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Rice University announces the 42 teams competing for over $1.5 million in its student startup contest

The 19th annual Rice Business Plan Competition has revealed its finalists. Courtesy of Rice University

One of the world's largest startup competitions just got larger. Rice University revealed the 42 student-led teams from around the world that will be competing for more than $1.5 million in prizes this spring. Of the 42, two are from Houston universities — Curenav from University of Houston and LilySpec from Rice University.

The 19th annual Rice Business Plan Competition will take place from April 4 to 6 at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business.

"The true measure of success for the Rice Business Plan Competition is the number of teams that launch, raise funding and go on to succeed in their business," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Rice University, in a release. "The competition has served as the launch pad for a great number of successful entrepreneurial ventures, and the success rate far exceeds the national average."

According to the release, a group of judges whittled down over 300 applications across in four categories: life sciences, medical devices, and digital health; digital, information technology, and mobile; energy, clean technology, and sustainability; and other innovations, investment opportunity.

A different set of 275 judges will review the business plans of the finalists for the competition. The organization has a new application, judging, and scoring system, which was created by Houston-based Poetic, a business tech company.

Here's some of the prizes that are on the line for these finalists, according to the release:

  • $100,000 Cisco Global Problem Solver prize
  • $350,000 Investment Grand Prize from The GOOSE Society of Texas
  • $100,000 OWL Investment Prize
  • $100,000 Houston Angel Network Investment Prize
  • $100,000 TiE Investment Prize
  • $50,000 NASA Space Exploration Innovation Award
  • $125,000 second place prize from Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund and Greg Novak of Novak Druce
  • $25,000 nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Prize
  • $25,000 Women's Health and Wellness Prize awarded by Sandi Heysinger and Dick Williams
  • $25,000 Texas Business Hall of Fame Prize
  • $25,000 Texas Medical Center Accelerator, TMCx, Prizes, plus a guaranteed spot in their accelerator.
  • $20,000 Pearland Economic Development Corporation Prize
  • $100,000 Texas Halo Fund Investment Prize
  • $50,000 Pediatric Device Prize
  • The winner of the grand prize will ring the closing bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York.

The fan favorite can also take home a prize. The fourth annual People's Choice Competition is officially open for voting on Facebook.

Over 210 former RBPC competitors are still in business — with 25 being acquired‚ and have raised over a cumulative $2.2 billion in capital and created more than 3,000 new jobs, according to the release.

These are the 42 companies facing off in this year's awards:

  • EnKoat — Arizona State University
  • Crystal Sonic — Arizona State University
  • Flux Marine — Boston University
  • Formally — Brown University
  • Tarseer — Carnegie Mellon University
  • Delta Band — Carnegie Mellon University
  • Colonai — Columbia University
  • Incite Analytics — Cornell University
  • Neutroelectric — Dartmouth College
  • Chord — Harvard University and MIT
  • Modulus — Housing Solutions IIT Madras (India)
  • Treyetech — Johns Hopkins University
  • Avesta76 — Johns Hopkins University
  • Zilper Trenchless — Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • AeroShield — Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Vita Inclinata Technologies — Mitchell Hamline School of Law
  • BetterLife — Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)
  • Sunthetics — New York University
  • Rhaeos — Northwestern University
  • Odin Technologies — Northwestern University
  • RagnaRock Geo — Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
  • Hearth Labs — Princeton University
  • LilySpec — Rice University
  • PL Biosciences RWTH — Aachen University (Germany)
  • NABACO — Texas State University
  • Embryologic — University of California, Irvine
  • MiVUE — UCLA
  • Tutorfly — UCLA
  • Vascugenix — University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • Respira Labs — University of California, Berkeley
  • AC Biode — University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)
  • Beltech — University of Chicago
  • BrewBike — University of Chicago and Northwestern University
  • Curenav — University of Houston
  • Speeko — University of Iowa
  • Calcium Solutions — University of Michigan
  • Dough — University of Michigan
  • dermadiagnostics — University of Notre Dame
  • Resonado — University of Notre Dame
  • Heart I/O — University of Pittsburgh
  • HRG Infrastructure Monitoring — University of Victoria (Canada)
  • Astrolabe Analytics — University of Washington
The Rice Management Company has broken ground on the renovation of the historic Midtown Sears building, which will become The Ion. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion — a to-be entrepreneurial hub for startups, universities, tech companies, and more — is, in a way, the lemonade created from the lemons dealt to the city by a snub from Amazon.

In 2018, Amazon narrowed its options for a second headquarters to 20 cities, and Houston didn't make the shortlist.

"That disappointment lead to a sense of urgency, commitment, and imagination and out of that has come something better than we ever could have imagined," David Leebron, president of Rice University, says to a crowd gathered for The Ion's groundbreaking on July 19.

However disappointing the snub from Amazon was, it was a wake-up call for so many of the Houston innovation ecosystem players. The Ion, which is being constructed within the bones of the historic Midtown Sears building, is a part of a new era for the city.

"Houston's on a new course to a new destination," says Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Here are some other overheard quotes from the groundbreaking ceremony. The 270,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 18 months.


The historic Sears building in Midtown will transform into The Ion, a Rice University-backed hub for innovation. Courtesy of Rice University


The Sears opened in 1939. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We have the capacity — if we work together — not only to make this a great innovation hub, but to do something that truly represents the Houston can-do, collaborative spirit.”

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. Leebron stressed the unique accomplishment the Ion has made to bring all the universities of Houston together for this project. "When we tell people the collaboration that has been brought together around this project, they are amazed," he says.

“The nation is seeing what we already know in the city of Houston. That this city has the greatest and most creative minds. We are a model for inclusion among people and cultures from everywhere. We are a city that taps the potential of every resident, dares them to dream big, and we provide the tools to make those dreams come true.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner, who says he remembers shopping in the former Sears building as a kid, but notes how Houston's goals have changed, as has the world.

“When this store opened in 1939, it showcased a couple of innovations even back then: The first escalator in Texas, the first air conditioned department store in Houston, the first windowless department store in the country.”

— Senator Rodney Ellis, who adds the request that The Ion have windows.

“Many people ask us, ‘why not just tear down the old building and start new?’ We actually see this as a very unique opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to be located within a historic building, while benefiting from an enhanced structure, state-of-the-art technology, and Class A tenant comforts.”

— Allison Thacker, president of the Rice Management Company. She describes the environment of being a beehive of activity.

“[As program partner for The Ion,] our mission is to build the innovation economy of Houston one entrepreneur at a time.”

— Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. Rowe describes Station's role as a connector between startups, venture capital firms, major corporations, and more.