Rice Alliance Taps Northwestern’s Hochberg to Boost Entrepreneurship

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“let me bring what Northwestern had to Rice.” But this is a good time now to step back and look at best practices, at MIT, Northwestern, Stanford and a small group of other universities that are thinking about this in a concrete fashion. This is a clean slate from which to build a program from ground up and take all the strengths that Rice brings to the table, as well as look at what’s been successful in other places.

X: What are the main challenges to building up Rice’s program?

YH: The major challenge is making sure that everyone stays on board and with the same goals and coordinating visions. We’ve got to be making sure people are getting behind things with not just words but also actions. Usually the stumbling blocks come from institutional inertia: we have something and it’s good enough. As long as everyone is willing to stay focused and acknowledge that we have an opportunity to build something new, we can do a lot of great things.

Houston still needs things in the ecosystem that might take longer to accomplish. We’re looking at high-growth and more technologically complex business, different from the traditional business built in Houston. We could facilitate the development of this with a large space where lots of startups are sitting together with great tech infrastructure available. If you look at why Chicago has had such an inflection point, the city does a lot to lay down a technology infrastructure. It got Google into the city, the 1871 co-working space. Techstars Chicago is there at 1871.

Houston could easily support another tech accelerator. There are people who are trying to build those spaces. You have Redhouse, Start Houston, Surge. You can see these things starting to emerge. Owlspark [the student accelerator at Rice] is struggling to find space. One of the things that I hope will happen is that, over the next few years, we’ll see more spaces like this to try and really build an entrepreneurship cluster.

X: So, you will be up against your former colleagues next year at the Rice competition?

YH: I hope so. I love working with students on startup plans. I intend to offer my support to whatever student groups need it. I will admit that I was kind of hoping to see Northwestern win this year. I was glad to see Innoblative in the final six.

But A-76, the Rice startup, came in second, which was great to see. There is a lot of potential running around Rice and, as we build programs, it should help a lot of the groups start up. It will take a concerted effort. There are challenges surrounding how we leverage the technology at the Texas Medical Center, the university, and take that IP into a startup instead of just licensing it away to a large corporation or having it sit on a shelf somewhere.

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