaged with the McFerrin Center of Entrepreneurship and looked forward to taking advantage of the McFerrin Center’s Mentor Mashup events and networking opportunities during the Spring of 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit her plans were suddenly derailed. When asked how it felt to be selected for the LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship Gale commented, “When I received my acceptance email, I immediately started crying. In the weeks prior to my acceptance I had spoken to two of my partners in Ethiopia, one leader was worried about mothers in their program starving because of the pandemic and our other partner had sent all but two of her employees home during what should have been their busiest season. Receiving a $5,000 grant means that we could provide work in the most crucial time. That means women can come in and actually have a job that day. That means businesses have more runway for payroll where every $144 is a living wage for a month. This Fellowship is not just supporting my business, but providing demand for businesses that protect some of the most vulnerable groups in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia.”

In addition to coaching and mentorship from LaunchPad Campus Directors and Blackstone Campus Ambassadors throughout the 8 weeks, students will also get the chance to participate in a Techstars Mentor Week. The LaunchPad Student Startup Fellowship will conclude July 31, 2020.

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About McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship

Since its inception in 1999, the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship has served as the hub of entrepreneurship for Texas A&M University. Offering more than 30 enterprising programs each year, the center engages student and non-student entrepreneurs in a variety of opportunities to enhance their entrepreneurial skills. The center’s programs are touted as transformative and inspiring and have helped hundreds of student entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams.

About Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars

The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship network helps students succeed in entrepreneurship and in their careers. Open to all students and recent alumni in all majors, the campus-based Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars network enables participants to access mentoring, grow their network, and access the resources to accelerate the success of their business. For more information, see www.blackstonelaunchpad.org

About Blackstone Charitable Foundation

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded at the time of Blackstone’s IPO in 2007 with substantial commitments from the Firm’s employees. Influenced by the enterprising heritage of the firm and its founders, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship in areas nationwide and globally. Through its investment expertise across several asset classes and geographies, Blackstone has a unique perspective on the global economy and a heightened understanding of how entrepreneurial activity is often the crucial catalyst in the growth of successful businesses, industries, and communities. For more information, see http://www.blackstone.com/foundation.

About Techstars

Techstars is the global platform for investment and innovation. Techstars founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporations to grow their companies. Techstars operates three divisions: Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs, Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships, and Techstars Communities. Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 2,200 companies with a market cap of more than $26 billion. www.techstars.com.

For more information

Visit: https://mays.tamu.edu/mcferrin-center-for-entrepreneurship/

Contact Stephanie Burns, Communications Coordinator, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship

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Shortly after COVID-19 brought a halt to business as usual, entrepreneur and Texas A&M alum Alfredo Costilla-Reyes read about farmers across the United States having to dump produce due to supply chain disruptions. They poured gallons of fresh milk into manure piles, dug ditches to bury millions of pounds of onions, and plowed ripe vegetables back into the ground. With restaurants, hotels, and schools closed, farmers lost half of their buyers overnight. Meanwhile, grocery stores and food banks experienced shortages because they didn’t have enough equipment like refrigerators to accommodate all the excess food.

“I was reading about farmers having big problems reaching customers. They need a marketplace, and it shouldn’t be so difficult,” Costilla-Reyes said over a Zoom call, smiling brightly in front of a virtual background of a library packed with colorful books. “But for a lot of them, to try to figure out how all this online stuff works is stressful and cumbersome.”

And so the idea for Costilla-Reyes’ newest company, DayOneAI, was born. Currently in the initial stages of invite-only beta testing, DayOneAI will help farmers create an online presence in order to reach new customers. Farmers will text information like a description of their business and products to DayOneAI, which will use machine learning and AI to automate a website, online store, and social media accounts. Farmers will also receive alerts about Google and Twitter trends, so they can write targeted social media and blog posts and keep their sites optimized for SEO.

DayOneAI is a direct extension of BitGrange, the company that Costilla-Reyes founded while pursuing his PhD in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M. Having been raised in a family of farmers, Costilla-Reyes wanted to expand his PhD research to help improve the lives of people he grew up with. This desire propelled him to venture over from the Electrical Engineering department to the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship and the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. There, he realized he could combine his interests into a single company, BitGrange, which lies at the intersection of technology and agriculture and builds hydroponic devices so anyone, anywhere can grow produce indoors. BitGrange gained recognition in Mexico, when President Enrique Peña Nieto presented Costilla-Reyes with the Mexico National Youth Award at a reception in Mexico City.

