Board meetings have you front and center and can feel like you're taking a beating under intense pressure. Thankfully, there are ways to make board meetings less brutal. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Board meetings can be taxing on CEOs. Think about it. You're standing in front of a group of suits that can fire you on the spot if they feel you're underperforming. You're out in the open. Naked. Vulnerable. Insecurities exposed for all to see. One wrong move and you could be back on the bread line. A board meeting puts you front and center.

Before we get into exactly how we can make this experience less soul-crushing, let's take a gander at what makes a board meeting so brutal to begin with.

Brutality of board meetings

Board meetings are long. They're a torture chamber. Those machine cogwheels that Charlie Chaplin was trapped in and smashed by in the movie Modern Times, that's what it's like to go through a board meeting.

It's extremely difficult to tell your startup's story and show its progress when you're being asked, nay, commanded, to talk about specific things only, like how are you spending money?

You get too many people sticking their hands in the pot. Board members invite other people to attend and suddenly everyone wants to hear themselves talk. They'll all want to chime in and get their spotlight to show how smart they are.

There's intense pressure. You're essentially pitching your startup all over again. Except this time you're pitching it to a room full of suits that can take it away from you.

"Startup CEOs tend to forget that it's the board that works for them," said Jeff Bonforte, former vice president of Communications Products at Yahoo! and creator of Yahoo! Mail, Messenger, and Answers.

"You have CEOs leaving these board meetings with more work on their plate to get done than when they went in. It's brutal. You have this pressure of feeling like it's on you to get to the finish line, but the fact of the matter is it's also the board's responsibility, too."

Lessening the blow of a board meeting

One way to make board meetings less brutal and more bearable is to narrow down the things that need to be covered. Have team dynamics changed for the better? Has the market changed since our last meeting? How did that impact us? What's our position now relative to last year? Are we doing what we said we'd be doing?

The core of a board meeting should cover temperature-check questions like this, rather than "the product should have a button that lights up on touch."

Once you make board meetings centered on action items and temperature-check questions, suddenly these meetings become more about moving forward and being productive, and less about judging you. Suddenly, board meetings become events where highly intelligent individuals with shared interests (the interest of not losing their investment) actually, get this, work together to improve the company, rather than belittle you.

Further lessening the blow

Meet with board members individually for about half an hour before a board meeting. Ask them what issues they want you to cover and ask for their opinion on the agenda you plan to present. This helps ease tensions and minimize surprises during a board meeting.

Put together a nice packet. Sort of a pre-board meeting prepper. It should show the board members what you plan to cover during your meeting. Make sure to send out these packets at least a few days prior to the meeting. This will encourage board members to come prepared because now they'll know what to expect.

Arrange a luncheon before a board meeting. This gives board members a chance to meet important people on your team and talk with each other without the intense atmosphere of a board meeting.

"Another thing you should do during a board meeting is, you want to sit at the table with the board members. Integrate yourself among them rather than stand in front of the room where you'll really feel the heat," said Bonforte.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Most venture capital rejection is because of one or more of these three reasons. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

3 reasons venture capitalists say no, according to University of Houston research

Houston Voices

One of the most common questions that pops up in startup circles is, "Why did they turn me down?" There are myriad reasons why a venture capitalist might turn down pitches and decline funding. Here, I'll present the three most common.

They don't understand your business

Einstein once said, "If you cannot explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself."

If you spend an entire presentation showing well-researched facts and figures, talking about how groundbreaking your idea is, and presenting detailed charts and graphs, but your audience still has no idea what you do, you're in trouble.

Moreover, avoid overusing jargon and esoteric terms in your pitch. Speak simply.

If you cannot explain in simple terms what your startup does and why it's marketable, potential investors have no reason to believe you will know what you're doing with their money. To sum up, they'll think you don't understand your own business.

They don't think you've done the legwork

Some venture capitalists invest in early stage startups, so it's totally normal for them to sit through pitches where a product has not even been built yet. Consequently, the problem comes when it becomes evident the startup founder has failed to do any legwork. As a result, investors are likely to feel insecure about giving their money to someone who couldn't even do simple research.

Sure, the product hasn't been built, but that is not an excuse to sit back on cruise control. In other words, don't take your foot off the gas. Move forward constantly and don't stop learning more about your industry.

