The Corporate of the Year category for the Houston Innovation Awards has four finalists — each playing a role in Houston's innovation ecosystem across energy, tech, and health care innovation. Photos courtesy

What corporations are most supporting Houston's startup ecosystem? The Houston Innovation Awards sought to find that out with a new category for the 2023 event.

The Corporate of the Year category has four finalists — each playing a role in Houston's innovation ecosystem across energy, tech, and health care innovation. Learn about each of these finalists in the interviews below.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we announce the winner of this exciting new category.

Aramco Ventures

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, leads the organization locally. Photo via Aramco

Describe your company's work within the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Aramco Ventures has supported the development of Houston's innovation ecosystem as a founding member of the Ion to advance energy transition and Houston's tech economy. Jim Sledzik, managing director, Aramco Ventures North America, serves on the Ion Advisory Council. In addition we support Greentown Labs with its offices in Boston and Houston with Sledzik also named to its Advisory Board. Aramco Venture professionals are frequently tapped as speakers and participants for numerous industry speaking events and "Pitch Competitions" for start-up companies. For example, the 20th Annual Energy Tech Venture Forum held in Houston and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship; Climate Week NYC; and the first ever Women's Capital Summit in New York City.

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Houston is considered the energy capital of the world and Aramco's support and involvement will help amplify the city's reputation and presence as a global energy hub.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Aramco's impact has been felt throughout the city by our involvement in major innovation events, activities, and investments.

Chevron Technology Ventures

Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, leads the organization locally. Photo courtesy

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Investing in the communities where we operate is a core Chevron value, and Chevron is committed to building the innovation ecosystem in Houston. It’s good for our company and it’s good for the city.

The Houston region, with its deep pool of engineering and industry talent, world-class university expertise, growing startup community and vast energy infrastructure, is well-positioned to lead in the creation of lower carbon energy and improve the region’s global competitiveness. By leveraging its strengths, Houston can create its own model for how it’s going to disrupt the energy space.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

At Chevron Technology Ventures, we leverage our trial and deployment resources, venture investments and strategic partnerships – both internal and external – to support the technological breakthroughs that will enable the evolution to a lower-carbon energy system. CTV is an active sponsor of university programs and accelerators that build up the Houston energy ecosystem. It has led Chevron’s founding partnership with Greentown Labs Houston and was The Ion’s first tenant and program partner. CTV also backs The Cannon and Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, among others. As a partner and supporter of the innovation ecosystem, Chevron is committed to helping the ecosystem thrive.

Houston Methodist

Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, leads the company's innovation efforts. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Describe your company's work within the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Our new collaborative space, the Tech Hub at Ion, is one way we are expanding our culture of innovation within Houston and its growing innovation ecosystem. Beyond showcasing ongoing technology, the Tech Hub at Ion also serves as a nucleus for community engagement and networking and hosting educational initiatives, with additional programming opportunities like reverse pitch sessions in the works.

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Healthcare is evolving at a rapid pace thanks to digital technology, so it’s important to search for solutions that are beyond the traditional walls of the hospital and even beyond our own industry. Serving our patients both in and outside the walls, especially in the community, has been a priority for Houston Methodist since our inception. We’ve had success in the healthcare innovation space, so we think it’s important to pay it forward and support the Houston innovation community.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Our new collaborative space, the Tech Hub at Ion, is one way we are expanding our culture of innovation within Houston and its growing innovation ecosystem. Beyond showcasing ongoing technology, the Tech Hub at Ion also serves as a nucleus for community engagement and networking and hosting educational initiatives, with additional programming opportunities like reverse pitch sessions in the works. Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation often collaborates with technology companies with solutions that provide a better patient experience and/or support clinicians and often these are technology companies early in their start-up journey. One Houston start-up Houston Methodist at the beginning of the pandemic and continues to use is MIC Sickbay, the technology that powers the virtual ICU and uses algorithms and AI to monitor patients.

