RED Labs Staffer and 3 Day Startup Organizer Wins
Trip to Kansas City Hackathon and a WordPress Scholarship
Bauer College student Andrew Douglass believes there is much to be learned from the startup culture of Kansas City, where Google’s new superfast Internet connection is transforming the landscape of high-tech startups.
A management information systems (MIS) major in the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business, Douglass was invited to participate in “Hacking the Gigabit City,” an event sponsored by Mozilla, the National Science Foundation, KC Digital Drive and the Kauffman Foundation. During the all-expenses-paid weekend March 22-24, the accomplished Bauer senior worked on a new app for urban planners. He also stayed in one of the homes for hackers that has popped up in the so-called Silicon Prairie, where a new generation of tech-savvy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the high-speed fiber-optic network Google Fiber.
“The point of that whole hackathon was to try and think of practical applications for consumers that actually have fiber-optic Internet at their house,” said Douglass, the student director of operations at RED Labs, the new startup accelerator housed in Bauer College that serves the UH community.
“I worked on design for an urban-planning tool that would help architects and urban planners get a better sense of how much something is going to cost, what kind of economic and ecological impact building a new building in a certain location would have.”
At the same time, Douglass — who participated in the first UH 3 Day Startup last year and helped organize the 2013 event, held in April — said he was deeply inspired by his time in Kansas City’s “fiberhood,” living with the young start-up company, Handprint. The startup has set up shop in a home within the Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV), which describes itself as “an entrepreneur-led, organic, grassroots initiative helping to bolster the Kansas City entrepreneur and startup scene.”
“I got to see a young startup struggling to get by and struggling to make it,” Douglass said. “And what I got out of it is that I think we really need something like that in Houston. And so I’m trying to get something like that happening in Houston.”
While the 23-year-old Sugar Land native believes there is plenty of tech talent in the city, he thinks independent types gets siphoned off by the oil-and-gas industry, the consulting business and the city of Austin, which just so happens to be the next market for Google Fiber. He is so smitten with the Kansas City landscape that he has considered moving there.
“I really think startup houses and startup communities are important,” said Douglass, who has thought about pursuing the topic as an undergraduate thesis. “I kind of feel like you get the same sort of camaraderie as you do in the military.”
Though Douglass enrolled at UH as a computer science major, he quickly gravitated toward Bauer, where programs like 3 Day Startup and RED Labs offer a supportive community and bring MIS and entrepreneurship students together. Since then, his professors say, he has emerged as a hard-working, behind-the-scenes lynchpin of the campus startup movement.
“Andrew inspires other students,” says Professor Hesam Panahi, founder of RED Labs and a clinical assistant professor of MIS at Bauer College. “He encourages them to learn code outside the classroom, to participate in hackathons, and to become more involved in the startup community. If you consider the things he’s done and compare the impact factor of those things to what others do, he’s up at the very top, and is growing into a more leading role as he takes on new opportunities.”
As RED Labs’ student director of operations, Douglass’ has a varied list of official and unofficial duties. He goes out for food for the goup’s Wednesday night networking and mentoring sessions. He’s working on RED Labs’ new web site. And he’s around to help startups with questions about design and web development.
Meanwhile, his facility with web design was sufficient enough to impress the WordPress community, which recently named him the winner of a $2,500 Houston WordPress Scholarship.
“The WordPress Scholarship meant a lot to me because it gave me the funds to buy tools that I really needed to take my design and development skills up a few more notches,” Douglass said. “I also felt like I was in a bit of a slump with my development skills, and winning the scholarship reinvigorated my passion for development in some ways and really put me back to writing some code every day.”
Meanwhile, Douglass can’t seem to get enough of Kansas City.
The weekend after UH 3 Day Startup, he and his girlfriend, Deborah Soetandio, a Bauer student pursuing a double major in MIS and accounting, drove to the city for Hack of the Sexes. They crashed with his buddies at Handprint, and their Hack of the Sexes project, Bus Stamp, was named best emerging idea.
Bus Stamp lets public-transportation users who don’t have smart phones retrieve wait times via text messaging. He would like to see the project evolve so that metro riders “who don’t necessarily have the Internet in their pocket” could use it to access additional information — such as directions, restaurant and entertainment options and taxis.
“We plan on taking it to the Houston Hackathon (May 17-18), where we will probably have a team of about eight people working on the development, testing and gathering data to prove it’s actually an important problem that needs solving,” Douglass said.
As the winner of Hack of the Sexes’ best emerging idea honor, Douglass and Soetandio won a spot in the KC version of 1 Million Cups, as well as some free consulting time from the Polsinelli law firm. Douglass says he’s not sure if they will make it back to Kansas City for 1 Million Cups, but he is intrigued by the city.
“After seeing how friendly and supportive the KCSV community is, the thought has definitely crossed my mind to move there,” Douglass said. “But I really don’t want to leave Houston behind permanently. I think something fun would be to bring a bunch of Houston people on a field trip to see the KCSV and learn more about how we can build a stronger community in our own city, and possibly convince Houstonites to form a startup village of our own. No matter what happens, I know I’ll be back, and I know next time I’ll stay for longer than a weekend.”
By Wendell Brock