Two LSU alumni were recently selected to participate in the Techstars Austin Accelerator Program, an exclusive and reputable program that gives advantages to promising new companies.
Less than 1 percent of applicants to this program are accepted, but the lucky few will have access to exclusive networking opportunities, business partnerships and industry resources. Only 10 startups were chosen for the honor in 2018, and that number was reduced to nine in 2019.
Katy Aucoin, founder and CEO of Dearduck, and Chris Cummings, founder and CEO of Pass it Down, are both proud former Tigers among the nine who credit the University with preparing real life in the business world.
Aucoin graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s in accounting and a minor in internal audit. Her company, Dearduck, is a software designed to make it easier to shop and buy for others. Although accounting was an unconventional choice for a future software designer, Aucoin said the University’s program provided her with skills transferable to the technology field.
“Most people would expect that I majored in computer software with a minor in marketing,” Aucoin said. “But I think accounting prepared me for this field, in a weird way. It was a bridge that guided me there.”
Aucoin said her work in an IT consulting group upon graduation opened her eyes up to some of the problems consumers commonly face, which inspired the idea for Dearduck. She also cited her natural curiosity about people’s preferences as another reason for creating the software.
“Ever since I was young, I loved learning about people’s likes and dislikes,” Aucoin said. “That gets harder to do as you get older, because there’s so many people in your network. Even something as simple as buying a bottle of wine for someone turns into a guessing game.”
Like all of the Techstars Austin companies, Dearduck is a recently developed program. It was launched about six months ago, and the consumers currently using the product are mainly located in the Texas area. Aucoin hopes that with the help of Techstars Austin the program can be expanded, and said that being chosen for the honor was both humbling and exciting.
Aucoin also praised the University’s internal audit program, which is a part of the business school, for honing her social and entrepreneur skills.
“It really prepares you for the business world and how to build relationships, and everything you do as an entrepreneur is about building relationships,” Aucoin said. “Understanding how to do that was fundamental to me.”
Cummings’ company, Pass it Down, is designed to revolutionize storytelling and distribution of historical content. Cummings got the idea from his desire to preserve family history after his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and early onset dementia in her 40s. He also cited growing up in Louisiana, where community and holding onto roots is valued, as an inspiration. Since then, the company has expanded to bring their service to museums, libraries, schools and other cultural institutions.
Cummings graduated from the University in 2010 with a bachelor’s in political science and international relations. He went on to receive his law degree from LSU in 2013. Cummings also spoke highly of his time at the University, where he was the captain of the debate team.
“Being able to think through and empathize, which you need to be able to do to argue, is one of the most valuable skills to have,” Cummings said.
A lot of big things are happening for Pass it Down, which was also recently selected as one of the 100 most innovative startups in the world and is in the running for 2018 Global Startup of the Year. Additionally, Pass it Down was one of 10 startups from around the world accepted into the 2018 Bridge Community Program founded by Coca-Cola.
Cummings said he was particularly excited to utilize all the new networking opportunities that will be available to him, and noted that his acceptance into the program was more difficult than getting into Harvard. With the exclusiveness of the program, he was surprised to see another LSU alumni chosen.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was going through the businesses, and I saw that Katy and I had gone to school at the same time,” Cummings said. “Every startup hopes to be in this position, and it’s really hard to do.”
Cummings said that with a background in law, political science and international relations, his journey to becoming the Founder and CEO of a company was an unconventional one. However, he considers the transferable skills he gained along the way to be invaluable.
“I definitely took the not comfortable path,” Cummings said. “But I figure, you only get one life, so you might as well take the chance to do something really special.”