Rice’s OwlSpark Creates Network of University-based Accelerators

Accelerators help startups succeed by leveraging their networks of successful entrepreneurs and investors, whose advice can be catalysts for growth.

Now, Rice University’s OwlSpark accelerator wants to create its own network, one that can help make it—and other university programs—better at boosting student-run startups.

“We plan to create a comprehensive database of university accelerators and invite these programs to join as founding members,” says Kerri Smith, managing director of OwlSpark. “The group would meet annually to share best practices, lessons learned, and network.”

Last summer, OwlSpark debuted its first class of nine startups. They included a healthtech company that can assess a patient’s condition in real time, a startup hoping to maximize parking options around Houston, and another helping people monitor their alcohol consumption at Friday’s happy hour.

As the accelerator begins putting together its second class, Smith says she wants more interaction with OwlSpark’s peers at other universities. For this, OwlSpark is working to create the National University Accelerator Network, a group of university-sponsored programs similar to OwlSpark.

To do this, Rice has received a $50,000 grant from the New York-based Blackstone Charitable Foundation, which is sponsoring a $50 million “Entrepreneurship Initiative” aimed at creating entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world. The foundation is run by the global investment and advisory firm Blackstone (NYSE: BX.)

Smith says membership in the national network of accelerators will be open to all university-based accelerator programs globally. She added that she expects their first meeting will be held in October along with the annual meeting of the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers.

Unlike for-profit accelerators, Smith says universities often don’t have funds to invest in companies. Instead, the programs raise grants and sponsorships in order to support student entrepreneurs. I had an e-mail chat with Smith earlier this week … Next Page »

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