new on campus

Rice University opens new accelerator labs focused on national security innovation

Rice University President David Leebron was joined by dignitaries for the Oct. 30 opening ceremony of the Rice University National Security Research Accelerator laboratories in Dell Butcher Hall. Photo via Rice.edu

A collaboration between Rice University and the United States Army has taken entered into a new phase with the opening of the Rice University National Security Research Accelerator laboratories in Dell Butcher Hall.

RUNSRA, which launched in 2019 with support from Army Futures Command and the Army Research Laboratory, premiered its new home on the Rice campus at a hybrid event. Most attendees tuned in via webcast while university president, David Leebron, and Provost Reggie DesRoches hosted U.S. Army Futures Command Lt. Gen. Thomas Todd III and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas.

"The accelerator is the first-of-its-kind, collaborative research facility designed to deploy and develop new technologies for economic and national security," DesRoches says at the event. "The facility includes space for visiting Army Research Lab and (Department of Defense) scientists. We see this as a new model for truly collaborative research that brings together research teams from across the country and across agencies to work on mission-critical technologies."

"We are the only university in the world with a deployed software-defined network already in place," DesRoches continues. "The materials we will discover here with our ARL partners will be rapidly prototyped into devices and deployed."

Walter Jones, executive director of RUNSRA, is a the former executive director of the Office of Naval Research and former director of plans and programs at the Air Force Research Laboratory and joined Rice in June. The goal of the lab and the program is to research technologies to advance the Army's modernization.

"The accelerating pace of technology will continue to change our world," says Todd. "It will require us to re-examine how we compete and, if required, how we win on the future battlefield. And it will require us to develop new technologies that let us compete and win by expanding what is possible, which starts at a place like Rice University.

"I know that tremendous benefit will come from this research accelerator," Todd continues. "And truly, it's meant to be what it says, an accelerator of technologies into the hands of soldiers."

Watch below to view the press conference and ribnbon cutting.

The Rice University National Security Research Accelerator www.youtube.com

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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