How to get a business partner and win the Governor’s Cup: Chase Houston’s Story

Sitting in what has become his corner of the Ozmen Center, Chase Houston works quietly on his laptop. Occasionally he will share how many hours of sleep he got the night before, it is never close to the recommended amount, yet a smile remains on his face despite his long nights.

For this young entrepreneur, sleep has always been a challenge. During high school he was diagnosed with narcolepsy. His ability to stay energized in every realm of life from work, school, and his personal life became a daily struggle for Houston to overcome.

Because of his condition Houston has had to work hard to find ways to maintain a steady workflow and achieve his goals. Despite these challenges Houston has managed to work as an account executive at a software company while taking three graduate entrepreneurship classes at the University of Nevada, Reno, and completing his business plan to enter in the Nevada Governor’s Cup Competition.

What motivates Houston is, “a constant thriving for a new challenge.”

He received his bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in Japanese from the University of Nevada, Reno. He studied Japanese and played waterpolo for Kwansei Gakuin University in Osaka, Japan where he lived for a year.

The three-time governor’s cup competitor was a finalist for 2 consecutive years for the award as an undergraduate at UNR. His winning company is an innovative lithium- ion battery anode design that allows current batteries to have ten times more energy.

Chase’s partner in the Governor’s Cup was Mohammed Danyan. Houston and Danyan met on the graduate school council for the College of Business. Their company Hana Battery Technologies began after a series of conversations between the two students.

“Mo originally said ‘no, I am way too busy’,” said Houston.

Replying to Danyan Houston said, “So am I but I really think we are on to something big…I kept bugging him and he finally agreed to do it.”

Their conversation about competing began in the fall, once they solidified their idea they began developing their business plan in January.

Danyan is both a Ph. D Student and an MBA student.

“I couldn’t have done it without him, he is the scientific brain behind the operation,” said Houston.

Throughout the competition Houston and Danyan developed a mindset of moving forward whether or not they won or lost the competition.

“The way I looked at it, I kept telling him whenever we were getting stuck, either way if we don’t win we are still accomplishing something and moving forward,” said Houston.

The team will now move on to compete in the D.W. Reynolds Tri- State competition held in Las Vegas to compete against the top teams from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nevada where they can potentially win $118,000.

“It wasn’t the cash that got me excited, it was the recognition for our hard work, and for once people wanted to come and shake my hand instead of the other way around.”

The team’s efforts paid off as they took home a total of $25,000 for their company during last week’s awards dinner.

Houston began his career working as the director of international sales for a renewable energy Wind Turbine startup in Reno after graduating. He made a connection during a networking event with an entrepreneur at a new company and was hired once he graduated.

“I have a knack for relating to various types of people and establishing lasting connections. ”

Following this job Houston has served in many roles in a diverse range of industries from data center power management to commercial real estate, and has traveled to over twenty countries working with U. S. ambassadors in Europe and Asia.

“I was originally planning on becoming an orthopedic surgeon. I was gun-ho on going into the medical field then I took organic chemistry and realized this wasn’t for me,” said Houston.

Houston feels having a diverse background has allowed him to figure out what he enjoys doing the most. Growing up Houston’s parents were enthusiast and encouraging about his career options, never limiting his possibilities.

He recalls being told we could achieve anything, now he understands however, while he can try to achieve success in many fields, where he wants to achieve success has become clear.

“There are endless things to do but if I want to do something I truly love, then it would be in entrepreneurship,” said Houston.

Student Entrepreneurs Share Their Sontag Stories

By Liset Puentes

In 2011 alumnus Rick Sontag funded The College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno with the Sontag Entrepreneurship Award, hoping to encourage students to become entrepreneurs. The yearlong competition begins in October and continues onto March where out of the top finalists, one winner receives $50,000 to fund their business venture.

This year the competition attracted 35 business idea submissions of which only four finalists remain. Three of the finalists spoke with the Ozmen Center about their Sontag experience.

