Houston’s RedLabs Creates Prep Program for New Summer Accelerator


At RedLabs, we found that having an accelerator isn’t enough to support student entrepreneurs.

A brief background: The University of Houston founded RedLabs in 2012 to serve as the hub for technology entrepreneurship by helping students either launch startups or encourage them to join startups as early employees.  Our first class joined the accelerator last spring. Six companies were formed, including students from diverse backgrounds: computer science, entrepreneurship, supply chain, petroleum engineering, and management information systems. Their ideas included a web/mobile app that could “fling” content to smart TVs, a video-sharing platform for military veterans, and a mobile app that would help landlords and tenants streamline communication. Students worked on campus from February to May, fueled by unlimited ramen noodles and coffee. At the end of the semester, we hosted the six startups in a demo day that attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

After the program ended in May, some of our student founders continued working on their ventures, while others joined startups as early employees. Inevitably, a few of them also decided that their startup would not be sustainable in its current form and moved on to the corporate world.

Since then, my colleagues and I have focused on two things: How to reach more prospective entrepreneurs—always a challenge in a university with 40,000 students—and how to make the program better, based on our first year’s experience. We found that hosting RedLabs during a period that overlapped with the spring semester wasn’t ideal because, ultimately, students have already committed much of their time to coursework, and as a result, they couldn’t dedicate as much time to building their startup as was needed.

We realized that, to make the most of the three-month accelerator experience, we had to create a preparatory program that would help students get the most out of the accelerator, which would be shifted to summer.

This program would help students overcome the obstacles that we saw … Next Page »

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Hesam Panahi is the founder of RedLabs, the accelerator at the University of Houston and a clinical assistant professor in the Bauer College of Business at the university. Follow @hesam

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