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Student Engineering Teams Receive Grants, Mentoring for their Startups

Last Updated on October 05, 2021 at 12:00 PM

Originally published October 05, 2021

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP Communications

A pair of student teams from The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Engineering were selected to take part in the Blackstone LaunchPad (BLP) Summer 2021 Fellowship to advance their winning startups that use technological solutions to address some of today’s pressing issues in education.

UTEP students, from left, Victor Juarez, Ashley Gilmore, Jose Vega and Sergio Velasco, make up one of two teams from the College of Business Administration selected to take part in the Blackstone LaunchPad (BLP) Summer 2021 Fellowship. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications
UTEP students, from left, Victor Juarez, Ashley Gilmore, Jose Vega and Sergio Velasco, make up one of two teams from the College of Business Administration selected to take part in the Blackstone LaunchPad (BLP) Summer 2021 Fellowship. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

The UTEP teams are part of 50 student entrepreneurs selected to earn a portion of $250,000 and eight weeks of entrepreneurial resources, mentoring, and support through the BLP Summer 2021 Fellowship, sponsored by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Future Founders.

In spring 2021, BLP partnered with the UTEP student organization Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) from the Department of Computer Science to host the virtual 2021 Hack915 which offered a workshop session to teach computer science students how to effectively build a startup and introduced them to the opportunities and programs UTEP BLP has for student entrepreneurs. From this event, three UTEP teams were invited by judges to apply for the Summer 2021 BLP Fellowship.

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation selected the two UTEP startups out of more than 150 applications from the 30 schools across the network. The winning proposals by UTEP students included two education-related startups, NetPrep and Showcase.

Each UTEP team of student founders received $5,000 grants to support work on their technology ventures, as well as other resources, support and mentorship to help them advance their startup ideas throughout the eight-week virtual course held June 14 to Aug. 6.

“We are incredibly proud of our student entrepreneurs representing UTEP in national network programs,” said Maria Fernanda Fiscal Centeno, director of Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars at UTEP’s Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce (MLCIC). “Their selection confirms that UTEP students have unique and impactful ideas that can be translated into successful ventures. Student participation in national programs like this fellowship is vital to continue improving their chances of success in the entrepreneurial journey.”

The program included regular LaunchPad campus director coaching sessions, weekly entrepreneurial workshops organized by Future Founders, as well as two weeks of mentorship sessions with Blackstone employees and Techstars advisers. Participants will also have the opportunity to join the LaunchPad Network Fall Speaker Series, a quarterly convening featuring successful entrepreneur speakers that provide insight into entrepreneurial skill-building and career readiness.

NetPrep will use cutting-edge technology to solve the problem of organizing and managing student course load through an app that helps students manage multiple platforms, applications, and assignments in one location that tracks the progress and due dates. The team consists of junior computer science majors Ashley M. Gilmore, Victor Juarez, Sergio Velasco and Jose Vega.

“NetPrep would have a lot of tools to address the issues of time-management and organization as we noticed that technology is making its way into the education industry and can be hard for college students to keep track of what they use,” Juarez said. “The future will consist of students using more online tools, and NetPrep would provide a better way of displaying them and making it simple to use.”

Showcase is an online platform to assist college students looking for inspiration for side projects and allows them to develop new skills and experiences. Users can get feedback from like-minded students to further improve their projects. The application would provide users with an effective way to exhibit their work to stand out as job candidates to recruiters. Team members include recent UTEP graduates Bryan Ramos and Victor Huicochea.

“It was an honor when we learned about all the resources and mentorship we would have access to during the fellowship,” Ramos said. “Being selected also represents an invaluable opportunity for growth and learning that would [push] our startup into a much higher level.”

The NetPrep team plans to use its grant to further develop and test a working product model to launch a beta version, build the platform and expand future ideas. Showcase founders will also use the grant toward the development of the platform as well as to define branding, advertising and marketing.

For more information about UTEP LaunchPad, click here.