Trinity University's Murchison Tower. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Chances are, if you’ve come across an exciting start-up or a brilliant idea in San Antonio, there’s a Trinity University connection. Graduates of the liberal arts university have made a mark in the city that belies the small size of their alma mater. 

Trinity alumni are responsible for growing businesses in diverse fields, many of which have been successful on a national scale like Rackspace, Denim Group, and Kind Snacks. Others have earned leadership positions with tech industry leaders like WP Engine and Kowalick, Inc. Still others, like Mitch Hagney’s Local Sprout are taking a hyper local approach to the pursuit of the greater good.

In addition to the local reputation for producing excellent leaders, thinkers, and innovators, Trinity’s entrepreneurial zeitgeist has earned the school national recognition.

This month Trinity was ranked #8 among liberal arts colleges on Forbes 2015 list of America’s Most Entrepreneurial Colleges.

The Trinity University Center for Sciences and Innovation and the "Cube." Photo by Miriam Sitz.
The Trinity University Center for Sciences and Innovation and the “Cube.” Photo by Miriam Sitz.

The ranking is determined by looking at the percentage of graduates who have CEO or founder in their job description. The list is divided into major research institutions like MIT and Stanford, and smaller liberal arts institutions like Middlebury College and Trinity.

Luis Martínez, director of Trinity’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the recognition is an affirmation of values that have always been part of the Trinity experience.

“It’s something we’ve been a part of since our founding,” Martínez said.

While major research institutions drive much of the well-funded, capital-intensive academic research, Martínez explained that a liberal arts education is well suited for the startup world. Entrepreneurs often wear multiple hats, and the ability to think critically across multiple disciplines is invaluable.

Trinity offers a minor and secondary major in entrepreneurship. They encourage students interested in starting their own business to major in a content field, like engineering or anthropology.

However, anyone who knows the lore of the startup culture knows that ideas are just as likely to be born in the dorms as they are in classrooms. To that end, Trinity established an entrepreneurs’ community hall for first year students. This year 43 new students will live among like-minded peers with access to competitions, seminars and other resources throughout their college career. They are divided into four teams that will work together over the course of their education to launch a product.

This early start is one of Trinity’s key ingredients for fostering future leaders. Rather than waiting for their senior year to pitch and beta test a business, they do it while they are in school. Each year students compete for the $25,000 Stumberg Prize, a grant-based award that goes entirely to the winning startup, not the university.

“It’s not about return on investment, it’s about providing resources for the students to be a success,” Martínez said.

The most important resource Trinity provides is a safe place to fail. Martínez wants students to take risks and truly innovate while they can, before they have to hedge their bets considering rent and groceries.

Michaela Hoffman and Edwin Manton, both freshmen, receiving their $5000 prize for their startup Laundry Service for Colleges. Photo Courtesy of Anh-Viet Dinh.
Luis Martínez (r) with Michaela Hoffman and Edwin Manton, both freshmen, receiving their $5000 prize for their startup Laundry Service for Colleges. Photo Courtesy of Anh-Viet Dinh.

Students also are encouraged to dig into the local startup scene. To connect them, Martínez capitalizes on the alumni network, as well as Trinity’s prime location in a major metropolis, an advantage not shared by many other colleges on the Forbes list.

This is not the first Forbes list to feature Trinity. The small university found itself ranked among the top 100 colleges and universities in the country, among usual suspects like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Trinity appears frequently in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Standing alone, no ranking system can tell the complete story of institutional excellence, however, the specific criteria of the most recent Forbes ranking is affirmation to Trinity’s leadership that they are achieving some of their ambitious goals.

Getting involved with local startups also decreases the likelihood that students will take their talent elsewhere after graduation. Martínez considers Trinity a net importer of talent to the city, which was exactly what San Antonio hoped for in 1941 when the Chamber of Commerce invited the school to relocate from Waxahachie.

“We’re part of San Antonio’s fiber,” Martínez said.

The next frontier for the program will be to unite the entrepreneurial spirit with Trinity students’ well-known passion for social justice. Martínez would like to see nonprofits and community programs blossom from the University. If those endeavors enjoy the same success as the businesses led by Trinity alumni, San Antonio, Texas, and the world will be a better place for it.

*Featured/top image: Trinity University’s Murchison Tower.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.