#11 – What It Takes To Be a Student Entrepreneur w/ Luis Martins

Luis Martins is today’s podcast guest, a professor with over 35 years of experience teaching across different universities and consulting with businesses and organizations including AT&T, Coca Cola, Samsung, and the FBI Crime Lab. Luis earned his Ph.D. in business management from NYU and is now a professor of management at UT Austin and the Director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship.

Luis grew up in Goa, India in an entrepreneurial-minded family. Several of his family members owned and operated businesses, but his path to business took a more circuitous route. He majored in physics and math for his undergraduate degree and did his first master’s degree in math as well.

During college, Luis’s roommate was a business student, so he would read his textbooks for fun: “It seemed like this wonderful world of business out there that had lots of potential opportunities, interesting things going on.”

After graduating, Luis says, “When I finished my first master’s…I was 19, nobody wanted to hire me for obvious reasons, so I spent time helping entrepreneurs setting up businesses…the bug got in me.” He enrolled in an MBA program, and with a professor’s encouragement, he subsequently joined a Ph. D. program in business, excited by the prospect of getting paid to read and talk about business.

Luis’s research is heavily influenced by social and cognitive psychology and is centered on how people think and what drives their actions.

“Early on I was interested in innovation,” he says. “There was a topic that I was interested in right from the start…what makes managers invest in certain technologies…go in a certain direction in terms of their strategies and the operations they set up.”

Gradually, Luis’ research moved into how executives think and how that influences entrepreneurship. Much of his consulting centers around value innovation and Luis has developed a distinct philosophy for when companies bring him on board to derive innovation from their employees.

“My rule is I will not take on a consulting project…unless at least one senior executive promises to come to the report outs of that project that evening and brings a checkbook, and they have to be willing to underwrite at least one project,” he says. “I don’t want to go and create enthusiasm for innovation among a group of employees only to have them get a no from their bosses every time.”

After working with Luis, executives green light at least one-third of the projects they’re presented and are often surprised by how many great ideas they find.

Luis also finds great satisfaction in his work with students through the Herb Kelleher Center. The Herb Kelleher Center provides many services for student entrepreneurs, including coursework (courses on businesses models, practicums on incubation, and acceleration practicums); entrepreneurs in residence students can meet with for advice and guidance; program managers that can connect students to appropriate people and resources; travel grants for students to pitch their ideas at competitions; fellowships for students to work on their business over summers; as well as in-house entrepreneurship and speaker events (such as the Diversity in Entrepreneurship Summit, Startup Coffee, and various Ignite startup workshops).

“I’m always around students who are trying to start up businesses and need some direction and help…I like that very much…when things click…that’s a nice time to say wow, this is cool, this is growing now, this is sustainable,” he says. Regarding his career, Luis says, “I had no plan whatsoever…one of the ironies about my career is because I didn’t plan what I was going to do, I ended up in the best job for myself. I absolutely love my work.”

Currently, Luis is working on introducing a food and beverage incubation practicum at the Herb Kelleher Center with the help of generous alumni and a collaboration with the Department of Nutrition. He is also working on a research project to help students become more entrepreneurial by following students’ outcomes with their businesses over the course of several years.

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