What have you done for customer development? Customer discovery? How many potential customers have you talked to? How much would they pay for your product or service? Have you studied the competitive dynamics of the market for which you will enter? Who is your competition and what are their strengths and weaknesses? You get the picture.

Certainly, one big misstep among startup founders is that they tend to believe work should not be done until they attain funding. Wrong. During your struggle to attain money, you should be busy learning everything about your industry, market, and customers. That way, once you finally get that meeting with an investor, they will feel much more confident that you will use their money intelligently.

They don't see that you have a strategy

It's an unfortunate commonality that a startup founder will put together a great pitch, get deep into it in front of a venture capitalist, and then unravel the entire presentation by exposing themselves as not having a plan of attack for the market. To clarify, it is a huge waste of your time to undo all your hard work by showing you don't have a strategy. Remember, investors are looking for reasons to pass on you.

When asked about their strategy for reaching the market, a common refrain is, "we will provide this awesome service (or make this awesome product) and the customers will roll right in." Or even "we will partner with this corporate giant who will sell our product because it's that amazing."

Above all, you must show your potential investor that you have the wherewithal to create, polish, and scale a reliable process that reaches your customer base.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Keep an eye out for these warning signs when looking for funding. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

5 investor red flags to look out for, according to this University of Houston expert

Houston Voices

Venture capitalists give you plenty of reason to be on the look out for investor red flags.

In The Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, the frog entrusts the scorpion not to sting it while it helps the scorpion cross a lake. The scorpion promises not to sting the frog, reasoning that both would drown. The scorpion stung the frog anyway. As a result, both drowned. The moral of the story is that a scorpion, like any animal, is true to its nature.

Think of venture capitalists as scorpions. They are constantly trying to undermine established terms in order to either avoid a financial downside, or collect on the financial upside, even at a startup's expense. As a result, they will not think twice about screwing you over.

Venture capitalists have a clear institutional objective: if your company is successful, they collect as much money as they can based on the agreed upon terms. On the other hand, if your company falls flat on its rear, venture capitalists will look to avoid losing money. At all costs. Even if it means bending the terms of your agreement and hurting your company further.

Here are the top five red flags to look out for from a venture capitalist.

Bad terms

Firstly, there are many times when a bad investor will strong-arm a company founder into a tough deal. If the investor even hints that there will be no room for negotiation, that's a definite red flag. You have a right to negotiate certain terms and request flexibility. The best investors will want to work with you because it's unlikely they'll want a sour relationship with their investment. If your investor seems to say "no" a lot to you, how much do they really care about your company's growth?

Unpredictable behavior

Any investor that exhibits unexpected behavior is sure to give you tons of headaches down the road. Imagine after agreeing to terms, your new investor decides he or she do not want to be on your company's board all of the sudden. Either because they don't have the time or just don't want the responsibility. Instead, they would hire an executive from another company to represent their interest on your company's board. Why didn't they tell you this beforehand? Now you'll have to adjust to this sudden change of heart. Consequently, your company will have to adjust, too.

Strict monogamy

Okay, so your relationship with your investor is not a romantic one. That's exactly why it should be okay to work with other investors. If your venture capitalist tries to discourage you from doing that, it shows a glaring insecurity. Multiple investors means more money for your company. Any investor that tries to keep you from working with other investors probably does not have your startup's best interest in mind.

Rotating door of CEOs

If an investor has a history of firing founders or CEOs too fast, it could show that they do not have the patience required to allow a startup to grow. Moreover, bad investors will overreact to a missed milestone (like under-performing for a quarter) and fire a CEO. So, seek an investor that has a reputation of working with founders, even through those bumps in the road.

Dominating discussions

Lastly, any potential investor that completely dominates a discussion does not leave room for other ideas and different perspectives to be brought to the table. Your company meetings should brainstorming sessions and strategic conversations where everyone has input.

Therefore, any one-sided discussion about company operations is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone else's mouths. In short, if your discussions with a potential investor are one-way streets where they are talking way more than they are listening, what do you think board meetings will be like with them at the helm?

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Houston-based Sensytec founder gives his advice for accelerating your startup. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

University of Houston-founded company shares its lessons learned from accelerator programs

Houston Voices

A startup accelerator provides promising companies with an opportunity to boost their chances of marketing their technologies. These programs help small companies pivot their technologies strategically, interface with industry sectors and engage with mentor network to better pitch their ideas to the market.

