Rice’s Entrepreneurship Initiative receives $1M gift from Napier family for startup competition

Dacia and Lanham Napier have donated $1 million in honor of Lanham’s father, Al Napier, to fund a new startup competition at Rice University. Al Napier is one of the founders of the globally recognized entrepreneurship program at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Al Napier


The annual H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge (RLC) for Rice students and recent alumni will include a stream of co-curricular workshops that run throughout the year and culminate in a new internal entrepreneurship competition in the spring. At the RLC, which this year will be held March 29, startup ideas ranging from high-growth ventures to small-businesses will compete for $60,000 in prize money.

Lanham and Dacia Napier are both Rice alumni who earned their undergraduate degrees in 1993.

“Today is a bucket-list type of day for us,” said Lanham Napier. “Our family is thrilled to honor Dad’s teaching legacy at Rice by supporting entrepreneurial students so they can step out and build great companies. Rice is a special place that has had an incredible impact on our lives. We’re grateful to be a part of it.”

Al Napier, professor emeritus of entrepreneurship and psychology, retired in 2017. He began teaching at Rice Business in 1982 and, together with Edward Williams, professor emeritus of entrepreneurship, is credited with introducing students to entrepreneurial skills through experience-based learning long before the academic discipline of entrepreneurship had been established and before most universities were teaching the subject.

Today Rice Business has the No. 2 graduate entrepreneurship program in the U.S., according to 2018 rankings by the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine, and the school offers more than 30 courses taught by professors with significant entrepreneurial experience.

Rice Business’ strong commitment to entrepreneurship was reinforced by the launch of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative in 2015 as a cross-disciplinary initiative to provide students from across the university with skills and knowledge to succeed in a world where entrepreneurial capabilities are increasingly critical for meaningful and influential careers. In October the initiative celebrated the opening of the new Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which features new and expanded entrepreneurship courses as well as a variety of co-curricular activities and resources with the goal of supporting Rice students in entrepreneurial endeavors. The Entrepreneurship Initiative is led by Yael Hochberg, the Ralph S. O’Connor Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Finance at Rice Business.

Hochberg also serves as academic director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which hosts the Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest such competition for MBA students globally. Teams have launched 181 companies and raised more than $1.8 billion in funding in the 18 years of the competition. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has been a global leader in the creation and commercialization of new products and technologies since the alliance’s founding in 2000. Rice’s student startup accelerator, OwlSpark, was founded in 2013 and offers a summer program that provides teams of students and recent alumni with the funding, space, industrial and academic mentorship and networking opportunities required to launch their companies.

“The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge joins a vibrant entrepreneurship environment at Rice,” Hochberg said. “The RLC will serve to further enrich the student entrepreneurial experience and provide the opportunity to showcase our students’ and recent alumni’s creativity and innovation activity.”

“The contributions of Al Napier to the success of Rice Business are significant and felt at the school every day,” said Dean Peter Rodriguez. “Al’s legacy is of a remarkable individual who helped build the entrepreneurship program and curriculum from the ground up. We are grateful for Lanham and Dacia’s generosity and their thoughtful vision to honor Al in this way.”

For more information about and insights from Jones Graduate School of Business faculty research, visit the school’s Rice Business Wisdom website, http://ricebusinesswisdom.com.

About Jeff Falk

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