“Every year since we’ve been freshmen we’ve been telling ourselves we’re going to do it,” said MacCallister Higgins, a University of Nevada, Reno senior and creator of Nevada Dynamics.

With graduation quickly approaching Higgins and his partner Eric Edgington, a University of Nevada, Reno senior, decided to compete for the Sontag award. Their company, Nevada Dynamics, provides air traffic control for drones.

They plan on integrating drones into the national airspace and provide companies a way to use command and control systems for drones using a satellite network. Currently, according to Higgins, a drone’s flight path can only be controlled manually or using preprogrammed flight paths.

Higgins, a computer science and mechanical engineering major, was exposed to drone technology by working with the autonomous systems innovation center, NAASIC, as well as Flirtey, an Australian drone delivery company.

What started as a senior project with a team of four has evolved into a team of fourteen individuals over the yearlong competition.

The rapid growth of the company was exciting for the team but it did not come without challenges. Higgins admits the team struggled early on when they made decisions before knowing they could secure the resources for their ideas or before doing the proper research.

Higgins has also learned that choosing the right people from the start is crucial to a company’s success. He attributes a large part of their growth to his partner, Erik Edgington, who has communicated the company’s vision effectively to others.

Higgins remarked on the supportive environment the University has provided to make the business possible and is excited to see the University moving towards encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset, an attitude he felt was missing when he first began his studies.

 “I’m just working really hard so I don’t have to make someone else money,” said Higgins.

Win or lose, the team will continue to develop their company.

“The ability to work on something that’s going to change the way we see the world now, that’s very motivating,” said Higgins.

For Meghan O’Neil, creator of Burn Ready and University of Nevada, Reno senior, entrepreneurship was a part of her life long before she could even know she would enter the Sontag competition.

The young figure skater created a product to prevent rusting on ice skates when she was fifteen. O’Neil knew nothing about business and although she received help from her mother the product never took off.

Years later O’Neil now is the creator of Burn Ready, a web based supply company that simplifies event preparation for extreme events. The idea came to O’Neil during a late night discussion with friends at the Wolf Den.

After receiving encouragement from her peers O’Neil presented at Pack Pitch and soon after began developing her business with the help from on campus resources such as the Nevada Small Business Development Center and the University of Nevada, Reno Entrepreneurship Club.

Her decision to compete for the Sontag award was driven by a deadline she had given herself to start her business.

 “With Sontag I was able to make it happen, not just have it be some dream someday,” O’Neil said.

Through Sontag, O’Neil said she was able to learn a lot outside of her management and economics major. She reflected on her growth in the areas of accounting, public speaking, and marketing, all of which she knew nothing of before Sontag.

O’Neil was hit hard by the recession and has worked her way through college. She feels the Sontag competition has changed her future because it has presented a new career path she had never considered.

Presenting for Pack Pitch, O’Neil was shaking as she shared her idea, something that had never happened to the practiced public speaker. She admitted that trusting her idea was challenging since she feared, like many who take risks, the possible rejection of a deeply personal project.

Now she advises entrepreneurs, “Believe in yourself and put in the work – constantly work on the business plan.”

O’Neil’s has seen her confidence surge over the past year and now feels secure choosing entrepreneurship as a path.

“I found a niche and I want to grow it.”

Steven Keim and Keith Szelagowski are both graduate students, their challenge was finding time for their business.

Their company, Adaption, seeks to give smart phone and tablet users the ability to manage and protect their homes with low energy, long-range sensors using Bluetooth technology.

Keim, a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University and UNR graduate, said the Sontag competition allowed the team  to refine their initial idea.

“It has turned a fledgling idea into a full blown business plan by forcing us to challenge the initial weaknesses in the business idea and our product,” Keim said.

What defines an entrepreneur according to Keim, is “Someone who sees an investment opportunity and then intelligently seizes that opportunity.”

Keim believes entrepreneurship can be encouraged with more competitions like Sontag where students are given significant cash awards that can actually provide students with enough capital to fund their company.

