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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

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Building Houston

 
 

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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