Although I haven’t posted much about it on this blog, many of you know that I have spent the last year and a half helping to foster more/better entrepreneurship at my alma mater, Rice University. Six months ago I officially accepted the role of Entrepreneur in Residence at the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, an organization funded by legendary venture capitalist (and Rice alum) John Doerr.
Since almost the moment I started in 2012, it became evident that Rice was underserved in entrepreneurship. The MBAs had some coursework available to them and a big business plan competition but the undergrads had nothing, academic grad students even less, and faculty were frustrated with the process of IP commercialization.
Around that time I connected with four students who wanted to do something about it. Over the last 18 months we spent a lot of time figuring out the highest-impact initiative we could take, selling it within the university administration, gathering resources for it, and making it happen.
Last Thursday this vision became a reality with the official launch of OwlSpark, the Rice University startup accelerator. Eight teams of Rice undergrads, grad students, MBAs, and alumni are spending the summer working side by side in the Rice BRC to launch their startups. The program provides funding, mentorship, learning, and networking opportunities for the 37 members of these eight teams.
Thursday night’s launch event attracted more than 100 attendees and was a really fantastic way to kick off the program. This is such an exciting initiative for Rice but what really makes me proud is that OwlSpark was created entrepreneurially by students, not by a top-down decree.
OwlSpark is itself a startup so it will have to be agile and reactive to feedback from its participants, mentors, investors, etc. It’s way too early to tell what we will have accomplished by Demo Day in August but it’s a worthwhile shot and I’m very excited about the possibilities!