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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
Slightly-to-moderately overqualified workers are more likely to be valuable and to reimagine their duties in ways that advance their institutions. Getty Images

You're a rocket scientist. You've worked for NASA. You won a Nobel Prize. Shouldn't your qualifications give you an edge on a software developer job?

According to typical hiring practice, the answer is no. You might not even get an interview for a job sweeping the floor. That's because, for years, research has warned that hiring applicants with too much experience or too many skills will saddle you with employees who don't appreciate their jobs.

Now there's good news for rocket scientists and others who happen to be overqualified for their work. According to a groundbreaking new study coauthored by Rice Business professor Jing Zhou, workers who are slightly to moderately overqualified are actually more likely to be active and creative contributors to their workplace. As a result, they're more likely to be assets. The study adds to a new body of research about the advantages of an overqualified workforce.

Zhou's findings have widespread implications. Worldwide, almost half of the people who work for a living report that they are overqualified for their jobs. That means Zhou's research, conducted with Bilian Lin and Kenneth Law of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, applies to a vast segment of the labor market.

To reach its conclusions, Zhou's team launched two separate studies in China. The first looked at six different schools with a total of 327 teachers and 85 supervisors. The second analyzed an electronic equipment factory with 297 technicians. Both studies revealed a strong link between perceived slight and moderate overqualification and the frequency of "task crafting," that is, expanding the parameters of the work in more innovative and productive ways.

In the school study, teachers who were slightly to moderately overqualified set up new online networks with students and parents. They also rearranged classrooms in ways that made students more engaged and productive. Meanwhile, in the factory, workers took tests to gauge their abilities in complex tasks designing a ship. The ones who were slightly to moderately overqualified built more complex versions that reflected their superior competencies.

The key to both sets of workers' superiority was their impulse to "job craft." Every worker leaves a personal imprint: meeting the bare minimum of criteria, pushing to exceed expectations, innovating or imagining new or more useful ways of getting the job done. Expert "job crafters" turn this impulse into an art. Some redraw their task boundaries or change the number of tasks they take on. Others reconfigure their work materials or redefine their jobs altogether. Still others rearrange their work spaces and reimagine their work procedures in ways that can catapult their productivity upward.

For overqualified workers, Zhou's team found, task crafting is a psychological coping mechanism – a welcome one. Workers want to show their superiors the true level of their skills. Doing so fortifies their self-esteem and intensifies their bonds with the company they work for. Far from being dissatisfied, these overqualified workers are more productive, keen to help their organizations and interested in finding ways to be proud of their work.

So how did the outlook on such workers go from shadowy to brilliant? Past research, it turns out, focused rigidly on the fit between worker experience and a task. It didn't consider the nuanced human motivations that go into working, nor the full range of creativity or flexibility possible in getting a job done.

Thus, older studies cautioned that overqualified workers are likely to feel deprived and resentful. Zhou's research shows the opposite: a statistical correlation between worker overqualification and high job performance.

Organizations do need to do their part for this alchemy to work. Above all, Zhou writes, it's crucial to build a strong bond between worker and institution. This is because workers who identify strongly with their workplace feel more confident that their job-crafting efforts will be well received; those who don't feel this strong bond often feel mistreated and give up the project of crafting their work.

Similarly, companies also need to grant workers flexibility to expand the scope or improve the process of their jobs. The outcome can be the evolution of the entire business in unexpected and often creative ways.

Not all super-qualified workers will be inspired to re-craft their tasks. When the gulf between skills and task is extreme, Zhou writes, workers are bored and job crafting loses its juice as an incentive. For more moderately overqualified employees, however, their expertise should rocket their CVs to the top of the stack. For seasoned workers, the evidence shows, a job is not just a job. It's an adventure in finding ways to be excellent.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Jing Zhou is the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology in Organizational Behavior at the Jones Graduate School of Business of Rice University.