A Silicon Valley Pioneer Molds the Next Wave of Innovators at Rice

9/3/13Follow @angelashah

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that I teach at Rice, is called the “Roles of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers in High-Tech Startups.” It originated at Harvard and MIT in 2000. These courses sort of jump-start the process.

In the seven years [since the class at Rice started], I’ve had two [teaching assistants] every year: one provided by Rice and one by the medical center. All of those TAs go on to successes, even at a young age. Ask them, What’d you learn in Jack’s class? What they’ll say is, Who else put me in front of 10 Billy Cohns? [Cohn is a serial entrepreneur and director of the Texas Heart Institute.]

It’s jump-starting the Houston entrepreneurial process by bringing in courses like this. I’m not the only one. [Rice’s director of technology ventures development] Tom Kraft has a great course for students at the undergraduate level.

[Rice] President David Leebron is starting his 9th year. Only in the last two or three has he begun to emphasize entrepreneurship. He has taken on a new mantra that entrepreneurship is one of our three major things: entrepreneurship, energy, and life sciences. He wasn’t saying that five years ago. Nobody was saying that 10 years ago. It’s a major new thing that Rice is stepping up to the bar.

X: What’s missing in Houston’s startup ecosystem?

G: This city is full if smart, well-educated, great entrepreneurs, virtually all focused on energy, finance, real estate, and traditional business. But Houston was not a pioneering city in high-tech entrepreneurship and life sciences entrepreneurship historically. What’s missing was enough companies who were successful in high-tech entrepreneurship to spawn others. What was missing was experienced people in a critical mass of high-tech entrepreneurship. Number two on what was missing most was angel investors who support startups.

Let’s suppose you were a hotshot professor and you had a major invention, and two or three patents, and you wanted a productize and create a company but you had no business experience. So you wrote what you thought looked like a business plan, and you go call on some venture capitalists. They would listen to you politely for an hour or so, and say, Yeah, I’m impressed. What you have is very interesting, but you need to go away and get your act together and come back to see me when you do. Which means you’re not ready for prime time. So Houston had too few angel investors who understood the startup process.

If you were that startup professor with an invention … you need business help as much as you need money. You need to find people who can help you get your act together. If you knew how to do that, you would have done that already. That’s part of the entrepreneurial process and angel investors know how to do that. We don’t have enough angel investors who help entrepreneurs.

Historically, the Texas Medical Center was highly competitive and not collaborative. If you’re an old faculty member who’s been at the Texas Med Center for two decades or more, you’re probably not favorably inclined … 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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