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UH Spurs Innovation, Startups

A new innovation center at the UH Energy Research Park provides students, faculty and alumni a space to start their business.

By Francine Parker

The 5, 500-sq.-ft. center provides start-up businesses with a place to develop and mature.

On any given day, the University of Houston Innovation, Creation and Commercialization Center buzzes with excitement.

It’s not the frenzy seen at TDECU Stadium or Cougar Field during the height of football and baseball seasons, but a quiet energy spurred by entrepreneurs, some as young as 20 years old.

In one office, a group of UH students and alumni are busy working on strategies for their startup company, WAVVE, which may one day help reduce the number of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases due, in part, to unsafe drinking water. The group hopes to market a new technology — created by Assistant Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Debora Rodrigues — that purifies water.

In another office, UH-Downtown graduate Ashley De Walt and UH alumnus Jonathan Brown are focused on expanding their digital agency, FusionSports Group. The agency enhances collegiate athletic programs’ communication efforts targeted to recruits, students and alumni through immersive brand experiences across digital platforms and social media channels.

Both of these companies and four others, all of which have a connection to the University, are benefitting from services offered at the center — a business incubator for students, faculty and alumni aspiring to be successful entrepreneurs. Located at the Energy Research Park, the center opened its doors in March. The center boasts 5,500 square feet of space, sleek modern furniture, a modular design and many amenities.

“We can accommodate up to 25 businesses in the center,” said Ken Jones, associate director of the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C. T. Bauer College of Business.

Jones, who dubbed the center “the spur” because of its location off Texas Spur 5 and because it spurs innovation, assists in managing the center with the Division of Research’s Office of Intellectual Property (IP).

“The center offers offices, a full kitchen, white boards, printing, Internet and conference rooms. I want these companies to focus on their customers and products, not on basic necessities,” Jones said, adding the center is accessible to entrepreneurs “24-hours a day.”

It appears these entrepreneurs are, indeed, putting customers first. De Walt, the founder and president of FusionSports Group, says his agency is ready to expand to meet the needs of its clients.

“With Ken’s help, we plan to start hiring interns from the University, which will help us and them,” De Walt said.

De Walt and his fellow entrepreneurs can not only take advantage of the center’s spacious quarters, they also have access to essential services such as banking, insurance, legal and accounting via the center, Jones said.

Funded by the Division of Research, the center is an offshoot of a program launched by the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the IP office several years ago. Under the program, teams of undergraduate students are paired with a faculty member and his or her technology to create a business plan with a goal of eventually commercializing the research. Over the years, several of these teams, including WAVVE, have won national and international student business plan competitions.

“The innovation enterprise plays a crucial role in the University’s effort to commercialize faculty research by providing essential resources that will enable students to launch UH startup businesses,” said Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer Rathindra N. Bose, who was instrumental in developing the center.

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