OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | WeekWise: Five and Six
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WeekWise: Five and Six

Week Five

Sometimes it takes a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) of motivation to make it through a Monday. Kaz Karwowski, executive director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, gave founders the boost they needed by way of discussion (and delicious eats) on motivating your team. Fueled and motivated, founders were ready for the week ahead.

Since the beginning of #bayoustartupsummer, founders have been gathering data about their customers, their needs, their pain points, and other valuable information. They’ve begun to identify some trends in their data, and are working to translate that data into a tangible solution. To do so, founders are starting to test key assumptions they’ve made based on interview data.

When trying to figure out how to solve our customer’s problems, it is also important to learn how to reach them. Earlier this summer, Robin Tooms of Savage Brands introduced founders to branding, and how it permeates all areas of a business. Since then, they’ve been building out the bits and pieces of their brand, and are ready to translate this into a visual identity—the elements that are most often associated with a brand, like the logo, color palette, images, et cetera. OwlSpark’s assistant managing director, Jessica Fleenor, led our teams in a session and workshop on actively translating your brand into a visual identity. Building on concepts learned in week two, now our teams must choose how to share their visions with all of you.

The next step is to start building out some of our solutions. For some teams, it is easy to create a virtual representation of their final product. For others, especially when they’re working with hardware, creating a production-ready product can be a huge undertaking in terms of time and money. LK Pryzant of Mercury Fund introduced founders to pretotyping (pre-to-typing). A concept developed by LK herself, pretotyping is the predecessor to a prototyping, and is simply a minimalistic prototype that is developed using as few resources as possible. The goal is to validate—or invalidate—that you’re building a technology your customer wants. For example, this could be a landing page with a link to purchase the product or service, and when clicked, the link directs the user to another page thanking them for their interest and notifying users when the product or service is available.

Later we were joined by Chris Church, founder and CEO of Macro Fab, who shared the story of his entrepreneurial journey with founders. Chris mentioned his use of pretotyping and lean manufacturing to attract investors and funding.

We rounded out the week with sessions on business skills. Nicole Van Den Heuvel, director of the Rice University Center for Career Development led a session on LinkedIn and networking best practices, and Matt Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems, who shared tips with our teams about hiring developers. One of our favorite pearls of wisdom was, “If you have a coder who can talk to a customer, he’s probably a bad coder.”

Week Six

This week, founders continued to blueprint their pretotypes. Several startup teams have begun running A/B tests of their preotypes, determining which option will best attract potential customers. To complement product testing, business librarians from the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business Information Center and the University of Houston laid out tools and resources to guide founders in their market research. Thank you, Bill Coxsey, Lisa Martin, Elise McCutcheon, and Peggy Shaw for spending your morning with us helping founders navigate through various databases and publications.

Kaz Karwowski, executive director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, dished out another element of the Leadership Lunch series, this time focusing on the history of leadership and different styles.

We also spent some time with Keith Kreuer, principal of RedHouse Associates, serial entrepreneur and investor, who has been involved in the Houston entrepreneurial community for nearly three decades. During that time, Keith co-founded and grew several successful technology companies and currently advises and coaches promising technology startups. Keith shared his love of entrepreneurship, stating he just couldn’t pull himself away from the thrill of building a successful business, that entrepreneurs like him find it tricky to give up the hustle and retire.

As week six draws to a close, founders are beginning to prepare for the bright lights of the Bayou Startup Showcase (save the date: August 1!). To start preparations, our own Jessica Fleenor walked founders through the pitch writing and storyboarding process, helping them brainstorm an interesting pitch. Founders learned that the key to connecting with an audience is to tie the facts into story, especially if it can create empathy for the problem founders are solving.