Alfredo Costilla Reyes holding a BitGrange device with a newly sprouted plant. The device is a small cyliner and comes equipped with an individual LED light to help plant growth.When stay-at-home orders started, Costilla-Reyes realized it would be too difficult to continue developing and deploying hardware like hydroponics. He leaned on his learnings from Texas A&M to quickly pivot from hardware that grows produce to software that sells it: “What we learned through programs like Blackstone LaunchPad and the Techstars Entrepreneur’s Toolkit is that it’s not about you as much as the problem itself. You have to be able to evolve and transform in order to improve the life of as many people as possible.”

Despite the shift in focus, Costilla-Reyes sees DayOneAI as a direct extension of BitGrange. At the end of the day, as long as he’s using technology to make farmer’s lives easier and better, he’ll be satisfied — even if that means shifting to focus on helping farmers be in direct contact with customers, so they can sell food locally and earn more money. “I believe that AI shouldn’t be competing for jobs,” Costilla-Reyes explains. “It has its advantages, like looking for patterns. But growing plants, taking care of customers, caring for the environment, those are all things AI can’t replicate. With DayOneAI, farmers can do what they do best and leave the complexity of building an online presence to AI.”

Over the next few months, Costilla-Reyes will further develop DayOneAI as a participant in Rice University’s OwlSpark accelerator. By the end of the summer, he hopes to complete the private beta, roll out a public beta, pitch to investors in Houston, and start a capital raise ($250K for a pre-seed round, and $1M for a seed round). Rather than be frustrated by the way the pandemic affected BitGrange, Costilla-Reyes is nothing but excited about the new opportunity on hand. “I want to embrace this opportunity… It’s nice to be an entrepreneur and have a company that’s so small because you can switch from one place to another and you have that agility.”

LauraLee Hughes, Assistant Director of New Ventures for the McFerrin Center, home of Blackstone LaunchPad and other entrepreneurship programs, worked closely with Costilla-Reyes as he explored the school’s entrepreneurial offering. She’s unsurprised by Costilla-Reyes’ adaptability when faced with a crisis. “Alfredo is a bright young mind with a true passion for changing the world through technology. During his time as a PhD student, he pursued numerous startup ideas, engaging in almost every program the McFerrin Center has to offer. His entrepreneurial spirit, never-ending desire to learn, and eagerness to help others have made him a true asset to the Aggie entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

More than anything, Costilla-Reyes’ engagement with Texas A&M’s entrepreneurial ecosystem shifted the way he thinks about his work. “When you’re doing a PhD, people tell you that you have to compete, you have to do something that’s publishable. It’s all about I and ME. But if you go to [the school’s accelerator] Startup Aggieland and Blackstone LaunchPad, you begin to learn about other people, and that’s really crucial. I enjoyed grad school so much because I started to think like an entrepreneur instead of a scientist. At first, I wanted to build something to win a Nobel Prize. But now, I want to improve lives. It’s not about my skill, but how I can serve others with my work.”

For other Aggies thinking about entrepreneurship, Costilla-Reyes has a few pieces of advice. First, believe in yourself and don’t give up when you face a failure. “We see these big businesses and think they’re overnight success…. But being an entrepreneur you have so many ups and downs. When I first tried to use hydroponics, I thought maybe I’m not meant for this. But I kept going.” Second, build something that solves a problem — even if that solution isn’t what you originally set out to make. And third, serve others. “If I make a product and the end goal is nothing more than a research paper, I’ve failed. I want my work to be useful for other people. And there’s not a better way to do that than through entrepreneurship.”

Costilla-Reyes’ attitude about entrepreneurship has helped him remain optimistic in the face of COVID-19. “When others see hectic times, horrific economic downturn, entrepreneurs see opportunity… That’s the best way to approach crisis.”

Categories: McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

Congrats Aggie Grads - join the celebration gradcelebration.tamu.edu

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Blake Petty ’98 was recently announced as the new Executive Director for the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship. He joined the McFerrin Center in 2014 but has spent over 20 years working in commercialization and entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University.

