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MSEC offers innovative "Boot Camp" program for entrepreneurs

By Kayla J. Kennedy
University News Service
December 9, 2014

The Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization (MSEC) program at Texas State University offers an innovative Bobcats Entrepreneurs Boot Camp sequence for students that concentrate on the basics of planning and launching a business.   

Thomas Myers, director of MSEC, and Gary Beall, associate director of MSEC, created the Boot Camp program as a way for students to gain knowledge on how to start a business. The Boot Camp, launched in 2011, is integrated into the MSEC Ph.D. program with the business skills necessary to make students successful as entrepreneurs.

The Boot Camp sequence starts with a weeklong program that is team-taught with the McCoy College of Business Administration and the Masters of Fine Arts program, covering elements of a business plan such as market analysis, financials, intellectual property, marketing and sales plans. Students finish the Boot Camp sequence with a basic level of understanding what it takes to start a business. 

That first Boot Camp is followed by a two-course series in the fall and spring and is open to any student at the Masters or Ph.D. level. This two-course series reinforces what students learned in the first Boot Camp at a more in-depth level. During the two-course series, students are required to develop a business plan associated with their graduate research. The two courses are followed by a second Boot Camp in May.

The programs’ goal is to have one to two teams a year form scalable companies and launch. The department focuses on translational research and Myers said a majority of faculty want to put new knowledge into immediate use in the world.

“We often have a product in mind when we focus on research efforts and we transfer that passion to the students,” Myers said.  “As with the faculty, students are trained to look ahead and see a route to make a difference in everyone’s life.”

In the first Boot Camp, students are placed into teams and are given seeds for a start-up business. Students are lectured over many different start-up aspects, such as what makes good market plans, how to do market studies, sales plans, and how to apply for patents, copyrights and trademarks. Students develop a market plan and prepare 10-minute pitches each day on a specific aspect of their plan, which they present to a panel of outside judges. On the last day, each team gives a final pitch as if they were raising money for a startup company. The winning team receives a $500 prize. Beall said by the end of the Boot Camp, students feel successful in completing the program and have participated in valuable teamwork building.  

“By the end of the week, students feel empowered because they’ve been successful and have done an incredible job of presenting their ideas and plan and they have participated in some teamwork building, which is a critical factor,” Beall said. 

The second Boot Camp is aimed at getting the students to pitch their business plan that was developed over the previous year.  On the first day, students give a 15-minute pitch of their business plan. Outside judges choose the four best plans and the rest of the teams that did not make the cut are then integrated into the top four teams.  Each of the four teams is then supplied with a MBA student, who provides a business perspective, and a MFA student, who helps with branding and presentation. The teams are given two days to rework their business plans and pitches and integrate the new members.  On the final day of the Boot Camp, the teams make their business pitch to the judges and the winning team receives a $500 prize. The top two teams are mentored from June to February to enter the annual Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC).

SioTeX, an interdisciplinary team of graduate students from Texas State, won the Texas Halo Fund Investment prize during the 14th annual RBPC in Houston in April 2014 and received $126,000 for their business. SioTeX has since raised $500,000 and started the company. Beall said the RBPC is the vehicle to accomplish the programs’ goal of having one to two teams form scalable companies and launch.  Myers said SioTeX’s win in the RBPC validates the concept of the Boot Camp program. 

In support of the Boot Camp sequence, MSEC students take four semesters of a commercial forum and attend a seminar series every Friday.  The department has successful entrepreneurs give talks to students about what has made them successful in their business endeavors, about their product, what they have invented and their service.  Beall said the commercial forum is a critical component of the program because it gives students the opportunity to see what has succeeded and failed and build their network.

The Texas State Center for Entrepreneurial Action (CEA) helped design the entrepreneurship component of the MSEC Ph.D. program. Beall said the program establishes a new paradigm in graduate education that integrates efforts across colleges and departments.