Unfortunately, most startups will never have the chance to participate in an accelerator. But the information gained from such an experience can be valuable knowledge for all entrepreneurs who wish to accelerate their business.

Sensytec – a UH startup that developed smart cement to monitor the health of structures – was recently accepted into the Techstars Energy Accelerator. Techstars Energy is a highly competitive accelerator in Norway that partners with Equinor, Kongsberg, and Mckinsey to find sustainable technologies for the energy industry. Sensytec's smart cement technology is being considered for use in new oil and gas wells and concrete structures.

Sensytec president Ody De La Paz learned quite a bit about what companies are looking for when it comes to new technology and what entrepreneurs can do to boost their startups.

Understand where your tech fits into the market

Though joining Techstars to better position their smart cement technology to energy companies, De La Paz has learned the many ways in which his company's tech could be positioned to other markets.

"Recognizing the way the market is moving is critical to successfully pitching your tech to customers," he says. "But you have to be honest with yourself – your target market may not be the one you need to pitch your tech to make money."

According to De La Paz, this is where many inventors may miss their opportunity to profit.

"It's understandable that many researchers and inventors are passionate about the one problem they are trying to solve," he says. "But the real trick is trying to discover the solution currently needed by industry sectors – and that is continually changing."

His recommendation? Be open to any opportunity.

"It's not so much about you or your technology," he says. "It's about how your technology fits within an industry's business strategy. It's always about what the company needs, so there may be different applications to consider."

Focus on company values

Every decision made by industry will be focused on the bottom line. It's business, after all. But in addition to providing a high-value, low-cost solution for companies, aligning your tech with company core values may win over a few more hearts.

"Because we know that Equinor has a 'safety first' approach and values sustainability, we put together a solid business case to reflect those values," says De La Paz.

Current technologies used to monitor cement are not as accurate as they should be, says De La Paz. This leads to very costly solutions. So Sensytec built a business case that outlines how their technology accurately reports when cement loses structural health, allowing companies to proactively fix problems before they become disasters.

"We know exploration and drilling will continue," he says. "But if we can show how our technology is not only cost effective, but a safer choice for oil and gas companies like Equinor, we will align with their values and that's very important to them."

Seek feedback — and lots of it

One of the things De La Paz has experienced while in the Techstars Energy accelerator is the value of feedback.

In fact, he says you can't get enough of it, that every piece of feedback, every perspective gained is another clue that helps you figure out if your technology is needed and, if so, how to pitch it.

Here's what he suggests:

1. Interview as many customers as possible

According to De La Paz, every person working in that industry has perspective. He and his team have interviewed hundreds of experts, from the architect to the concrete manufacturer to subcontractors. "It's important to understand your customer and how they think about our technology," he says.

2. Find mentors

In addition to interviewing customers, select a few as mentors. Business leaders, strategists, and even everyday users, can help you toss around ideas.

3. Be honest with yourself

When you receive the feedback, be honest with yourself, says De La Paz. You may be better suited for another market or you may need to pivot your technology, but this will not happen if the feedback is not used wisely.

De La Paz also stress the value of patience and persistence during this process.

"It's a very long process and there's a lot you have to consider," he says. "But if you stay on top of everything and follow through, it will help your startup get moving more quickly."


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Lindsay Lewis is the director of strategic research communications at UH.

Hey startups, are you ready to rock and roll? Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Here's what startups can learn from the Rolling Stones, according to University of Houston researchers

Houston voices

Editor's note: If you think you can't learn some business tips from a rock band, think again. The University of Houston's Big Idea has rounded up a few lessons to be learned from the Rolling Stones — along with advice from UH researchers.

"Start Me Up"

In 1970, the Rolling Stones' long-standing deal with Decca Records expired. This opened a giant door for the band, which I assume they painted black.

Because the band had achieved such success, they were able to form their own record label, dubbed Rolling Stones Records. This was done in an effort to exert more control over their music, not just creatively, but financially. The Stones could now retain the rights over their own music.

Much akin to this move, many startups are launched because entrepreneurs wish to have more control over certain aspects of their technology or product. When asked why he launched his own startup, James Briggs, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at the University of Houston and president and CFO of Metabocentric Biotechnologies, explained, "Primarily, it was because we felt that development of the technology stood a much better chance if we prosecuted it rather than trying to find a licensing partner."

