3 Day Startup: An Experience in Entrepreneurship
Having somewhere to hone your craft and probe the possibilities of your discipline can make all the difference in the world. Scientists have laboratories; artists have studios; musicians have recording booths and engineers have workshops. But what venues exist for entrepreneurs to employ their own unique cocktail of ingenuity and pragmatism? Starting Friday, Oct. 23 and encompassing 40 students from Rice University and University of Houston (UH), the expansive halls of TMCx became a 72-hour pressure cooker for innovation. At 3 Day Startup (3DS), these ambitious, entrepreneurial individuals were given a blank canvas—along with a few paintbrushes in the form of resources and mentorship—to bring an idea to life.
“The goal of this weekend is to gain skills, pitch your passions and, essentially, get done in three days what some people do over three years,” said Hesam Panahi, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at UH’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, as well as the organizing faculty member for 3DS. “This is a program where you learn by doing. There are lots of opportunities on both of your campuses for you to actually take entrepreneurship classes and hear from experts who relay their experiences—but you can’t really learn entrepreneurship by just sitting in a classroom and watching someone talk about it. We want to provide you with a laboratory to experience that directly.”
The governing principle behind 3 Day Startup is simple: start a technology company over the course of three days. On Friday night, the students were tasked with selecting the best idea for a software startup during a rapid-fire brainstorming session with the intent of conducting customer interviews and market research on Saturday and, ultimately, pitching their prototype to a panel of top-notch entrepreneurs and investors on Sunday evening.
“There are some key startup principles I want you to be thinking about as you’re refining your ideas,” noted Panahi. “First and foremost is the understanding that this make up of participants is very diverse. There are people here who have never taken a business class in their lives, people pursuing entrepreneurship as a major, and people from design, creative, computer science or even engineering backgrounds. Take this opportunity to meet different people from these backgrounds and learn how to work with them.
“You’ll receive a lot of feedback throughout this process,” he added. “Feedback from your organizers; from the mentors that we have here from Houston’s entrepreneurial community; and from the panelists on Sunday night. But the basic idea is that it’s up to you to decide what to do with that feedback.”
For Panahi and his fellow organizers, one of the weekend’s primary goals was generating enough momentum among motivated students to sustain their companies beyond the weekend. By Sunday night, each team had released a minimal prototype of their technology.
“This is not a contest,” said Panahi. “Because this is not a business plan competition, there won’t be a first, second or third place—there will be plenty of opportunities for that later on as you move forward with your venture. It’s really all about collaborating with passionate, like-minded individuals.”
While mentors and participants from Houston’s innovation community lent their expertise throughout the weekend, 3DS is far from a singular, isolated event—it takes place at universities across the world. Collectively, 132 programs on five continents have launched 79 companies receiving $49 million in funding.
“This is a whole movement,” noted Panahi. “It’s really nice to have all of these opportunities to take advantage of that network. If you find yourself moving to a different city, and want to connect with someone with entrepreneurship resources there, you can always reach out to us to leverage those connections. You’re now part of a really big group that extends beyond Houston.”
The panelists at the closing pitch event on Sunday night included Grace Rodriguez, former creative director for TEDActive and a TMCx advisor; Jerald Reichstein, president of Bouncing Pixel and Pixatronic Ventures; Kelsey Ruger, vice president and chief experience officer at Knomatic; Lauren-Kristine Pryzant, venture capital analyst at Mercury Fund; and Rakesh Agrawal, founder and CEO of SnapStream Media. The weekend was the result of a collaborative effort between RED Labs, OwlSpark, Rice Launch, TMCx, CT Bauer College of Business, Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the Jones Graduate School of Business.
“What’s really exciting about this whole event is the collaboration,” said Jonathan Doshin, a student at C.T. Bauer College of Business. “The energy; there’s something in that.”