Like the Cortex in St. Louis, Rice University and Houston just opened a 266,000 square-foot startup hub in an old Sears building called The Ion. It will also have 16 acres of startup and innovation district space around it. “That will transform the city of Houston and the opportunities for our students,” Burke says, noting Microsoft has moved into the building as has the corporate venture arm of Chevron.
“You could think of it like 1871 in Chicago, but on steroids, because this is Texas,” Hochberg says of The Ion, comparing it to 1871, Chicago’s Tech and Entrepreneurship Center.
With all of the resources pouring into entrepreneurship at universities, not to mention the partnerships, relationships, and collaborations being built beyond university walls into communities, it’s tough to imagine a more opportune way of launching a startup.
“There is absolutely no better time than when you’re a student and no better place than Rice because you have the freedom to try and take big chances and roll the dice and, candidly, the freedom to fail and learn from that failure and get better,” Judah says. “It’s a lot costlier to start once you’re outside compared to the community on campus.”
Judah says a lot of the benefit also stems from learning alongside other students. “There is a power to community,” he adds. “And there’s no better place for that community than the density on campus.”
EVOLVING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET
Both Tshuma and Smythe say their time at WashU’s Olin School has helped their perception and understanding of what being an entrepreneur is evolve and grow.
“To be an entrepreneur doesn’t just mean building a business. It’s about building this entrepreneurial mind in the way you see problems and the way you can solve them,” Tshuma says. “That was instilled in me — that I can be an entrepreneur in any setting.”
Smythe agrees, noting many of her classmates at Olin had already started at least one business.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur a lot longer than just starting a business,” she says. “Because entrepreneurial thinking is really how do I create solutions that can take the place of systems that are not working right now.”
‘WE’RE HAVING A LOT OF FUN OVER HERE’
That growth in entrepreneurial interest and background has been a welcome evolution to the program at WashU, Villhard says.
“It’s like being a coach in that the more talent you have, the easier it is to be a coach,” Villhard explains. “And the talent levels have increased significantly in the last couple of years. We’re having a lot of fun over here.”
One reason is the amount of that hands-on learning Olin has built into the program.
“To continue the analogy, you can come in and get shots up right away,” says II Luscri, the managing director of the Skandalaris Center at WashU and the university’s assistant vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship. “And students like that.”
As for WashU and St. Louis, both Villhard and Luscri believe the best is still yet to come.
“The MBAs are hungry. And St. Louis as a region is hungry,” Luscri says.
“St. Louis very much loves startups and loves startups from WashU.
“I think we’re just getting started,” Villhard adds. “Regardless of the ranking, we’re just trying to get better every year.”
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