Petty grew up on his family’s farm outside of Waco, Texas. During his time as an undergraduate and master’s student at Texas A&M, Petty studied ecosystem sciences and pursued his passion for the inter-relation of all things of nature. “I always thought I would go back to the family farm and live the agricultural lifestyle. So that’s what I studied. I never really considered business as important to any of that.” he said. Petty was almost through with his Master’s research when he came to a sudden realization. He did not want a career in agriculture. “I came to a real, serious panic moment,” he said.

With graduation fast-approaching, Petty had to quickly pivot and explore new opportunities for his life and career. Fortunately, during his time as a graduate student, he’d built a strong network within the University. “Because A&M is such an amazing school, the people in my degree program actually opened doors for me. I found the licensing job at the commercialization office specific to agriculture,” said Petty.

Petty’s first job after graduating with his Master’s in 2000 was in the Texas A&M Vice President for Research office where he worked on efforts to commercialize technologies and products developed faculty at Texas A&M University. “I remember walking into that job, maybe even in the interview process, and admitting I don’t know how to commercialize these things. I love the science behind it. But you’re talking about business and transitioning from a lab to a marketplace and that is all very confusing and nebulous to me.” said Petty. Although he had only minimally explored the world of commercialization and entrepreneurship prior to his role, he ended up being the perfect fit. He entered the role with zero pre-conceived notions on what could or would succeed in the market which proved invaluable. During his decade long tenure in the position, Petty’s passion for entrepreneurship bloomed. He was enamored by the process a good idea must go through in order to transform into a viable business. He also discovered a serendipitous connection between his life-long passion for ecosystem science and his new-found love for entrepreneurship. “I unexpectedly fell in love with that entire process. I began to recognize components of the entrepreneurial ecosystem inside the University and in the broader local ecosystem” he said. Petty believes the biggest misconception when it comes to being an entrepreneur is that only business-minded individuals can be successful. “I’m living proof that’s not true. Take it from somebody who had no interest or passion in studying entrepreneurship as a student.”

While in his role at the Vice President for Research’s office, Petty received an invitation to serve as a judge at the MBA Venture Challenge, at the time called the Tech Transfer Challenge. He had never heard of the hosting organization, Center for New Venture and Entrepreneurship; which was renamed the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship in 2018 after a generous endowment by the McFerrin Family Foundation. After volunteering as a judge for that one event he knew he wanted to be more involved with CNVE in whatever way he could.  “That one program introduced me to the other things that CNVE was doing,” said Petty. Petty later became a member of the CNVE Advisory Council, assisted in the founding Startup Aggieland, and became an active volunteer at CNVE events and programs all before he was formally employed by the Center in 2013. “I wanted to do more with students, which just wasn’t part of my job. I genuinely remember thinking If I ever get the chance to do this work that CNVE is doing; work more with students, do more for the veteran entrepreneurs, I would love a job like that. I never thought that would be a possibility or a career track for me” said Petty.

Petty says that there’s something special about student entrepreneurs that makes them particularly inspiring. “There is untold potential with these students” he commented, “I don’t know if it’s their youth or their passion. They envision themselves launching, growing, and owning a business around what they love. If I can help them through the process…I can’t even begin to imagine where they’re going to go with it. It’s not just exciting. It’s inspirational, it almost makes me feel lazy”. This says a lot, considering Petty is not only the Executive Director of McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship but also serves as the Executive Director for the Aggie Angel Network, and a lead faculty for NSF I-Corps.

Now, in 2020 Petty has achieved what many people hope to find in their career. “I’m doing what I love.” he stated.


Within the past decade and a half, there has been an entrepreneurial gold-rush in the world of higher education. Where there once were few to no resources for student entrepreneurs, it seems now that nearly every campus in the nation has a center, maker-space, or opportunity for innovative students to explore entrepreneurship. When asked where he thinks this boom came from, Petty stated quite matter of fact: the students. “It’s all driven from the students themselves. It’s from the entrepreneurs on campus saying hey, I’m going to keep creating and by gosh I’ll do it on my own if you’re not going to help me.”

Students now have a variety of ways to grow their skills as entrepreneurs while they pursue their degree. Gone are the days where you had to decide between continuing your education and starting your business. When students have a plethora of options around the country, what is it that makes the McFerrin Center special? And furthermore, what makes Texas A&M an exceptional choice for young entrepreneurs? Petty commented that there are 2 reasons Texas A&M stands out for entrepreneurs: shared values and that entrepreneurship is a part of Texas A&M’s history.

