News Release

UTA student entrepreneurs earn $100,000 in startup funds

MavPitch competition awards startup funding to UTA students with innovative ideas

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Texas at Arlington

MavPitch 2023


Deependra Thakur and Abhay Dere won $40,000 for their software solution tailored for gas station store owners.


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Credit: UT Arlington

The Maverick Entrepreneur Program and Award Fund distributed $117,000 to 10 student entrepreneurs at the MavPitch grand finale event.

The Maverick Entrepreneurship Program and Award was established to encourage UT Arlington students to explore and express their business ideas in a friendly and encouraging environment. The program is one of the most generously funded student-focused entrepreneurship programs in the country.

Students must be sharp as they are reviewed by a panel of professionals in a “Shark Tank”- style format. Jeffrey McGee, the program’s organizer and professor in the College of Business’ Department of Management, said MavPitch is “critical in helping students become the next generation of entrepreneurs and tech innovators using a novel mix of classroom instruction and real-world experience.”

“It incentivizes students to turn their business concepts into reality to enhance lives and fuel economic growth,” McGee continued. “They have to adequately and succinctly pitch their startup business ideas, including the business’ profitability.”

The student awardees include:

  • Store Sense: A $40,000 award went to Deependra Thakur and Abhay Dere, both undergraduate students pursuing computer science and engineering degrees. They joined forces to craft a comprehensive software solution meticulously tailored for gas station store owners. Their innovation brought efficiency to various facets of the business, including inventory management, sales tracking, revenue analysis and employee management.
  • Succsmart: A $25,000 award went to Aijalon (AJ) Igbeare, an electrical engineering undergraduate student who conceived a business tech startup aimed at revolutionizing single-use plastic straws and other disposable products by utilizing their exclusive biopolymer composite material. This initiative is a significant step toward fostering a more sustainable and inclusive future.
  • Lens Defense: Stephanie (Brooke) Escudero, a management doctoral student, received $20,000 for her venture to offer an accessible and affordable solution for protecting eyeglasses and sunglasses from scratches. Lens Defense designs custom-made protectors crafted from the same transparent and durable material used for smartphone screen protectors, ensuring compatibility with any size and shape of eyewear.
  • Trail Angels: Virginia Bartin, a marketing alumna, and Patrick Bartin, an advertising student, received $20,000 for their innovative meal kit service tailored for weekend hikers and long-term backpackers. . The Appalachian Trail, known for its extended journey, traditionally involves months of meticulous planning. The Bartin siblings' solution aims to streamline the planning process by meticulously organizing the hiker's meals and delivering them to predetermined trail locations.
  • DFW 360 Media: A $20,000 award went to Safal Koirala, an undergraduate marketing student who introduced a dynamic real estate photography and media company that delivers top-tier content for property listings and brand enhancement.
  • LuxeView: Benjamin Carver, an undergraduate majoring in marketing, conceived and brought to life LuxeView, a comprehensive residential real estate photography and videography service provider. LuxeView offers premium marketing solutions tailored to the local high-end housing market, earning a $17,000 award. Its extensive services encompass everything from drone footage to photography to videography to high-quality editing.
  • The Boopli Bottle: Taylor Shackelford, an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in information systems, is addressing the timeless issue of bottle refusal among breastfed infants using a fresh and innovative approach. This visionary concept, awarded $16,000 in the competition, involves using a mobile app to scan and replicate a mother's breast, providing infants with a seamless and natural feeding experience.
  • Polar Ice Cap: Layth Ibrahim, an electrical engineering student, embarked on a visionary venture centered on specialized hats engineered to provide wearers with a cooling respite from sweltering temperatures. This venture was awarded $15,000.
  • Divine Skin: Mary Ratemo, an undergraduate student with a double major in finance and accounting, created an herbal-based beauty brand of skincare products catering to people of color. Ratemo’s vision is rooted in using unique herbal combinations and vitamins sourced from Africa; it earned a $7,000 award.
  • College Major Mentorship: Grant Dennis, an undergraduate advertising student, earned a $5,000 award for establishing College Major Mentorship, designed to alleviate the uncertainty surrounding the choice of college majors. He achieved this by facilitating connections between students and accomplished career professionals who offer valuable mentorship.

The Maverick Entrepreneurship Program and Award would not be possible without the invaluable support provided by members of the local entrepreneurial community.

Serving as judges this year were:

  • Srini Gorty, a serial entrepreneur known for his remarkable ability to establish, nurture and scale multiple SaaS software businesses over two decades. He is the founder and CEO of Leap Metrics, a company specializing in health care analytics and care management SaaS software.
  • Jim Grundy, the CEO and founder of Sisu Energy LLC.
  • Ryan Jones, vice president of commercial lending at Simmons Bank
  • Joel Knutowski, franchise owner of SuperGreen Solutions of Fort Worth, a solar, electric vehicle charging, LED lighting and home efficiency solutions provider
  • David Nguyen, vice president Wells Fargo Technology Banking Group

Active faculty involvement is a cornerstone of the program. Robert Magnusson and Venkat Devarajan, professors of electrical engineering, and McGee help mentor students in the program.



 [JB1]Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics


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