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Texas Tech Develops Another Pathway for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

March 22, 2024

Texas Tech Develops Another Pathway for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Jim McCarley was inspired by his career experience to support young entrepreneurs at the Texas Tech Innovation Hub.

In high school, Jim McCarley's math teacher told him if he was going to college, then he should get a degree in accounting or engineering.

When he told that to his father and stepmother, she responded definitively with, “Oh my God, you're not an accountant! You better try to be an engineer.”

McCarley attended many schools across Texas as his family moved from San Antonio to El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Denver, Luling, Atascosa, Corpus Christi and Houston. However, there was something special about his early school years when they were living in Lubbock.

“I could hear the band from my backyard whenever they played,” McCarley said as a smile spread across his face. “I've been very sentimental to the area just because I'm drawn to things that aren't glitzy but have a lot of substance. That's how I think about life there.”

This affinity for substantive and resilient places and people brought him back to Lubbock and Texas Tech University for college. Well, that, and an invitation to walk on the football team.

“I wanted to go to Lubbock anyway, but that sealed the deal,” McCarley chuckled before taking a more serious tone. “People that come [to Texas Tech], they don't go home on weekends; they get embedded into the campus community. I just felt like I became a Texas Tech student and a permanent Lubbock resident, if you will – just really felt at home the whole time.”

As McCarley made his way through a degree in electrical engineering, he worked in labs in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering to help pay for his education. During the summers, he had internships thanks to the strength of the University Career Center. Two of these internships were with Conoco Oil Company. After his second internship in the fall of 1986, they offered him a job post-graduation automating offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Then, in early 1987, the price of oil plummeted to $13 per barrel. 

McCarley's job offer turned into a $500 check, an apology and a notice that his position had been eliminated at the company.

This rejection originally sent McCarley into a panic, but what he didn't know is it was about to set him on a path to success. He returned to the University Career Center – a center he believes in “the best placement center in the state” – and found a role as a field service engineer for General Electric. 

This placed McCarley in the manufacturing industry working as what he describes as “half mechanical engineer, half electrical engineer.” 

As McCarley's career evolved, he gained experience and rose from a self-described “engineering plant rat” to leadership roles in multinational, publicly traded corporations and technology companies in the aerospace and oil and gas industries.

There was a 15-year age gap between McCarley and anyone else in the manufacturing industry with his experience. With his blend of business knowledge, industry know-how and a fresh perspective, he had found a niche and was willing to do the work necessary to bring big ideas to fruition. 

“In my career, I go where other people aren't,” McCarley said. “These jobs would open up, and as these opportunities would come available, I'd put my name in and work at it as hard as I could. Sometimes good things happen from that. That's kind of been the story for me, honestly.”

A key factor that has kept McCarley at the forefront in his career is being proactive. He recognized early on that to be the best, you had to be innovative in the way you solved problems.

“You can't survive in manufacturing in America if you don't have a look at how to do it better, smarter, faster, different, more efficiently,” McCarley asserted.

This is the same concept that drives the Innovation Hub at Research Park. A natural extension of the university, the Hub was founded in 2015 to nurture unique ideas and entrepreneurs in creating a social or commercial value resulting in impact.

The Hub is home to numerous programs that support creative innovation, research commercialization and startup development. One such program is the Texas Tech Accelerator. This program was created to support entrepreneurs looking to launch innovative technologies and companies in West Texas.

Those who apply to the Texas Tech Accelerator program have the opportunity to not only win $25,000 to accelerate their startup, but those who are accepted also gain access to mentors in their field, additional funding opportunities, marketing and business planning support, premier professional support firms and more. Historically, the program had one track which supported startups in any industry. 

Student standing in front of a monitor and speaking into a microphone. Looking over the shoulders of a man and student looking at a laptop computer.
Participants in the Texas Tech Accelerator program develop presentations that highlight their entrepreneurial plans to mentors at the Hub.

McCarley and fellow Red Raider alumnus Hank Dorris recognized this program as an opportunity to put Texas Tech on the map in a new and exciting way.

“We saw an opportunity to really start accelerating innovation in Lubbock, in West Texas and at Texas Tech in a much more meaningful way than in other things out there,” McCarley said. “Hank and I wanted to support something that was pushing Texas Tech to where it hadn't been before.”

Thus came the idea of the Industry Advancement Technology (iAT) Accelerator. Launched this year with a generous donation from McCarley and Dorris, this new track of the Texas Tech Accelerator program supports entrepreneurs with emerging technologies in AI, machine learning, advanced manufacturing and robotics.

The gift also helped establish the Club for Innovation, a philanthropic branch of the Hub that cultivates a dedicated community of professionals who are passionate about fostering innovation and entrepreneurs in West Texas.

“I wanted to do something that would really put Texas Tech on the map,” Dorris said. “By partnering with the Innovation Hub, the Club for Innovation is putting a structure in place that lets Texas Tech build a sustainable pipeline of entrepreneurial spirit now and into the future.”

This gift was a huge milestone for the Hub, creating the first alumni-supported program at the facility. The gift will support the startup funding for five teams and allowed the Hub to hire Richard Greenhill as the program director for iAT Accelerator.

“It's an amazing step forward,” said Taysha Williams, managing director at the Hub. “Having Jim and Hank be the first to pilot this is just amazing. It's a great show of their dedication as Red Raiders, but also to the Innovation Hub. They are our champions.”

Jim McCarleyHank Dorris
Jim McCarley and Hank Dorris

Although this is only the first year of the iAT program, the Hub is already seeing huge interest with 18 teams applying for the track. Additionally, the specialized program has created a pathway for those with expertise in this field to connect with the Hub through their volunteer and mentorship programs. 

For McCarley, this was not a surprise. He knew Lubbock, while not lavish, was a place chock-full of resilient and purposeful people and ideas with immense substance. It's what brought him to Texas Tech as a student, and he knew it would translate to success for the iAT program.

“There's just talent everywhere there,” McCarley added. “Arguably there may be better talent in Lubbock than there is in a lot of the other places because if you're there, you're there for a reason, not because you're there for the name and the show. You're there because you want to make something happen either with yourself or in what you're trying to do.”

For Dorris, the passion behind this gift was simple. Red Raiders will excel at anything they put their minds to, and through supporting the Hub and the iAT Accelerator program, they could provide that avenue for success. 

“I think the fact that Lubbock is audacious enough to put an Innovation Hub in place, well, let's go capitalize and let's go be champions at it,” Dorris said. 

It is McCarley's and Dorris' hope is that this program will only continue to grow, and others will be inspired to support it in the same way they have. 

“By supporting a program like this, every year you're planting seeds,” McCarley said. “The more seeds you plant, and the more you water them, and the more you put a structure around feeding that seed, the more you're going to see when the harvest comes.”

Those interested in supporting the Texas Tech Innovation Hub or the Texas Tech Accelerator program can do so by joining the Club for Innovation. For more information about the Hub or the Club for Innovation, contact Taysha Williams at taysha.williams@ttu.edu.

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