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Hit me with your best shot: CITE competition winners' journey to success
(July 29, 2014) -- In December 2010, Zachary Hamilton and his joint engineering and business team tied for first place in the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE) 100K Student Technology Venture Competition with their innovation, Deadeye Coach. But, winning the competition was just the beginning of a very long journey.
Now, four years later, Hamilton is the only original Deadeye Coach team member still working on the project and has surrounded himself with a new team that is trying to go the distance and see that the Deadeye Coach gets into the marketplace and becomes a profitable business venture.
"After we won, all of our team members graduated," said Hamilton. "My original teammates either just disappeared or ended up finding jobs at existing businesses. I started working for a company, but when Cory Hallam from the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship contacted me and said that he wanted to keep the project going, I left my job to pursue Deadeye full time."
Hamilton came up for the idea for the Deadeye Coach when he was in the Army and preparing for his first deployment to Iraq. He saw many of his unit's veteran leaders were forced to accept early retirement or medical discharge, leaving younger, less experienced soldiers the responsibility of firearm training without the mentorship and guidance of veteran leaders.
"Our first range qualification resulted in only 28 percent of the unit's 350 soldiers qualifying on their individual weapons," recalls Hamilton. "We had motivated soldiers, but we didn't have enough leaders capable of training them. With that in mind, I created the Deadeye Coach to give marksmen the data and feedback they need to fix fundamental flaws in their firing and to ensure that their next shot counts."Matt Gonzales, now current CEO of the company and a UTSA graduate, said that someone like Hamilton is the ideal candidate when it comes to engineering this type of innovation.
"Zack spent time in the army where he saw a problem," Gonzales said. "And if you find a problem that people want solved, you have found a business opportunity. A lot of the winners of the CITE competitions, like Zack, had previous experience dealing with a problem, and developed something to address that certain problem."
Before joining Deadeye, Gonzales and Matthew Jackson (Deadeye CFO and UTSA College of Business graduate), both worked closely with Hallam, UTSA chief commercialization officer, associate professor and CITE director, and Anita Leffel, CITE assistant director. Jackson and his CITE team, Pree, placed third in the 2010 CITE competition. Gonzales helped develop the Entrepreneurs Academy with Hallam's office after he graduated from the UTSA College of Business. Hallam and Leffel encouraged the two UTSA grads to become involved in Deadeye, which they did in 2012.
"I admire and respect Anita and Cory and what they are trying to do at UTSA -- build up the CITE program to be the best in the country," said Gonzales. "Getting involved with Deadeye is an effort on my part to help them further their mission at CITE. We want to be among the first success stories coming out of the CITE program."
Hallam and the center just received $300,000 from the 80/20 Foundation to continue building the program, and $294,000 from the NSF to fund new product prototypes and development. Hallam says that UTSA has established the foundation for a successful program, and the university is now taking the next steps to create an even more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem at UTSA that spans all colleges and infuses entrepreneurial education and experiences across the campus.
"Most successful tech entrepreneurs are able to pair a critical market need with a new technology," said Hallam. "I believe this team has done that, and by securing their first major round of funding they will have a great product that can serve their government and public customer segments."
Current UTSA computer science student E.J. Pinnock is the latest addition to the team, and is currently developing mobile software to take Deadeye Coach to the next level.
"With a startup, everyday is a new challenge," said Jackson. "We always have to pivot. It seems like success is always right around the corner, and then the next week, there is another corner we have to turn to keep moving forward. We are wondering can the passion keep moving us forward? It has gotten us this far, and we are confident that we can keep going. We have set up a lot of opportunities that we are going take advantage of. I am confident that we will stick it through."