Liu Family Foundation donates $16.5 million to prepare Rice students to be successful entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship hub will add project-based courses, new entrepreneurs grant and startup mentorship for undergraduates

Houston entrepreneur and Rice University alumnus Frank Liu and his family, through their philanthropic foundation, have made a $16.5 million gift to launch the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie) at Rice. Lilie will feature new and expanded entrepreneurship courses as well as project funds with the goal of encouraging Rice students to pursue and achieve success in entrepreneurial endeavors.


Two new courses launched through the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will enable students to engage real-world problems on dedicated teams and work with faculty and entrepreneurs in the business community.

“With this remarkable commitment to entrepreneurial experience and opportunity, Frank Liu and Rice make a strong statement about being a top choice for students who want to learn how to bring innovative ideas to life,” Rice President David Leebron said. “As a successful Rice alumnus and entrepreneur, Frank understands the potential impact of the entrepreneurship program at Rice, in Houston and Texas, and the generous support of the Frank and Cindy Liu Family Foundation gives Rice students every opportunity to realize their ambitions.”

Lilie aims to provide students from across the university with entrepreneurial knowledge and problem-solving skills to succeed in a world where such capabilities are increasingly critical for meaningful and influential careers.

“By providing hands-on opportunities to learn entrepreneurship through Lilie’s innovative courses and programs, we hope to attract talented and driven students and equip them with the necessary resources to lead innovation both on Rice’s campus and across the city of Houston and the state of Texas,” said Liu, who graduated from Rice in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Liu, the founder of Lovett Homes, InTown Homes and Lovett Commercial, has developed residential, retail and commercial real estate in Houston for over 35 years. “I am confident that Lilie will inspire Rice students to become entrepreneurial leaders and do great things in Houston, a city that has been a place of remarkable opportunity for my family and for so many other Houstonians. I hope our city will benefit from a new generation of business employers and greater participation in the innovation economy of the 21st century.”

Yael Hochberg, who heads the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative, said Lilie will bolster the important experiential component of an entrepreneurship education that also includes business and community partnerships, mentoring, research and an enhanced undergraduate and graduate curriculum.

“A dynamic undergraduate experience is increasingly critical to lead in entrepreneurship in higher education,” said Hochberg, who is also the Ralph S. O’Connor Associate Professor in Finance and Entrepreneurship at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business. “Lilie puts this experience at the forefront for undergraduates, maximizing connections with the Rice alumni network and the startup community in Houston.”

Led by Abby Larson, the director of  undergraduate education and research for the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative, Lilie will be the programmatic hub of entrepreneurship at Rice. Lilie programs and courses will focus on giving students access to entrepreneurial expertise and experiences that facilitate innovation and collaboration. “The opportunity to think and learn differently about innovation, drawing on the deep intellectual resources of the university and the broader community, will be a rich one,” Larson said.

Two new courses launched through Lilie will enable students to engage real-world problems on dedicated teams and work with faculty and entrepreneurs in the business community.

The E-teams Entrepreneurship Experience course will be open to all undergraduates. Interdisciplinary teams will focus on a single project sourced from a Houston startup company. They will meet with instructors and entrepreneurship mentors, set progress goals and present their projects to a panel of reviewers that includes the startup from which the project originated. The course will train students to solve problems, improve teamwork and strengthen communication. “E-Teams will offer students a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship while immersing themselves in the local startup community,” Hochberg said. “We expect this exciting program will inspire a wide range of Rice students to think entrepreneurially.”

The Lilie Venture Challenge will bring the startup accelerator experience, which is usually a summer project, into the academic year. This capstone project will provide mentorship by faculty and entrepreneurs while students prepare for a year-end business plan competition judged by an expert panel, with funding prizes awarded to the most promising teams.

Available to the incoming Rice Class of 2020 will be the Lilie New Entrepreneurs Grant for matriculating freshmen to fund compelling early stage business ideas and attract entrepreneurial students to Rice.

Lilie joins a vibrant entrepreneurship environment as part of Rice’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, including university business incubator Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, a global leader in the creation and commercialization of new products and technologies, and OwlSpark, the student startup accelerator. At Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation recently funded the McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which studies public policies that promote innovation and free enterprise.

Strategic partnerships with the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and other campus programs will integrate entrepreneurship into the array of student-focused experiential programs at Rice.

Such opportunities for experiential education, leadership development and hands-on research are an integral component of the Initiative for Students, Rice’s three-year volunteer engagement and fundraising effort. Rice students have indicated that they highly value this type of learning, and the university has made such experiences for students a priority.

About Jeff Falk