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

We are rolling full steam ahead here at OwlSpark! Weeks five and six have been a whirlwind of activities, and founders are at the point of beginning preparations for their pitch at the Bayou Startup Showcase. We’re honing in on value propositions, competitive landscapes, go-to market strategies and more, to prepare founders to showcase their hard work to more than 400 entrepreneurs, mentors, advisors, investors, and key stakeholders from the greater Houston entrepreneurial community.

Week Five

As the summer progresses, founders are digging deeper into their market research. We kicked off the week with a Leadership Lunch fueled by Halal Guys and led by Kaz Karwowski from the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership. Founders watched an episode of The Prophet about a company going under because of the owner’s lack of vision and poor management style. Kaz showed founders the importance of change and how change can be positive. Furthermore, it provided a perfect segue into understanding and developing a vision statement. A vision statement identifies what a company would like to achieve, and also incorporates the “why” and “how.” For a new business, developing a vision statement is needed to reflect the business’ culture and identify what goals need to be met.

Tuesday was all about absorbing some wisdom. In the age of technology, we are getting our information faster than ever online. But we thought we’d bring in some other resources to help founders improve their research. Highly knowledgeable business librarians from Rice University and University of Houston met with founders so they could learn more (and possibly better targeted) ways to conduct market research. They provided access to library databases and resources, statistics on consumer behavior, patent searches, potential competitor information and more. Later on, Matt Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems discussed best practices for hiring developers. Founders learned that adding developers to their team is a huge undertaking, but crucial later on when their companies are more developed. Hager’s advice helped several teams better understand how to approach making additions to their company.

Erik Ibarra also paid a visit to founders during our weekly Startup Founders Series. Erik has an incredible startup history, and has been involved in five different startups. Starting out in 2001 when he was only 21 years old, he began his entrepreneurial career, and as he put it, he was ‘constantly pivoting.’ For founders, it was amazing to see someone who had so much experience and who had learned a lot of lessons organically. Currently Erik is serving as a Governing Board Member at Houston Exponential, as well as working on a healthcare project that’s a little under wraps for now, but we’re sure we’ll see big things from him soon!

This Wednesday at OwlSpark was very special indeed, because it was Jessica’s birthday! Of course we had to start the day with sweet and savory treats, and Shipley’s donuts and kolaches did just the trick. After a little bit of celebrating, Chris Taylor (MD Anderson Cancer Center) came in to talk about leveraging your LinkedIn network. LinkedIn is one of the most powerful tools for business networking, so founders learned ways they could use it to their advantage, especially for the customer discovery process. Founders went on to give team presentations on their channels and go-to market strategies. Chris Taylor, Alex Tortoriello, Dan Lee, and Kaz Karwowski all spent time as panelists to listen, give feedback, and make sure our founders are right on track for the summer. With that feedback fresh in their minds, teams came in for office hours with the leadership team and spent time thinking about next steps.

Thursday was a perfect end to a long, productive week at OwlSpark. We had our first International Potluck! Continuing recent tradition that started last year during Class 5, founders brought in a dish from their home country or state, and it’s safe to say that the spread was incredibly tasty. We had dishes from all over, including homemade pork from China, dahl from India, boiled peanuts from Alabama, Giordano’s pizza flown in from Chicago, and so much more. Food definitely brings people together, but we wanted to do even more. After lunch founders played the game show classic Family Feud, put together and hosted by our creative interns. We thought that some lighthearted fun was just what founders needed before heading into another weekend of customer discovery.

Week Six

We’re halfway through #bayoustartupsummer! Time really flies when you’re having fun! We kicked off this week with a little bit of office hours with Tom Kraft, followed by some Monday motivation with Kaz Karwowski. During this week’s Leadership Lunch, founders watched a video by Dan Pink and learned about the correlation between work quality and efficiency and compensation. As contrary as it seems, founders learned that when work involved creative thinking, no amount of money could make their quality of work better. When it came down to menial tasks, it was the complete opposite! This was followed up by a quick exercise where founders talked about what motivated them as individuals. We heard responses ranging from salary to family, and even competition. In the afternoon Jim O’Sullivan, recently retired CTO of Technip, talked to founders about technology readiness levels. The founders assessed their own readiness level and presented it to the cohort.

Tuesday started out with another round of office hours. Adam Wulf (Milestone Made), took some time out of his morning to guide our ever-curious founders. The real fun started with Jessica Fleenor’s lecture on storytelling. The founders learned the importance of making your customers connect with you and your company through story. During the session, founders watched commercials by the North Face and Google that both pulled at the heartstrings of everyone in the audience. It became clear to the founders that having a convincing and relatable backstory can be one of the best branding and marketing tools. The founders went on to learn about Hemingway’s famous six-word story and shared their interpretations of the story. Interpretations ranged from downright depressing to happy and positive, however, the actual meaning of the story remains unknown. Founders were also tasked with writing their own six word stories about their OwlSpark experience. Here are some of our favorites:

  • “Customer interviews can never be enough.” — Anthony Epke, Bidly
  • “9 to 5 just isn’t enough.” — Vinay Acharya, WellWorth
  • “Quiet in English, good at OwlSpark.” — Zikai Zhu, Nutri-Action
  • “I’m not late, you’re late.” — Steven Tsai, Tax Credit Hero


We topped Tuesday off with our Startup Founders Series with Chris Church, founder and ceo of MacroFab Inc., who talked about his experiences as an entrepreneur while the founders listened and ate ice cream sandwiches. Church’s third startup, MacroFab, assists companies in creating prototypes for their products. He stressed the importance of creating a working product that offers a return to the consumer and the producer.

Wednesday, the founders spent the day getting out of the building to do more customer discovery. They continued their customer interviews, which are so crucial to testing the hypotheses they have formed about their customers’ needs and validating their business models.

Thursday started off with a round of office hours. Andrew Swick, founder of CheckedTwice, came in to share his technical expertise with the founders for some early-morning advice. We continued the day with Founders Brunch, discussing the past week’s biggest achievements, learning points, and upcoming tasks, topped off with a waffle brunch bar. Each group of founders shared a lot of insightful learning points, and our favorite: listening is important. We wrapped up our sessions with a lecture from Rob McKee on public speaking. With pitches coming up soon, the founders learned important tips and tricks for delivering a meaningful and convincing pitch. They learned the importance of inflection, emotion, and clarity.

Ah, Friday! What would start the weekend off better than another round of office hours?! We love office hours! Founders met with the leadership team to discuss storytelling and branding, wrapping up what they learned earlier in the week about pitch development. As we enter into the second half of #bayoustartupsummer, the pressure is on for founders to move fast and move smart so they can make the most of the remaining weeks.

If you want to build a future, you gotta be in it for the long haul. Only you decide when you want to stop being an entrepreneur. — Erik Ibarra