"Under Your Thumb"

It's no secret that one of the biggest perks of developing your own startup is that you get to be the one to take care of your baby; to oversee the development of your tech through all its stages. You and your co-founders make the decisions on the long road to achieving your vision. Similarly, Professor Briggs and his business partner John Weihua, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of Metabocentric, could now control their company and develop it according to their vision. Had Professor Briggs and Chairman Weihua gone with a licensing partner at such an early stage of their startup, it could have stymied their financial growth.

A licensing entity is not just costly, it handcuffs your startup to dealing with only one licensing partner: them. As a result, you can't generate revenue elsewhere, which you can do if you control your own company.

Much like the Stones' newfound ability to control their own music by not having the tentacles of Decca Records around it, Professor Briggs and Chairman Weihua now had that same ability with their tech; all because they chose to venture out on their own in the infancy of their startup. They were able launch their startup without licensing partners by acquiring non-dilutive funding, which grants startups money without seeking equity in return. So, again, you keep more control of your tech.

"Beast of Burden"

Big record companies have always made it a point to primarily sign acts that are already well established and have a strong fan base locally. Artists in the '60s had to really work hard to gain a big enough name for themselves in their region. Flyers, radio ads, playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, and birthday parties for free just to get your name out there, all the while having to create new material; musicians looking to get signed really had to put in the work.

Before they became household names, the Rolling Stones had garnered a big following in London in 1963. Big enough that the then-gigantic Decca Records noticed and decided to sign them. Record companies sign bands with big local followings because they are more likely to succeed on a grand scale, as opposed to artists who never ventured beyond their garage. In a sense, this was a way for big record companies to reduce the risk of signing an artist that turns out to be a dud.

"Beast of Burden (Remix)"

"Pharmaceutical companies, now, look to small biotech startups to de-risk the lead and approach before they consider partnerships or acquisitions," proclaimed Professor Briggs during his presentation at UH's Startup Pains event. "Pharmaceutical companies don't want to buy failure, they want to buy the success. So they make sure to look for small biotech companies who bring their tech to a point where it is de-risked enough that a partnership suddenly becomes less of a risk to undertake."

Biotech entrepreneurs have to also put in a lot of work to position their startups for potential deals and partnerships with giant pharmaceutical companies. Laying the groundwork for a startup includes searching for investors, virtually begging for money, entering competitions, updating your tech, growing your team, commercializing your product, and staying relevant. "It's a lot of hard work. There will be successes and there will be failures. But in the end, if you stay true to yourselves and your company, there's a greater chance it will pay off."

"Let's Spend the Night Together"

Chemistry, the non-science-y kind, is one of the most overlooked aspects of startups for entrepreneurs. The chemistry a team of individuals have with each other makes for a positive company culture that maintains high morale.

In music, nothing is more important than chemistry. You are whole rather than the sum of a band's parts. Mick Jagger met Keith Richards when they were 16 and became friends because they owned the same Muddy Waters record. Since that time, they have remained best friends. In the studio and on stage, few duos have portrayed the same level of camaraderie and chemistry as Mick and Keith. They met their drummer Charlie Watts at 17, just a year later, and bassist Ronnie Wood in 1975, and lo and behold, they're still all together today.

With a catalog of over 500 songs over 50 years, with the same four band members for the majority of that time, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better paragon of chemistry than the Rolling Stones.

For startups, a strong company culture composed of like-minded individuals working together with chemistry is a prime way to keep your employees motivated, especially when your company is so young, you cannot pay them very much. "You have to remember that most startups are extremely tiny, with 2 to 3 people even, so chemistry is vital. You want to have a culture where you can air your grievances with each other and be honest about your company," Professor Briggs said during the Q & A session of Startup Pains.

"Time Is On Your Side"

A good startup sees its employees working together, functioning as a well-oiled machine, spending long nights together figuring out problems, taking turns ordering Chinese for late meetings, checking each other's work, and learning each other's personalities to more effectively communicate. It takes time. But if the chemistry isn't there naturally, it'll be there once you put in the time to iron out each other's wrinkles.

Investors want to see that your startup has a positive culture before they invest. Similarly, funding entities view company culture as a component that impacts a startup's net profits. If your startup is in disarray, do you really think an intelligent investor is going to want to give you millions of their dollars?

