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OwlSpark created to inspire entrepreneurs

By Brooke Bullock     10/24/12 7:00pm


OwlSpark is a new accelerator program created by three Rice University undergraduates and one Rice MBA candidate to assist the Rice community in commercializing products and forming business plans. 

Finalized plans are still being established, but the group plans to offer mentorship, workspace, curricula and initial investments to groups that apply to the summer 2013 program, OwlSpark co-founder Veronica Saron said. Summer 2013 will be the first run of the program, but current plans are to create a sustainable program that will continue to support entrepreneurship in future years as well, co-founder Akash Morrison said. 

The program will teach Rice community members how to build businesses and allow them to start their own during the summer, Morrison, a Will Rice College senior, said. 

"Over the three months, there will be a structured program that each team will go through," Morrison said. "In the spirit of Rice, we want [the teams] to be able to complete their projects and make something that will change the world."

Saron, a Will Rice junior, said the goal of the program is to increase entrepreneurship at Rice. 

"OwlSpark will enable Rice community members to bring ideas they have for businesses to market as well as commercialize Rice technologies - so the program teams will definitely call for more than engineers," Saron said. "Many skill sets will be needed: business, analysis, marketing, implementation, but most of all, a spark for making things happen. So we definitely will need students of all different majors to team up to make businesses."

There has been a lot of buildup for entrepreneurship over the past five to 10 years, Morrison said. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has made efforts to promote entrepreneurship at Rice but has shifted to focus more on graduate students than undergraduates, co-founder of OwlSpark Vivas Kumar said. 

The founders feel that an accelerator like OwlSpark can help build on efforts already started by RATE and other groups like the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, Leadership Rice and the Entrepreneurship Club to allow students to turn their technologies and ideas into profitable realities, Morrison said. 

Morrison said the founders first came up with OwlSpark in spring 2012. Kumar, a Will Rice junior, said the idea for OwlSpark came from what he and the other founders - Morrison, Saron and Rice MBA candidate Darren Clifford - were seeing happen across the country. 

"One of the things that's happening in the entrepreneurship world is accelerators," Kumar said. "They last for three months. They give teams that are starting a business or interested in developing a product access to workspace, legal advice, banking advice, and mentors who have had their own experiences in entrepreneurship and setting up their own businesses."

Morrison said program details will be worked on through the end of October so the group has a clear idea of what will need to be put in place between now and May. The next step will be finding financial support for the program, he said. 

"Over the course of November, December and January, we're going to pitch the idea to the Kauffman Foundation and other nonprofits, as well as individual investors, for financial support," Morrison said. 

The board of advisers not only provides advice in terms of its members' experience with entrepreneurship, but also helps the group with networking to find potential donors and mentors, Morrison said. The board of Advisors includes Provost George McLendon, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship Bryan Guido Hassin (Lovett '01) and Managing Director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Brad Burke. 

Saron said OwlSpark will be hosting events for Rice students during the semester, co-sponsored by Shell Game Changer and other sponsors who are not yet locked in. According to Saron, the events may include workshops, mixers and networking events to gauge student interest and hear what students would want out of the summer program. 

Students interested in planning OwlSpark events or discussing the program should contact Saron via email at vk7@rice.edu

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