OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | WeekWise: Three and Four
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WeekWise: Three and Four

Week Three

Our week started off with another installment in our leadership series about teamwork, led by Kaz Karwowski, executive director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, who led a session about team development. Later on, Dr. Eduardo Salas (Rice University) dug deeper into this topic. Dr. Salas’ research is focused on team performance and training, and based on decades of data, he put forward best practices on building and managing a successful team.

The rest of our week was structured around understanding customer acquisition and the sales process. Ed Blair from the University of Houston gave founders the tools to help them reach their first customers. Hesam Panahi from the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business and Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship gave several talks on mapping sales strategies and finding a competitive position. Our teams also spent time with Jon Nordby (Greater Houston Partnership) getting the basics of sales. Jon has more than 15 years of sales experience and spent time discussing strategies, as well as taking lots of in-depth questions from our founders.

Our teams took this newfound knowledge and met with a great team of mentors who spent time advising them on their progress. Special thank you to Adam Wulf of Milestone Made, Tom Kraft of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Jim Kane and Ken Jones of the University of Houston, Andrew Swick of CheckedTwice, Matt Bell of Ikon Sciences Americas, Stephen Wilbur of INTX Capital, Rakesh Agrawal of SnapStream, and Greg Wright of RED Labs for taking time to share their varied expertise and guide founders in building their businesses.

As the week went on, founders spent time “outside the building” talking to customers and some began planning out prototypes. Special shout out to TXRX Labs who took founders on a tour of their ultra cool hackerspace.

We rounded out Week Three with Melanie Jones of Marketing Interface. Melanie led a quick session on marketing, the technology that surrounds it, and the customer journey—how do startups help customers discover their technology or service, and later convert these same customers into advocates?

Week Four

We kicked off the week by encouraging founders to “get out of the building.” They spent their time wisely, talking to potential customers and end users, and building out elements of their businesses.

Tuesday morning started with an engaging lecture from RED Labs managing director Kelly McCormick, who touched on customer acquisition costs and the lifetime value of a customer. While most of our teams aren’t quite ready for their first sale, this knowledge will be helpful in determining if their business model will even be sustainable in the markets they’re pursuing.

We also had our fourth and final interactive mentoring session. Thank you to Matt Peña of Rice University (OwlSpark Class 3), Adam Wulf of Milestone Made, Tom Kraft of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, LK Pryzant of Mercury Fund, Jim Kane and Ken Jones of the University of Houston, Matt Bell of Ikon Sciences Americas, Stephen Wilbur of INTX Capital, and Greg Wright of RED Labs. Our mentors are the keystone to the success of our founders, and we are so grateful to have such awesome mentors!

Later that day, Paul Kwiatkowski, co-founder of GroupRaise, joined us for the first round of Startup Founders Series, in which local entrepreneurs share their anecdotal stories of success and lessons learned. For Paul, the most important lesson was to measure everything—data is key in the decision-making process.

This week’s leadership lesson led by Kaz Karwowski of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership featured Thai food and a lesson on vision by way of an episode of The Profit. Through an interesting look at a failing business, Kaz was able to demonstrate the importance of having a grounded and realistic vision for your company. Founders then took a first pass at drafting a vision statement, which ranged from “making money,” to “achieving world peace.” What can we say? OwlSpark and RED Labs founders are ambitious!

Thursday afternoon our founders participated in their first of three advisory board meetings. This was a chance for our mentors to take a hard look at milestones and evaluate startup teams’ progress. Thank you to Dave Cook of the University of Houston, Matt Bell of Ikon Sciences Americas, Stephen Wilbur of INTX Capital, Tom Kraft of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Adam Wulf of Milestone Made, Matt Peña of Rice University (OwlSpark Class 3), Andrew Swick of CheckedTwice(OwlSpark Class 1), and Scott Key of Emergency Floor (OwlSpark Class 1) for asking the tough questions and dishing guidance.

We can hardly believe we’re already one-third of the way through Class 5 #bayoustartupsummer! To celebrate and foster cohort bonding, founders participated in a downtown photo scavenger hunt. Founders were mixed and matched into teams, and were required to complete tasks such as “I can’t believe we all fit in here” photo or “get Kerri a cookie from the DoubleTree Hotel.” Be on the lookout for the most creative (read: entertaining) photos on our Instagram page (are you following us yet?!)

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