“I think most people who don’t choose entrepreneurship simply don’t know where to start,” Keim said.

The team utilized many on campus resources as well as the expertise from College of Business advisors to form their business plan and strategy. Finding partners in areas they felt they lacked experience was a challenge for the graduate students.

Marketing, unfamiliar to Keim, proved difficult because not only did he not understand the company’s marketing needs he also did not know what makes an effective marketer, making the decision of finding the right partner more difficult.

“It’s also important for an entrepreneur to see problems when they’re there, lest he or she make a poor investment decision,” said Keim.

The winning team will not only receive $50,000 but they will also be assisted in the development of their business including mentorship from community business leaders.

Liset Puentes is an intern at the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship. She can be reached at LinkedIn

Oxford Entrepreneur Joins Ozmen Center Faculty

By Jamie Schwarzbach

Kelly Northridge and I sat relaxed across from each other at one of the high-top tables in the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship. “Relaxed” is hard to obtain these days with Northridge doing her fieldwork in Reno while studying to receive her doctorate in business from the University of Oxford and also teaching a course at the University of Nevada, Reno called New Venture Creation in Biotechnology. Kelly is an exceptional entrepreneur who is researching gender lens investing and finance with a specific focus on developed countries, a rarely studied field.

Kelly has a plethora of educational experiences from International Business and Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, to her MBA from Cornell University and Master of Public Health degree from UCLA.   Sprinkled between UNR and UCLA, Kelly worked in management consulting, venture capital and mergers and acquisitions.

After UCLA, with experience studying Asian, European, and African economies, Kelly transitioned her career to a startup — as their first official employee — where she focused on health economics and international strategy. From startups to big biotech, Kelly helped companies prepare the financial and economic dossiers needed to gain reimbursement for their drugs in nationalized healthcare systems worldwide. No small feat, as these companies need to, “provide enough extra benefits to justify bringing them on (to a national formulary).”

After completing a fellowship in angel investing and co-founding a women-led health tech company, she became passionate about the funding gap for women, and the impact of current financial models on women and girls.

Kelly took her next step and began studying at Oxford University. This was a clear choice because the school was exploring research topics in the women’s economy and social entrepreneurship. Kelly focuses on women and girls and how to use a “gender lens on any kind of investment to determine its impact on women and girls.” Kelly is really interested in developed countries (namely U.S. and Europe) and why this topic hasn’t been thoroughly researched in those countries. Kelly also questions, “how people in finance are addressing this need (for investing with a gender lens) that is becoming more and more vocal.”

During her schooling, Kelly was given the opportunity to perform fieldwork anywhere in the world and chose to come back to Reno.Kelly created a special topics course on New Venture Creation in Biotechnology offered in conjunction with the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Sciences.This undergrad/grad course analyzes University technology and determines whether the technology is a viable venture. The course also explores economic and financial analyses, and multiple funding sources (e.g., grants, private, crowd funding).

Kelly is doing exciting things connecting Oxford and the University of Nevada, Reno, increasing the awareness of the University internationally.

She moved back to Reno because University of Nevada, Reno is one of the few universities that is open to developing new curricula, and moving quickly to incorporate leading edge approaches and research into its entrepreneurship studies. The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship is excited to have Kelly as faculty and in-office to provide a point-of-view about women-led ventures, international economics and financial analyses and new venture creation.

Kelly will be available to provide a point-of-view during her office hours in the Ozmen Center on Mondays from 2:30 to 3:30pm.

Jamie Schwarzbach is a University of Nevada, Reno graduate student and creates the Ozmen Center Newsletter. She can be reached @JLSchwarzbach on Twitter. 

Improve the Microsoft Experience With Your Business Plan

MicroSoftBpostMicrosoft Reno is challenging UNR Students to improve the Microsoft experience for a chance to win an Xbox One and present their idea to Mircrosoft executives.

Every new business must manage and access their technological needs. The market is full of solutions for tech challenges including managing cloud storage, using operating systems, as well as fundamental services like email, word processing, and Word or Excel.

