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UH RED Labs, Rice OwlSpark collaborate in new facility

Following a successful Bayou Startup Showcase last summer, the University of Houston’s RED Labs and Rice University’s OwlSpark startup programs announced last month that they will be combining forces at TMCx next summer.

“During our summer program, we realized that there was a lot of benefit to collaborating with our programs,” OwlSpark managing director Kerri Smith said. “We were exploring a lot of the same issues and addressing many of the same concerns and tapping into many of the same resources. The outcome form the Bayou Startup Showcase was so positive that we started to increase that collaboration to where it made sense.”

Last summer was the first year the universities showcased the fruits of their summer startup accelerator programs together, and the summer of 2015 will be the first year they work in the same space at TMCx, the Medical Center’s new 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

“TMC is trying to establish themselves as this hub for innovation,” RED Labs director Hesam Panahi said. “It just so happened that Rice and UH are member institutions of the Medical Center and it made sense for us to get involved in some way.”

While the programs will not be combined, students from each program will be “working parallel” to one another in the same space, allowing them to tap into the same resources, mentors and setting.

“Both of our programs are really new, and no one has the right answers for exactly how this is supposed to work,” Panahi said.  “It’s really great to have another group of people who are doing the same thing, that you can have conversation with on a daily basis to see how their teams are working, what is working for them and what is not.”

Although Panahi said that specifics of the agreement with TMCx is “still being sorted out” by both universities, Smith and Panahi said that TMCx’s location was ideal.

“Being outside of the University makes a huge impact,” Panahi said. “(Students) are going to be, not only in a totally separate building (outside) of the University, but (they) will also we surrounded (by) real companies that are really working. That adds to the experience.”

As excited as both program directors said they are, Smith said they realize adjustments will have to be made in order for both programs to be successful.

“This is blue water for us,” Smith said. “We’re trying to anticipate what might happen next summer. We have a general idea of what we both want to accomplish, but you just don’t know until our cohort is put together… We believe that the space will be very inspiring to our students, and we think that will open up some additional opportunities for them, which is what we’re here for – to help students achieve their aspirations to launch real startups.”

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