OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | Apply
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OwlSpark Class 5: Startup Team Application
Applications for Class 5 will be accepted through Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

To prepare your startup team for the application process, we have laid out important information surrounding the accelerator program and expectations below. Be sure to review the information thoroughly, and please reach out to us if you need clarification or have questions.

About the OwlSpark Accelerator

OwlSpark is an intense, immersive 12-week summer experience for up to ten Rice University startup teams. Utilizing a robust curriculum, collaborative coworking space, and a diverse mentor network, the OwlSpark accelerator program provides startup teams with hands-on experience launching a tech startup. The 2017 program begins May 22 and concludes August 11, and will be hosted in tandem with RED Labs, the University of Houston startup accelerator.

Program Overview

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, jointly hosted by OwlSpark and RED Labs. Together, these resources and collaboration provide exposure and direct access to Houston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, increasing the probability of continued success beyond the program.

Program Requirements

OwlSpark is a full-time program that includes intensive mentoring, curriculum and exposure to Houston’s best resources. Like any entrepreneurial venture, launching a startup requires determination, grit, versatility, and most importantly, passion. Throughout the summer, startup teams are expected to meet a number of program requirements, including:

  • Complete pre- and post-assessments
  • Attend and actively engage in 60+ sessions, workshops, events, as well as weekly meetings with peers, mentors, and leadership teams
  • Set and report key performance metrics
  • Conducting and record a minimum of 100 in-person customer interviews
  • Developing basic marketing materials (i.e. logo, executive summary, website or landing page, etc.)
  • Attend to and pitch at mentor events and demo day

Startup Team Composition and Eligibility

OwlSpark is open to all Rice University undergraduate and graduate students in any discipline, as well as faculty, staff, and recent alumni (within five years of graduation). Eligible startup teams are comprised of two to five founders, one of whom must be affiliated with Rice University. At least two founders must be able to commit full-time to the program. International founders are eligible, but must secure authorization from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) prior to the start of the program.

All founders must demonstrate a strong commitment and vested interest in launching their business, and are expected to participate for the duration of the program. Founders must be present at the mentor pairing event in May, as well as the showcase event in August.

What Are We Looking For?

The application is divided into three sections: (1) the technology, (2) the startup team, and (3) the founders. You should be prepared to provide detailed, concise answers to questions surrounding each of these topics. We encourage each founder to review the application questions and pitch video criteria prior to applying. To help applicants understand the type of technologies and startup teams that will be a good fit for the accelerator program, we have highlighted three key points designed to guide your thought process and help you formulate productive answers.

Getting Started

To be considered for Class 5, one application per startup team must be completed by the Rice-affiliated founder.

Only one application per startup team may be submitted. Applications are being accepted on a rolling, space-available basis through Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

The application must be completed in its entirety. Because there is no option to save and finish later, startup teams are strongly encouraged to review the application questions and prepare their answers before beginning the application. A confirmation email with a copy of your application will be sent to the startup team within two business days.

What’s Next?

If your application reveals a potential fit for the accelerator program, your startup team will then move to the interview phase of the application process. A member of the OwlSpark Leadership Team will reach out to you regarding details and next steps.

Preparing for the Application Process

The application is divided into three sections: (1) the technology, (2) the startup team, and (3) the founders. You should be prepared to provide detailed, concise answers to questions surrounding each of these topics. We encourage each founder to review the application questions and pitch video criteria prior to applying, but to help you understand the type of technologies and startup teams that will be a good fit for the accelerator program, we have highlighted three key points designed to guide your thought process and help you formulate productive answers.

Explain your technology or business idea in a simple, specific statement.

Stick to the basics when drafting your answer — marketing lingo can lend excitement to your technology or business idea, but is essentially ineffective in conveying the necessary information. You should assume that the reviewer does not share your area of expertise, and thus should be easily understood by a diverse audience. If a one-sentence description can convey what you plan to do, then you are halfway to describing your technology or business idea.

Demonstrate each founder’s relevant, but diverse, skill set, attributes, and contribution to the team.

While entrepreneurial experience is helpful, it is neither critical nor required. It is also important to keep in mind that entrepreneurs often possess a multitude of transferable skills, allowing them the flexibility to step into multiple roles within a team. Commitment, resilience, and passion are also key attributes of successful entrepreneurs — and are the primary drivers behind taking initiative and following through. An entrepreneurial mindset is vital to the success of your startup team, so it is important to elaborate on the intersection of your skills and attributes.

