November 17, 2021

Launch Texas, a comprehensive program that will combine world-class technical and entrepreneurial education, fundamental and applied space research and outreach in a collaborative initiative between the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Texas Innovation Center and the McCombs School of Business’ Texas Venture Labs, has received its first seed funding gift thanks to a donation from Texas Engineering alumnus Thomas (Tom) McKnight (B.S. ASE 1970) and his wife, Mimi.

photo of tom and mimi mcknight
Tom and Mimi McKnight in front of the ASE Building on the Forty Acres

The program will integrate into Austin’s startup ecosystem and leverage the city’s burgeoning space-tech industry by bringing together tech-minded and business savvy students to form teams of diverse backgrounds needed to launch thriving, market-driven startups. By providing leading-edge training and resources to build impactful companies, Launch Texas will help push the boundaries of our current understanding of space.

“Space is an emerging marketplace that demands bold new technologies, audacious startups and the world’s brightest, most fearless minds who dare to think beyond boundaries,” said Clint Dawson, chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “This first-of-its-kind program will bring talented students and researchers to UT, develop their ideas through collaboration and exchange and launch their technologies and startups into the world. It will be unlike any other program in the U.S.”

As the first donors to the Launch Texas initiative, the McKnights established the McKnight Fund for Igniting Space Technology Innovation, which will help provide graduate fellowships to seed startup ideas and testing and business formation for students participating in the Launch Texas program, helping to build a space-tech ecosystem in Austin.

Tom, who was named a Cockrell School Distinguished Engineering Graduate in 2018, and Mimi are passionate supporters of the Cockrell School’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, recently establishing the McKnight Student Center in the Aerospace Engineering Building’s renovation in spring 2019. The center is a collaborative learning space for students, including a computing center, an undergraduate student conference room and a quiet zone.

“We’re so excited to help form the bridge between business, entrepreneurship and space technology,” Tom McKnight said. “While they are powerful sectors on their own, the merging of space and entrepreneurship will really propel Texas Engineering to new levels.”