Texas Tech University

Hub CEO Teaches Startups

Innovation Hub Team

September 23, 2019

Don Stull's commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship in the classroom

Decades of startup experience in multiple industries have taught Don Stull plenty of invaluable lessons. He's been passing those insights on to Texas Tech University students taking his entrepreneurship classes since 2001. He says, "I always tell my students that I'm not here to lecture them. I'm here to be a resource for them. I'm here because I want them to succeed." Stull's commitment to that recently earned him a Faculty C-Startup grant from the Innovation Hub. One of the things Stull knows best is how vital the local ecosystem's hustle is to entrepreneurs.

Value creation and a food startup 

Stull is involved in Texas Tech's innovation and entrepreneurial community on several levels. Besides being an instructor in the Rawls College of Business and an engineering alum with an MBA, Stull is CEO of Hub tenant MicroZap, Inc. The biotechnology company was founded in 2008. The company is commercializing uses for a Texas Tech-licensed microwave-based sterilization process. Its current focus is solving food safety problems and extending the shelf-life of preservative-free bread.

Stull says Texas Tech resources and relationships are beneficial to startups. University researchers from several disciplines are part of the MicroZap team. Outside help is also close at hand when it's needed. "For example," he says, "we paid for a prototype machine Tech had built in Italy. In the interim, we built a separate prototype because we thought there were some other potential uses. When the prototype arrived we ran the same things through theirs and it didn't work. It seemed almost catastrophic. But I talked with a former dean and brought in another engineer he told me about who runs Tech's pulsed power lab. He and I changed out that whole system, got it to work wonderfully, and ended up with a couple of additional patents."

Lessons learned from entrepreneurship

Stull says he's had many experiences that illustrate how the university often provides an ideal environment for collaboration. "We have a lot of talented faculty and students with innovative ideas and skills. There's a medical group that needed engineering help. I'm seeing more and more interactions like that." He adds it's a mutually beneficial system. "Their success benefits Texas Tech. Tech's success helps the community."

Stull says it's important for entrepreneurs to realize failures can be opportunities."I prefer success. But sometimes to get there you go through failure, unfortunately. You can learn a lot more from a failure than you can from a success." Stull stresses the concept of strong startup teams. "When you bring people in, choose people who can do something you can't do."

Stull's incorporating new resources into his course beginning this semester. Students will still be creating a startup from the ground up. As part of the Hub's Faculty C-Startup Grant he recently received, his students will learn Business Model Canvas and Lean LaunchPad elements, which the Hub uses in its startup programs. The competitive grant sponsored by Market Lubbock is designed to support faculty in creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Stull says his goal is to give his students a practical framework. "This will be really beneficial for them. I'm always looking for ways to improve how I can help these college students learn and do. "