Frequently Asked Questions
Established in 2012, OwlSpark is the Rice University startup accelerator, offering an intense and immersive experience for Rice University ventures. Each summer, OwlSpark delivers entrepreneurial training, teaches business fundamentals, offers 1:1 hyper-targeted mentoring with industry movers and shakers, and broadens founders’ professional network. OwlSpark culminates with the Bayou Startup Showcase, an annual demo day for startups from Rice University and University of Houston.
OwlSpark runs each summer, from mid-May to early August. Class 11 launches May 17, 2023, and runs through August 4, 2023.
OwlSpark will be hosted off-campus in a local Houston innovation space, and founders will have access to the space for the duration of the program. There are some virtual program components, but these are not substitutes for the in-person components.
OwlSpark is a 12-week, full-time program. While the program does not have 40 hours of scheduled programming, founders are expected to spend the remainder of their time working on their businesses.
Accepted participants are expected to engage full-time; however, you may participate on a part-time basis if you have at least two other team members who are dedicated to participating full-time. Participating full-time founders should have decision-making power within the startup.
OwlSpark includes intensive mentoring, entrepreneurial training, and exposure to Houston’s best resources. Like any entrepreneurial venture, launching a startup requires determination, grit, versatility, and most importantly, passion. Throughout the summer, founders are expected to meet a number of program requirements, including, but not limited to:
- Attending and actively engaging in training sessions, workshops, events, mentoring, and weekly accountability meetings
- Setting and reporting key performance metrics
- Conducting a minimum of 100 customer interviews
- Building brand identity, website, marketing materials, and more
- Developing a clear, concise, compelling pitch, and pitch video
- Pitching at organized events
- Access to resources and mentors
- Experience real-time, immersive application and receive immediate feedback
- A cohort of like-minded peers from Rice University and University of Houston, and access to the universities' accelerator alumni network
- Grow an invaluable professional network
- Validate business assumptions and a refined business model
- Extend development runway
- Minimize risks and maximize odds of success
OwlSpark offers office hours with subject matter experts (including legal and others), heavily discounted or free access to software and services, prototype funding (for eligible startups), and access to coworking space during and beyond the program.
To date, 77 startups have completed the program and a third of these are still active today. Of those, 31% have been funded and have raised more than $100M in capital.
Of those that have wound down, many founders have taken their skills to their next venture—some have even joined other startups, joined venture capital firms, or have launched innovation-adjacent careers.
We are looking for promising, scalable ventures that are beyond the idea stage, and have a researched understanding of the customer, market, and competition. Teams surrounding the idea should be balanced, coachable, flexible, and capable—do you have the right team, skills, and mindset to take your startup to the next level?
OwlSpark is industry-agnostic: startups across all industries are invited to apply.
Applications are evaluated around the following:
- Innovation – Is it a unique and necessary solution?
- Market – Are you solving a "big" problem?
- Strategy – Does it make sense financially? Does it add value?
- Team – Does your team bring the right skills while remaining adaptable and coachable?
No. While helpful, a prototype is not a requirement for the OwlSpark program. However, accepted startups are expected to develop a prototype during the program.
No. Incorporation nor funding are qualifying criteria for this program. However, incorporated and/or funded startups are not excluded from consideration.
OwlSpark is free—in fact, we pay you for your full engagement in the program! Founders participating full-time in the program are eligible to receive a stipend. Neither OwlSpark nor Rice University takes any equity: the ownership and decisions are yours.
Applications are open Monday, February 20 – Monday, March 13 at 11:59 pm CT. Applications close at 12:00 am CT on March 14. You can apply here. Be sure to review the instructions prior to applying as there is no option to save and finish later.
Once you have completed the application, you will receive a confirmation email and a copy of your application. If your application reveals a potential fit for OwlSpark, your team will be invited to interview. Accepted teams will be notified on or around April 3, 2023.
Accepted founders are expected to participate full-time; however, you may participate on a part-time basis if you have at least two team members who are dedicated to participating in OwlSpark full-time. Because OwlSpark is a rigorous, fast-paced program, participating full-time founders must have decision-making power.
OwlSpark is open to startups with 2 – 5 founders (members), and at least one founder must be a Rice University affiliate (student, faculty, staff, or recent alumni). Rice University students must be currently enrolled and in good academic standing. Additionally, at least two founders must commit to participating in the program full-time. Solo founders may apply, but startups with two or more members are given preference.
Your team can include non-Rice affiliates, as long as your team has at least one Rice affiliate.
Yes! International students are eligible. If accepted, you would need to work through OISS to secure proper authorization to participate and receive the stipend. If your startup is accepted into the program, it is your responsibility to start the authorization process ASAP to ensure participation on Launch Day.
Let’s schedule a time to chat about your options so we can make a proper recommendation on the program best suited for you.