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New UH business school dean plans to bring innovation into play

Paul Pavlou has been named as the dean of C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. Courtesy of UH

Earlier this year, the University of Houston named a new dean for its C.T. Bauer College of Business. Paul Pavlou officially started his position on July 1, and, even though he has only a few days under his belt at UH, the new dean has a long career in education.

Most recently, Pavlou served as senior associate dean at Temple University within its business program and specializing in data analytics for business. Pavlou also has ties to Houston, as he received his bachelor's from Rice University after receiving a Fulbright Scholarship.

"My life was transformed by higher education," Pavlou says. "So, I feel the need to give back in terms of helping other students — especially of modest means like myself to do well in life and get a good job."

Pavlou has a lot on his plate entering the fall semester. He plans to continue enhancing the college's programs and faculty, while also continue the school's effort to bring in innovation and industry.

The new dean spoke with InnovationMap about what all he sees in Bauer's future.

InnovationMap: How has the first few days on the job been?

Paul Pavlou: So far it's been very exciting. There's so many opportunities for the Bauer College in innovation and technology in new areas that we're considering such health care, analytics, some of the existing areas in energy. So, the goal in my first few days is to talk to as many stakeholders as possible. Try to get to know our existing practices internally, what the opportunities are in the city, and of course, broadly, nationally, internationally. And accordingly, the plan is to see how we can focus on this needs of the industry, how we can create cutting edge programs and prepare the next generation of the workforce, obviously for the city of Houston or the state of Texas nationally and even that globally.

IM: What are some things on your plate that you hope to bring to the college?

PP: In general, one of the areas that I'd like to see us moving into as a college is the digital learning online and how we can do that in a way that it's convenient and flexible for students. Also at the same time, not only maintain the quality of traditional instruction, but also using technology intelligently to provide an even higher quality, more interactive experience for students.

The second thing that I'm very passionate about as well as the notion of experiential learning. I think students should learn from experience and learn by doing. So I would like to see how we can improve this at this college. I'm very happy to report that Bauer has very strong connections to industry, but I would like to make it an even a very strong proposition for the entire college — making sure that, you know, different courses that have an experiential component such as project or working closely with industry.

IM: How is Bauer focusing on the needs the city has for an emerging workforce?

PP: I think increasingly I find and identify more of the city's needs, but I think one of them is the idea of the analytics space and how to use the data. And that's across the board. I talk to people in health care and they say that health care analytics and using data in hospitals is a very important aspect.

More broadly, cutting edge technology is something that is very important not only the city of Houston but beyond. So. we're discussing this idea of artificial intelligence, and how we can play a role in this in a very important emerging area.

One of the things that I would like to see more of is for the University of Houston to work more closely with the business community. We're trying to develop partnerships with the greater Houston partnership and to see what they need as an industry, perhaps for the next generation of workforce.

IM: What role do you see the school playing in the city's innovation ecosystem?

PP: I think we can play a multiple roles. We're an educational organization, so we train the students. We want make sure that through our degrees and offerings have executive programs, and that we satisfy the need for competence and skills needed. And that's why I want us to be on the cutting edge, not only now but in the next five or 10 years.

Second, through our research and through our connections to industry, I want us to be cutting edge in terms of projects and basic research we can actually provide, whether it's analytics, artificial intelligence, or energy. Through our centers and our research, we have world class research faculty in the college. I want us to be out there and to start with the major challenges and help them.

IM: How is the college working with other programs within the university?

PP: One thing I'd like to specify, is that Bauer is obviously a college of business, but I want to take a very broad, multidisciplinary perspective and be very collaborative with the college of medicine, engineering, and nursing. And the idea is to be more open in terms of partnerships with different areas that innovation and new ideas may come into play and provide the business and entrepreneurship components to bring these ideas to market.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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