Microsoft

Rob Schapiro, Energy Acceleration Program director and Houston site leader for Microsoft, leads the company's local innovation support efforts. Photo courtesy of Microsoft

Describe your company's work within the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Microsoft is committed to driving tech and innovation in the Houston community with a specific focus on underrepresented communities. Microsoft is financially supporting the ion, Greentown Labs Accel, DivInc, Tejano Tech Summit, and the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator as well as programs designed to bring the next generations of Houston founders to the forefront (G-Unity Business Lab, SuperGirls Shine Foundation, Tech Fest Live, PVAMU). Aside from the financial support, Microsoft brings a dedicated team of volunteers and mentors to each of these engagements, and they are helping shape the future of innovation in the city of Houston.

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

We believe that it is our duty to be an active and engaged corporate partner to any and all communities in which we operate. We decided to invest in Houston because of the rich, diverse talent pool and the growing energy transition industry.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

  • Partnered with DivInc to create an Energy Tech Accelerator program that had its first cohort of seven companies this year.
  • Driving thought leadership and bringing attention to valuable initiatives through serving on the advisory boards of the Ion (Vice Chair position), Greentown Labs Houston, Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator.
  • Supporting the next generation of innovators: 120 high school students received hands on training in innovation and prototyping as part of the G-Unity Business Lab. This program doubled in size due to its success. Microsoft sponsored prototyping and design thinking training. We also seated one of the Hustle Tank judges.
  • Graduated 14 students from the Level Up fellowship program in partnership with Prairie View A&M University and Accenture; most students received and accepted employment offers from Accenture.
  • Sponsored 20 high school girls who participated in the SuperGirls Shine Foundation's 40/40 mentorship program.
  • Ten women founders received mentoring and training as part of the DivInc Women in Tech Cohort
  • Held a four-week high school internship program for BIPOC students

The University of Houston has teamed up with Chevron for a new fellowship program, which just announced its first class. Photo courtesy of UH.edu

University of Houston reveals inaugural cohort of energy research fellows

powered by chevron

The University of Houston has named eight graduate students to its first-ever cohort of UH-Chevron Energy Graduate Fellows.

The PhD and doctoral students will each receive a one-year $12,000 fellowship, along with mentoring from experts at UH and Chevron.

“The UH-Chevron Energy Fellowship program is an exciting opportunity for our graduate students to research the many critical areas that impact the energy industry, our communities and our global competitiveness,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti UH's Vice President for Energy and Innovation says in a statement.

“Today’s students not only recognize the importance of energy, but they are actively driving the push for affordable, reliable, sustainable and secure energy and making choices that clearly indicate that they are meaningfully contributing to the change,” he continues.

Their work focuses on energy-related research in fields ranging from public policy to geophysics and math. The fellowship is funded by Chevron.

“We love that Chevron is sponsoring this group of fellows because it’s a fantastic way for us to get involved with the students who are working on some of the biggest problems we’ll face in society,” Chevron Technology Ventures President Jim Gable adds.

The 2023 UH-Chevron Energy Graduate Fellows are:

The PhD and doctoral students will each receive a one-year $12,000 fellowship, along with mentoring from experts at UH and Chevron. Photo via UH.edu

Kripa Adhikari, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Cullen College of Engineering. Her work focuses on thermal regulation in enhanced geothermal systems. She currently works under the mentorship of Professor Kalyana Babu Nakshatrala and previously worked as a civil engineer with the Nepal Reconstruction Authority.

Aparajita Datta, a researcher at UH Energy and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science. Her work focuses on the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a redistributive welfare policy designed to help households pay their energy bills. She holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in India, and master’s degrees in energy management and public policy from UH. She also recently worked on a paper for UH about transportation emissions.