Conduct and apply your research: think outside the box.

Who is your customer or end user? Are there other companies or individuals addressing the same problem your technology or business idea seeks to solve? How will you generate revenue? Between customers, competitors, and revenue, you should be able to describe your startup team’s potential business model. While founders are not required to have an understanding of business fundamentals, it is critical to familiarize yourself with the terminology and demonstrate practical application of ideas. Though your innovation or business idea is important, it is also a measure of your ability to think outside the box. We place a strong emphasis on founders’ critical thinking skills, as your technology and/or your business model will evolve or pivot during the program.

The application is divided into two sections: (1) the technology, (2) the startup team, and (3) the founders. You should be prepared to provide detailed, concise answers to questions surrounding each of these topics. Because there is no option to save and finish later, startup teams are strongly encouraged to review the application questions below and prepare their answers before beginning the application.

Technology or Business Idea

  • What does your startup do, provide, make or sell? Describe your technology or business idea.
  • What problem or need is your technology or business idea solving?
  • Who is your customer and/or end user? Please describe them in terms of age, gender, geography, health status, industry, business type, etc.
  • How will your startup generate revenue? What is your business model?
  • What is new or unique about your technology or business idea? How does it differ from what is currently available?
  • What other companies or solutions currently address the problem or need you are solving? Do you consider these companies or solutions to be competitors?
  • What inspired or motivated you to pursue a solution to this problem?
  • Has your startup team generated any revenue?
  • If your startup team raised money from an outside investor, how much and from whom did you receive capital?
  • If your startup had money to spend, how would you spend or allocate it?
  • Which companies or type(s) of companies would most likely be interested in acquiring your startup or technology?
  • If your technology is a hardware or other tangible product, have you already developed a prototype?
  • Has your startup team incorporated? If so, what is your incorporation status (C-Corp, LLC, etc.)?
  • Include a link to your startup team’s 60-second pitch video. Please provide a complete URL (i.e. “http://www.owlspark.com/pitch_video”). View Pitch Video Criteria
  • Include a link to any websites, slide decks, demos, or other materials you feel would support your startup team’s application. Please provide a complete URL (i.e. “http://www.owlspark.com/slide_deck”).

Startup Team

  • Have you secured a startup team of two to five founders?
  • Why should your startup team be selected for OwlSpark?
  • Briefly describe the skills and strengths your team has to advance your innovation or business idea. Please include one to two sentences describing each founder’s skill set and contribution that demonstrates a high level of ability.
  • Is your startup team committed to launching your startup? For example, how much have you or your startup team members already invested in terms of personal time, resources and/or finances, etc.?
  • If by August 2017 your startup had a significant chance (20% or greater) of being successful (using your own definition of success), are any founders committed to working on your startup full-time for the next several years?

Founders

  • Name and Contact Information
  • Rice University Affiliation (if no affiliation, you must specify)
  • Residential College Affiliation (if no affiliation, choose N/A)
  • Academic Discipline (if no affiliation, choose N/A)
  • Is this founder able to participate full-time during the program? If no, please list dates of outside commitments between May 22 and August 11, 2017 that may prevent this founder from attending and participating.
  • Choose a word that you think best describes you and explain why you chose that word.

As part of the application process, your startup team is required to submit a 60-second Pitch Video. Please upload the video to the web and provide a link to the video on your startup team’s application.

How do you get others excited about your idea?

Your purpose to get others excited about your idea, not to educate them. You only have 1 minute to pitch, so every second counts. We suggest you allocate your time as follows:

Who are you? (5 – 10 seconds)

Start strong and help people remember your skill set (use a hook).

Example: My name is John and I’m a futurist and designer creating the next generation of drone videography tours in the real estate industry.

What is the problem? (10 – 20 seconds)

Describe the problem in simple terms that the audience can relate to. The audience needs to understand the problem, otherwise they cannot vote for you.

Example: Have you tried to buy or sell a house lately? All the websites and ads look the same. The real estate market presents homes in a boring, predictable way to potential buyers, despite the technology available today. This limits the seller’s chance of getting their home sold and potential buyers’ chances of truly experiencing a home’s real potential.

What is your solution? (10 – 20 seconds)

Make your solution plausible and logical. Add your secret sauce, i.e. your special skills set that shows you can make this work.

Example: I propose to develop a stylized packaged of videos and photos that buyers can use to showcase their homes, recorded and photographed by drones and put together by designers.

Who is your team? (5 – 10 seconds)

Why is your team the right team to execute your business idea?

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