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Three Day Startup

By Ellen Liu     4/19/12 7:00pm

More than 30 Rice students started their entrepreneurial engines at the university's first Three Day Startup event, held from April 6 to 8.

The students formed six teams to create and market ideas ranging from voice-activation technology to a resume-builder website.

3DS is a nonprofit that operates out of Austin to promote entrepreneurial initiatives around the world.

The organization's marquee event is an intense three-day period of business research and development that can take place on any college campus, according to the 3DS website.

The event was brought to Rice by Will Rice College senior Dennis Qian and sophomore Veronica Saron. Saron said Qian asked her to help him coordinate the event at the beginning of this semester, and they contacted the 3DS headquarters to express their interest.

Once they got approval, Saron said she and Qian opened up applications to the event, interviewed applicants and contacted potential sponsors and mentors.

Saron said 3DS had participants from both the undergraduate and graduate levels of various majors. The projects were judged by venture capitalists who volunteered their time to give feedback to each group. However, Qian said there was no "winning team."

"The theme of the event was collaboration," Qian said. "Even though you're split into teams, we are not a competition, and an event where the goal is looking for feedback to move forward is much more effective than competing with one another."

According to Saron, almost all six teams are continuing their projects post-3DS. She noted that one is even going into "stealth mode" so that it can release its application within the next two weeks and protect its idea in the process.

Qian noted that fundraising was an especially difficult task.

"We had to contact external companies using our own network to get funding and mentors," Qian said.

Qian added that the timing of the event made finding sponsor even more complicated. Beer Bike happened the week before the event, and the Rice Business Plan Competition was scheduled for the week afterward.

"A lot of food sponsors turned us down because of Beer Bike," Qian noted. "And a lot of mentors said they couldn't do two weekends in a row." However, Saron said they received funding from the Rice Center for Engi-neering Leadership and George R. Brown School of Engineering, and the university supported them by providing Duncan Hall for the event. Qian said entrepreneurship was one of his passions and he had wanted to host a 3DS event before he graduated. Saron said she decided to get involved with 3DS because she is passionate about the quickly growing technology industry and her interests were strongly supported by the event. "It was ridiculously inspiring to see what the teams could do," Saron said. "Rice students should be able to become a part of the increasing economy in tech-nology, particularly in the realm of entre-preneurship, which is incredibly creative, functional and rewarding." Saron said events like 3DS would culti-vate Rice's entrepreneurial spirit. However, she noted that if the demand for such expe-riences keeps increasing, it will be difficult to pick the 3DS participants in the future. Saron added that she plans to increase the mentor and judge network next year and to host some pre-event programs, like workshops about market research and website coding. University of Houston clinical assis-tant professor Hesam Panahi helped Qian and Saron with event logistics and student mentoring. He said he is the lead organizer of 3DS at UH because he wants to bring students together at more entrepreneurial events so that they can learn in a unique environment. "Rarely are students exposed to an opportunity to build a business outside of a classroom environment, and there's so much untapped talent on campus," Panahi said. "Students that are passion-ate about building a startup don't know where to begin, and 3DS focuses on learning by doing." Panahi said Saron and Qian's 3DS was very successful, and he planned to con-tinue working with the Rice coordinators next year. "Anyone can become an entrepreneur," Panahi said. "You may not be successful the first time around, but if you keep trying and work smarter and harder, good things will happen."

To read about each of the companies formed over the weekend, see our 2-page spread here.

Pictures of the event can be viewed on Rice 3DayStartup's Facebook album here.

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