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Gill Scholars explore entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley

LU group at IgniteTen Lamar University graduate students recently traveled to Silicon Valley as Gill Scholars to participate in Ignite!, a three-day, immersive entrepreneurial experience. LU graduate students joined others from Rice University, UC-Davis and Texas Medical Center to visit start-ups, high-tech firms and venture capital firms and to learn from successful innovators who discussed their entrepreneurial journeys as guest speakers.

“It was mixing multiple disciplines of studies, which is not something that a student gets to experience often. It was a very rare opportunity to meet the real-life entrepreneurs and interact with them,” said Vraj Pandya, a master’s computer science student from Vadodara, India.

Joining Pandya were 6 other Gill Scholars receiving masters degrees: Shiblee Ahmed, a Beaumont master’s of business administration student; Manideep Bollu of Tirupati, India earning a master’s in computer science; Tejus Mane of Nagpur, India studying for a master’s of engineering science in chemical engineering; Md Ashiqur Rab, a master of business administration student from Comilla, Bangladesh; Krishna Kharel of Morang, Nepal earning a masters of science in chemistry; and Dezlun Washington, a master of business administration student from Beaumont.

Doctorate-level Gill Scholars were: Yan Fang, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering from Shijiazhuang, China; Ravinder Singh, a Houston native pursing a doctorate in chemical engineering; and Zhicheng Zhu, pursing an doctorate in industrial engineering from Guangzhou, China.

“Ignite! was a truly transformative experience as it gave me the lessons I needed to hear from speaking personally with successful entrepreneurs,” said Tejus Mane. “Learning from the entrepreneurs about their failures and hard times truly gave me a unique perspective of the tumultuous journey required to convert an idea to a business. I feel reenergized and motivated to continue developing my ideas. In addition to the talks, the diverse group of students I connected with has given me a close support group and possible cofounders for my future ventures.”

“My favorite speaker was Mark Randall, VP of creativity at Adobe who came in and gave a completely unique perspective of applying innovation into my daily life, Mane said. “His talk started with his own background of his company, the tragic loss of his cofounder and the lessons learnt. Surprisingly the most interesting part was the brilliant techniques he spoke about that he utilized in Adobe to start getting employees to think differently. The most successful entrepreneurs are engineers and scientists who think creatively. To achieve success a person has to be imaginative and resilient to his surroundings.”

“Mark Randall’s techniques were made into a free program called Adobe Kickbox,” Mane said. “The lessons were applicable right away and since I returned to Lamar, I have already started to use his program for my own startup team and my personal ideas.”

The conference is hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Rice University and University of California-Davis, Graduate School of Management. Lamar University alumnus Jack Gill, Houston philanthropist, successful entrepreneur and former Silicon Valley venture capitalist supports the scholarship program that is now in its fifth year with its partner Texas Medical Center.

In the all-expenses-paid program for engineering, science, business and medical students, the Gill Scholars visited successful companies such as Airbnb, Square, Tesla, Box, Benchmark Capital, Proteus Digital Health, Auditude (acquired by Adobe) and more. They also heard first-hand lessons from startup founders, field leaders and CEOs, including Gill himself.

“Dr. Jack Gill’s continual support of entrepreneurial education at Lamar University is what enables us to take these students to the epicenter of entrepreneurship in the United States,” said Paul Latiolais, director of the Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship (CICE).

“The group had the chance to visit some impressive startups like Klicknation, Square, Inc., Parsable, LendUp, Maana, 23 and Me, Five Prime Therapeutics and 5 AM Ventures.”

“They heard from Dr. Gill and other industry leaders such as Nicholas Seet, founding CEO of Auditude, Lorin Johnson, co-founder of Salix Pharmaceuticals, Cate Dyer, CEO of StemExpress and Mark Randall, serial entrepreneur, chief strategist and creativity VP for adobe,” said Latiolais.

“It helped me to free myself from something I call ‘creator's prejudice’. I, as an engineer, did not have the full extent of what business students do and why it is important, ” said Pandya, who felt he grew thanks to his exposure to the professionals and other students.

The CICE is a partnership between Lamar University’s College of Business, College of Engineering and the Southeast Texas business community. The center is a conduit for industry and university interaction, supporting projects, on-going research, student experiential learning, special events and training. The center seeks to prepare graduates for rewarding careers by exposing them to entrepreneurial, real-world projects.

The Gill Foundation of Texas focuses on providing Scholarships for economically disadvantaged students, establishing Centers of Excellence in technical fields (e.g., cardiovascular sciences, neurosciences and entrepreneurial programs for scientists, engineers and physicians) and creating novel courses, seminars and programs to promote interdisciplinary collaboration at universities. Established in 1997, The Gill Foundation of Texas has donated gifts and grants totaling approximately $30 million.

Jack Gill is a 35-year veteran of Silicon Valley and Boston and has founded and financed dozens of successful companies in the instrumentation, computer, telecom, and medical industries. Gill graduated from Lamar University in 1958 with degrees in chemistry and engineering. Four years later, he received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Indiana University.

At 33, he founded his first business that pioneered micro-processor-based scientific instruments. In 1981, he co-founded Vanguard Ventures. Vanguard’s first five funds invested $155 million in 103 startups and generated more than $1 billion return to investors. Gill joined the Harvard Medical School faculty in 2000 and has taught entrepreneur courses at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Rice and Indiana University. He was a 1999 recipient of the Horatio Alger Award.

Gill is a longtime advocate and benefactor for entrepreneurship at LU, including a recent $1 million gift. Half of the gift will support the operations of the Jack M. Gill Chair in Chemical Engineering, held by David Cocke, who serves as the associate director of the CICE, while the remainder will support CICE operations and student internships within the CICE.