"Even if your tech is great, investors need to see that the company behind the tech is worth the risk."


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Customer churn is inevitable, but it's what you do with the opportunity that matters. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

University of Houston expert on feeling the churn of customers and what to learn from it

Houston voices

Think of customer churn as a robust balloon, ready to touch the sky as soon as you let go. Every day you hold on to that balloon, air molecules will diffuse through the knot. Your balloon will become flabby. This exodus of air is known in business as a churn. Customer churn is the amount of customers that your company loses during a specific time frame. Canceled subscribers, dissatisfied clientele, or customers that just found a better alternative. Keeping track of churn is a vital part of your company's continued growth. Doing so will give you the brutal truth regarding customer retention.

It's difficult to measure the success of your startup without keeping track and analyzing your shortcomings as well. Sure, you want 100 percent customer retention. But even a company that has figured out how to stop the aging process will not have such an unrealistic rate. Losing customers is part of the game. However, you don't have to let it kill your company. You can learn from it.

Measuring customer churn rate

You can measure your churn rate by subtracting lost patronage from the number of customers you had to start a period. So, if you started off the month or quarter with 1,000 customers, and end up with 500 at the end of that period, your churn rate is 50 percent. You lost 50 percent of your customers. Ouch. Unless your company decides to go into selling raincoats in the Sahara, it is doubtful your churn rate will be that high. But you understand how it's calculated now.

So, why is customer churn so important? Well, for starters, the cost of acquiring new customers is 25 times higher than the cost of retaining the ones you already have. Further, research has determined that a mere five percent rise in retention rates can boost profits upwards of 25 percent.

Curb your churn

There are a few ways to curb customer churn.

One way is to concentrate on your most loyal customers. One of the biggest gripes against Comcast is that they offer so many special rates to new customers, and almost nothing for their long-time customers. The same was said about Uber until they recently launched Uber Gold. How many "special deals for first time customers" do you see with phone service companies? Tons. It would be more advantageous to focus your resources on your loyal customers. Give them another reason to stay. After all, as we just covered, it's cheaper for your company to retain them than to get new customers.

Another way to reduce churn rates is to track and analyze it every fiscal quarter. This analysis can help you understand why exactly customers are leaving. You can even detect patterns to show at what point in their patronage they are leaving. All this data can be used to make better decisions about improving your company's services or products.

Listen to fleeing customers

Speaking of making better decisions for your company, the best way to do that is to talk to the customer. When you were in high school, you probably had "intel" on your crushes to see if they liked you back. You probably spent months agonizing over what they meant by this text or that comment. In retrospect, you probably now know it would have been so much easier to just ask. Letting the customer be your compass will steer your company in the right direction. Lapsed customers will almost always be honest with you. What have they got to lose? They will tell you straight up what they didn't like and why they didn't like it. With a large enough sample size, you'll soon have a good idea about what you could be doing better to keep your current customers from fleeing your company like it's Blockbuster. No offense to Blockbuster.

In summary, keeping the customers you have is just as important as winning over new ones. It's harder to put air into an already knotted balloon than it is to just keep the air it already has inside. If you focus on keeping your customers, much like that air-filled balloon, sky's the limit.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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Houston Methodist executive to lead the hospital into the future of health care

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 11

It may come as no surprise to anyone who's met Roberta Schwartz that she's a self starter. Schwartz, who is the executive vice president and chief innovation officer for Houston Methodist, was among the group that organized to create what is now the Center for Innovation within the hospital system.

But one of her earlier moments of innovation leadership came when she was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. She co-founded the Young Survival Coalition to help connect young breast cancer patients like herself.

"I was 27 when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer — I have no family history, no cancer in the family. It certainly was a shock to my system," Schwartz says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Once I was diagnosed, and through some of the original surgery and care I had to do, I knew that I wanted to reach out and find a larger community of young women."

Now, in her role at Houston Methodist, Schwartz hopes to help cultivate new avenues of innovation within health care — from wearable technology and virtual reality to a human resources chatbot and a patient messaging platform.

Schwartz discusses these new technologies — as well as a new tech hub the hospital system is working on to demonstrate the future of health care — in the episode. Stream the episode below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Houstonians have access to ordering liquor at their fingertips — thanks to a new Texas law

There's an app for that

It's about to be a lot easier to order your favorite handle of booze straight to your door, thanks to new legislation. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission just began accepting applications for permits enabling services like Favor and Instacart to bring alcohol to your home.

