Houston Chapter Talks Entrepreneurship With Bob Metcalfe

Not long ago, Bob Metcalfe—UT professor of innovation, Murchison fellow of free enterprise, and globally renowned startup guru—invited Dell founder Michael Dell, ’84, Life Member, to speak to UT business students at an entrepreneurship seminar. Dell, who famously started his now-$63 billion company from his dorm room in UT’s Dobie Center, told the students that from his home overlooking Lake Austin, he can still see Dobie in the distance—even identifying the 27th-floor window that marks his former room.

Austin has a better reputation for entrepreneurs than UT does,” he bluntly told the crowd of 165 alumni and Longhorn fans. “We’re fixing that.”

In turn, Metcalfe pointed out that the student who now lives in Dell’s old dorm room can also see the tech behemoth’s mansion. The anecdote, which Metcalfe told Wednesday at the Texas Exes Houston Chapter‘s Game Changers on the Road event, got to the heart of Metcalfe’s mission at the University: to link Austin’s rich entrepreneurial ecosystem with UT.

“Austin has a better reputation for entrepreneurs than UT does,” he bluntly told the crowd of 165 alumni and Longhorn fans. “We’re fixing that.”

The Ethernet founder, venture capitalist, and lifelong entrepreneur gave a broad-reaching, funny, and engaging speech at the River Oaks Country Club, where he was introduced by Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar and UT president Bill Powers.

Powers called Metcalfe “a national rock star,” eliciting laughs when he added, “Bob Metcalfe didn’t start at UT, but we have him now.”

As sun streamed into the dining room through the country club’s picture windows, Metcalfe explained his efforts to cultivate a startup culture at UT, including such resources as a startup studio for professors, a lab and demo day for student entrepreneurs, a small-business incubator, and seminars. “I’d like for the entrepreneurs at UT to be as celebrated as the athletes,” he said.

He also spoke about entrepreneurship and higher education more generally, drawing several questions when he spoke about the rapid growth of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Last month, UT signed a $5 million deal with MOOC provider edX. The online courses—which have been hugely popular at MIT, Harvard, and others—allow anyone, anywhere to enroll for free. Like any promising new technology, they’ve been received with great excitement and great skepticism.

When an audience member asked Metcalfe how MOOCs can provide quality teaching with such massive class sizes, he acknowledged it was difficult, but also pointed out new potential. “The student-teacher ratio is 100,000 to 1, so office hours are going to be challenging,” Metcalfe laughed. “But what about those 100,000 students who took the course last semester? They could be a powerful army of TAs. MOOCs ask the question: why should we ever stop learning?”

Attendee Scott Minchen, BA ’99, was full of praise for Metcalfe’s talk. “I thought it was fascinating,” Minchen said. “My son is a high school senior, and as he looks at schools, this is a point in UT’s favor.”

Houston Chapter president David Bain, BBA ’99, MPA ’99, JD ’02, Life Member, said the lecture was part of the chapter’s goal to offer a wider variety of events to its members. “We’re great at gamewatches and happy hours, but when we surveyed our members, one of their top requests was more academic lectures,” Bain said. “This is a fantastic program, and it’s engaging alumni in a new way.”

Game Changers on the Road is a partnership between UT, the Texas Exes, and the Longhorn Network, which airs interviews with prominent Texas professors on the show Game Changers. Previous events include a neuroscience lecture in Dallas and a computational science talk in Boston.”The idea with Game Changers on the Road,” Powers told the Houston Chapter, “was to bring the talent straight to you.”

Photos by Eli Spector.


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