Published: February 13, 2017
Spartan Accelerator Series: A focus on the current student and recent alumni startups that are part of the Spartan Accelerator program.
Ryan Deitrich ’15, M.S. in Entrepreneurship ’17 lives on a sailboat docked in St. Petersburg. Last year he was working as a financial advisor for USAA and was saving his money to spend a year in the Caribbean on his floating home.
Then he met Ryan Lockwood MBA ’17 in class last fall.
Lockwood pitched his idea for an application, now called Spared, that rounds users’ transactions up to the nearest dollar and pays the spare change toward their student loans. Deitrich had pitched his idea for a YouTube series focusing on how he and his girlfriend were paying off their $50,000 in student loans, and Lockwood knew he had found a business partner in Deitrich, who was basically living the Spared philosophy.
“Pay off your student loans and then go live the life you want to, on your terms,” said Deitrich, of Philadelphia, who was recently accepted as one of 17 nationwide to participate in the 2017 Future Founders Fellowship cohort.
Since the two met in September, they quit their jobs and have spent every weekday in the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center working full time, “and then some,” said Deitrich, on Spared.
“This will work best and be most impactful for someone who is day one on a college campus, has taken out their loans and is going to start making those payments right away,” said Lockwood, of Tampa, to start making a dent in it and to make it a habit. “If you can create that habit without really thinking about it, that’ll be great for a lot of those people.”
Next steps are to scale up. They are in the hiring process for a chief technology officer and have a software engineer intern who comes with a Cornell master’s in computer science credential. They hope to bring on two UT interns as well, and are aiming for an April launch. Right now, more than 400 people have signed up through Spared’s website to be a part of the launch, which will offer the premium service. And there is a contest to win $1,000 off student loan debt for the person who signs up and shares their personal code the most on social media.
For $1 a month, users can connect their account with a loved one or significant other to either match funds or round up their spare change as well. Part of the long-range plan is to offer a free service that would just allow for a single user.
“From a business perspective and a survival perspective, we need to show that people are willing to pay for this,” Lockwood said. “It’s important we show that initially.”
Both guys are military veterans — Deitrich with the Coast Guard and Lockwood with the Navy. Lockwood is the idea generator, and Deitrich is action-orientated. They are a team that is making a mark.
“Ryan and Ryan exhibit true entrepreneurial passion for Spared. They are both working every day — gathering data, testing and refining their concept and challenging every assumption,” said Rebecca White, director of the Entrepreneurship Center. “They are both coachable, motivated, quick learners, good listeners and above all else willing to say yes to every opportunity they get to advance the effort.”
Both Lockwood and Deitrich said they couldn’t imagine being where they are without the Spartan Accelerator. Deitrich said one of the biggest assets is being connected to all of the entrepreneurs and leaders who come through the center on a daily basis. White echoed that, noting the variety of talents and experiences each person brings.
“In the Lowth Center, daily you will find attorneys, successful entrepreneurs, financial experts, investors, professors and other student entrepreneurs coming together to share and help each other,” White said. “The talent and diversity available to the UT students who take advantage of the Lowth Center to do everything from learning more about entrepreneurship as a career to launching and running successful companies is beyond compare.”
For Lockwood, it’s the collaborative environment that really helps accelerate startups.
“Some of those hurdles you’ve had to clear, you can get someone over them immediately,” Lockwood said. “If you’re working toward something that’s never going to get you anywhere, and somebody can tell you that, it’s really helpful. And that’s happened to us several times.”
While finding validation in their idea has been rewarding, both Lockwood and Deitrich said one of the greatest challenges of being an entrepreneur is taking the experience and lessons learned from failed ideas and applying those lessons to something brand new, and continuing to stay motivated in the process.
“Coming up with an idea is not the hard part. Everyone has ideas. You can walk down to the bar right now and I guarantee there are people sitting there who have great ideas, or at least think so,” Lockwood said. “The hard part is making it. The hard part is taking the first step, and then every step after that. None of them are easy. Every step is its own unique challenge, and wrapping your head around that is sometimes difficult. You have to be sold out to it completely, and that sometimes is tough.”
The Spared team is sold out to their idea completely.
“We’ve had that realization,” Lockwood said. “We both really love this, and we’re going to keep doing it until it works.”