Growing an enterprise
Ryan Guerra ’17 founded Skylark Wireless, LLC, a wireless networking startup that exploits the potential in television-band white space (TVWS). Skylark’s IRIS software-defined radio system recycles unused TV radio spectrum for high-speed, long-range broadband service, in an effort to bring wireless access to underserved global markets. Guerra works on multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) in the UHF band—transceivers employing numerous antennas to provide speeds in excess of 50x today’s systems.
The company that began in Edward Knightly’s lab in 2012 recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant in the amount of $750,000 for two years. Knightly is a professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at Rice who heads the Rice Networks Group.
“This funding will help us take the next step in the process, to commercialize our technology,” said Guerra, a fifth-year graduate student in ECE.
He’s also looking at expanding his team. Currently, there are four employees at Skylark, counting Guerra, with a fifth joining in May 2017.
Since the company’s inception, Skylark has evolved as Guerra learned more about both the technology and the marketplace.
“The original idea was to see if we could use those [TV] bands as WiFi access points,” he said. “A WiFi router in your home only covers a short distance. Taking advantage of unused TV bands for WiFi would allow for a low-cost, long-range network. As we met with customers all over the world, though, we realized our original plan was inadequate for the degree of wireless access and coverage we wanted.”
So now, Guerra and his team have scaled their efforts to develop products that will allow for wider wireless delivery, serving more than 3 Gbps over tens of miles.
“We have to push the technology as hard as we can,” he said. “We want to provide a solution for the billion people around the world with no internet access. That’s a shift in our thinking, since we started with the idea of incremental coverage. Now, we want to change the way we build wireless networks.”
Guerra’s enterprise is a reflection of the culture of entrepreneurship among student engineers on campus. Designed to encourage and sustain such endeavors is the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative, announced in August by Marie Lynn Miranda, Rice provost and statistics professor. The initiative prepares students for everything from starting companies to hiring personnel and managing finances. The program is aimed at undergraduate, graduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, as well as postdocs and faculty, and is led by Yael Hochberg, associate professor of entrepreneurship in the Jones Graduate School of Business.