How to Launch a Startup in Austin
An entrepreneur shares what she’s learned about starting her own company in a tech hotspot.
Entrepreneurship takes boldness, discipline — and realism. “It’s not always glamorous like movies and social media make it out to be,” says Regina Vatterott, a student in The Bill Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University, in Austin, Texas. “It’s a lot of long hours.” And it helps to be based in one of the country’s hottest cities for tech and entrepreneurs.
We asked Vatterott, the co-founder of the EllieGrid, a smart pill organizer that helps people manage their medications, for her advice on launching a startup, and how much location can matter.
Practice pitching, compete in business plan competitions, and talk about your idea with people you meet. “People make the mistake of not sharing their idea because they are afraid someone is going to take it,” Vatterott says. “But if that’s your approach, you could spend years trying to perfect it and find out too late that there is no market. You’ve got to share it because you have to find out if anyone’s going to actually use it.” Vatterott participated in a 10-week boot camp for startups at Austin’s Tech Ranch, an education and networking hub for technology entrepreneurs, where she practiced pitching almost weekly. You can start by attending Tech Ranch’s twice-monthly “Campfire” networking events, where you’ll have a chance to practice your pitch in an informal setting.
While it can be hard to hear criticism or tough questions about your idea, realize that in the long run, such critiques are doing you a favor because they help you improve your concept. “Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable in business. Putting yourself out there can be difficult, but it’s really rewarding,” Vatterott says. Another way to get comfortable talking about your idea is to share it with fellow students at a class organized by the city of Austin’s small business development program.
Launching your own venture takes far more effort and time than working for someone else. And being an entrepreneur doesn’t always equate to being your own boss; if you’re successful enough to get investors, you’ll be reporting to them. To stay motivated, keep your larger goal in mind: How will your product or service improve people’s lives? For inspiration from other entrepreneurs with a mission, check out Austin + Social Good, which hosts meetups and a pitch competition, and Impact Hub Austin, which offers programs and a co-working space. Both are dedicated to supporting businesses with a social impact.
“I can’t take credit for coming up with this philosophy, but I’ve internalized it from personal experience,” Vatterott says. Instead of trying to achieve perfection before you talk about or demonstrate your idea, test early iterations, correct the mistakes, and try again.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” Vatterott says, “so pick your team wisely. It will also make the journey much more fun.” Find mentors through accelerators like those at Tech Ranch and Capital Factory, a downtown Austin incubator that hosts 400 public events each year and describes itself as “Austin’s center of gravity for entrepreneurs.” Vatterott took advantage of the partnership between Capital Factory and St. Edward’s University, which included access to the incubator’s roster of C-level executive mentors. Interning at a startup is another way to immerse yourself in the culture and find mentors. And don’t forget to take advantage of alumni connections — St. Edward’s University alumni are leaders in every sector of the Austin economy.
Go to meetups, listen to experts, learn the lingo. The more connections you make, the more likely you are to find the business partners, mentors and investors you need. Vatterott, who calls Austin “one of the best cities to be a young entrepreneur,” met role models and friends at the Next Gen Summit for young entrepreneurs, which held its first-ever conference in Austin in 2015. She had a packed schedule during Austin Startup Week, which includes educational panels, office hours with mentors and meetups galore. But you don’t need to wait for a big event — the Austin startup community organizes meetings nearly every night, such as Capital Factory’s monthly Introduction to the Startup Scene.
The MBA program at St. Edward’s University builds highly sought-after skills in entrepreneurial thinking, social enterprise, innovation, global collaboration and business analytics — the areas business leaders (and entrepreneurs) need in today’s business world.
Robyn Ross is a freelance writer.
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