top dog

Brainy Rice University institute named No. 1 think tank in the world

Rice's Baker Institute has done it again. Courtesy of Rice University

Furthering its reputation as a world-class educational and intellectual hallmark, Rice University has ascended to the top of yet another ranking.
The school's Baker Institute for Public Policy has been named the No. 1 think tank in the world, according to the 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report published January 28. This is a leap from No. 2 overall last year.

Additionally, its Center for Energy Studies (CES) was again named the top energy and resource policy think tank and was recognized as a Center of Excellence for being ranked No. 1 for three consecutive years, per a press release.

Rice's Baker Institute is also ranked No. 15 out of 110 of the top think tanks in the U.S. overall. It is also listed among the best think tanks globally in the category "Best Quality Assurance and Integrity Policies and Procedures."

Also on the prestigious list are the London School of Economics and Political Science (No. 2) and Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, U.K. (No. 3).

Meanwhile, CES is followed in the regular rankings by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, U.K., and the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.

Founded in 1993, the Baker Institute houses fellows and scholars who conduct research on domestic and foreign policy issues. Core fields of study include energy, the Middle East, Mexico, health policy, public finance, private entrepreneurship and economic growth, international economics, presidential elections, science and technology, China, space policy, and drug policy, according to the school.

CES was founded in October 2012 and provides policymakers, corporate leaders, and the public with quality, data-driven analysis of issues that influence energy markets, per Rice. The Baker Institute Energy Forum is considered an integral part of CES by the university.

"The rise of the Baker Institute and our Center for Energy Studies to the very top rankings in this year's Global Go To Think Tank Index is the culmination of what we created over a quarter of a century ago and of our adherence to excellence in data-driven, nonpartisan research and policy recommendations on public policy issues that reach decision-makers in the private and public sectors," said Baker Institute director Edward Djerejian, in a statement. "I commend all our fellows, scholars and staff, as well as our Board of Advisors and Roundtable members, for this outstanding achievement."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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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