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Gill Scholars attend Silicon Valley entrepreneurship conference

Nine graduate students from Lamar University recently participated in Ignite!, a three-day entrepreneurship program in Silicon Valley, as 2015 Gill Scholars along with 65 other graduate students from Rice University, University of California-Davis, and Texas Medical Center (UT Medical Branch, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Methodist Hospital, and UT MD Anderson Cancer Center).

2015 Gill Scholars“The LU students, who are pursuing MBAs, master’s or doctoral degrees in engineering or science, visited leading Silicon Valley companies and exciting tech startups,” said Paul Latiolais, director of the Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship at Lamar University. “They also spent two days learning from Rice Business Plan finalists who have gained success in the marketplace and are experiencing exponential revenues.”

The Ignite! conference was 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 third year.

Attending were MBA students Brianna Burks, Matthew Chance, Joshua Davis, Martin Mantz, and Lauren Van Gerven. Also attending were master’s students Sagar Bonthu, computer science, and Josue Bahena, chemistry, and doctoral students Albert Odell and Heng Ma, both in chemical engineering.  Accompanying the group were LU faculty members Latiolais and Evan Wujcik, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Houston native Bahena found the experiences the speakers shared very informative.

“Founders and CEOs gave us a greater view of entrepreneurship and the conference helped us make connections with other students,” Bahena said. “Connections like these can be the difference in an idea reaching its full potential or not.”

During the conference the attendees were divided into three groups for tours, visiting primarily technology, business or science-tech entrepreneurs.

Beaumont native Davis took an entrepreneurship strategy class with Latiolais last year and learned of the opportunity. “When I found out about Ignite! it seemed to tie everything together,” Davis said.   The application process required 1,000-word essay describing the benefit each student anticipated from the experience, Davis said.

“We met high-level business executives, toured businesses and learned how they made them successful. We learned about things you encounter when starting and growing a business from start-up to sale of the company,” Davis said. There was a lot of networking throughout the trip, he said.

Davis’ group toured Revolution Foods (provider of more than a million freshly prepared meals every week to K-12 schools nationwide), Survey Monkey, Benchmark Capital (an early funder for several successful start-ups including Twitter, Uber, Snapchat and Instagram), Nest (creator of sensor-driven, Wi-Fi-enabled, self-learning, programmable thermostats and smoke detectors), and Strike Brewery.  “Strike Brewery was started by a Rice University MBA graduate,” Davis said.

What benefited him most? “Getting to talk with people I wouldn’t see on a normal basis and having the opportunity to pick their brains,” he said. “Getting advice and first-hand knowledge that is not the text book version, that was what was most beneficial.”

Albert Odell, a Houston native studying process controls for ethyleneoxide plants found the trip to be “a great opportunity to be introduced to the business side of industry.”

“It was a great opportunity to look under the hood and see how the business world really works,” Odell said.  Both Odell and Bahena were in the group that toured the University of California’s QB3 where scientists focus on molecular biology; Five Prime Therapeutics, a drug innovation company; Biotech company Proteus Digital Health that is working on a “smart pill” that monitors a variety of health indicators; and private equity firm Alloy Ventures focusing on early-stage ventures in life sciences, information technology and cleantech companies.

About Lamar University Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship

The Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, or CICE, is a partnership between Lamar University’s College of Business and College of Engineering and the Southeast Texas business community. The center is a conduit for industry and university interaction, including projects, on-going research, student experiential learning, special events and training. The center promotes a strong emphasis on student development and training to prepare graduates for rewarding careers by exposing them to entrepreneurial real-world projects. New businesses supported by the center are technology-focused, providing products and services for existing and future industry.


Front Row: Heng Ma; student Ph.D. chemical engineering, Lauren Van Gerven; MBA student, Martin Mantz; MBA student, and Brianna Burks; MBA/MSA student.

Second Row, left to right: Evan Wujcik, assistant professor chemical engineering, Matthew Chance; MBA student, Sagar Bonthu; student M.S. computer science, Josue Bahena; student M.S. chemistry, Albert Odell; student Ph.D. chemical engineering, Joshua Davis; MBA student, Paul Latiolais; director, Lamar Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship.

Back Row: Linda and Jack Gill