Station Houston Summer Program Targets Future Entrepreneurs

Startup accelerator Station Houston has launched a summer program, opening its doors to college students and alumni in hopes of grooming them into the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The Houston Chronicle reports the local hub for startup's inaugural Academic Partnerships program has invited students and alumni from Rice University, University of Houston, and University of St. Thomas to its downtown hub, giving them space to create and collaborate and offering access to dozens of mentors, Fortune 500 company CEOs and established entrepreneurs who can counsel them on how to transfer from student-startup life to CEO of a major company, according to Gaby Rowe, Station Houston's CEO.

"Students have come in to us not as students but as young entrepreneurs, and they're being treated as founders," said Rowe.

The goal is to help participants leverage technology to create deeper human connections and aid them on a "frictionless journey to success," she said.

The program launched last month. Students apply to the program at their respective colleges and universities, which fund and set the criteria of how they get into the program. Station Houston then provides the space and resources free of charge, Rowe said.

"It really is a collaborative partnership, to make sure that this is an easy journey for them," Rowe said.

Station Houston is already bustling with participants from university accelerators like UH's Red Labs and Rice's incubator and leadership program OwlSpark, which are teaming up with venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs who will give them feedback on their pitches and presentations.

Connor Leisz, a Rice alumni and OwlSpark member, and his two friends are working on their creation Auggie, a smartphone app which aims to facilitate easy live shopping for concert and event merchandise for fans. Already, the experience at Station Houston's academic partnership has been fruitful, Leisz said.

The co-working space is vibrant and the key to several resources, including a network of like-minded entrepreneurs.

"For all of the great things about Houston, one of the things we face is urban sprawl," said Leisz, noting that it can be hard to find a centralized network in a large city like Houston. Station Houston makes working with experienced entrepreneurs easier and helps keep him and his colleagues focused, he said, and "learning from speakers and mentors, we're more prepared for the challenges face us."

Though Station Houston's program runs through the summer, organizers are already seeking ways to extend the program and provide growing companies with access to resources throughout the year, Rowe said. Much of what is done at Station Houston will be implemented at The Ion, Rice's anticipated innovation district building which is slated to open in the renovated Sears building in late 2020.

As the official partner of Ion, Station Houston will host programming at the 16-acre commercial development. The events include demonstrations, hack-a-thons and programming that involves a network of the area's higher education institutions: Rice, UH, UH-Downtown, St. Thomas, Houston Community College, Texas Southern University, Houston Baptist University, San Jacinto College and the South Texas College of Law.

Station Houston was founded by a group of technologists in 2016 who wanted to create a space where innovators and entrepreneurs could congregate, seek guidance from experts and build their companies. Now, with thousands of visitors each year, more than 600 members and 200 companies in active incubation, Rowe said the company is doing the important work of building a tech ecosystem that focuses on entrepreneurs and technologists. Rowe is convinced it's the way to build a sustainable future for the city.

"Five years from now Houston will be looked (at) as the city where you should have been when starting your company in 2019," Rowe predicted. It makes having the academic partnership and engaging students all the more important, she added.

"Without these programs, we have no future, and that's why we place so much value on having them here at Station and at the Ion."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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