Rice University and the University of Houston share the accolades of recent entrepreneurship program rankings. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University and the University of Houston have once again scooped up accolades for their entrepreneurship programs.

For the fifth consecutive year, Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business has been ranked the No. 1 graduate entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review, a provider of education services, and Entrepreneur magazine.

“Our close ties to Houston as well as national startup ecosystems give our students unique opportunities to pitch to and connect with angel investors, venture capitalists and corporations,” Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, says in a news release. “These connections allow for mentorship, as well as launch points for new ideas, not only for our students but also for the city and surrounding communities.”

The list identifies 50 undergraduate and 50 graduate programs that boast the best entrepreneurship offerings based on factors such as coursework, experiential learning opportunities, and career outcomes. The ranking measures more than 40 data points about the schools’ entrepreneurship programs, faculties, students, and alumni.

Also for the fifth consecutive year, the University of Houston’s Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in the C.T. Bauer College of Business has been named the No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine.

“We believe in entrepreneurship, we believe in free enterprise, and we’re in the number one city for entrepreneurship,” Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a news release.

“When we put students into this entrepreneurial mix,” he adds, “and we introduce and reinforce free enterprise values, our intent is to change students’ lives and to create the next generation of business leaders with the highest integrity who are going to go out and create their own cultures, their own companies and their own futures.”

The University of Texas at Austin is the only other school in the state to make the top 10 of either the graduate ranking or undergraduate ranking. UT captures the No. 6 spot on the graduate list and No. 2 spot on the undergraduate list.

Aside from The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur honor, Rice climbed four spots in Poets&Quants’ annual ranking of the world’s best MBA programs for entrepreneurship.

Last year, Rice’s graduate school for business landed at No. 7 on the list. This year, it rose to No. 3, behind the first-ranked Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis and second-ranked ESTM Berlin.

This is the fifth annual ranking of MBA programs for entrepreneurship from Poets&Quants, a website that focuses on graduate-level business education.

“MBA programs are increasingly sought after in today’s environment, and our focus on entrepreneurship sets us apart,” Peter Rodriguez, business dean at Rice, says in a news release. “The entrepreneurship classes emphasize a combination of mindset and skill set and focus on multiple stages of the entrepreneurial process, preparing our students for any industry and climate.”

Poets&Quants relies on 16 data points collected through an annual survey to come up with its ranking. Among those data points are:

  • Average percentage of MBA students launching businesses during their program or within three months of graduation between 2018 and 2022.
  • Percentage of MBA elective courses with all of the curriculum focused on entrepreneurship or innovation during the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Percentage of MBA students active in the business school’s main student-run entrepreneurship club during the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Square footage of incubator or accelerator space available to MBA students during the 2022-23 academic year.
According to a new report, Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business has all the ingredients or a top MBA program. Photo courtesy of Rice

Houston university's MBA program claims coveted top spot of annual ranking

top of class

Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business has raked in yet another top spot on an annual list of top MBA programs.

A new ranking from Poets & Quants, which covers news about business schools, puts Rice at No. 3 among the world's best MBA programs for entrepreneurship. That's up from No. 15 on last year's list.

The Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis grabbed the top spot in this year's ranking. Elsewhere in Texas, the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business lands at No. 14, the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth at No. 35, and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in University Park at No. 36.

Poets & Quants judged the schools on 16 metrics related to their entrepreneurship initiatives.

Poets & Quants says Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business "itself is less than three decades old. But entrepreneurship was baked into its DNA from the get-go. The late Ed Williams and current professor Al Napier are credited with starting the entrepreneurial focus. But it wasn't until 2013 when Jones plucked Yael Hochberg from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management that the program really started to surge."

Rice's entrepreneurship offering combines academic courses and associated programs led by the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie) with programs offered by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

"The ability to be a student while working on your startup in class, under the expert guidance of our world-class faculty, gives our Rice entrepreneurs a competitive advantage over any others out there," Hochberg, head of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative and academic director of the Rice Alliance, says in a news release.

The Rice Alliance's OwlSpark Accelerator supplements the MBA program. The accelerator serves as a capstone program and launchpad for students seeking to start their own businesses. Meanwhile, the Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest intercollegiate student startup competition in the world, lets students pitch their startups in front of more than 300 judges. And the Rice Alliance Technology Venture Forums allows students to showcase their startups to investors and corporations.

