OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | WeekWise: Seven and Eight
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WeekWise: Seven and Eight

Week Seven

We hope everyone had a safe and relaxing holiday weekend. We took a brief hiatus from the daily grind to celebrate America in style. Founders began to work with graphic designers to prepare slide decks for the Bayou Startup Showcase on August 1. We carried the spirit of Independence Day through to Thursday, and celebrated a Red, White and Blue Day where everyone dressed accordingly and feasted on barbecue.

Week Eight

How confident are you in your negotiation skills? Are you ready to negotiate a multi-million dollar deal? Founders found themselves facing this very challenge during Kaz Karwowski’s weekly Leadership Lunch series. Working in teams, founders were assigned the duty of negotiating land usage rights in a scenario based on a real life scenario. Most of teams walked away satisfied with their arrangements, while others learned that sometimes the best option is to walk away from a deal.

This week founders received a double dose of practical business advice. Jay Steinfield of Blinds.com regaled his transformation from CPA to the “World’s Leading and Most Trusted” online blinds salesman. Steinfield explained that he earned this title because he coined it; at the time, the world’s ONLY online blinds salesman. He shared the story of how he grew his business, fostered a unique office culture, and ultimately sold his business to Home Depot. He still leads the Blinds.com team, and loves going into work where he continues to develop a unique office environment. His team demonstrated their appreciation for him by filming their own rendition of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers.

We were later joined by Doug Erwin, Chairman and Principal of RedHouse Associates. A serial entrepreneur and investor, with decades of business experience, Doug shared the ten most important lessons he’s learned and witnessed as a business leader. The one that seems to have stuck the most is that one should have goals, write them down, and look at them frequently. Doug has a frank, but pleasant demeanor. Doug’s perspective on entrepreneurship resonated with founders, who were, in their own words, “fanboy-ing” for several hours after he left.

Rob Austin McKee, RED Labs Class 4 founder, publicly spoke about public speaking (see what we did there?!), helping founders understand the effect of rhetoric and physical expression while speaking. He especially emphasized non-verbal communication—sometimes non-verbal speaks louder than verbal communication. He even went so far as to say that the connection one makes with an audience through non-verbal communication can have a lasting impact than the words that are spoken.

We are now two-thirds of the way through #bayoustartupsummer, and founders convened for another mock-advisory board meeting. Our knowledgeable and gracious community advisors provided feedback on teams’ progress. Shout out to Station Houston for hosting us, as well as to Andrew Swick of CheckedTwice (OwlSpark Class 1), Matt Peña of Rice University (OwlSpark Class 3), Scott Key of Emergency Floor (OwlSpark Class 1), Greg Wright of RED Labs, Tom Kraft of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, and Matt Bell of Ikon Sciences Americas for volunteering their time.

To help teams decompress and foster cohort comraderie, we rounded out the week with “Office Olympics,” based on NBC’s The Office. Founders competed individually and as teams in a rock-paper-scissors tournament, a push-up competition, and a Dunder Mifflin favorite, flonkerton. This type of cohort bonding is, what we feel, exactly what Jay Stanfield described in his talk. We have a very particular culture, which we value very highly, as well. Congratulations to the mashup team of PredictMX, Radiate, and Ascent Décor for taking home the gold. Next we’re all going to be digging into Bayou Startup Showcase preparations—pitch practice, slide deck development, and nifty swag to follow.