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OwlSpark leases Willy’s Pub for summer start-up event

By Tina Nazerian     4/15/14 3:42pm

OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup summer accelerator program, will run from May 19 to August 15 in Willy’s Pub this summer, according to Internal Relations Lead Alisha Zou. 

OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup summer accelerator program, will run from May 19 to August 15 in Willy’s Pub this summer, according to Internal Relations Lead Alisha Zou. 

Zou, a Hanszen College junior, said OwlSpark selects approximately 10 startup teams through a competitive application process and gives them initial seed investments, a summer co-working space, a living stipend of $1000, relevant mentorship and any resources they need to successfully launch their company. 

“We have an amazing curriculum planned out for this upcoming summer, from founder CEO talks to personal mentorship to sponsor-held happy hours, and I’m really excited to hit the ground running,” Zou said. 

When OwlSpark was held in the BioScience Research Collaborative building last summer, the biggest issues were the lack of collaborative spaces and inconvenient parking, Zou said. 

“Given Willy’s Pub’s central location on campus, as well as the ample amount of free, open space it provides, we thought that it would be a fantastic place for people to share innovative ideas and bounce creative thoughts off one another,” Zou said.

According to Zou, people outside of OwlSpark were initially skeptical about the location. 

“People initially did not think that an open pub area could be conducive to getting the creative, entrepreneurial juices flowing, so to speak,” Zou said. “But, they really underestimated how important it is to have an open, comfortable, collaborative space where teams can best utilize all their resources, which most definitely includes each other.”

Zou said OwlSpark is still finalizing the number of teams, and the final count ranges anywhere from eight to 10 participating companies. 

“We anticipate Willy’s Pub will only house roughly 20 to 25 people, give or take,” Zou said. “In addition, we are encouraging all OwlSpark team members to utilize the office spaces located in the RMC basement adjacent to Willy’s Pub.”

Zou said the OwlSpark team plans on redecorating Willy’s Pub to better resemble a productive co-working space, while retaining the open shared spaces for collaboration and discussion.

“Everyone on the leadership team is excited and very optimistic to see how this turns out, and if this summer turns out to be a success, we see no reason to switch it up any further for the upcoming summers,” Zou said. “We are optimistic that this kind of comfortable, open atmosphere will be conducive to fostering the creative, entrepreneurial spirit we are looking for.” 

Zou said the process of putting additional lighting and work spaces in Willy’s Pub will not begin until OwlSpark’s lease starts on May 19. 

“We plan on sprucing up electrical resources, redesigning and refurbishing the existing space and creating both collaborative and segmented work areas for the teams to utilize,” Zou said. 

Temporary Assistant Managing Director of Marketing and Communications for Rice Alliance Technology and Entrepreneurship Jay Vinekar said as OwlSpark grows, it hopes to find a permanent home. 

“Going into the second year of the program, testing the co-working style of work at Pub brings the accelerator one step closer to finding its ideal operating style,” Vinekar said. “Moreover, OwlSpark would like to thank Provost [George] McLendon for his support in helping the organization secure Willy’s Pub and for promoting the entrepreneurial spirit at Rice.”

William Fernandez, CEO of Phayro Media, a company chosen to participate in the accelerator program, said he thinks Willy’s Pub is a great location for the accelerator program, and the central location makes it more accessible. 

“I think Willy’s [Pub] is a place where we can work comfortably with our peers,” Fernandez, a Jones College freshman, said. “The only reservations I have about the switch is the BRC is a place where one goes to work, whereas the pub is a place where one [goes] to relax. If I were to have one concern, it would be that those participating may get too comfortable at Willy’s [Pub], and this may affect their total work output.”



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