Lightning in a bottle: 4th Annual Owl Tank

To a packed room of business owners, those who want to start businesses and interested investors, Taneshia Barton ’10, president of the JGSEO and founder and CEO of BlackBoxx, welcomed the crowd and explained the purpose of Owl Tank: “to give exposure to businesses that may not conform to the traditional venture capital profile.”

Modeled after ABC’s Shark Tank, Owl Tank is an opportunity to take ideas that may not require significant venture capital funding and present to business leaders and investors for their expert feedback, prize money and on-going advice and connections. The Owl Tank, which was chaired and led this year by JGSEO board member Craig Ceccanti ’08, was hosted by the Jones Graduate School Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Its goal is to provide networking, education and mentorship to alumni and student entrepreneurs at all stages of their entrepreneurial life cycle. “If you see someone’s nametag with the JGSEO designation,” Barton said. “Introduce yourself and ask them questions. Get to know us. Join us.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker opened the evening with an inspirational talk, directed to the eight team members. “Houston was a very improbable crossroads of business. Today we are one of the fastest growing cities and have made it a practice and policy to assist businesses in growing. I was a small business owner for 10 years … I learned a lot through that experience. Mostly this: running a business takes planning, persistence, perspiration and passion. Thank you to those of you who are putting your dreams in your hands and investing in yourself. I’m proud of the fact that Houston has more and more of these kinds of events and opportunities.”

Of the eight teams — Ziel, Hyperion Hospitality Group, Lendora, Potato, Crouch - Allison Resources, Bizongo, AcCell Analytics and Dignity Media — all were made up of either Rice undergraduates, Rice MBAs or Rice MBA alumni. A first ever for Owl Tank. Each team had five minutes to pitch their business and five minutes to answer judges’ questions.

Owl tank Dream Team


The Final Results

  • 1st Place for $5000: Ziel
    Alex Dzeda and Senthil Natarajan. Sophomore Rice undergraduate students. Ziel is a first-of-its-kind wearable muscle contraction sensor. It helps develop effective muscle memory by combining motion sensing with unique biometric analysis of muscle contractions. Physical routines have two primary problems: inconsistency and risk of injury. By providing a portfolio of information concerning movement and biopotential patterns, Ziel combines high-end analytics with practical feedback in order to minimize risks and improve consistency. The startup will sell a hardware component, the wearable technology, packaged with a software component, a companion application that serves as a dashboard and central point for relaying the analytics and feedback.

  • 2nd Place for $2500: Orphan Wells
    Douglas Crouch and David Allison. Current Rice MBA students, Class of 2015. Texas is home to over 700 "orphan oil wells." An oil well is considered by the state to be an orphan if the operating company of record no longer files the necessary regulatory paperwork. The operating company often no longer exists due to either insolvency or death of the owner. This leaves the state to deal with the abandonment of the well. In order to ease the burden on the state, Texas allows independent entrepreneurs to acquire these orphan wells for minimal capital. Once a well is adopted, the new operator is free to evaluate the reservoir and attempt to bring the well back to production. Crouch-Allison Resources is an oil and gas company that will adopt several, high potential orphan wells and exploit the remaining resources in place. The recent decline in oil prices has significantly reduced the cost of oilfield services and the number of other players pursuing these wells, creating a short term opportunity for entry. The amount of $300,000 will provide the capital to adopt and execute on 10 wells. Allison has experience in onsite reservoir evaluation and field operations from six years with Halliburton. Crouch will provide financial and physical modeling of potential reserves from a physics background.

  • 3rd Place for $1500 and crowd favorite for $1000: Potato
    Alexander Wesley. Current Rice MBA students, Class of 2016. Wesley and Gene Frantz, a professor in the practice of signal processing in the Rice Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, have developed SPUD (Spontaneous Pop-Up Display) which attacks the consumer pain point of having to trade-off device screen size and portability. SPUD is an ultra-portable 20" display made out of a pico projector connected to a 20" collapsible screen, enabled by specialty optics. It is about the size of a fist when collapsed and weighs less than one pound. Customers are increasingly migrating to mobile phones, smaller laptops and tablets as their primary computing device, and SPUD will enable them to have the large screen they want on the go. The current competition (USB displays) is bulkier, heavier, inconvenient and features a smaller screen size.