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Driving Forces: Crashing the Tech Startup Party

June 26, 2016

Lauren Thompson Miller ’14 always knew she wanted to start a business like her engineering father and grandfathers. As a Rice MBA she took a class that would change the course of her life. Technology Entrepreneurship Management — usually 30 percent women — teamed Miller with classmate Tim Aramil ’14, and they were tasked with developing a business plan for a series of anti-corrosion coatings and lubricants invented by Dr. James Tour, a renowned Rice chemistry professor with 100+ patents to his name and who was named as R&D Magazine’s “Scientist of the Year” in 2013.

They found that special technology they were looking for to start a new chemical company and worked with other team members to develop a business and commercialization plan for A-76.  After winning a business plan competition at Rice, the team went on to compete in business plan competitions around the world. At the Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest and richest graduate-level competition in the world, A-76 Technologies won second place and almost $600,000 in total prizes, even more than the grand prize winner.

Today she is co-founder and CEO of A-76 Technologies, a preservation coatings and lubricants manufacturing company. In addition to stringent third-party testing along the way, Miller tested A-76 herself on some rebar in her garage, and is confident it’s the best product on the market. “We out-perform everything,” she says. Though it’s useful in agriculture, aerospace, transportation, defense, marine, and the oil and gas industries, Miller focused her initial marketing on oil and gas, which meant traipsing out to the rigs in the field and talking to “the guy on the ground who is going to be the one to use it.”

But she’s always hung out with boys, both in school when she was fencing on the men’s team in college and out at her family ranch having fun driving a tractor. She thinks the experience has made her better able to communicate even though potential clients are frequently surprised to see her. The company has been named one of the “Tech Start-Ups to Watch” by the Houston Chronicle in 2015 and was a finalist for the 2014 Goradia Innovation Prize from the Houston Technology Center. They have expanded into retail, and their products can be purchased for the home on Amazon.

“My family has been hugely influential on my career,” Miller says.  “To begin with, I am from a family of entrepreneurs on both sides of my family, so everyone has been very supportive of me venturing out on my own. My father is an excellent businessman (he took over his father’s company when it was failing, turned it around, sold it, and is now a C-level executive at a Fortune 500 company) and has been one of our advisors. He has first-hand experience with the difficulties that surround a startup. My mother has also been a big influence as a woman who is a go-getter and has always pushed herself.  She has an MBA as well and was the driving force behind me deciding to attend business school.”

Recently, Miller was featured on Forbes’ 2015 30 under 30 list for Energy and in 2014 was named an entrepreneur to watch by Houston Business Journal. She has worked with energy investments and start-ups for SURGE Accelerator and Silicon Valley Bank. She has worked in sales and manufacturing process consulting.  Prior to attending Rice, she managed multi-million dollar programs in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. She holds a B.A. in international relations from The College of William and Mary, and an MBA from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Content courtesy of Rice University (Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business).

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