How This Recent UT Graduate is Liberating Content Creators from Dreaded Algorithms
By: Ali Arnold Date: 10/30/2023
Written by Monica Garza
“What I’ve learned from the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center is that [entrepreneurship] is about fulfilling a need by seeing a problem and trying to solve it; finding the right market for [your solution] and taking the risk of building a company from scratch… and so to me, that’s what entrepreneurship has become.”
– Alana Wilcoxson
Alana Wilcoxson during SEAL Demo Day 2023 – Kumtrya Pitch at the Capital Factory. Photo Credit: Zohayb Shaikh
Meet Alana Wilcoxson, a recent graduate of the Cockrell School of Engineering’s electrical engineering program at The University of Texas at Austin. During her time at UT, Wilcoxson founded Kumtrya, a SaaS startup whose feature offering, blogrStream, aims to put the power back in creator’s hands by liberating them from dependence on social media platforms and associated algorithms.
Coming into UT to study electrical engineering, Wilcoxson first began her college career with no background in entrepreneurship or any initial intention to explore it. Her interest took birth when she read Carrie Green’s She Means Business, an inspiring book on the entrepreneurial journey. With academic enrichment degree requirements to fulfill and nothing to lose, Alana decided to explore the entrepreneurship resources available at UT.
Wilcoxson’s first toe-in-the-water experience with entrepreneurship was through the Longhorn Startup Seminar, a lecture-based course that features prominent entrepreneurs telling the stories, which served as her introduction to the startup world. She then enrolled in the course ‘New Media & Entrepreneurialism,’ taught by Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations assistant professor Mark Bunting, and by time she made it halfway through the course she already had a handful of virtual platforms in development. The course sparked motivation and inspiration on the feasibility and growth opportunities of scaling a small online platform into a venture: “The combination of being in [New Media & Entrepreneurialism] and thinking about how I could grow what I already have into a startup… That’s where I started to get more serious about [entrepreneurship.]”
Center: Mark Bunting and the New Media & Entrepreneurialism class in Fall 2022. Photo Credit: Mark Bunting
You’d never guess it by her air of confidence and self-assurance, but Alana’s journey as a founder hasn’t all been smooth sailing. After over a year of development efforts, Wilcoxson’s first platform, a virtual blog site for entrepreneurship related content created by and for entrepreneurs, was dissolved after running into trademark issues. Still motivated by a strong personal interest in the digital blogging space, Wilcoxson reminisces on her ‘aha’ moment: “… well why don’t I see if writers would publish content for the site for a fair revenue share? … That’s where the idea of Kumtrya was born.” Her perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit carried her as she resiliently developed an entirely new platform in only eight months.
During the fall of her senior year, Wilcoxson came across an email from the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center about an application deadline extension for the Forty Acres Founders Program. “At that time, I had an actual business idea, but I had no clue what to do with it.” She decided to submit an application with the concept for Kumtrya, and, in the following spring semester, Alana dove head first into her entrepreneurship journey.
During the Forty Acres Founders program, a semester-long practicum hosted by the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center, student founders are guided through studying potential customers, improving their product, and establishing product-market fit. Founders leave the program with their product or service positioned for success within the marketplace. “[The Forty Acres Founders Program] was great because I felt that it caught me up on business terms I didn’t initially know. My time [as a Forty Acres Founder] was really where it all solidified,” said Alana when reflecting on her experience in the program and the impact it had on her journey as a founder. “I thought it was great to be able to ask him questions because he has so much experience in entrepreneurship,” Alana added about Dr. Luis Martins, McCombs management professor and Director of the HKEC who leads the program’s weekly seminars.
While there is much in store for the future of Kumtrya, Alana understands the importance of solidifying a position in the market before attempting horizontal growth. Starting with her original idea that content creators could publish anywhere and Kumtrya would provide a secure, scam-free way to track performance metrics and manage payments, Wilcoxson was able to use her time in the Forty Acres Founders Program to test her product market fit, further refine her idea, and develop the blogrStream prototype. blogrStream utilizes a beachhead strategy, targeting bloggers and freelance writers to position itself as the stronghold of self-published written content platforms.
The following summer, Wilcoxson joined The LaunchPad’s Student Entrepreneur Acceleration and Launch (SEAL) program, a nine week accelerator focused on addressing early stage challenges and refining your roadmap ahead, where she continued developing her company alongside other founders with guidance from mentors.
SEAL Demo Day, Summer 2023. From left: Vishal Porwal, Shannon Lundquist, Nina Ho, Nicholas Kaufmann, Alana Wilcoxson, Zohayb Shaikh, Jackson Blacklock, JoseMaria Yrigoyen, Barrett Ann Pearce, Branson Berger, Sean Finney, James Clarke, Miles Massidda, Diego Rubio and Iman Salafian. Photo Credit: James Freeman
Wilcoxson’s initial lack of experience in entrepreneurship had her seeking a fundamental understanding of how to develop a startup, and plugging into UT Austin’s startup ecosystem provided her with the tools she needed to seriously pursue entrepreneurship. By receiving support and utilizing resources, Wilcoxson was able to network with other founders, work with industry expert mentors, and foster strong connections with other entrepreneurs. “Between the HKEC, everyone that’s involved in helping student founders grow, and all the resources they make available…just knowing that it was all there made me feel that I had to take advantage of it,” remarked Alana, “There are opportunities at UT that were ready to meet me where I was, which was great because I had no [prior] experience in entrepreneurship… [The Forty Acres Founders Program] helped me lay a really strong foundation.”
Next on the horizon for Alana is polishing the blogrStream user experience and growing Kumtrya to accommodate additional types of content and social media platforms, with plans already being set into motion to incorporate services targeted at YouTube creators looking to reimagine and repurpose their video content as monetizable written content. Wilcoxson is keeping her eye on the prize of establishing blogrStream as the go-to platform for self-publishing, with all of her efforts focusing on the goal of generating higher revenue for the platform’s creators.
Wilcoxson offers her encouragement to any current students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship: “If you even just think that you may have a startup idea or that you may be interested [in entrepreneurship], I feel that it’s worth exploring and I think [in college] is the perfect time to do it.” Alana also emphasizes that it’s alright to go at your own pace and to focus on developing strong time management skills.
Alana’s story truly embodies what it means to be an entrepreneur. When asked what entrepreneurship means to her, Alana remarked: “To me, entrepreneurship means seeing a problem, looking to meet the need, and taking the risk.” Entrepreneurship isn’t just something taught in business classes; it’s a mindset, a solution-centric philosophical approach to understanding the world around us. Alana’s innovative spirit is infectious, and we cannot wait to see what she accomplishes for creators and Kumtrya alike in the future.
This article is an installment in the FOUNDER STORIES series, a feature article series published monthly highlighting student founder success stories and how the HKEC has played a role in each founder’s entrepreneurship journey. The Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center (HKEC) offers a variety of dynamic resources, including competitive funding opportunities, networking events, informative article series, mentorship and more. To learn more about the entrepreneurship resources that the HKEC has to offer, visit our website and subscribe to our newsletter to get involved with future opportunities!