Rubén Cantú has some big plans in store for his students this fall—including tech tours around Silicon Valley and big events such as Demo Day and Innovation Week. He is even working on launching an international trip to show them a very different vantage point of a booming tech scene. As the executive director of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship, he strives to teach his students—his future breakthrough entrepreneurs—how to make the impossible possible.
We caught up with the UT Austin alum (B.S., Moody College of Communication ’05/M.S., McCombs School of Business ’09) to learn more about his student entrepreneurship programs, which include WIELD Texas and the Product Prodigy Institute.
What sets Product Prodigy apart from other student entrepreneurship programs?
Product Prodigy is not just a small incubator; you’re launching a real business. You’re getting equipped with a network, training and a community that will give you a chance to become superstars. When companies are vying for our students, I know we’re doing something really great. We’re not just teaching them how to launch a startup, but how to build an entrepreneurship in the framework of a team. The whole journey is about team development and leadership. Product Prodigy is also open to students from Austin Community College and Texas State University, which adds another layer of diversity to the teams. They get to learn how to build and nurture a team—and that’s a powerful skill they can take with them into their careers.
What would you like to say to students who may be interested in joining WIELD?
If you’re looking for a culturally aware program that is tailored to helping students become highly competitive executive-level candidates, this program is for you. Not only will you learn about entrepreneurship, but you’ll also learn how to become unstoppable in the business world. This is your rocket ship that will take you wherever you want to go. You will get that one-on-one care and training in a nurturing environment that is far different from the ever-present hustle culture we see in workplaces today.
How does Product Prodigy take a human-centric approach to entrepreneurship? And why is this so important?
We’re putting humanity at the center of everything. We do mindfulness exercises and show our students how to optimize their minds and bodies better. We’re diving deeper into the psychology of the self—asking students, “What is your larger objective, and what do you want to accomplish?” Eventually, they want to produce a product and get funded, but they’re also doing some inner work and discovering their purpose. When we’re going in loops, we don’t stop and think about better ways to make it work. That’s why it’s so important to start freeing our minds—to get out of the matrix.
What message would you like to give to an incoming student who may be interested in entrepreneurship?
UT has a long history of world-changing innovations—and many of those things come from people who look just like you and me. As the executive director of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship, I have the honor and privilege to serve you and cannot wait to meet you and shake your hand. You’re not alone here; you have a home, and I will keep in the light on for you.
More About the Product Prodigy Institute
Held in the spring and fall, The Product Prodigy Institute is a two semester-long program that takes students from underprivileged and underrepresented backgrounds through the process of learning the skills to launch their own ventures.
More about WIELD Texas
The Women’s Initiative for Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development- Texas (WIELD Texas) is a career incubator program designed for women of diverse backgrounds. Offerings include professional development trainings, paid internship opportunities, mentorship with top women leaders in business, seed grant-funding opportunities and more.