"The ability for students to launch their nascent startups, obtain mentoring from members of the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem, and then pitch to hundreds of angel investors, venture capitalists, and corporations provides a unique opportunity that cannot be found on many campuses or in many regions," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance.

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Experts: What Houston startup founders need to know about conducting a successful IPO

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Home to a wealth of world-changing innovations and a highly skilled labor pool, Houston has attracted startups and digital tech firms for years. Today, the city stands at the forefront of a promising era with seven Houston startups beginning the year strong with more than $380 million in venture funding, and the city ranked among the top emerging startup ecosystems in North America

Houston-based startups planning their exit strategies have good reason to be optimistic about an initial public offering, or IPO, market that is expected to grow in 2024. After a two-year slump in startup investing, some market watchers are predicting that the IPO window may reopen as the economy improves and inflation and interest rates cool.

But good timing requires good readiness. The window of opportunity for preparation now appears to be a microwindow. As any company that went public at the peak of the dot-com or post-COVID booms can attest, preparation is essential to quickly take action when the time is right. Hitting that microwindow will require that IPO-bound Houston companies be strategic about their IPO readiness planning. A lack of planning can result in an IPO experience that is not well planned, and potentially a missed opportunity altogether.

It’s unclear when the next IPO window will open, or for how long the window will remain open, but it could happen quicker than expected. This unpredictability suggests that Houston startups seeking to go public should start their legal, financial, and regulatory planning now. The important period for many companies planning an IPO begins six to 18 months prior to listing and lasts until the six months post-IPO.

Readying an IPO

We gained several insights from our discussions with CEOs and CFOs who have effectively navigated IPOs recently to provide insights for companies contemplating going public when the next microwindow opens. A company’s comprehensive readiness plan can be key to performing well in the market, whether it is up or down. Summarized below are common key areas that challenged many C-Suite executives in being a public company and, in hindsight, areas they wished they had addressed earlier in the process.

  1. Internal forecasting. Internal forecasting is paramount. In fact, it’s one of the primary takeaways cited in our conversations with the C-suite execs who went through the IPO process. Houston companies on an IPO track should be prepared to provide accurate forecasting and timely fulfillment of projections. Missing projections can result in significant regulatory repercussions.
  1. Key performance indicators and non-GAAPmeasures. Take reasonable steps towards performing a comprehensive benchmarking study to determine relevant KPIs and non-GAAP measures and metrics to report upon; be ready with the frameworks in place to report upon during quarterly and annual reporting.
  1. Growth story. The ability to communicate the company’s growth story can be essential to an effective IPO. Company leaders should be able to clearly convey topics such as the company’s growth, vision and strategy, its plans for improving performance metrics, the market opportunity, its competitive edge, and how its product or services will meet market demand. Meetings with analysts and other market influencers are also necessary to gain investor support. The executives we talked to said that when they did not invest time in this awareness-building step, they often found themselves rushing to get the word out as the offering date closed in.
  1. Finance infrastructure and human capital. Understand the infrastructure and operating model required to operate as a public company, along with the human capital necessary to sustain operations. Identifying the necessary skillsets and bandwidth within the team supports a smoother IPO process. Collaborating with experienced, independent advisors is also vital. These advisors assist in organizing the process, outlining SEC reporting requirements, updating SEC-compliant financial reporting, preparing Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) and pro forma financial information, and offering guidance throughout the pre-IPO preparation.
  1. Governance. IPO-bound companies need to anticipate new corporate governance requirements as a publicly traded entity, particularly in terms of their board of directors. Proper governance and board oversight can be essential to support the quality of financial statements produced by management. Executives told us that recruiting the right board members is often a significant pre-IPO challenge. Identifying these members early is crucial, as the right resources may not be available later.

Closing thoughts

If you are among those companies looking to go public in the near future, now is the time to get your house in order. Companies are often surprised to discover how much preparation it truly takes to operate as a public company. In fact, we typically recommend starting the preparation journey 18 to 24 months before the anticipated public listing date. Simply stated, if you wait until the IPO window opens before gearing up, you likely will be gearing up for the next window.

Deloitte’s complimentary IPO

SelfAssess tool can help you gauge your ability to go public with a tailored assessment. The tool provides you with useful insights and identifies potential areas for improvement based on the feedback you provide.

