Two brothers enrolled at Rawls College and involved with the Texas Tech Innovation Hub at Research Park have launched startups by finding innovative solutions for safety.
Gage Dutkin traces his experience as a startup entrepreneur back to a lawn mowing business he launched with friends while in middle school. The STEM MBA student of the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business and 2018 Texas Tech University graduate is now CEO of C-Safe, a startup that recently completed the NSF I-Corps program. He says, "When I started out as a kid, I didn't even know what the word 'entrepreneur' meant. In elementary school, I'd collect walnuts from trees on campus then sell them. Looking back, it's always been like that." That early hustle, he adds, was inspired by his dad. "He shared the importance of hard work, work ethic, and responsibility at a young age."
By his sophomore year at Tech, Dutkin's focus was on getting and giving inspiration and encouragement within the Texas Tech startup community. "I came here as an engineering major, then changed to business management and entrepreneurship," he says. "It took me doing something that I found out I didn't want to do for the rest of my life, to make that leap to entrepreneurship. I was really motivated, so I started searching for a student entrepreneurship organization I could get involved with, but couldn't find any."
Synergy and successful launches
That search led Dutkin to start the Tech CEOs (Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization) chapter in 2016. "It started with four of my buddies. Throughout the two years when I was still at Tech it grew to 175 members." He laughs, "I give credit for that being my first real startup. I did what was basically customer discovery to find out what students wanted to do here, why they wanted to join, and how we could provide value to them through the organization." The Innovation Hub provided meeting space for the group and access to co-working spaces and other resources. The arrangement also helped the Hub further its ongoing efforts to build community and help launch startups.
Like many others in the group, Dutkin formed a startup team with members of the Tech CEOs chapter. C-Safe developed an alert and response system aimed at preventing heatstroke injuries and deaths among youngsters left alone in vehicles. Dutkin explains, "My mom called while I was brainstorming for an idea to take to the Hub's Red Raider Startup competition. She told me a hospital executive's child died after being left in a car. My mom is in the medical field so it hit home. I googled and saw how big of a nationwide problem it is. I said, 'Gosh, Mom, we can think of a solution for this.' She was totally behind it and encouraged me." C-Safe went on to win awards in every competition at the Hub and graduated from the first TTU Accelerator Program cohort in 2018.
C-Safe graduated from the National Science Foundation I-Corps program in Austin this summer. The company has filed extensive intellectual property while waiting for industry-related government standards to be finalized. In the meantime, C-Safe is collecting data for the non-profit Texas Heat Stroke Task Force and KidsandCars.org.
New starts and startups
While patiently waiting on the government standards, Dutkin is now back at Texas Tech as a student in the STEM MBA program. He's in an advisory role in the Tech CEOs chapter. His goal is to help build up that group and the local entrepreneur ecosystem. Beyond growing C-Safe, his future plans include launching a second startup company and becoming a venture capitalist.
Dutkin's 18-year-old brother Ridge is blazing a trail down a similar path. He co-founded a startup called Theneighborhoodapp while he was in a high school accelerator program near Austin. His team formed after one member lost a relative in a mass shooting. Neighborhood crime became the group's focus when their community experienced a series of car-jackings. He says, "We found out across America, crimes go unreported or reported too late. We thought if there was a way for people to get the right information at the right time, it would help save lives and help criminals get caught." The company created a social media app that allows information-sharing among law enforcement agencies and homeowners' associations about crime and safety concerns.
Ridge is a freshman at Rawls College majoring in management. He says the decision to get involved in the Texas Tech startup community was easy. He cites the economic and social impact made by his brother, the Tech CEOs chapter, and the Innovation Hub. "I always wanted to do something to help create or do something good. My hustle is focused on making a positive difference. When Gage told me about the company he started, it really inspired me." Ridge is already part of the Tech CEOs chapter. He says, "I want to follow in Gage's footsteps. I want to learn, keep growing my company, start more businesses, and help out other entrepreneurs and society as much I can."