Five Questions For … Hesam Panahi, Rice University Entrepreneurship Lecturer

Houston—Entrepreneurship runs in the Panahi family, so it’s little wonder that Hesam Panahi now teaches the subject to undergraduates.

“Both of my parents were entrepreneurs,” he says. “That, I think, was a huge influence to me. It made me realize that I didn’t have to necessarily go to a 9-to-5 job, which led me to believe I could make my own path.”

Born and reared in Houston—save for two years in graduate school at Georgia Tech in Atlanta—Panahi began teaching at the University of Houston, starting the RedLabs student accelerator at the University of Houston. Three years ago, he worked with Kerri Smith, who runs Rice University’s student accelerator, OwlSpark, to combine their demo days into a “Bayou Startup Showcase.” (Last year, Panahi began teaching fulltime at Rice University.)

Panahi is active in the city’s startup community at the universities and co-working space Station Houston, and helping to organize events such as 3 Day Startup. He even volunteered to DJ in between startup pitches at demo day for the Surge cleantech accelerator.

In this week’s “Five Questions For …,” we speak to Panahi about the meaning of success, how curiosity drives him, and a Houstonian’s unusual fascination with some cold-weather creatures.

Xconomy: How do you relax outside of work when you want to tune out the noise?

Hesam Panahi: Coffee shops and spending time with the family. If I go to a coffee shop, I have a few different books I’ll be reading on the side. I’ll take one with me and spend some time there. I have a 7-month-old son. I spend a lot of time with him and [wife] Lina. That tends to work out as a nice way to get away from everything. When you have a 7-month-old, it’s not like you can do two things at once. Keeping him entertained is in itself a break away from everything else.

Some of the books are related to work, about pedagogy, different ways to approach teaching. I’ve been reading some philosophy books lately, stoic philosophy in particular. I get on this path [and] one book leads me to the next book.

X: How do you define success?

HP: Success is not feeling you’re doing the same thing over again with no measurable progress. It’s not about making a massive … Next Page »

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