OwlSpark to ignite entrepreneurship on campus

As the semester draws to a close, most Rice University students are preparing to head home for the summer, but a few groups of students will be getting down to business on campus.


OwlSpark, a student-founded organization created to ignite entrepreneurship at Rice, will launch its 90-day summer startup accelerator experience next month in Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC). Pitch Day is  scheduled for Aug. 15, and Rice alumni are welcome to attend. (See owlspark.com for details.)

Will Rice College students Veronica Saron, Vivas Kumar and Ian Akash Morrison and Rice MBA student Darren Clifford founded the group, which provides Rice-affiliated startup teams with the resources to launch companies and technologies. Companies accepted to participate in the accelerator will have access to a list of mentors, seed funding, space and other valuable entrepreneurial resources both from the Rice and Houston communities.

Saron said that since the organization was created last spring, there’s been a “huge upswing” in the entrepreneurial spirit at Rice.


“Since we launched the idea, we’ve talked to a lot of different people and engaged a lot of stakeholders,” she said. “And affiliated organizations have hosted many events geared at entrepreneurship on campus. For example, our affiliate organization OwlSquad (Rice’s student-run organization working to support the spirit and practice of entrepreneurship at the university) hosted the Entrepreneurship Summit in January, which drew 165 students and several members of the Houston community.”

To apply, interested individuals must have a well-developed business idea and/or prototype for a unique technology. Candidates must complete an application detailing their business venture and participate in a rigorous interview and vetting process with the OwlSpark co-founders and board of advisers. The board of advisers includes Rice Provost George McLendon, Rice Alliance Managing Director Brad Burke, Rice Trustee John Jaggers ’73, former Rice Student Association President Mitra Miller Roehr ’92, Houston Angel Network Investor Hayden Hill, Mercury Fund Managing Director Blair Garrou and Rice Center for Engineering Leadership Entrepreneur-In-Residence Bryan Hassin ’01.


The accelerator will host up to 10 companies; five have already been accepted for this summer. The companies include undergraduate and graduate students from many different schools across campus, which Saron said shows that entrepreneurship isn’t just for business majors.

At the end of the summer program, OwlSpark will provide its companies access to the working space for an additional 270 days to help them grow revenue after the formal program ends.

Saron said that she and her fellow founders are especially appreciative of the input from the Rice Alliance, Rice’s internationally recognized initiative devoted to the support of technology commercialization, entrepreneurship education and the launch of technology companies.


“(The Rice Alliance) made Rice into a lightning rod nationwide for entrepreneurship,” she said. “If it weren’t for the Rice Alliance, I don’t think we’d be able to do what we’re doing.”

Kumar envisions that the program is the first step in Rice University’s mission to provide more entrepreneurial opportunities and a greater holistic educational experience for students.

“President (David) Leebron laid out a challenge to the university in his Centennial Address of his vision for Rice as a more entrepreneurial university,” Kumar said. “The embedding of OwlSpark within the Rice University experience will pay significant dividends in the long term for the establishment of the university as a pioneer in entrepreneurism.”

The co-founders, participating companies, and board of advisers will be hosting a launch party at their collaboration space in the BRC, 6500 Main St., from 5 to 7 p.m. May 16; to attend, interested individuals should RSVP at http://owlspark.eventbrite.com/.


About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.