A Maker at Heart, Alumnus Uses Hands-On Learning Experiences to Launch Startup

albert swantner

For as long as he can remember, Cockrell School of Engineering alumnus Albert Swantner (M.S. ME 2009; B.S. ME 2007) has been a maker. When he was a child, he made model ships, airplanes and cars, and in high school, he took apart his own car to make modifications. It was clear that, especially coming from a family of Longhorns, the engineering program at The University of Texas at Austin was the perfect fit.

Today, he has taken the skills he acquired at the Cockrell School and merged them with his entrepreneurial spirit to launch a startup that he runs out of the Capital Factory in downtown Austin. His company, Bohemian, is a successful interactive agency that works with other startups, big organizations and Fortune 500 companies to conceptualize and build a range of products from mobile apps to public display installations. Most recently, Bohemian won a Webby Award (“the Oscars of the Internet”) for an app it developed called CharityMiles.

Swantner, whose first job was with an electric scooter company, was born to be an engineer. When he was an undergraduate in the Cockrell School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, he was a member of UT Austin’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers, better known as the Formula SAE, led by professor Ron Matthews. Thriving for more than 30 years, Formula SAE is a student group that emphasizes a hands-on, project-based learning model to get students involved and invested. “The Formula SAE group provided amazing hands-on experiences that went beyond education; they also helped me make lasting friendships,” Swantner said.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Swantner decided to remain at UT Austin to continue as a mechanical engineering graduate student, during which he worked on the automated design of gear trains, research that allowed him to refine his knowledge of both hardware and software.

“I still love that combination of hardware and software and still use the skills I honed in my research today,” he said. “This knowledge of how both work together is one of the things that makes Bohemian unique, because I have a deep understanding of both parts.”

Some of Bohemian’s projects include: a chocolate milk vending machine activated through text message for the Dairy Farmers of Canada, a touchscreen television display with a foot speed test in New York City malls for Adidas, a web marketplace for triathlon equipment and the award-winning CharityMiles app that tracks a user’s distance walking, running or biking and accrues corporate sponsorship money for the charity a user chooses.

“There is nothing like knowing that hundreds of thousands of people are using something that you helped create,” Swantner said.

It’s no surprise he helped develop CharityMiles — he is passionate about giving back to the community and helping others. He is on the board for the nonprofit Latinitas, volunteers once a month as a pantry manager at Micah 6 Food Pantry and is active in Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

Swantner believes in every project Bohemian takes on and thrives on figuring out new, creative ways to solve problems. He leads a team of seven people, a small group, but a position he couldn’t see himself in until a defining moment as a teaching assistant for a mechanical engineering course on design methodology.

“Having to lead that class was really a turning point in my professional life and has enabled me to be the outgoing person I am today,” he said.

Building on this leadership experience, last semester Swantner served as a mentor for UT Austin’s Longhorn Startup Program, a course and seminar led by Ethernet inventor and Cockrell School professor of innovation Bob Metcalfe that helps train undergraduate student entrepreneurs and launch them to future success. It was a natural fit considering Bohemian helps other startups with their products. Swantner enjoys working with student entrepreneurs and jumped at the chance to help fellow Longhorns.

“Hearing about the students’ ideas for what the future holds and what the world needs is refreshing,” Swantner said, “and, when I see what our current Cockrell School students are creating, I know we are in good hands.”

CharityMiles

The mobile app that Swantner and his team at Bohemian helped develop tracks a user’s distance walking, running or biking and accrues corporate sponsorship money for the charity a user chooses. CharityMiles has won a Webby Award ("the Oscars of the Internet") and a SXSW Interactive People's Choice Award.

Find out more about the app »