Six Rice University student-led startups pitched and were awarded $75,000 in equity-free funding. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University's six student startup teams competed for thousands of dollars in investment prizes, and one company came out on top — but a few other companies walked away with fresh funding too.

The 2022 H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge doled out $75,000 to student-founded companies at Rice last week. Helix Earth Technologies, which has developed a filter that helps limit water waste in power plants, and its founder, Rawand Rasheed, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at Rice University, won first place ans $35,000. The company been testing its technology on the power plants on campus.

The second-place team was EpiFresh, which created a protein-based coating doubles the shelf-life of fruit and vegetables, won $25,000. Guildata, which provides global health organizations with data that shows the greatest return on investment, won third place and $10,000.

The competition also included three additional awards:

  • Guildata won the $1,000 RISE@Rice: The Sen Social Pioneer Prize
  • SkySpace won the $1,500 Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations
  • Aqualight Materials won the $2,500 Chevron Tech Ventures Climate Innovations Prize
  • Berman Foods, an artisanal plant-based cheese and spread provider, won the $1,500 Norman E. Leebron Audience Choice Award

This year's competition saw participation from almost 200 students and a record 84 teams. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship whittled those entries down for judges, which included Thomas Ball, co-founder and managing director at Next Coast Ventures; Lisa Besserman, managing director at Expa; and Xiaodi Zhang, chief product officer at 1stDibs. On April 20, six finalists pitched in the championship round in five-minute pitches followed by seven minutes of questions.

Additionally, all competitors received personalized mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and subject matter experts. The program started in 2017 with 15 student-run companies vying for a win. This year's NRLC was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions, and Chevron Technology Ventures.

The 22nd annual Rice Business Plan Competition named its winners across life science, clean energy, software, and more. Photo via Rice University/Twitter

Rice University competition doles out nearly $2M in cash prizes to student startups

winner, winner

Rice University brought back its international student startup competition to its in-person format in a big way, giving out nearly $2 million in investment plus thousands more in-kind prizes to over a dozen winning teams.

The 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition took place April 7-9 on campus, ending in a banquet and awards presentation at the Marriott Marquis on Saturday. Earlier this year, Rice announced the 42 student teams competing for the awards. The student competitors represent 31 universities — including three from European universities. The 42 teams were narrowed down from over 400 applicants and divided into five categories: energy, cleantech and sustainability; life sciences and health care solutions; consumer products and services; hard tech; and digital enterprise.

Over 250 judges, mentors, and investors were involved in the competition, naming seven finalists — each receiving thousands of dollars in investment funding.

Here were this year's finalists — and what they walked away with:

