Brad Burke, Managing Director
Brad Burke is the Managing Director of the Rice Alliance and has led the Rice Alliance since 2001. During that time, Rice’s graduate entrepreneurship program has achieved the #1 ranking in the U.S. (having been previously unranked). The Rice Alliance’s Rice Business Plan Competition has become the world’s largest and richest student startup competition in the world. Previously, Brad founded and managed the Houston office of Viant Corporation, a premier internet consulting firm, that went public via IPO in 1999, before being acquired in 2002. Prior to Viant, Brad was a Principal with CSC Index, the former management consulting division of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Before CSC, Brad held executive management positions with Exxon. He received his M.B.A. from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management as an Austin Scholar and his B.S. from Vanderbilt University.
Jessica Fleenor, Assistant Director for Programs
Jessica manages programs that support entrepreneurship training and startup acceleration, including OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup accelerator, and Southwest I-Corps, an NSF-funded grant program that enables academic researchers explore the commercial viability of their research. She is also the co-founder of Startup Career Fair. With a background in nonprofit management and entrepreneurship, Jessica brings a decade of experience in communications, design and program management. She holds a B.S. in Mass Communications from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Cheyenna Mitchell, Program Specialist
Cheyenna supports Rice Alliance programs including student initiatives Ignite, IdeaLaunch, OwlSpark, The Qualifier, and the Rice Business Plan Competition. She also assists with Rice Alliance community-focused entrepreneurial efforts. Prior to joining the Rice Alliance, Cheyenna worked in Business Services for Rec Sports and in athletics/event management at Texas A&M University and the City of College Station. She graduated with a B.S. in Sport Management with a minor in Business from Texas A&M University.
Quynhmai Nguyen, Senior Director of Operations
Quynhmai Nguyen is the Senior Director of Operations for the Rice Alliance. Prior to joining Rice Alliance, she worked in public affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. Quynhmai graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Rice University in 2000 and earned her J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. She is licensed to practice law and sell real estate in the state of Texas.
Matthew Peña, PhD, Associate Director - Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator
Matthew Peña is Associate Director of Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator, where he will support a global cohort of startups developing transformative clean energy technologies here in Houston, the energy capital of the world. Matt is an experienced scientist with a demonstrated history of research across diverse biological disciplines. He holds a BS in Physics from the University of Texas and a PhD in Biochemistry from Rice University, where he most recently studied metabolic engineering of microorganisms to produce therapeutics. Matt is an alumnus and regular mentor to the OwlSpark program.
Catherine Santamaria, Director of the Rice Business Plan Competition
Catherine is the Director of the Rice Business Plan Competition at the Rice Alliance for Technology & Entrepreneurship at Rice University. The business plan competition is the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition awarding more than $1 million in prizes each year to 42 university teams. In this role, Catherine will enhance and expand the competition globally and widen its visibility and economic impact. Prior to the Rice Alliance, Catherine was Head of Science & Innovation at the British Consulate-General in Houston, where she developed and delivered impactful multi-stakeholder research and innovation collaborations and opportunities for the UK and SW US; identified and supported emerging science and technology opportunities for the UK; and supported UK policy development with US insights and identified best practices. She also spent some time in the health & fitness field when a career change took her to the Jewish Community Center of Houston to serve as the Health & Fitness Coordinator and interim Fitness Director in their fitness center. There she managed the adult group exercise program and staff, designed health and wellness programs, and expanded the fitness center’s social media presence. Catherine Santamaria is a fourth-generation Houstonian, graduating from The Colorado College in Colorado Springs with a B.A. in German and History.
Kerri Smith, Managing Director-OwlSpark, Interim Executive Director - Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, Associate Managing Director - Rice Alliance
Kerri has broad experience in developing strategies and programs that help maximize the success of technology-enabled startups. Her experience includes entrepreneurship education, startup acceleration, educational programming, technology licensing, and commercialization. For over 25 years, Kerri has provided leadership, oversight, and strategic direction for commercialization, entrepreneurship, community engagement, and technology transfer initiatives. Kerri joined Rice University in 2004 where she serves as Associate Managing Director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Managing Director of Rice University's startup accelerator (OwlSpark), and Director of the NSF sponsored Innovation Corps program at Rice (I-Corps). In all positions, she plays a lead role in fostering collaboration, enabling entrepreneurship, and accelerating the formation of startups based on innovative technologies or scalable business ideas.
Roslynn Velasquez, Marketing Director
Leading communications and brand strategy, Roslynn is the Marketing Director for the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. With a background in brand strategy, partnerships, and community relations, Roslynn looks to grow impact through collaboration and community-centered marketing. She was previously the Account Director at The Black Sheep Agency, where she worked with nonprofits, civic organizations, and corporations that were focused on growth and social impact. Prior to Black Sheep, Roslynn brought her expertise to community relations and marketing for the Houston Technology Center, Bohler Welding Group, and Texas A&M University’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship. Roslynn holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a minor in English from Texas A&M University.
Tara Williams, Director of Venture Programs
Tara is the Director of Venture Programs for the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Rice University. She is responsible for technology venture programs across three industry sectors: energy, life science, and digital enterprise. These flagship programs offer startups exposure to capital and strategic partners and provide support to the regional and national entrepreneurship ecosystems, bringing together investors, industry leaders, researchers, and technology startups. Tara also leads the research on the economic development impact of the 2,550 startups that have participated in Rice Alliance programs. Since 2011, she has tracked alumni companies, analyzing funding and other metrics, writing about successful businesses, and providing support for university rankings. Tara earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics from American University.