An Interview with the LevelUp Institute – Austin Entrepreneurship School

As a fellow Entrepreneur and advisor to social impact businesses I had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of the LevelUp Institute, Ruben Cantu and Koy McDermot.


This is the first class of entrepreneurs.

Their mission is to help bridge the gap in our tech communities by empowering and raising the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs. For them “If change is constant, then change plus focused intention is transformative.”

1) What made you think that Austin needed something like the LevelUp program?

Austin is the tale of two cities. we have been written about as the next boom town, the best city for startups based on the Kaufman Foundation. We are also one of the most if not the most disparate economic city in our country. Without us doing anything about it this will only continue to diverge, and the path to equality and therefore equity is much harder to obtain.

2) What is the motivation behind the LevelUp program?

We believe and are now seeing before our own eyes that by teaching and exposing college students who are all first-generation in their family to attend who are from low-income backgrounds the skills of creating social impact  businesses and tech companies they can help create generational wealth for their communities.

3) Central Texas has a lot of tech program/tech incubators, what makes this one different?

Often it is not just about what you know, but who you know. LevelUp brings both skills and social capital to their fingertips. More important, we teach them how to think entrepreneurially and walk away with a functional company.

4) You’ve completed one round of the LevelUp program? What were your positives and what would you change?

1) Key focus on first generation students who are going to college.
2) Low-Income backgrounds
3) Half of the cohort will always be women.
4) They actually build a real company and have equity
5) It is a 24-week program, broken into six weeks.
6) Its is hands-on and intense.
7) The students don’t pay anything, rather it’s funded by the community and other revenue streams.
8) Each cohort is mentored by the previous cohort.
9) The application process is rigorous.
10) Each cohort works on one idea as a team that they conjure up.
11) Teaching lean methodology and design thinking.
12.) It is based on experiential knowledge which solidifies all of the theory.
Things we would change, we would have more key investors lined up to help cover operational costs and a stronger mentor process. We would pay the students a fellowship stipend to attend. We would expand our class days by one more hour.  We would have more guest speakers who have launched businesses come and speak as well. Having them see people who have done it and also look like them psychologically helps so much in helping them believe that this is possible.

5) Who’s the ideal candidate for the LevelUp program? And how can someone apply?

Applications will open up in October for January’s cohort. We are looking for college students who are first to go to college in their families and who are passionate about making an impact in their community and love to learn about business. They will be walking away with an actual company afterwards if they follow all the way through the process.

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