  • LIDROTEC from RWTH Aachen University, a cutting-edge machine that can better cut microchips for the semiconductor industry, is the big winner this year, taking home the $350,000 GOOSE Capital Investment Grand Prize. The team also won: the Softeq Venture Studio Prize ($50,000 cash, $75,000 in-kind), the TiE Houston Angels Investment Prize ($100,000), RBPC Alumnus, Thomas Healy, Investment Prize ($50,000), the Eagle Investors Prise ($5,000), Best Elevator Pitch - Hard Tech ($500), and RG Advisors CFO Consulting In-Kind Prize. The company also received a $6,700 in-kind prize from BakerBotts and an in-kind $25,000 from RG Advisory. The company's prize totaled over $682,200 in investment and in-kind awards.
  • The second place winner was Hoth Intelligence of University of Pittsburgh, an artificial intelligence platform for health care providers, securing a $100,000 investment prize. The company also won the Owl Investment Prize ($155,000), the HAN Investment Prize ($100,000), and the Pearland EDC Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize ($25,000). The company also received a a $6,700 in-kind prize from BakerBotts. The company's prize totaled $386,700 in investment awards.
  • Invitris from the Technical University of Munich — a synthetic biology startup targeting antibiotic-resistant bacteria — won third place, which came with a $50,000 award. The team also won the nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Investment Prize ($40,000), the Best Elevator Pitch - Life Science award ($500), and a $6,700 in-kind prize from BakerBotts. bringing its total earnings to $97,200.
  • Winning fourth place and a $5,000 prize was LymphaSense of Johns Hopkins, a medical device startup that's created a wearable lymphedema detection device for at-risk patients. The company also won the TMC Innovation Healthcare Investment Prize ($250,000 and entry into the TMC accelerator) and the Nixon Institute Prize ($3,000). The company's total winnings was $258,000.
  • INIA Biosciences from Boston University — a health tech startup that's created a bioelectric wearable device for kidney donor recipients — won fifth place and $5,000 in prize money.
  • The sixth place winner was Bold Move Beverages, a canned coffee cocktail company from the University of Texas at Austin, which won $5,000 for placing sixth and $10,000 from the RBPC Alumnus, Thomas Healy, Investment Prize. The company won a total of $15,000.
  • Lastly for the finalists, Anise Health of Harvard University, a digital health startups with an inclusive, data-driven platform for culturally-adapted mental health treatment, won seventh place and the $5,000 prize. The company also won first place in the wildcard round, which came with a $2,000 Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize. Anise walked away with $7,000 total.
Several companies won monetary prizes outside of the seven finalists. Here's what other student-founded companies in the competition won:
  • Mallard Bay Outdoors from Louisiana State University, an online marketplace for securely booking outdoor activities, won $216,500 in cash and in-kind prizes. The company won the Owl Investment Prize ($65,000), the Softeq Venture Studio Prize ($50,000 cash, $75,000 in-kind), the RBPC Alumnus, Thomas Healy, Investment Prize ($25,000), the Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize ($1,000), and the Best Elevator Pitch - Consumer ($500).
  • TransCrypts from the University of Toronto and Harvard University, a secure blockchain platform for sharing employee documents, won two awards — the Owl Investment Prize ($50,000) and the Best Elevator Pitch - Digital ($500) — for a total of $50,500 in prizes.
  • Advanced Optronics of Carnegie Mellon University, a health tech company that develops smart sensors to improve patient outcomes, won two awards — the Pediatric Device Prize ($25,000) and the OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy In-Kind Prize — for a total of more than $25,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.
  • EpiSLS — a novel medical device startup that's automating in-vivo allergy testing — of the University of Michigan won the $25,000 Pediatric Device Prize.
  • Farm-to-closet women's apparel brand Pareto of Stanford University won the $10,000 nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Investment Prize.
  • EpiFresh of Rice University, which developed a protective produce coating material that reduces food waste, won three awards for a total of $27,000. The company won the Energy, Cleantech & Sustainability Prize ($25,000), the Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize ($1,000), and the Overall Best Elevator Pitch ($1,000).
  • Mantel of MIT, which is developing a high temperature liquid phase carbon capture material, won two awards for a total of $28,000 in prizes. The company won the New Climate Ventures Investment Prize ($25,000) and the DK Innovation Prize ($3,000).
  • Invictus BCI — a health tech startup building a noninvasive brain computer interface tools — from MIT won the the RBPC Alumni Network NABACO Prize for a total of $10,000 in winnings.
  • Health care fintech solution Woobie of Brigham Young University won the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Investment Prize.
  • KLAW Industries of Binghamton University, which has designed a way to recycle glass into concrete, won the Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize ($1,000) and the Best Elevator Pitch - Energy ($500) prizes for a total of $1,500 in awards.
  • Acorn Genetics of Northwestern University, which is better optimizing genetic data for patients, won second place for the wildcard round, which came with the Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize ($1,750).
  • AI-powered stroke prevention platform PLAKK from McGill University won third place for the wildcard round, which came with the Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize ($1,500).
These startups join the ranks of 269 successful RBPC alumni companies — with 50 exits, five IPOs, and over $4.6 billion raised. RBPC was established in 2001.
These six finalists of The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Championship will pitch on April 20. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University startup pitch competition names 6 finalists

pitch perfect

Six student-founded startups are headed to the finals of a Rice University pitch competition — and this round is where the money is on the line.

The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, open to undergraduate or graduate students in the spring as well as alumni in the summer, started in 2017 with 15 student-run companies vying for a win. The 2022 edition saw participation from almost 200 students and a record 84 teams. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship whittled those entries down and, after the first round of judging on March 24, six teams are headed the the finals.

The startups will make their pitches in-person at Rice University on Wednesday, April 20, starting at 5:30 pm and compete for over $75,000 in equity free funding.

These are the six student-led startups that will pitch at the finals are:

AutoEdge

AutoEdge is an artificial intelligence-powered quality assurance platform that assists small and medium manufacturers to quickly detect defects and provide clear actionable items to fix inefficiencies.

Founders:

  • Alfredo Costilla Reyes, Post-Doc – Computer Science, 2023, The DATA Lab led by Professor Ben Hu
  • Kwei-Herng Lai, M.S. – Computer Science
  • Daochen Zha, M.S. – Computer Science

Berman Foods

Berman Foods is a artisanal plant-based cheese and spread creator that uses nutritious ingredients.

Founder: Delaney Berman, MBA, 2022

​EpiFresh 

Another food-focused startup, ​EpiFresh is emphasizing fresher ingredients and less waste. Their healthy and sustainable protein-based coating doubles the shelf-life of fruit and vegetables, reducing waste by delaying decay as it moves from the farm to your fridge.