“We’re drawn to entrepreneurs of our type. Which boils down to Aggie entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who are attracted to Texas A&M because they felt an intrinsic connection with the University’s culture and core values.” said Petty. “I think we can all agree Aggies are unique. We operate differently. We think differently. We even behave differently whether that’s in business or otherwise. Entrepreneurs with a pedigree from Texas A&M don’t have to focus on maintaining the core values. If they did it right as students here, those core values are instilled in them.” Petty also commented that entrepreneurs who are involved with the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship are challenged in more ways than their counterparts at other schools. “We’re requiring that you not just be entrepreneurial but also think about how you are a leader as an entrepreneur and how you show respect as an entrepreneur. We’ve built a uniquely Aggie center for Aggie entrepreneurs.”

Texas A&M has a rich history in agriculture and engineering which has inadvertently attracted innovative individuals to the University. “Somebody told me once that A&M has entrepreneurship in its blood.” said Petty, “We were the agricultural school in Texas. The earliest classes of students coming here were leaving the family farm, and coming and learning more, probably farming skills, and going back and having to take over and run the family farm. Much like the path I thought I would take.” Petty went on to note that although these young farmers didn’t call themselves entrepreneurs and didn’t take traditional business courses they sought out the education of Texas A&M to make their livelihood better, more efficient, and more lucrative. These inaugural Aggies refused to be held prisoner to the constraints that their forefathers operated under. “I think you could argue that our DNA has entrepreneurship from the very first class of 1876. We had entrepreneurs on this campus, whether they called themselves that or not.”

Although the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship coaches entrepreneurs that they can’t “boil the ocean” meaning they can’t lose focus on the present and try to tackle everything at once, I asked Petty to take a moment and imagine what he hopes McFerrin Center will accomplish within the next 10-15 years. Petty imagines the McFerrin Center serving not just current students, but former students, prospective students, and even non-students who have a connection to Texas A&M. “If this is a business and they are seeking out resources, why wouldn’t we play a role in facilitating their success?” Petty stated. “The principles we teach, the skills we impart, and the network that we’ve automatically built amongst a very unique set of Aggie entrepreneurship experts. That’s something unique to us. That’s our value proposition. But that should not only be available for students, trying to launch a business, while currently enrolled at Texas A&M.”

In addition, Petty hopes that McFerrin Center can help to better educate students about what it actually means to be an entrepreneur and the value that entrepreneurship can provide them, regardless of the career path they plan to pursue. “Entrepreneur is a mysterious, confusing, even sometimes hard to spell word.” said Petty, “What it actually means is a problem solver. There are tremendous skills taught to people at this school. And if students are using those skills to solve a problem then they are being entrepreneurial. You don’t have to have the title of founder or entrepreneur. I tell the students who say “I’m not an entrepreneur”. It’s fine if you want to think that. However, if you are a problem solver, if you aren’t comfortable working under the constraints given to you, and you’d rather make things easier, better, cheaper, faster, and not live with the status quo then you have an entrepreneurial attitude and we can help you express that in whatever way you want to.”

Petty firmly believes that Aggies are sought after upon graduation because the university attracts entrepreneurial individuals. “To be honest companies, big companies, want to recruit Aggies because Aggies make great workers and I think Aggies are naturally more entrepreneurial.” Petty also comments that it’s up to you to decide if you want to act upon your skills as an entrepreneur. “If you’re sitting in a cubicle in a huge organization you can choose to be entrepreneurial or not through the way that you solve problems, through the way that you capture value, through the way that you bring value to others. Or, you can choose not to.”

More than anything, Petty hopes that the McFerrin Center can introduce entrepreneurship to more students, more individuals, and more Aggies. This is not a goal for vanity metrics or to increase the McFerrin Center’s rankings among the nation, but because he himself is a testament to how entrepreneurship can shape your life in unexpected and powerful ways. He hopes that regardless of a student’s major, background, or pre-conceived notion of entrepreneurship they find a community and common ground in the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Texas A&M. “Entrepreneurship research for decades has proven that a blend of skills, backgrounds, and interests is a critical component of a successful organization. That’s why our programs are open to the entire campus. We get so excited about the collisions that we create between students of different majors, who may have never interacted with each other. I’ve heard students tell each other I didn’t know that was a major. If they’re doing that in an environment that allows them to collide, collaborate, and even fail together and to come up with other ideas and pursue other interests. That’s entrepreneurship to me.”

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