August 23, 2017
From left Augusto Vidales ’16 M.S. ’19 and Ricardo Garcia ’14 M.S. ’17 have created Classuite, a messaging platform that allows better communication between teachers and students.
Spartan Accelerator Series: A focus on the current student and recent alumni startups that are part of the Spartan Accelerator program.
As an undergraduate, Ricardo Garcia ’14 had a lot on his plate. He was taking five classes, doing two internships and was involved in the active professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi. He’d often miss last-minute emails from his professors about assignments or forget to check Blackboard, soon finding himself in class unprepared. Trying to stay organized and on top of his studies was a challenge.
“I thought there must be a better way,” said Garcia, an international business management major with minors in both entrepreneurship and marketing. “We’re always on our phones. Why isn’t there something out there that’d notify me on my phone if something changed in the classroom.”
His frustration was channeled at the right time in one of his entrepreneurship courses. He was asked by Professor Rebecca White to come up with a business plan for a concept, and his application, Classuite, was born. The education technology startup is a messaging platform that allows better communication between teachers and students. Files and links can be shared, private messaging is available and it’s available for Android and iOS.
Garcia graduated in 2014, moved to Miami to look for investors (he has a network in the city, including his father, also Ricardo Garcia, is Classuite’s co-founder and a serial entrepreneur). He worked full time on prototyping and wire framing for the application, but struggled with finding the right developers who could turn the idea into a reality.
He needed help. Garcia restructured the idea and reconsidered his plan. He wasn’t sure what to do next so he reached back out to White in June 2015, just as the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center was opening.
“I said, ‘I’m pursuing the idea that I came up with in your class,’” he said of his conversation with White. “‘Do you mind if I come by and just show you what we have?’”
Not only did White agree to meet, she offered Garcia and his company space in the John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center community incubator. In September 2015 when the center opened, Garcia was one of the first to move in. When the master’s in entrepreneurship program was launched, he enrolled, and Classuite was moved to the center’s Spartan Accelerator program.
“This program was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Garcia, of Venezuela. “I never saw it as going to class, because it was hands on, on my business, every single day.”
Since his application is for teachers and students, he was in the perfect environment to test his beta versions, receive feedback from direct users and tweak and evolve along the way. Garcia finished his last class this month, though he walked with his peers as one of the first to graduate with the M.S. in Entrepreneurship degree at May Commencement.
He is sad to have finished the program, but he isn’t going far. His marketing adviser, Augusto Vidales ’16, who received his undergraduate degree in international business management, is a UT graduate student working on his M.S. in Marketing, expecting to graduate in 2019.
Vidales met Garcia through Delta Sigma Pi and started working with Classuite as an intern, giving support by building relationships with professors, growing the business digitally, researching grants and funding options, performing market surveys, branding and ideation.
Now, Vidales is the marketing advisor.
“The product is working beautifully, now we just need to spread the word faster, which is where digital marketing comes into hand,” Vidales said. “I’m also able to expose Classuite to new professors and students in my graduate program.”
Classuite is alive and functioning, just needing users. It’s not just for university users, though that is where they are beginning, and they hope to increase the application’s functionality to include in-app hosting of paid online courses.
“More and more, education is going online,” Garcia said. “We want to be that tool that helps deliver that education.”
Vidales said one of the benefits of Classuite is that users don’t have to share their private information (social profiles, emails, etc.) in a professional/educational setting. In addition, the phone notifications make the messaging rise above the din of emails, making the information more likely to be read.
“It keeps all of the clutter out of there,” Garcia said.
They are keeping the app free to download for teachers and students and hope to monetize their idea without their users feeling it.
“I’m 24/7 working, but it’s what I love to do,” Garcia said. “It’s my passion. There’s not a single moment when it’s felt like work.”
Vidales, who looks up to Garcia for his work ethic and for achieving his goals, said this experience has pushed him to read more, research and dig deeper about the courses he’s learning in the classroom.
“I’m more passionate about marketing now than ever,” said Vidales, of Colombia.
“He’s acquired that entrepreneurial mindset,” Garcia confirmed. “He went from that very in-the-box mindset to grabbing that box and destroying it.”
The two are feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm, and they credit the entrepreneurship center with much of their success, with business coaches, available faculty, mentorship and peers who are at various points in their entrepreneurship journeys all willing to collaborate with one another.
“Where in the world do you find a place like this?” Garcia asked. “Especially, coming from our countries, there is no place like this. This became my zen place.”
For more information on Classuite, email Garcia.
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