Austin’s uShip becomes incubator for entrepreneurship

Aug 19, 2014
Austin American Statesman

For the past four years, Hannah Casparian has been whipping up dishes like broiled salmon and kale salad and African stew with couscous for employees at Austin-based Internet company uShip

But now, Casparian is ready to do what uShip’s founders did back in 2004: Strike out on her own. With financial backing from two uShip employees, Casparian will soon leave her job as the company’s personal chef to launch her own business, a Central Austin bakery called Hannah. And it was working at a place like uShip that helped convince her to start her own business, she says

An employee leaving an established company to start her own business is not unusual in Austin’s startup-friendly culture. But at uShip, the entrepreneurial, go-try-your-own-thing bug is catching. Along with Casparian, at least three of the company’s top-level executives, including co-founder Jay Manickam, are in the process of leaving the company to strike out on their own

Add in a number of other lower-level employees who have done the same, and the company — which runs an online marketplace for the shipping industry — has become an incubator for entrepreneurship in Austin

The departures mark a turning point for uShip as it transitions from a startup to an established company. The company is rebuilding its senior ranks by recruiting veteran talent from outside. Meanwhile, it continues to expand its 180-person workforce by adding software engineers, mobile developers and support staff at its downtown headquarters in a renovated former general store at Third and Brazos streets

Founded in 2004 by Chasen and two fellow University of Texas MBA students, uShip runs a Web-based marketplace that matches customers who need to move large, unusually big items – cars, boats, equipment, freight – with thousands of transport companies who can take the load

Consumers and businesses post their shipment listing into uShip’s auction-style format, similar to eBay, or name their price, similar to Priceline. Then, transportation service providers, including truckers, movers and brokers, bid on the jobs or accept the offer price. The service is free for users; uShip takes a cut of the total shipping cost

At McCombs School of Business, he teamed with classmates Jay Manickam and Mickey Millsap to pursue the idea. A fourth MBA student, Shawn Bose, joined them soon after. The team spent their time at UT working on a business plan, pitching their idea at venture capital competitions and getting advice from professors and tech industry mentors

After they graduated in 2004, they launched the uShip site. Since then, more than 400,000 transporters have registered on uShip and placed 16.5 million bids. The amount of money spent on shipping services on the site surpassed $500 million this summer

Today, the company is a multimillion-dollar business and has even been the subject of a reality TV show, “Shipping Wars” on A&E

With $28 million in backing from investors including prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, uShip is accelerating its expansion in Latin America and Europe and pushing beyond the consumer market into the $300 billion U.S. truckload freight market

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