Meet Nicholas Ryan, our new Student Ambassador from Australia!

Nic lives in Canberra, Australia and is SPURstartup’s first official ambassador. Nic has a passion for entrepreneurship. After taking FirstGear, our intro startup course, he asked how he could be involved to spread the word about SPURstartup to other high school students in Australia. Our answer? Welcome to the team, mate. 

Get to know Nic and his passions! Check out the Q&A below.


Why are you interested in Entrepreneurship?

“Ever since I was young I have loved exploring news ideas and new ways to learn. I enjoy taking risks, working hard and being someone who wants to bring something new and improved into the world. I was fortunate to grow up around business as my dad is a consultant/entrepreneur, he played a huge part in me wanting to be an entrepreneur and gave me the love for business. In school, the topics I enjoyed most were centered around themes that consisted with business and entrepreneurship.”


What are you most passionate about?

“My passion lies with three things that really shape my life. The first thing is family and friends, I love spending time with family and friends and building relationships and sharing experiences. Giving back to the community is something I place an immense value on. My third passion is sports, growing up my family would always be playing sports in the backyard and enjoying what nature had to offer.”


What do you see as the biggest obstacle young entrepreneurs face?

“First the facts. over 90% of startups fail. I believe there are two big obstacles entrepreneurs face. The first obstacle is entrepreneurs are stuck in the mindset that they have to do everything in the business from finance to sales. Learning how to ask for help and take on board other people’s opinions is vital. Asking for help doesn’t show your weakness, it shows you want to learn. SPUR gives entrepreneurs a chance to ask questions and get the support every young entrepreneur needs. The second obstacle entrepreneurs face is work ethic.

‘The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary’

This is one great quote. Working long hours to perfect your business or product is all about being an entrepreneur, knowing how to work hard is something entrepreneurs must know.”


Why do you want to take SPUR to the Outback?

“Australia is developing a growing startup culture. While the demographics are different to the United States, the opportunities and innovations are abundant. I think there are so many unique ideas in Australia that are not being acted on because people do not have the knowledge of how to go about being an entrepreneur. SPUR is a great resource to teach young entrepreneurs like myself the steps to take to set up a business, and information you have to think about in order to maximize your business! I hope to educate people in Australia of SPUR and launch more Aussie startups!”

Students of the Week: Ashton Kennedy & Veena Somareddy

University of Texas, Dallas
Founders | Converse VR

Converse VR crowdfunded on SPURstartup, see their campaign here.


Why do you want to be an Entrepreneur?

Ashton | My dad became an entrepreneur when I was 11 and has been working on his passion ever since. He had an active role in my life and I appreciated that his work allowed him that flexibility. I have always hoped for the same in my own life. I’ve been a part-time freelancer for a very long time and enjoy creating and seeing projects through to completion. Creating a sustainable business around my skills has been one of my goals while working on my MBA. When it came to developing a business idea, I wanted to merge my skills with a new emerging market and saw virtual reality content development as that opportunity. With that focus, I now have a purpose and mission behind starting a company and a channel to continue creating stories that impact people and applications that improve people’s lives.


How do you see Converse VR positively impacting the Texas VR community?

Veena | Converse VR will be a place for all VR/AR enthusiasts to read about news in Texas and also showcase their work. Its place for them to meet other like minded individuals to collaborate and  work on projects they are passionate about and create quality content for this emerging industry.

Ashton | In the last 6 months that I’ve been digging into the VR ecosystem I have yet to encounter a centralized community for VR creatives in Texas and the majority of the industry seems to be settling in SF and LA. Even with the magnetic pull to the West Coast, Samsung’s immersive product R&D is right here in Richardson, TX and there are active VR communities in Houston and Austin, but they are all relatively unconnected to one another. That’s why it is an important part of Converse VR’s mission to help unite these groups with the Dallas community so that we can help grow a strong virtual reality industry in Texas. It’s important to not limit the industry to a single geographical area and open up businesses where creativity meets technology.


Why are you passionate about virtual reality?

Veena | I grew up playing games and being able to play those games again without the barriers of a screen and feel like you are actually in the game environment gives a tremendous sense of presence. I also like to create my own environments, interactions in the virtual world and make it as immersive and enjoyable as possible. Since its a field that is growing and changing rapidly, there are lot of opportunities to explore the applications of VR, from games to training to listening to music in VR, a project that I had worked on previously.

Ashton | Virtual Reality opens up a new realm of ways to tell stories, to learn, and to experience our world. With its unique ability to provide interactive immersion, there are many opportunities to create powerful, empathetic films and applications that people can learn from and enjoy. Users have the ability to be an active participant in their experience giving the outcome more weight. VR also lowers the cost of simulations that can help train people for tough, highly technical jobs or help improve their lives by providing an escape from reality to cope with pain or other mental ailment. There are many other applications we haven’t yet discovered that could possibly enhance our everyday lives – that possibility of exploration and creation fuels my desire to work in the medium.


How has SPURstartup helped you with your startup journey?

Ashton | Jon and Maggie have been integral champions in getting our startup on its feet. Jon helped us with our logo’s design and Maggie helped us refine our campaign messaging and purpose to get our initial seed funding. The platform has been a great tool in getting the word out about what we’re trying to achieve, as well as a huge motivator in diving head first into defining our company and producing our first content and products.


Check out Converse VR on SPURstartup, here, and help them bring the VR community to Texas!

Student of the Week: Justin Elhert

University of Texas at Dallas
Founder | Fridgely

Why we love Justin:
Justin has found a unique way to combat an old problem: food waste. Fridgely notifies you when your food is going to expire, making the process of saving food (and money!) easy. The app will even suggest recipes utilizing ingredients that need to be used soon! He’s crowdfunding to make Fridgely better while feeding families in need.

Click here to see Justin’s campaign and feed families!

Justin Ehlert is a senior Computer Science major at the University of Texas at Dallas. He’s the founder of Jump Space Apps, University Eats and Fridgely. When he’s not developing you can find him on the baseball field where he serves as a student coach for the baseball team.


How does your campaign give back to the local community?

“One of the awesome things about my campaign is that I’m donating meals to the North Texas Food Bank for every pledge. This means that my backers are not only helping me, but they are helping feed underprivileged families and children as well. Food waste affects everyone, and it’s important to be able to help out those around us as well.”


What inspired you to start Fridgely?

“I was tired of opening my fridge and seeing so much expired food. I was living in an apartment with three other male college roommates. As you can imagine, our fridge was pretty disgusting. Food would get pushed to the back and I would quickly forget what food I had. Then I would discover it later after it had already expired. This waste of food and money really annoyed me and I wanted to come with a system that would remind me when my food was going to expire.”


What would having a successful campaign do to help Fridgely and the fight against food waste?

“Helping Fridgely through the campaign would allow me to build out the last couple of features that will really make Fridgely an amazing application. These features are mainly centered around the ability to scan the barcode of an item and immediately get an estimated expiration date, this would make the item entering process significantly faster for our users. The donations would also help me build out a system where you can simply take a picture of our receipt from the grocery store and have all of your food automatically added into the app.”


Why are you passionate about helping people waste less food?

“Food waste not only hurts us, but it hurts the environment as well. The food we don’t eat and throw away ends up in our landfills and negatively impacts our planet. By eating the food we already have we also cut down on our dependence for food. When someone is trying to decide whether or not they want to get fast food after work, Fridgely will remind them that they have leftovers that are going to expire soon. Hopefully this makes the user chose to eat the leftovers instead. Fridgely keeps excess food from being thrown away and helps save that person money.


To see Justin’s crowdfunding campaign for Fridgely, click here!

Mentor of the Week: Philip Zeller

Project Manager | Netsync Network Solutions

Phil is a Project Manager with Netsync Network Solutions, overseeing network and server infrastructure deployments for customers in the education and healthcare vertical markets. In his career in IT services, Phil has delivered projects for household brands and Fortune 500s like Best Buy, American Airlines, LEGO, and large public sector clients including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Parkland Memorial Hospital, and the University of Texas system.

Aside from his love for meeting business challenges with IT solutions, Phil is a devoted husband, father to an adopted golden retriever, econ and markets geek, Feed My Starving Children supporter, dance music addict, occasional cyclist, and cancer survivor.


Advice for 1st time entrepreneurs:

“Sell, sell, and then collect a profit! Many of today’s entrepreneurs grew up in the age of low interest rates and cheap, readily accessible capital. When Silicon Valley companies that have never delivered a profit  have market capitalizations comparable to Dow 30 components, it’s easy to get caught up in the fallacy that product is more important than profit. While this may hold true in the short run, in the history of market economies, consistently selling products that are both in demand and profitable has never completely gone out of fashion.  To that end, carefully evaluate and understand the risk-to-reward when considering any form of debt or leverage when developing a product. Leverage by definition amplifies any outcome–good or bad.”


Biggest learning experience of his career:

Perspective is key, and your customer’s is the most important. Several years ago, I had a demanding customer who had little understanding of the technology we delivered, but was nonetheless under a lot of pressure from his management to have it delivered within a certain timeframe. It was a customer that represented a lot of revenue, and the project itself was fairly small. We encountered substantial, and frequent delays due to the lack of preparation on the part of the customer. It reached the point where the project had exhausted its labor budget and was past the intended due date. Suffering from myopia, I issued a change order to the customer and said that project work would be stalled until additional hours were purchased. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have realized that more so than delivering a project, my goal was to help the customer meet its goals. In the end, the matter was escalated, and my company finished the work for no additional charge. While I may have been right in following the official process, in accordance with our contract, I ignored the customer’s perspective and put our relationship in jeopardy.”


What keeps him motivated:

“In all of my pursuits, I focus on the positive impact of my work. When I’ve overseen upgrades of wireless networks for hospitals, I’ve thought about how a faster, more resilient network enables nurses to make patients more comfortable, doctors to diagnose more effectively, and keep patients entertained on their portable devices. In deploying virtual desktop environments for school districts, I think about the enhanced quality of instruction that comes from teachers and students can access their lessons and homework from any computer or device. The greater the outcome of my work, the greater my motivation.”

Manageing scope creep, the key to tackling big ideas

This week is Dallas Startup Week. In the hustle and bustle of networking, brainstorming, and coffee-drinking, I had the chance to sit down with a local startup, Code Authority, and get their tips for being successful. Their key to success, managing scope creep.

Projects get too big, features get added, and today- speed to market matters. Their advice for navigating through the chaos is to solidify your MVP (minimum viable product). An MVP is a product that takes least amount of time, money, and features to get proof of concept. “An MVP is essential to manage scope creep,” says Jason Taylor, the founder of Code Authority. “The opposite of an MVP is gold plating…at that stage, you’re just guessing.” Jason stressed that it’s human nature to want to gold plate and make everything perfect.

How do you combat the desire to gold-plate and stay focused on you MVP? He introduced two elements to define your MVP scope.

  1. User and Market Interviews– Actually get out and talk to your market. Test your assumptions.
  2. Proof of Concept– What prototype can you build that someone can interact with? Even if they’re wire-frames, you need to get your idea out on paper.

Managing project scope is hard. Companies of all sizes struggle with it! Our course, FirstGear, helps you define your market, conduct valuable interviews, and define your MVP. Sign up here!

Mentor of the Week: Jeremy Vickers

Dean of the College of Professional Studies | Dallas Baptist University

Executive Director | The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UTDallas (previously)

His students are now raising money on SPURstartup to bring their dreams to life, here.

Prior to UTD, Jeremy was at the Dallas Regional Chamber from 2011 to 2015 as the Vice President of Innovation where he led strategy and program implementation to support building the North Texas innovation ecosystem.His efforts were to support university research growth, technology commercialization, startup resource support, and startup capital access. Specifically, he was involved in the launch of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center as a Co-Founder, the Texas Research Alliance, and InnovateDFW, which is now a part of


Advice for 1st time entrepreneurs:

“Execute! Don’t get caught up in the minutia and don’t day dream about what kind of CEO you’ll be once you’ve hit the $100M  mark in revenue. Build something, get it in front of customers, and then make it better. Entrepreneurship is 90% figuring it out and 10% knowledge/experience.”


Advice for bring a great mentee:

“Be prepared when you meet with a mentor. Remember that your objective is to leverage the mentors knowledge, skills, and network. A good mentor should be able save you 40 hours of work with 1 hour of robust dialogue. Research the mentor, understand their skills, and ask for specific advice or introductions. Don’t forget to follow up with mentors afterwards and let them know that you’ve done what they’ve asked. It will motivate them to stay engaged.”


Why do you like being involved with student entrepreneurship:

“I am passionate about the stage of entrepreneurship between idea and launch. There are so many opportunities to screw up. Students often don’t know what they don’t know and I love coming to support them in this phase. I believe there is no better time than to try to start a company than when you are a student. It is the perfect environment to try and fail. I firmly believe that failing as a student is far better than failing when you are in your forties and are risking a mortgage and a marriage.”


How has working with SPUR helped your teams:

“It is been exciting for our entrepreneurship program to pilot campaigns with SPUR. We have seven teams that are all trying to launch businesses this semester. The SPUR program enables them to engage prospective customers, users, and partners while generating small sums of capital that they can use to build prototypes and begin marketing.”


You can learn more about some of the initiatives that Jeremy is behind below.

Don’t for get to check out SPURstartup and the awesome campaigns coming out of his program at UTD here.

Student of the Week: Jason Dang

University Texas Dallas
Founder | LEO Supply Co.
US Marine Corp

Jason was crowdfunding for LEO Supply Co.: here

Why do you want to be an entrepreneur?

“I have two main desires for becoming an entrepreneur. The first of which is that I love to help people grow, expand, and better their lives. This can range from helping a complete stranger to helping friends and family. The second is that I love the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want, whether it be play or business.”


How do you stay motivated?

“With entrepreneurship there’s a lot of freedom to  make your own decisions and mistakes, and grow. And at the end of it all, if it all pays off the financial reward along with the feeling of accomplishment is what allows me to continue to do whatever I want.”


You were in the Marine Corp, how did that experience influence who you are as an entrepreneur?

“My biggest take away from being in the Marine Corp is that I’ve become more flexible and adaptable. In the Corp, plans change on the fly and you have very few resources to work with in most cases. These two aspects have taught me to be able to do a lot with what little I have and to be able to understand that things happen and you have to be able to adapt and overcome to get the results you want.”


How has SPURstartup helped you with your startup journey?

“SPUR has helped me in the sense of making me physically hone down how to explain my startup idea and has forced me to create a foundation for an online presence. This gives me the ability to find out what works and continue building my network.”