Chirag Goel, a Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering at UH. His work focuses on using High Temperature Superconductors (HTS) to optimize manufacturing processes, which he says can help achieve carbon-free economies by 2050. The work has uses in renewable energy generation, electric power transmission and advanced scientific applications.

Meghana Idamakanti, a third-year Ph.D. student in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Her work focuses on using electrically heated steam methane for cleaner hydrogen production. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in India in 2020 and previously worked as a process engineering intern at Glochem Industries in India.

Erin Picton, an environmental engineering Ph.D. student in the Shaffer Lab at UH. Her work focuses on ways to increase the sustainability of lithium processing and reducing wasted water and energy. “I love the idea of taking waste and turning it into value,” she said in a statement. She has previously worked in collaboration with MIT and Greentown Labs, as chief sustainability officer of a Houston-based desalination startup; and as a visiting graduate researcher at Argonne National Lab and at INSA in Lyon, France.

Mohamad Sarhan, a Ph.D. student and a teaching assistant in the Department of Petroleum Engineering. His work focuses on seasonal hydrogen storage and the stability of storage candidates during hydrogen cycling. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in petroleum engineering from Cairo University

Swapnil Sharma, a Ph.D. student in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. His work has been funded by the Department of Energy and focuses on thermal modeling of large-scale liquid hydrogen storage tanks. He works with Professor Vemuri Balakotaiah. He holds bachelor's and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). He also developed one of the world’s highest fiber-count optical fiber cables while working in India and founded CovRelief, which helped millions of Indians find resources about hospital beds, oxygen suppliers and more during the pandemic.

Larkin Spires, who's working on her doctoral research in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Her work focuses on a semi-empirical Brown and Korringa model for fluid substitution and the ties between geophysics and mathematics. She works under Professor John Castagna and holds a bachelor’s degree in math from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in geophysics from UH.

Earlier this month Evolve Houston also announced its first-ever cohort of 13 microgrant recipients, whose work aims to make EVs and charging infrastructure more accessible in some of the city's more underserved neighborhoods.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Gable of Chevon, Brad Burke of Rice Alliance, and Chris Romani of illumipure. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from academia to energy tech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Houston energy innovator on why now's the right time for energy transition innovation

Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

The cleantech innovation space has momentum, and Chevron strives to be one of the incumbent energy companies playing a role in that movement, Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"People call it cleantech 2.0, but it's really cleantech 3.0," Gable says, explaining how he's been there for each wave of cleantech. "The people are better now — the entrepreneurs are better, the investors are better. Exits are here in the cleantech space."

"It's all driven by policy-enabled markets, and the policy is here now too. Twenty years ago, you didn't have nearly the same level of policy influence that you do now," he continues. "Things are coming together to help us really create and deliver that affordable, reliable, ever cleaner energy that's going to be needed for a long time." Read more.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has received an impressive award for his leadership. Photo via Rice.edu

A figurehead in Houston's innovation ecosystem has received an award for his career leading innovation in higher education.

Brad Burke, who's served as managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship since its inception 22 years ago, received the Outstanding Contributions to Advancing Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education Award. Burke was presented with the award at the 2023 Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education.

Recognizing an individual who has proven to be successful in leading entrepreneurship within higher education, the award was founded by serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande. The event attracts academics, policy planners, and practitioners every year to share thought leadership within higher education entrepreneurship and innovation. Read more.

Chris Romani, chief marketing officer for illumiPure

If mobile marketing isn't in your startup's toolkit, it should be. Photo courtesy

When it comes to marketing tools, there's a lot out there. Some aren't worth it, but some can make a huge difference. Chris Romani, chief marketing officer for illumiPure, Houston-based medical device company, in a guest column for InnovationMap, outlined some of the tools that make an impact.

"For startups, when and how to begin marketing their business can feel like a cumbersome task," he explains. "As a chief marketing officer, I was asked to list services and channels that I oversee, and I came up with 16. For founders of startups who must often take on the roles of CEO and COO in addition to CMO as they look to expand their teams, that time commitment is not reasonable for someone who also has a personal life." Read more.

Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

Houston energy innovator on why now's the right time for energy transition innovation

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 190

The cleantech innovation space has momentum, and Chevron strives to be one of the incumbent energy companies playing a role in that movement, Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"People call it cleantech 2.0, but it's really cleantech 3.0," Gable says, explaining how he's been there for each wave of cleantech. "The people are better now — the entrepreneurs are better, the investors are better. Exits are here in the cleantech space."

"It's all driven by policy-enabled markets, and the policy is here now too. Twenty years ago, you didn't have nearly the same level of policy influence that you do now," he continues. "Things are coming together to help us really create and deliver that affordable, reliable, ever cleaner energy that's going to be needed for a long time."

Both CTV and Gable have been operating with this vision of cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy for over two decades. Gable, who's worked in various leadership roles across the company, returned to a job in the venture side of the business in 2021. He's officially relocated to Houston to lead CTV, which is based in the Ion.

CTV acts as Chevron's external innovation bridge, evaluating pitches from around 1,000 companies a year, funding and accelerating startups, working with internal teams to implement new tech, and more, as Gable explains. Under CTV's umbrella is the venture fund, the Catalyst Program, and the Chevron Studio, a newer initiative that matches entrepreneurs with technology research in order to take that tech to market.

"We say we open doors to the future within Chevron," he says on the show. "We're the onramp for early stage technology to get into the company."

Now that he's firmly planted in the Houston innovation ecosystem, Gable says is optimistic about the incumbents and the innovators coming together in Houston to forge the future of energy.

"I would just encourage Houston to not try to be something that we're not. Houston's got to be Houston, and I don't think we should try, necessarily, to follow the same path as Palo Alto or Boston," Gable says, adding that Houston's large and specialized energy sector is not a disadvantage. "We may not have the same breadth of primary research that other ecosystems have, and that's perfectly OK."

Gable shares more on his perspective of Houston's ecosystem and the energy transition as a whole on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

DivInc is bringing another new accelerator program to Houston — this one is focused on clean energy. Photo via DivInc.com

Chevron, Microsoft back Houston-based clean energy program for BIPOC and female founders

ready to grow

A Texas-based accelerator is bringing its third diversity-focused program to Houston.

DivInc, a startup accelerator originating in Austin and established for people of color and women entrepreneurs, has announced that the title sponsors for the inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator are Chevron and Microsoft. The new program will join DivInc's existing accelerators — Women in Tech and Sports Tech — at the Ion.

"With Houston known as the energy capital of the world, DivInc has the opportunity to provide a pipeline of women, black, and latino-led high-growth, high-impact startups focused on clean energy," says Ashley DeWalt, DivInc Houston's managing director, in a news release. "We see this initiative ultimately driving a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive ecosystem within this clean energy transition sector for generations to come."

Applications for the Spring 2023 Clean Energy Accelerator are due today, February 10, according to the website. Startups accepted into the program should be led by BIPOC and women founders committed to working 10 to 15 hours per week during the 12 week program, which will start April 10.

The founders should be "working to shift the energy sector in the areas of clean energy production, energy storage and transmission, energy efficiency, carbon economy, and sustainable cities," per the release. In addition to the two title sponsors, the new program is also supported by Houston Premier Partners, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Verizon, The Ion, and Mercury.

"With a booming startup industry, a commitment to innovation, and a diverse workforce, Houston and organizations like DivInc are poised to play a vital leadership role and operate as a powerful force for energy progress," says Jim Gable, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in the release.

The cohort, which will accept up to 10 companies, will work one-on-one with both the Microsoft and Chevron teams, as well as have access to DivInc's network of mentors and curriculum. Once the selected companies have completed the program, they will each receive $10,000 in non-dilutive seed funding.

