This year, Rice University's NRLC started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. Photo courtesy of Rice

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

Eleven business leaders were selected for a new entrepreneurship-focused council for Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University taps 11 Houston business leaders for new entrepreneurship council

leadership council

Rice University has named 11 successful business leaders with ties Houston to its inaugural council focused on entrepreneurship.

Frank Liu, a Rice alumnus and founder of the Rice University Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, recruited the entrepreneurs to the council, and each has agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs, according to the university.

Members of the council, known as the Lilie’s Leadership Council or LLC, individuals have experience in a variety of fields, from the industrial and automotive sectors to local government and public radio.

"I owe much of my entrepreneurial success to opportunities I had while at Rice University,” Liu says in a statement. “I can't imagine the heights students today can achieve with the resources that now exist through Lilie. Over the last several years, as the No. 1 ranked Graduate Entrepreneurship program in the country, we have seen exponential growth in student engagement, and we have witnessed the life-changing technologies—tackling big problems in industries like energy and healthcare—bred within Lilie classes and programs. I am thankful for the commitment of Lilie's Leadership Council for propelling these founders from the classroom to the community and building the next generation of Houston's economy.”

LCC's inaugural cohort includes:

  • Sandy P. Aron: president of Hunington Properties who has served on the boards of the St. Francis Episcopal Day School of Houston, Congregation Beth Israel of Houston and Jones Partnership at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business
  • John Chao, vice president and managing director of Westlake Innovations and board member of Westlake Corp. The Rice alumnus previously served as COO of New York Public Radio and partner in the strategy and finance practice at McKinsey & Co.
  • Shoukat Dhanani, CEO of Sugar Land-based Dhanani Group Inc., a family owned and operated business conglomerate
  • Lorin Gu, founding partner of Recharge Capital and the founding chair of the Global Future Council at the Peterson Institute of International Economics
  • Earl Hesterberg, former CEO of Group 1 Automotive and former group vice president of North America marketing, sales and service for Ford Motor Co., who is currently chairing the capital campaign at Kids Meal Inc. in Houston.
  • Robert T. Ladd, chairman and chief executive of Stellus Capital Investment Corp. who is also chairman of the board of trustees of Rice and a member of the advisory council for the UT Health's McGovern Medical School
  • Frank Liu, co-founder and co-owner of Lovett Industrial and the founder and owner of Lovett Commercial, Lovett Homes and InTown Homes
  • Charlie Meyer, CEO of Lovett Industrial who formerly served as managing director at Hines Interests in Houston and director of construction and development for NewQuest Properties. He currently serves on the board of directors for Generation One and NAIOP Houston.
  • Hong Ogle, president of Bank of America Houston and Southeast/Southwest Division Executive for Bank of America Private Bank who serves on the board of Greater Houston Partnership and Central Houston Inc. and chairs the Bank of America Charitable Foundation in Houston.
  • Annise Parker, Houston’s 61st mayor who is currently CEO of the Victory Fund, a nonprofit devoted to electing pro-equality, pro-choice LGBTQ+ leaders to public office
  • Gary Stein, CEO of Triple-S Steel Holdings who serves on the American Institute of Steel Construction Board and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors

Over the summer, Lilie and Rice's Office of Innovation also announced its 2023 cohort of Innovation Fellows. The program, open to Rice faculty and doctoral and postdoctoral students, provides support to move innovation out of labs and into commercialization and up to $20,000 in funding.

Earlier this year, Lilie also launched a new startup accelerator program for students called the Summer Venture Studio, which ran from May through August.
Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.

Houston startup secures $10M to expand into rural communities

ready to grow

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.

The company has pioneered a proprietary “small footprint primary care delivery model,” which is considered suitable for rural markets, employer worksites, office buildings, schools, and university campuses. The cost-effective microclinics are “prefabricated facilities” that are designed for primary care services, and employ a hybrid in-person and telemedicine care approach.

Hamilton began his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, which is a micro-hospital system in the Houston area that later moved to private equity.

The recently acquired funding will help expedite the high-touch care model to 98 million Americans in HPSAs, which was a goal for when the company was established during the Covid-19 pandemic. HHB has made partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to provide primary care services both at existing FQHC centers and through new sites in rural areas.

"Hamilton Health Box that was designed to deliver the lowest possible price of primary and preventative care," Hamilton said in a previous interview with Innovation Map. "We built that to be able to take that care to the jobsite and meet the customer where they are at."