OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | About
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About

Our story. Our accelerator. Our people.

Welcome to #startuplife

Established in 2012, OwlSpark was founded to ignite a passion for entrepreneurship within the Rice community. OwlSpark provides hands-on entrepreneurship experiences and a roadmap from innovation to commercialization. At the intersection of determination, grit, versatility and passion, we have created a family of like-minded thinkers and doers, and built a network that enables entrepreneurs to do cool things that make a difference.

Plus Ecosystem

Along with our accelerator program, our partnerships with university and community organizations create an environment that cultivates entrepreneurs and early-stage startup teams, enabling founders to share ideas, experience the value of collaboration, and surround themselves with the best people and resources. The impact of OwlSpark has built an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to connect and startup teams to launch.

The OwlSpark accelerator is an intense, immersive 12-week summer program that provides startup teams with firsthand experience launching a tech startup.

Throughout the summer, OwlSpark delivers entrepreneurship education, teaches relevant business fundamentals, pairs teams with knowledgeable mentors and industry experts, features office hours with successful entrepreneurs, and yields key connections. The accelerator culminates with the Bayou Startup Showcase, a celebration of entrepreneurship, the Houston startup community, and the university accelerator programs that support them. Jointly hosted by OwlSpark and RED Labs, the event provides an opportunity for startup teams from both programs to showcase their businesses.

Together, these resources and collaboration provide exposure and direct access to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, increasing the probability of continued success beyond the program.

Brad Burke

Managing Director,
Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Most recently, Brad founded and managed the local office of Viant Corporation, a premier internet consulting firm, delivering internet strategy, creative design, and web technology implementation. Viant went public through an IPO in 1999. Prior to Viant, Brad was a Principal with CSC Index, the management consulting division of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Before consulting, Brad held management positions with Exxon Corporation. He received his M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and his B.S. from Vanderbilt University.

Kaz Karwowski

Executive Director,
Rice Center for Engineering Leadership

Kaz comes to Rice from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he served as an engineering leadership specialist with the Bernard M. Gordon MIT Engineering Leadership Program, a post he took in July 2009 after leaving the military. Previously he served as a leadership instructor for the Army ROTC Program at MIT, operations sergeant of an 800-soldier infantry battalion in Iraq, and as the platoon sergeant of a 55-soldier infantry platoon also in Iraq. In addition, Kaz led soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He holds a Bachelor’s degree and a Graduate Degree from Harvard University.

Tom Kraft, Ph.D.

Director of Technology Ventures Development,
Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Tom’s academic background covers mechanical and electrical engineering and math and business from Stanford and UCLA before his doctoral program at Rice. Tom holds 19 U.S. Patents and founded several medical device and medical robotics companies after being part of the NASA Mission Control Center design effort. In addition to teaching at UCLA, Tom was an adjunct Professor of Math for HCC and a visiting lecturer on creativity. At Rice, Tom’s focus is increasing collaboration between Rice MBA students and the science and engineering departments at Rice in developing new commercialization ventures.

Senthil Natarajan

Founder,
Ziel Solutions

A senior at Rice University, Senthil is pursuing a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Engineering Leadership Certificate from Rice Center for Engineering Leadership. Looking to further entrepreneurship at Rice, he served as the Managing Director for Rice Launch (now Rice Entrepreneurship Club). Prior to founding Ziel Solutions (Class 3), Senthil served as an intern for OwlSpark during Class 2. He enjoys breaking down the traditional concept of engineers as ineffective communicators and is a contributing writer for the Houston Chronicle on data-driven topics including sports, engineering education, and entrepreneurship.

Kerri Smith

Associate Managing Director,
Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Kerri has broad experience in developing strategies and programs that help maximize the success of technology-based startups. Her experience includes entrepreneurship education, startup acceleration, educational programming, technology licensing, and commercialization. During her tenure at the Houston Advanced Research Center, Kerri provided leadership, oversight, and strategic direction for commercialization and technology transfer initiatives. Kerri joined Rice University in 2004 where she serves as Associate Managing Director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Managing Director of Rice University’s startup accelerator (OwlSpark), and Director of the NSF sponsored Innovation Corps Grant program (I-Corps) at Rice University. In all positions, she plays a lead role in fostering collaboration and accelerating the formation of technology-based startups in the areas of energy, clean technology, life science and information technology.

Alexander Wesley

Co-founder, President, and CEO
Arovia

Following a three-year stint as a product manager bringing a new technology to market, Alexander decided to attend Rice University as a MBA to pursue entrepreneurship. During the MBA program, he founded Arovia, a technology company focused on the mobile professional, and participated in OwlSpark’s summer 2015 cohort (Class 3). He also served as president of the Jones Graduate School of Business Entrepreneurship Club, working to help expose and prepare his classmates for entrepreneurial endeavors. Alexander received an MBA from Rice University, and B.S. and M.S. degrees in Optical Engineering from the University of Rochester.

Kerri Smith

Managing Director

Kerri has broad experience in developing strategies and programs that help maximize the success of technology-enabled startups.  Her experience includes entrepreneurship education, startup acceleration, educational programming, technology licensing, and commercialization. For over 25 years, Kerri has provided leadership, oversight, and strategic direction for commercialization, entrepreneurship, community engagement, and technology transfer initiatives.  Kerri joined Rice University in 2004 where she serves as Associate Managing Director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Managing Director of Rice University’s startup accelerator (OwlSpark), and Director of the NSF sponsored Innovation Corps program at Rice (I-Corps).  In all positions, she plays a lead role in fostering collaboration, enabling entrepreneurship, and accelerating the formation of startups based on innovative technologies or scalable business ideas.

Jessica Fleenor

Assistant Managing Director

Jessica plans and executes strategic marketing, design and communication initiatives focused on events, programming, and visibility within Rice and the Houston communities. Dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs with the resources they need to launch and grow their businesses, Jessica co-founded Startup Career Fair, and Medulla, a branding and design agency providing tailored solutions to startups, nonprofits, and small businesses. With a background in nonprofit management and entrepreneurship, she brings more than seven years of experience in communications, design and project management. Jessica serves as the Assistant Managing Director of OwlSpark, Assistant Director for Programs at the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, and is a nationally-certified Teaching Assistant for the NSF I-Corps program.

Haley Hart

Assistant Managing Director

Haley Hart serves as an Assistant Managing Director for OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup accelerator program. Haley was drawn to entrepreneurship and startups during her internship with University of Houston’s RED Labs. Drawing on a background in public relations, she is passionate about helping startups build meaningful relationships. Haley also serves as the Program Specialist at the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, organizing student initiatives including the Ignite Entrepreneurship Trek, Owl Open, and the Rice Business Plan CompetitionPreviously, she worked in digital marketing for the Dothan Eagle newspaper and in athletic media relations at Auburn University. She graduated with B.A. in public relations with minor in business from Auburn and is pursuing her masters in public relations from the University of Houston. To keep things interesting, she can touch her tongue to her nose.

Andrew Maust

Wise Guy

Andrew is a rising junior from Dallas, Texas pursuing a Political Science major and Business minor at Rice University.  He is the general manager of a student owned bubble tea shop, and is working on a startup venture in the ed-tech space.  When he isn’t working on either of these businesses you can find Andrew cheering on the  Rice Owls sports teams, or exploring Houston’s vibrant culinary scene. While he isn’t sure what he will be doing after graduation, he knows that entrepreneurship and small business will probably be involved. Andrew’s greatest talent was being able to recite the Gettysburg address in third grade.

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