"We are committed to enabling organizations in the clean energy transition while mindful of millions still without access to energy," said Darryl Willis, Corporate Vice President, Energy Industry at Microsoft. "This collaboration with DivInc and Chevron to support underserved entrepreneurs advancing the world's clean energy needs speaks to this climate commitment as well as diversity, equity and inclusion."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Enrique Gomez of Texas Medical Center Innovation, Katie Eick of Rockin' Pets Rollin' Vets, and Jim Gable of Chevron. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Enrique Gomez, entrepreneur in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation

Enrique Gomez joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Houston as an oncology innovation hub. Photo via TMC.edu

When it comes to leading oncology innovation, Houston has a seat at the table, Enrique Gomez, entrepreneur in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation's Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston is a place where everyone looks at when it comes to novel research and approaches to treating cancer," Gomez says. "The landscape here is going to be accelerated because we see much more collaboration between the founding institutions — and that's a very important element of growth. Houston has no comparison to any other place in terms of what's going on here and the level and quality of research."Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Katie Eick, founder of Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick always wanted to be able to offer mobile services. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

Houston-based Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets, a full-service mobile veterinary clinic based in Houston, has closed a $5 million equity raise with plans to expand across the Lone Star State. Founded by Dr. Katie Eick, who is the company's CEO, Rollin’ Vets Group flips the switch on pet health care by bringing vets to its patients' homes.

This fresh funding helps Eick take that first step toward expansion. According to a news release, Rockin’ Pets, Rollin’ Vets expects to have a presence in Dallas and Austin by March of next year.

“This equity raise allows us to not only hire additional talent, but also increase our mobile clinic fleet, while expanding into other cities at an expedited rate. There is a vast opportunity to serve animals and people that need non-traditional veterinary care in other Texas markets. We are ready to tap into these markets and bring convenient, state-of-the-art care straight to pet owners’ doorsteps,” says Eick in the release. Click here to read more.

Jim Gable, incoming vice president of innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

Barbara Burger has led Chevron's innovation efforts for almost a decade and is passing the responsibilities to Jim Gable. Photo courtesy

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, is retiring, and passing the role to Jim Gable.

Gable brings his 23 years of experience to the role. Based in Chevron's office on the West Coast, he will be relocating to Houston, per the release. He currently oversees the development and deployment of downstream-related technology for Chevron.

“CTV has a 22-year history of investing in startups across a wide cross section of energy innovation and a track record of collaboration to bring innovation to scale,” Bonner continues. “Jim’s experience at Chevron is deep and diverse. Combined with his technology commercialization experience with CTV early in his career, as well as in his current role, Jim is poised to lead CTV to even greater success.” Click here to read more.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Texas lands in top 10 states expected to be most financially affected by weather events

report

Texas — home to everything from tornadoes to hurricanes — cracks the top 10 of a new report ranking states based on impact from weather-related events.

SmartAsset's new report factored in a myriad of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify which states face the most financial risk due to various weather events. In the report, the states were ranked by the total expected annual financial losses per person. Texas ranked at No. 10.

"With a variety of environmental events affecting the wide stretch of the United States, each state is subject to its own risks," reads the report. "Particularly, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, lightning and drought, among other events, can cause damage to buildings, agriculture and individuals alike. When considering insurance, residents and business owners in each state should account for historic and projected losses due to environmental events in their financial plans."

In Texas, the total expected annual loss per person is estimated as $283.15. The report broke down each weather event as follows:

  • Coastal flooding: $1.49
  • Drought: $3.48
  • Earthquake: $1.71
  • Heat wave: $8.16
  • Hurricane: $89.22
  • Riverine flooding: $66.05
  • Strong wind: $5.37
  • Tornado: $71.04
  • Wildfire: $8.26
  • Winter weather: $1.96
Louisiana ranked as No. 1 on the list with $555.55 per person. The state with the lowest expected loss per person from weather events was Ohio with only $63.89 estimated per person.


------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

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