Spotlight on Rice Entrepreneurs: An Outlet for Owlets

An Outlet for Owlets: New Opportunities for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Rice

On November 15, the Princeton Review ranked Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business third in the top graduate programs for entrepreneurship. For the past eight years, the Jones School’s entrepreneurship program has ranked in the top 10 in the nation. In addition to the Jones School’s ongoing success, several programs focus on undergraduate entrepreneurship and innovation. Recently launched programs promote entrepreneurship through student-led efforts and university-sponsored initiatives.

Consolidating student-led efforts

At the end of Spring 2016, two undergraduate entrepreneurship clubs, Rice Launch (led by Ben Herndon-Miller and Jake Nyquist) and Rice Conversations (led by Iris Huang and Doria Du), merged to form the Rice Entrepreneurship Club. The new club organizes a variety of events, including casual lunch conversations with entrepreneurs, pitch practices and mentor workshops.

Working closely with the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative, the club shares opportunities and resources to encourage greater student collaboration. “I think the merge empowered the student leaders from both clubs to better serve student entrepreneurs at Rice,” said Iris Huang ’17, President of the Entrepreneurship Club. “With the substantial pool of combined resources, we are now able to put on more diverse programs and make a larger impact on the student population.”

Developing university-wide programs

In March 2016, Rice alumnus Frank Liu and his family gave $16.5 million to establish the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie). Headed by Dr. Yael Hochberg and Dr. Abby Larson, Lilie gives students access to the expertise and experiences that will help them launch their own enterprises.  Beginning next spring, courses offered through Lilie will encourage students to solve real-world problems while working with faculty and entrepreneurs. The Lilie New Entrepreneurs Grant will help incoming freshmen, starting with the Class of 2020, to fund their business ventures. Before matriculating, freshmen can apply for the $10,000 grant that funds the most creative and compelling business ideas.

Learning from entrepreneurs

Students listen to Scott Novich and Evan Dougal from Neosensory.

Students listen to Rice alumni Scott Novich and Evan Dougal from Neosensory.

Through casual conversations and more formal lectures, the Entrepreneurship Club and Lilie have emphasized directly connecting students with entrepreneurs.

On September 15, the club hosted NeoSensory, a startup co-founded by Scott Novich (Rice PhD ‘16). NeoSensory mathematically maps data streams with temporal characteristics to develop a vest that helps the deaf experience sound through touch. More than 70 attendees learned about the product development timeline, the investment process and university intellectual property licensing through the perspective of a startup.

More recently, on October 19, the Rice Entrepreneurship Club hosted a conversation with Shaan Puri from Monkey Inferno, a San Francisco incubator that turns Internet project ideas into successful businesses. Monkey Inferno sold Bebo to AOL for $850 million in 2008 and currently uses that money to fund new projects. Puri shared his perspectives on forming teams and overcoming conflict and disappointment. Additionally, he advised students to become “learning machines,” always looking to learn more and improve. To achieve momentum, Puri encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to dedicate time each day to their business idea.

Shaan Puri from Monkey Inferno Skypes in from the Silicon Valley to speak with Rice undergraduates.

Shaan Puri from Monkey Inferno Skypes in from the Silicon Valley to speak with Rice undergraduates.

As part of the Lilie Lecture Series, Dr. Larson hosted an event with Samantha Snabes on October 26. Snabes served as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Strategist at NASA and founded re:3D, which makes 3D printing more accessible and scalable. During the lecture, Snabes spoke about taking big risks and establishing strong relationships with peers and mentors. When asked about the differences between the startup cultures of the Silicon Valley and cities in Texas, Snabes noted the benefits of being located in Texas while Austin, Dallas and Houston are growing as centers of startup activity.

Dr. Larson explains, “The Lectures bring together expertise and energies from across Rice and Houston. Each Lecture features the insights of an established entrepreneur or innovator on a question of interest to people working across a range of fields. The Lectures provide an opportunity for the exchange of questions and ideas between people who are innovating in many different contexts, and as such, often lead to new and shared insights.”

Engaging undergraduates in entrepreneurial activity

November 4-6, Rice and University of Houston students used this advice to develop technology ventures at 3 Day Startup. During the event, 45 students worked together in 9 teams at TMCx. Prototypes included an Airbnb-style app that connects travelers with locals for authentic meal experiences, a frictionless rental service for household tools and a marketplace where artists can cater to consumers’ requests for original artwork.

Maintaining momentum

The increased focus on entrepreneurship and innovation on campus is promising. This spark will attract more entrepreneurial talent and advance Rice University’s reputation as a hub for innovation.

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