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Paying for B-School with a Startup Pitch

Sally Yoon pitches at the TVL Scholar Competition. Photo: Steve Moakley for TVLInventors of a solution for football tailgaters and of a late-night marketplace for food and entertainment won the first-ever Texas Venture Labs Scholar Awards, held Sat., Feb. 9, at McCombs.

The awards were given at the completion of the Texas Venture Labs Scholar Competition, which is the first pitch contest to award a MBA scholarship from a top business school to prospective students on the basis of their business ideas.

Courtney Leffall of Dallas won with his pitch for GrillMobile, a rack that’s designed to hold a grill in a pick-up truck bed for easy tailgating. Sally Yoon of Cincinnati won with her pitch for Night Owl Market, a late-night marketplace featuring food trucks, food booths, artisans, and live music.

Leffall and Yoon are two of 12 semifinalists who traveled to Austin to pitch their startups in the competition. Of that group, four were chosen for the finals round. Other finalists included Patti Fisher of Blacksburg, Va., who pitched Editor World, a marketplace for online editing and proofreading; and Vikas Bhakta of Ithaca, N.Y., whose Ve Go startup provides mobile hotel check-in and check-out.

Leffall said the GrillMobile idea came while he was already working on a solar startup idea with his father that he was planning to enter into the TVL contest.

“Then my dad texted me a picture of this thing he had made for his pickup truck, to hold his grill,” said Leffall. “He had no idea of the potential value.” Leffall recalled that he told his father that developing a business to sell the GrillMobile would be faster and likely profitable enough to fund the solar business.

Yoon, who found out about the contest from her boyfriend, who is already at McCombs, said she is looking forward to replicating her Night Owl Market concept in Austin. “This is such a great place for food trucks and music,” she said.

Leffall and Yoon each won a scholarship to the Texas MBA program. Also, their startups will be accepted into the Texas Venture Labs Accelerator and they will both be automatically considered for a TVL summer internship and for a prestigious position as a post-graduate Accenture TVL Venture Partner. Each winner’s prize package is worth up to $175,000.

Leffall and Yoon will still need to be accepted into the Texas MBA program, and both say they have already applied.

 “Many of our best MBA startups come from students seeking our top-ranked entrepreneurship program, arriving with a business idea and using coursework to incubate their idea,” said MBA program director Christina Mabley, who was a member of the finals judging panel. “With the TVL Scholar Program, we are recognizing and funding this fast- growing cadre of MBA applicants.”

 “The Texas Venture Labs Scholar Program pulls together all the attributes that entrepreneurs look for when starting a business,” said Rob Adams, the director of Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs and a member of the finals judging panel. “Combining these attributes—the Austin startup ecosystem, McCombs’ top-ranked MBA and entrepreneurship programs and the significant track record of Texas MBAs starting businesses on graduation—with scholarship funding enables entrepreneurs to radically accelerate the development of their business while earning their MBA at McCombs.”

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