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Will Braeutigam is the U.S. capital markets transactions leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Laura Evans is audit and assurance partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP.

Former Shopify exec joins Houston scale-up e-commerce software company

joining the team

Houston-based e-commerce software and services company Cart.com has hired a former Shopify executive as its chief people officer.

Before joining Cart.com, Lani Doyle was chief HR officer at Strategic Solutions Group, a provider of health care software. Previously, she was vice president of HR and people operations at 6 River Systems, a provider of software and robotics for warehouses. Prior to that, Doyle was head of talent development and operations at Shopify, an e-commerce platform for businesses that posted revenue of $7.1 billion in 2023.

Cart.com is one of the fastest-growing companies in commerce today, and I’m excited to partner with our teams to help drive growth and scalability,” Doyle says in a news release. “I am eager to contribute to shaping our culture and developing programming that supports and elevates high-performing teams, ensuring we achieve our ambitious goals.”

Omair Tariq, founder and CEO of Cart.com, describes Doyle as a “strategic leader” who will help develop the startup’s continually growing team. The company, founded in 2020 in Houston, employs more than 1,600 people.

“Her deep expertise in HR strategy and talent development will be instrumental as we accelerate our growth trajectory and foster a dynamic workplace culture,” says Frank Parker, chief operating officer of Cart.com.

In February, Cart.com made another high-level executive move by promoting Joe Barth from senior vice president of fulfillment to chief logistics officer.

Cart.com has more than 6,000 customers. The company handles more than 75 million orders per year from 14 fulfillment centers in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Tariq joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about his company's growth and its relocation from Austin back to Houston.

"I think Austin served its purpose. It certainly allowed us to be in the limelight in all the right ways, and I'm grateful for it," Tariq says on the show. "But once we got to a point, once we closed our series C round and became a unicorn ... I think we're now at a scale where the infrastructure that Houston provides is probably something that will be more attractive and useful for us in the long term."

Autonomous freight co. with Houston-Dallas pilot opens early access program

join the fleet

Texas has been a key testing area for autonomous freight technology for years, and one major player in the space has made its latest move to put the pedal to the metal on self-driving trucking.

Aurora Innovation (NASDAQ: AUR) announced a new program with Uber Freight. Premier Autonomy, which will provide "early access to over 1 billion of Aurora’s driverless miles to Uber Freight carriers through 2030," is launching to deploy autonomous freight vehicles on the Uber Freight network.

Uber Freight, an end-to-end logistics company managing over $18 billion of freight, is also reportedly going to be among Aurora's first customers for its Dallas-to-Houston freight route that anticipates driverless hauls beginning at the end of 2024.

“Uber Freight and Aurora see a tremendous opportunity to democratize autonomous trucks for carriers of all sizes, enabling them to drive more revenue, scale their fleets, and strengthen their bottom lines,” Lior Ron, founder and CEO of Uber Freight, says in a news release. “Autonomous trucks will make moving goods more efficient, and this industry-first program will help facilitate and accelerate the adoption of autonomous trucks with our carriers. We’re proud to work alongside the amazing team at Aurora to bring this technology into the hands of carriers and ultimately usher in a new era of logistics.”

The new program, a first for the industry, allows customers to purchase and begin implementing Aurora Driver, a self-driving system that can work with multiple vehicle types, including freight trucks and passenger vehicles. Aurora provides driver-as-a-service products for trucking and ride-hailing industries and has a slew of partners in addition to Uber and Uber Freight, including FedEx, Toyota, Volvo Trucks, Volvo Autonomous Solutions, and more.

“With Uber Freight, we can provide hundreds of carriers priority access to autonomous truck capacity that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Working with carriers of all sizes is one of the many ways we will transform the industry and see thousands of driverless trucks on the road,” Ossa Fisher, president of Aurora, says in the release. “It’s exciting and validating that companies like Uber Freight are reserving our long-term capacity for their customers. We all see collective value in this offering.”

With enrollment into the new Premier Autonomy Program, customers receive a subscription to the Aurora Driver for autonomous freight hauling, the opportunity to access over 1 billion driverless miles through 2030, and access to autonomous trucks via a planned, seamless integration of the Aurora Driver into the Uber Freight platform, according to the news release.

Since 2020, Uber Freight and Aurora have hauled millions of pounds of cargo through their pilot program that operated on the Dallas-Houston route.