Owl Tank: Supporting Entrepreneurship at the Jones School

Based on the popular television show, Shark Tank, the new Owl Tank event held in April at the Jones School is similar to the extraordinarily successful Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest such competition in the world. Owl Tank is designed to give students a chance to present their business pitches to an audience of successful business leaders and receive valuable feedback.

But Owl Tank’s key difference is its focus on “small” ideas—those that don’t require a patent or millions of dollars in funding.
 


 

Why small ideas? “We came up with something that would complement the Rice Business Plan Competition,” explains Owl Tank planning committee member, Gene Brieck ‘10, also a part of the Jones Graduate School Entrepreneurship Organization (JGSEO), a sponsor of the event along with the Houston Chapter of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO). “We wanted to support students who were building sweat equity in their companies and needed quick cash flow. Our goal was to help them launch their businesses by providing them with good resources and angel investors.”

“And it’s the small businesses that fuel local economies,” says Ashley McDonald, owner of Ashley IT—an IT services company with dreams of creating a storefront in Houston’s busy downtown underground tunnel system. Rice MBA Jay Vinekar ‘12 developed Ashley IT’s business plan, which landed a third-place win.

Nine teams took on this year’s challenge to present their three-minute business pitches to a panel of six judges made up of Houston-area business leaders and successful entrepreneurs. “It was invigorating for presenters and judges,” says John Carter, who organized the Houston EO’s participation.

The Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice has earned a stellar reputation for its development of entrepreneurial business leaders, fostered in large part by Dr. Al Napier’s and Dr. Ed Williams’ support of the JGSEO, says Brieck.

“The Jones School is one of the top entrepreneurship programs in the country,” he explains, “and entrepreneurship in Houston is also big.” That means students receive a great deal of support and advice from a community of leaders engaged in the type of innovation and business-building that will help them in their future endeavors.
 

 


Amaethon, the first place winner of the Owl Tank competition, netted $750 in cash for its development of an alternative sugar source that can be converted into a renewable fuel. Second- and third-place winners received $500 apiece. All received valuable in-kind gifts of either website support or other business development services.

But what was invaluable, says Vinekar, who just graduated this year, is the connections students were able to make with people at both the competition and in the MBA program. “Houston business leaders are very approachable,” he explains. “For example, at the school, anyone can join conference calls with CEOs in roundtable discussions, and professors often bring in business leaders to class.” At this McDonald interrupts, “And I’ve already been approached and met someone from the event who has offered a potential partnership.”

So stay tuned: A second Owl Tank event is slated to be restocked next year.

— M. Yvonne Taylor