Acacia Erhardt ’18 is a senior in college, but she already has a full-time job as an analyst at Falkon Ventures, a venture capital fund. The position started as an internship Erhardt landed after her professor, David Altounian, introduced her to the company’s founder. She credits Altounian, a veteran of Austin’s tech industry, with giving her a hand up.
“He let me use his network and got me an opportunity,” Erhardt says, “and all I had to do was work hard.”
But while Altounian knew Erhardt could succeed in the internship, he’s never stopped pushing her to improve.
“He’s challenging in an engaging way,” Erhardt says. “In my Entrepreneurship class, he knew I had an innate understanding of customer motivations, but I wasn’t as strong at applying the technical models of analyzing a market. When we pitched our new enterprise on the last day of class, he asked me some pointed questions, and my answers really weren’t good enough. He cared enough to be candid and say he thought I could have done better, and he challenged me to dig deeper.”
As the advisor to the Student Entrepreneurship Club, Altounian has also urged Erhardt, the club’s president, to set specific goals for the organization — like the number of members to recruit, and the number of events to host. “He has corporate experience, and that comes with structure — which we need, as a scrappy group with a startup mentality,” Erhardt says. “He focuses us on setting smart goals, so we have milestones and we can measure if we were successful.”
Altounian’s experience and network help his students in other ways, too. He’s connected students with the resources of incubators Impact Hub Austin and Capital Factory, where he is a partner. He’s introduced them to prospective employers. And he brings an industry mindset to the classroom.
“I used to focus on teaching from the business side, like: ‘Let me tell you what it’s really like,’” Altounian says. “Now I try to blend academic theory and practical aspects, and get students to relate what they’re learning to what they’ll do in the real world. The best part of my job is seeing a student like Acacia who really gets it, and takes advantage of all the opportunities.”