In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that widens the door for liquor delivery across the Lone Star State. Any third-party company seeking to launch the service can now obtain a so-called consumer delivery permit from TABC. Chris Porter, a TABC spokesman, tells CultureMap that the first permits should be issued during the third week of December — just in time for Christmas Day and New Year's Eve parties.

In a December 5 news release, TABC executive director Bentley Nettles says this law is "an important step forward for Texas consumers, as well as alcohol retailers. For years, Texans across the state have relied on third-party services to deliver everything from clothing to vehicles. Now, at long last, alcohol can be delivered as well."

Before enactment of the law, certain businesses like liquor stores could distribute beer, wine, and liquor in Texas to homes and businesses. But through this year's legislative update, third-party companies now will be permitted to pick up beer, wine, and liquor from a state-licensed retailer such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store and then take it to customers — either as solo purchases or along with food orders.

"We primarily see this as appealing to third-party delivery services," Porter says. "There are laws on the books which became effective in September that allow restaurants with the proper permit to deliver alcohol along with food on their own. Of course, if these businesses opt instead to contract that delivery to a third party, then the third party would need the new consumer delivery permit."

The new law mandates that drivers and booze buyers be at least 21 years old, which is the legal age for alcohol consumption in Texas.

Among the businesses and organizations that backed the legislation are San Antonio grocery chain H-E-B, which owns the Austin-based Favor delivery app; Instacart; the Houston-based Landry's restaurant conglomerate; e-commerce giant Amazon; TechNet; the Texas Restaurant Association; Beer Alliance of Texas; Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas; and the California-based Wine Institute.

"This law will allow more businesses to take advantage of on-demand delivery apps that enable them to reach more customers, while ensuring deliveries of alcohol are carried out safely and responsibly," David Edmonson, TechNet's executive director for Texas and the Southeast, said in a June news release.

The Texas Restaurant Association applauds the law as a way for restaurants to better compete in the on-demand economy.

"With customers increasingly craving convenience, and hotels, grocery stores, and package stores already permitted to allow alcohol to be taken or delivered off the premises, this legislation [levels] the playing field for restaurants," the association says in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Photos: Rice Alliance reveals new office space

new digs

Rice University's entrepreneurship-driving entity has a new, updated office on campus. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship cut the ribbon on its 3,000-square-foot Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite just in time for the holidays.

The space was made possible by a $1 million donation from its namesake couple, Rice engineering alumnus William "Bill" Sick and his wife, Stephanie. Bill Sick was among the first supporters and mentors to the program when it was formed in 2000.

"[Bill is] passionate about building entrepreneurship at Rice University and passionate about the importance of entrepreneurship in driving innovation and economic development in this country," Brad Burke, managing director at the alliance, says. "Bill has watched Rice's program go from an unranked program to the No. 1 entrepreneurship program in the country and felt the Rice Alliance needed a larger, more appropriate space commensurate with the Rice Alliance's impact on Rice and on the Houston community."

Burke says the Rice Alliance's new home — located in McNair Hall, which houses the Jones Graduate School of Business — will be better accommodating for the number of industry professionals that come onto the Rice campus for events, programming, mentorship, and more.

"The Rice Alliance meets frequently with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, students, mentors, and other members of the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem," Burke says. "The new space is on the first floor of the Jones School and is much more accessible and visible to our guests and visitors."

The Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite has doubled the Alliance's space and has allowed the organization to co-locate with another innovation-focus entity on campus. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or LILIE, will have an office in the space, better connecting the two organizations that have worked hand-in-hand for a number of years.

Some visual elements of the space include bright green walls, which sets the Rice Alliance apart from the school with an energetic feel. The space also features a number of Houston art, including:

  • A three-paneled piece by local Houston artist DUAL, which was commissioned by Rice Alliance for the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • A neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery adorns the entrance wall.
  • In a way to honor Houston's history, mosaic tile flooring from the Blue Tile Project is also featured in the space.

Gensler designed the space and b. bell builders was the general contractor. Quynhmai Nguyen, Rice Alliance's senior director of operations and event planning, worked with Gensler and made the final detailed design decisions.

Energetic new space

The new space, which premiered with a holiday party last week, features a neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery.