“We want our entrepreneurs to be as celebrated as our athletes,” said University of Texas at Austin  Professor of Innovation Bob Metcalfe, Ph.D. , at a recent meeting of The University of Texas Board of Regents.
Metcalfe gave a brief overview of the “Longhorn Startup Program,” a nine-member consortium operated out of the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Innovation Center and created to stimulate an entrepreneurial culture among UT faculty and students. Its most recent success is M87, Inc. “Our bright new star,” said Metcalfe, the Center’s director.
Sriram Vishwanath, Ph.D.,  associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his Ph.D. students Vidur Bhargava and Jubin Jose have developed groundbreaking patented software technology that makes wireless networks higher performing, more efficient and easier to use. M87 was formed to commercialize this technology, and UT Austin owns 5 percent of the start-up.
In the United States wireless data is an $80 billion market, and current providers are experiencing acute capacity constraints in key markets such as New York City. According to documents released from the Board meeting, M87’s solutions and related intellectual property bring a unique software-only solution to a market traditionally addressed by multibillion dollar capital expenditures.
“This is potentially revolutionary wireless communications technology,” said Bryan Allinson, executive director of UT System’s Technology Commercialization and Advisory Services, describing how the technology will allow cellular signals to hop off each other to access a base-station when signals are otherwise inaccessible.
Allinson’s office oversees the UT System Horizon Fund—a reserve used to invest in ideas and scientific breakthroughs developed at UT institutions. The Board of Regents approved an additional $12.5 million for the Fund on Feb. 14.
“We help support a base of over 150 active start-ups,” Allinson said. “And 20 new start-ups formed in the last year as they work to translate UT research findings to practical societal use.”
The Horizon Fund is investing $500,000 in M87’s second tranche of a $1 million seed financing, which closed on Jan. 25, 2013. This funding will be used to hire additional engineers and file for additional patents in key countries around the world. M87's management team was recruited in October 2012, and the start-up was granted an exclusive worldwide license from UT Austin in November 2012.
“We needed to raise a lot of seed money,” said M87 CEO David Hampton, during the Committee meeting. “The Office of Technology Commercialization and the Horizon Fund were instrumental in making that happen. I’m a huge supporter of this program. If you can attract the best faculty, that's going to to attract the best students in the field, and if you can help them generate companies to commercialize their technology, then that adds a level of prestige to the university, which is beyond the dollars.”