Founders:

  • Neethu Pottackal, PhD – Materials & Nanoengineering, 2024, Professor Pulickel Ajayan’s Lab
  • Aasha Zinke, Materials & Nano Engineering, 2024

​GradGenius

GradGenius is designed to provide users — those looking for a higher education opportunity — a one-stop-shop experience to selecting schools based on personal interests.

Founders:

  • David Akpakwu, MBA, 2023
  • Chinedum Peter Ezeakacha, MBA, 2023

Guildata

Guildata provides global health organizations with data that shows the greatest return on investment, by reduction in morbidity and mortality, for public health interventions in a non-disease centric approach.

Founders:

  • Stephanie Pons, MBA, 2022
  • Kurt Reece, MBA, 2022
  • Ryan Jensen, MBA, 2022

Helix Earth Technologies

Helix Earth Technologies is helping save our planet by helping power plant operators reduce their plant water use and subsequently reducing their overall operating costs.

Founder: Rawand Rasheed, PhD – Mechanical Engineering, 2023, Professor Daniel Preston’s Lab

The Rice Business Plan Competition is back in person this year, and these are the 42 teams that will go head to head for investments and prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University's student startup competition names 42 teams to compete for over $1 million in prizes

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and the Jones Graduate School of Business have announced the 42 student teams that will compete in the 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition, which returns to an in-person format on the Rice University campus in April.

Of the teams competing for more than $1 million in prizes and funding in this year's competition, six hail from Texas — two teams each from Rice University, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University. The student competitors represent 31 universities — including three from European universities. The 42 teams were narrowed down from over 400 applicants and divided into five categories: energy, cleantech and sustainability; life sciences and health care solutions; consumer products and services; hard tech; and digital enterprise.

This is the first in-person RBPC since 2019, and the university is ready to bring together the entrepreneurs and a community of over 250 judges, mentors, and investors to the competition.

“As we come out on the other side of a long and challenging two years, we're feeling a sense of renewal and energy as we look to the future and finding inspiration from the next generation of entrepreneurs who are building a better world,” says Catherine Santamaria, director of the RBPC, in a news release.

“This year's competition celebrates student founders with a strong sense of determination — founders who are ready to adapt, build and grow companies that can change the future,” she continues. “We hope their participation will provide guidance and inspiration for our community.”

According to a news release, this year's RBPC Qualifier Competition, which narrowed down Rice's student teams that will compete in the official competition, saw the largest number of applicants, judges, and participants in the competition’s history. The Rice Alliance awarded a total of $5,000 in cash prizes to the top three teams from the internal qualifier: EpiFresh, Green Room and Anvil Diagnostics. From those three, Rice teams EpiFresh and Green Room received invitations to compete in the 2022 RBPC..

The full list of student teams that will be competing April 7 to 9 this year include:

  • Acorn Genetics from Northwestern University
  • Advanced Optronics from Carnegie Mellon University
  • Aethero Space from University of Missouri
  • AImirr from University of Chicago
  • AiroSolve from UCLA
  • Algeon Materials from UC San Diego
  • Anise Health from Harvard University
  • Beyond Silicon from Arizona State University
  • Bold Move Beverages from University of Texas at Austin
  • Diamante from University of Verona
  • EarthEn from Arizona State University
  • Empower Sleep from University of Pennsylvania
  • EpiFresh from Rice University
  • EpiSLS from University of Michigan
  • Green Room from Rice University
  • Horizon Health Solutions from University of Arkansas
  • Hoth Intelligence from Thomas Jefferson University
  • INIA Biosciences from Boston University
  • Invictus BCI from MIT
  • Invitris from Technical University of Munich (TUM)
  • KLAW Industries from Binghamton University
  • LIDROTEC from RWTH Aachen
  • Locus Lock from University of Texas at Austin
  • LymphaSense from Johns Hopkins University
  • Mallard Bay Outdoors from Louisiana State University
  • Mantel from MIT
  • Olera from Texas A&M University
  • OpenCell AI from Weill Cornell Medicine
  • OraFay from UCLA
  • Pareto from Stanford University
  • Photonect Interconnect Solutions from University of Rochester
  • PLAKK from McGill University
  • PneuTech from Johns Hopkins University
  • Rola from UC San Diego
  • RotorX from Georgia Tech
  • SimulatED from Carnegie Mellon University
  • SuChef from University of Pennsylvania
  • Symetric Finance from Fairfield University
  • Teale from Texas A&M University
  • Team Real Talk from University at Buffalo
  • TransCrypts from Harvard University
  • Woobie from Brigham Young University
Last year's awards had 54 student teams competing virtually, with over $1.4 million in cash and prizes awarded. Throughout RBPC's history, competitors have gone onto raise more than $3.57 billion in capital and more than 259 RBPC alumni have successfully launched their ventures. Forty RBPC startups that have had successful exits through acquisitions or trading on a public market, per the news release.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.