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3 Houston startups to compete in Rice University's Veterans Business Battle

Three Houston companies will pitch in Rice University's competition for veteran-owned startups. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University will soon play host to its 2019 Veterans Business Battle, where 20 veteran-owned companies — three of which are from Houston — will pitch their business models and compete for prize money and investment offers.

On April 12, the 20 semifinalists will pitch to a panel of investors, who will choose the top five. Those finalists will pitch the next ay, April 13, in hopes of taking home some of the awards.

"We are very excited about the great group of companies that are coming to Houston next month," says event co-chairman Asad Akram in a release. "It's our goal to introduce them to a network that can help their businesses grow and succeed."

The Houston-based companies competing are Amor Oral, Welcome Connect and FeedMe Fitness, according to a release from Rice University. Amor Oral specializes in the manufacturing and sale of edible, organic personal lubricants. The company's lubricants are all water-based, and Amor Oral claims to offer the largest selection of flavored personal lubricants in the U.S.

FeedMe Fitness, another Houston competitor, is a subscription service that offers customized workouts and meal plans to its subscribers. Welcome Connect is a real estate platform that connects real estate agents with prospective buyers.

More than $3 million has been invested in veteran-owned businesses since the competition's launch in 2015. All the competitors are ultimately after the same thing: investments that will help them launch or expand. The competitor pool includes newly launched ventures and owner-operated businesses, per the Rice release, and all semifinalists can potentially receive investment offers.

A handful of competitors are from Texas. Those competitors include the Dallas-based companies And I Like It and City Gym, Floresville-based Harvard Telemedicine, Fort Worth-based Harvest Returns, Wimberly-based Power Polymer, Corpus Christ-based Rock N Roe Aquaponics, and Bryan-based Zanbazan.

The remaining competitors from around the U.S. are:

  • Gotta Have It Fan Foams, from Springfield, Virginia
  • Family Proud, from San Diego
  • High Country Air Service, from Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Knifehand Nutrition, from Syracuse, New York
  • Maco, from New York
  • Off Duty Blue, from Syracuse, New York
  • Randian, from Los Angeles
  • Reimbi, from Portland, Oregon
  • Safe Stamp, from Nashville
  • SEE ID, from Newcastle, Washington
Syzygy Plasmonics, which is creating a cleaner energy source that runs on hydrogen, closed a $5.8 million round. Photo via plasmonics.tech

A Houston technology company is doing something that, for many decades, wasn't thought to be possible. Syzygy Plasmonics is creating a hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions.

The hydrogen-fueled technology originated out of research done over two decades by two Rice University professors, Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander.

"There are rules in chemical engineering, and you can't break them, but we follow them in a different way," CEO Trevor Best tells InnovationMap. "What we're doing is fundamentally different. We're using light instead of heat to drive chemical reactions."

Syzygy's technology is structured more like a battery than that of a combustion engine. Inside the technology, there are cells, lights, and mirrors making as bright as possible, which then spurs a reaction that creates energy. It has the potential to be cheaper — it's made with cheaper materials — and, of course, cleaner than traditional fueling technology with fewer carbon emissions released.

This new photocatalytic chemical reactor has the potential to shake up the industrial gas, chemical, and energy industries — something that hasn't gone unnoticed by investors. Syzygy just closed a $5.8 million Series A round led by MIT's The Engine and Houston-based The GOOSE Society of Texas. Evok Innovations, a previous investor in the company, and angel investors from the Creative Destruction Lab also contributed to the round.

The funds will allow for Syzygy to continue to develop its technology and grow its team. Best tells InnovationMap that he expects to launch a full-size pilot by the end of 2020 and is already in talks with potential clients who are interested in the technology for industrial purposes.

"We're starting to solidify relationships and get customers ready," Best says.

Earlier this year, the company also received funding from the Department of Energy and from the National Science Foundation SBIR Program. The DOE tasked Syzygy with creating a reactor that transforms ammonia into hydrogen for fueling purposes. For the SBIR Program, the company is creating a reactor that processes carbon dioxide.