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 #3 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.
Mary Lynn Fernau, Senior Director External Relations and Communications
Since joining the Rice Alliance in 2007, Mary Lynn has led the public relations and strategic marketing efforts positioning Rice University entrepreneurship programs among the world’s best, fostering community engagement and securing corporate and government support. She shares the entrepreneurial spirit of the Rice Alliance, having launched a successful child safety product company and served as a child safety advisor to cities of New York, Houston and Galveston. Prior to joining the Rice Alliance, Mary Lynn led her own independent marketing and strategic planning consultancy with clients including Korn Ferry International, AIG, UT-Health Science Center at Houston, Texas Children’s Hospital and Whose Shoes ID. Fernau serves the Forbes Communication Council, the Chief Marketing Officer Board for the American Marketing Association and Houston Image Coalition. She received her B.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and M.L.S. from Rice University.
Jessica Fleenor, Assistant Director for Programs
Jessica manages programs that support entrepreneurship education and startup acceleration, including OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup accelerator, and Southwest I-Corps, an NSF-funded grant program that enables academics explore the commercial viability of their research. She is also the co-founder of Startup Career Fair, and Medulla, a branding and design agency for startups, nonprofits and small businesses. With a background in nonprofit management and entrepreneurship, Jessica brings more than seven years of experience in communications, design and program management. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with a concentration in Creative Advertising from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Thomas Kraft, Entrepreneur-in-residence
Dr. Kraft is the Entrepreneur-in-residence for Rice Alliance. His academic background covers mechanical and electrical engineering and Math and business from Stanford and UCLA before his doctoral program at Rice. Dr. Kraft holds 19 US Patents and has found several medical device and medical robotics companies after being part of the NASA Mission Control Center design effort. In addition to teaching at UCLA, Dr. Kraft was previously an adjunct Professor of Math for HCC and a visiting lecturer on creativity. At Rice, Dr. Kraft is focusing on increasing collaboration between Rice MBA students and the science and engineering departments at Rice in developing new commercialization ventures.
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.
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 & 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.