Rice’s OwlSpark Accelerator Debuts First Class of Startups

8/19/13Follow @angelashah

The inaugural class of Rice University’s OwlSpark accelerator made its debut last week.

A group of nine companies comprised the new accelerator’s class when it formed last May, including three composed of undergrads, three of graduate students, and three that are staffed by alumni.

They range from IT-based analytical companies aiming to help customers make better investment decisions, healthcare providers assess a patient’s condition in real time, or recruiters to build better corporate teams to startups that offer solutions to maximize parking options, monitor your alcohol consumption, or better organize the holiday gift-giving list. And three others focused on social entrepreneurial enterprises that included helping African youth innovate, delivering more efficient and effective aid to disaster and war victims, and an idea to build a private school for the middle class.

In total, the startups have already raised $1.1 million, and the entrepreneurs will have access to Rice offices for nine months as the companies continue to grow. Each founder received a $1,000 monthly stipend for the duration of the three-month program, “Ramen noodle money” that could help pay the bills while they focused on fine-tuning their business ideas, said Darren Clifford, an OwlSpark co-founder.

He added that the startup ecosystem both within Rice and around it–including the Texas Medical Center and NASA—have all nurtured the program. “We’ve found it takes a village to raise a startup,” he said.

Rice University president David Leebron praised the students, saying their work perfectly captures the essence of the university’s efforts to promote entrepreneurship. “Not since the time of Alexander the Great have young people been capable of changing the universe,” he said.

Next year’s OwlSpark class will come together in May. Here are details of the accelerator’s first group:

Checked Twice: An online gift registry designed for families to coordinate holiday giving. Founder Andrew Swick said his family has been using the platform for five years and the startup is planning a massive expansion with affinity partnerships with Amazon and other retailers. Family members can all log into a site, where individuals can upload their wish lists. Others can click on those items and purchase them—without letting the recipient know what was bought.

The site currently has 15,000 users and hopes to reach 100,000 people by the holiday season. It is seeking to add $400,000 in funding to the $130,000 it has raised so far.

Village Innovators: This social entrepreneurship startup hopes to boost innovation among African youth … Next Page »

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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