Students in Rice’s OwlSpark program to spend summer in downtown Houston

Rice University’s and the University of Houston’s student startup accelerator programs have jointly leased space in downtown’s 1600 Smith building to host, in tandem, their immersive 12-week summer programs that provide participating teams with firsthand experience launching a tech startup. The accelerators began May 22 and will conclude Aug. 11.

Kaz Karwowski, executive director of Rice’s Center for Engineering Leadership, dives into the customer discovery process for the first session of this year’s OwlSpark and RED Labs accelerators. Startup teams from Rice and the University of Houston will spend the next 11 weeks refining their business models and building their companies in preparation for the Bayou Startup Showcase Aug. 1.

Rice’s OwlSpark and UH’s RED Labs are co-leasing a 3,730-square-foot space that is one of four small-scale suites commissioned by downtown property owner Brookfield Property on the building’s 37th floor. Each suite was designed by a different architecture firm to show what an office of the future could look like.

“We expect that the suite’s open layout and atmosphere will stimulate and positively impact the success of our founders,” said Kerri Smith, managing director of OwlSpark and associate managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. The Rice Alliance supports OwlSpark together with the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership.

“We are looking forward to the collaboration and idea generation that this space will help facilitate among the OwlSpark and RED Labs startup teams,” said Smith, who oversees the program together with Jessica Fleenor and Haley Hart, also part of the Rice Alliance.

This year’s six Rice teams represent industries and applications as diverse as information, environmental and scientific technology; consumer products; health care; and energy. The teams are AtmoSpark, Tattoo, Power Audio Tours, PredictMX, TraceMatters and myHomeDecor.

OwlSpark was founded in 2013 by two Rice engineering undergraduates, a humanities undergraduate and an MBA candidate. Since that year, it offers a summer program that provides a class of teams consisting of students and recent alumni with co-working space, industrial and academic mentorship and networking opportunities required to launch their companies. In 2014, the program began collaborating with RED Labs.

The accelerators culminate Aug. 1 with the fourth annual Bayou Startup Showcase at the TMCx, the Texas Medical Center’s 100,000-square-foot facility dedicated to supporting life-science startup companies in Houston. The event provides an opportunity for the teams from both accelerator programs to showcase their businesses to the Greater Houston community.

Brookfield plans to light the top of the Smith Street building in Rice’s blue and UH’s red. Houstonians might remember the building for when it was home to the headquarters of Continental Airlines and the company’s logo was projected on the roof in blue light.

For more information about OwlSpark, go to www.owlspark.com.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.