we're No. 1

Houston schools reign supreme on lists of best universities for entrepreneurship

Rice University and the University of Houston each ranked No. 1 on lists on entrepreneurship programs. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perhaps Houston warrants a new nickname in addition to Space City and Bayou City. How about Entrepreneurship City?

Rice University tops a new list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S., and the University of Houston lands atop a new list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Rice and UH repeated their No. 1 rankings from last year. The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine published both lists November 17.

The Princeton Review ranked graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs based on a survey of administrators at more than 300 graduate and undergraduate schools that offer entrepreneurship programs. Schools were rated according to more than 40 metrics, including the percentage of students taking entrepreneurship courses, the number of startups founded by recent alumni, and the cash prizes offered at school-sponsored business plan competitions.

The Princeton Review, a provider of tutoring, test prep, and college admission services, noted that businesses launched by graduates of Rice's program have launched have raised more than $5.5 billion in capital over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, graduates of UH's program have started over 1,300 businesses in the past 10 years.

Entrepreneurship initiatives at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business include the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which launched in 2000, and its annual Rice Business Plan Competition; the OwlSpark Accelerator, which began in 2012; and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie), which started in 2015. In addition, Rice is developing the Midtown innovation district anchored by The Ion, set to open next spring.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez says in a release.

Here are two highlights of Rice's offerings:

  • Lilie equips students, faculty and alumni with entrepreneurial prowess through courses, co-curricular opportunities, and resources for founders such as coworking space, mentorship, and equity-free funding. Lilie hosts the university's new venture competition, the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, in which Rice-founded teams compete for $65,000 in equity-free prizes.
  • The Rice Alliance's flagship event is the Rice Business Plan Competition, billed as world's richest and largest student startup competition. Startups from across the globe — including one team from Rice — compete in front of over 300 investor and industry judges. The competition awarded more than $1.3 million in prizes in 2020.

At UH, Paul Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business, says the spirit of entrepreneurship is woven into the DNA of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the Bauer College.

"Entrepreneurship is at the heart of American business life," Pavlou says in a release. "The culture and values of the Wolff Center allow our students to found successful new companies and bring new and innovative ideas to established organizations. We believe these skills will be even more crucial in the coming years as we seek to rebuild our economy post-COVID-19."

Between 35 and 40 students are accepted each year into the Wolff Center's entrepreneurship program. However, more than 3,000 UH students from 85 different majors took at least one entrepreneurship course last year.

"The students at the Wolff Center are not just passionate about entrepreneurship. They are eager to take the lessons learned in the classroom and enhance their lives," Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a release. "Purpose isn't just a class in [the center]. It is a challenge to create the best life possible, with a focus on the student's values and on doing good in the world."

Other than UH, these Texas schools appeared on the list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • Baylor University, No. 7
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 18
  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 24
  • Texas Christian University, No. 27
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 35

Aside from Rice, these Texas schools made the list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, No. 6
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management, No. 10
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, Mays School of Business, No. 26

"The schools that made our ranking lists for 2021 all offer exceptional entrepreneurship programs," Rob Franek, The Princeton Review's editor in chief, says in a release. "Their faculties are outstanding. Their courses have robust experiential components, and their students receive outstanding mentoring and networking support."

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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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