New resource for entrepreneurial students at Rice opens: Lilie

More than 200 members of the Rice community and Houston’s startup network gathered at the university Oct. 22 to celebrate a new chapter in the city’s entrepreneurship history with the opening of the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or Lilie. The lab occupies a bright, 4,000-square-foot state-of-the-art space on the first floor of the new Cambridge Office Building.

Students pitched startup ideas to a panel of five judges on the final day of the “Three-Day Startup” program, held at the new Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie). The pitch session preceded the launch party for the space. Photos by Starlic Williams

Students pitched startup ideas to a panel of five judges on the final day of the Three-Day Startup program, held at the new Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie). The pitch session preceded the launch party for the space. Photos by Starlic Williams

Houston entrepreneur and Rice alumnus Frank Liu ’78, his wife, Cindy, and their family, through their philanthropic foundation, made a $16.5 million gift in March 2016 to launch Lilie. Lilie features new and expanded entrepreneurship courses as well as a variety of co-curricular activities and resources with the goal of supporting the Rice community in entrepreneurial endeavors. The lab is a key centerpiece of — and provides a physical home for — Rice’s cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship education efforts, which were launched in 2015. The efforts aim to provide students across the university with additional skills and knowledge to succeed in a world where entrepreneurial capabilities are increasingly critical for meaningful and influential careers.

For Liu, a first-generation Chinese-American, the opening celebration provided a chance to express his appreciation for the university and a city that has been a place of remarkable opportunity for him and his family. Lui was born in Taiwan, and his father’s profession in the textile industry took the family to Vietnam in 1960.

“I was there during the (Vietnam) war,” Liu said. “I was there during the Tet Offensive. I experienced many, many things that normal younger kids would never experience. During the Tet Offensive, we didn’t go out of the house for 20-some days. My father had death threats against him.”

Liu’s parents eventually sent him to safety in the U.S. in 1971 with the help of a friend, a wealthy Chinese businessman, who knew the American ambassador. “How lucky can I get to have the opportunity to come to this country?” Liu said. Liu attended Rice as a recipient of financial aid and noted that the gift was his way of “paying back his debt” to the university.

Liu graduated from Rice in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He is the founder of Lovett Homes, InTown Homes and Lovett Commercial and has developed residential, retail and commercial real estate in Houston for more than 35 years. Liu met his co-founder when they were roommates at Rice, and he told students they might do the same. He advised the aspiring entrepreneurs in attendance to be persistent and have a passion. “There is no such thing as a bad idea,” Liu said. “Keep it up.”

Rice Provost Marie Lynn Miranda and Yael Hochberg, head of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Ralph S. O’Connor Professor of Entrepreneurship at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, thanked Liu for his generosity and vision. “A good day for me is a day when I learn something,” Miranda said. “Today … it was reinforced for me how amazing our group of students is, and I learned so much more about what motivated Frank to bestow his generosity upon the university. It goes beyond being an alum of the university and it goes beyond his own entrepreneurial skills. It’s about activating, enabling and empowering an environment for all of you.”

Lilie features new and expanded entrepreneurship courses as well as a variety of co-curricular activities and resources with the goal of supporting the Rice community in entrepreneurial endeavors.

Hochberg emphasized how Lilie will bolster the important experiential component of an entrepreneurship education that also includes business and community partnerships, mentoring and an enhanced curriculum. “Our goal is for you to learn both skills and mindset,” Hochberg said. “We intend for you to have opportunities to get hands-on experience working on your projects, be that a technology startup, a social or civic project, innovation in the community or some other endeavor — even within a large organization.”

The celebration was preceded by a “Three-Day Startup” program at Lilie, a 72-hour experiential-learning exercise that taught entrepreneurial skills and mindset to Rice students in a hands-on environment, with input from mentors throughout the weekend. The program culminated with pitches to a panel of experts and the public.

“Having Lilie on campus shows that the university is committed to supporting students who choose to pursue less-conventional career paths,” said Ben Herndon Miller, a Will Rice College senior majoring in statistics and a leader of the Rice Entrepreneurship Club. “It is an amazing first step toward building a culture of entrepreneurship on Rice campus that is already prominent at institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford. Lilie will give students the structure, direction and education to effectively pursue their ideas and launch new ventures. I am thrilled to see what future generations will create here.”

A vibrant entrepreneurship environment

Rice has been lauded repeatedly for its graduate entrepreneurship programs, including by the Princeton Review. Last fall, Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business earned the No. 3 spot on Princeton Review’s list of the top 25 graduate schools in the U.S. for entrepreneurship studies — up from No. 6 in 2015. The school has landed among the top 10 spots on the list for eight years running.

Lilie joins a vibrant entrepreneurship environment as part of Rice’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, including the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, a global leader in the commercialization of new products and technologies, and OwlSpark, the student summer startup accelerator program. At Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation recently funded the McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which focuses on research and policy issues in the innovation space.

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, said Hochberg.

For more information, go to http://entrepreneurship.rice.edu or follow the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative via Facebook, www.facebook.com/riceentrepreneurship.

About Jeff Falk

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