The competition concerns your business plan and how you plan on using Microsoft products, or other company’s products, to best serve your business.

Competitors must present their research and analysis behind their tech choices that coincide with their business service or product.

The top 5 contenders will present their idea to Microsoft Executives and the winning team will win an Xbox One for each member.

Send questions to

For more details attend the information session on February 10, 2015, in the Ansari Building Room 408A from 6:00 pm to 7:00pm.

Grammar Girl reflects on teaching debut

By Liset Puentes



Mignon Fogarty unknowingly launched her entrepreneurial career during college when her roommate encouraged her to sell the hair bows she had been quietly crafting in her dorm room. The two friends started paying their way through college when most students were deciding where they would find employment.

Years later, Fogarty considers those hair bows to be the beginning of an exciting path towards entrepreneurship. She now teaches Media Entrepreneurship as part of the graduate program coursework at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

An English major, Fogarty admits she had no idea what she would do after graduating. An interest in science eventually led her to study biology at Stanford University. Before she could finish her doctorate degree, she left academia to join her roommate’s software company as her first employee.

“It’s incredibly valuable for everyone to get out of their comfort zone especially when they are younger so that they can see what opportunities are available. Entrepreneurship is one of those opportunities that’s available that sometimes people don’t see,” Fogarty said.

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Sontag team touts diverse perspectives

From left, Alex Wittmann, George Nicholas, Briana Sorochak, Anthony Zunino, and Luis Cupas pose for a picture. Photo by Zoe Wentzel

From left, Alex Wittmann, George Nicholas, Briana Sorochak, Anthony Zunino, and Luis Cupas pose for a picture. Photo by Zoe Wentzel

By Zoe Wentzel

Understanding business isn’t always easy for a group of mechanical engineering majors, which is why senior George Nicholas and his fellow group members enlisted the help of friend and senior marketing student Briana Sorochek to compete in the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition.

The competition, created through a $1 million gift by alumnus Rick Sontag to the University of Nevada, Reno, awards $50,000 to one winning team assisting them in starting their business. Throughout the competition, community business leaders offer participants guidance in developing their ideas.

Nicholas and his team’s business concept, which helps the elderly reduce life threatening falls by adding electromagnets to walkers, was first conceived as a part of a capstone course project required of mechanical engineering students. Through their process of designing, building and receiving a patent they decided their idea was good enough to enter the competition.

Knowing they wanted to enter their idea, they knew they needed someone who knew the business side of things. Enlisting the help of Sorochak was an important addition to the group.

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Inside the DeLaMare makerspace

Creating a prototype of a product can help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life.

Nevada Media Alliance reporter Nate Eng takes us on a tour of the DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno. DeLaMare is recognized as one of the most interesting makerspaces in America. (Click the photos for a larger view.)



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Thanksgiving Week office hours

The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship is closed Nov. 24-28 for Thanksgiving, but we will be back in business Monday, Dec. 1. Have a great holiday.

Recap: Startup Weekend Reno 2014

The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship was one of many Startup Weekend Reno sponsors. The event, which challenges teams to build a business in 54 hours, marked the end of Reno’s first Startup Week. Here’s a recap in case you couldn’t attend.

DAY 1: Friday, Nov. 21

One Million Cups Reno organizer Krysta Bea Jackson took a photo at the Freight House at Aces Ballpark before Startup Weekend participants arrived.

Mignon Fogarty teaches a media entrepreneurship course at the University of Nevada, Reno. She shared this picture of the official Startup Weekend shirt:

Nolan Nicholson was one of two University students who won a ticket to Startup Weekend after entering a contest hosted by the OCE.

As Day 1 drew to a close, attention turned to the Startup Weekend trophy.

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Giving thanks

The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship staff is celebrating Thanksgiving a bit early. We are grateful for the people and organizations in Reno and around the world that have supported or visited the OCE since its September opening. Thank you. We look forward to collaborating with everyone for many more years.