Meet the Houston innovator setting student startups up for success

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 240

Taylor Anne Adams is working to support Rice University's most ambitious entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of Lilie

Rice University can barely keep up with the interest of students in entrepreneurial classes and programming — even in the summer.

The university's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers around 30 classes a year and over a dozen co-curricular programs — all focused on supporting student entrepreneurs.

"There is a huge desire for this across the campus," Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration at Lilie, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our class enrollment has just continued to skyrocket, and we've had to add on more classes and programs and that still seems to not be enough."

One of the newest additions to the scope of Rice's offerings is the Summer Venture Studio, which launched last year and returned for 2024 with huge interest in the program that was revamped by Adams, who received her MBA at Rice. She says one of her goals was to attract a wide range of technologies and innovations, which she did with the newly announced cohort.

"In the Summer Venture Studio, we have students from undergrad and from the MBA program — we've got PhDs, we've got master's of data science, and it just creates such a vibrant cohort community here," Adams says. "It's about making sure that we're tailoring our programs across the school year as well to make sure we're touching all parts of the campus."

Adams, who's worked with various Houston organizations, including The Cannon, DivInc, and Mercury, is not only passionate about supporting the Rice startup community, but also the greater Houston network of innovators. She's currently on the founding team of The Collectiv, a Houston-based venture firm that's currently raising its first fund to invest in sports tech.

"The people here are entrepreneurial by nature. Houston was founded by entrepreneurs. Yes, we have a lot of traditional industry here, but that wasn't always the case. People had to build those industries from the ground up," Adams says. "It's in the DNA of the city."

The 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings. Photo via rice.edu

Rice accelerator names innovative second summer cohort

ready to grow

Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, has named eight teams to the second cohort of the Lilie Summer Venture Studio.

The teams are focused on a range of innovative concepts, from health care solutions to running shoe design to automating recruiting from the NCAA Transfer Portal.

According to Rice, the 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings.

“We are thrilled to see such a high level of interest and excitement from Rice students for a high-growth venture accelerator,” Kyle Judah, executive director of Lilie, said in a statement. “The diversity and creativity in this year's applications were truly inspiring, and we’re excited to support these promising ventures with the resources and mentorship they need to hit escape velocity and create the next generation of pillar companies for Houston, Texas and the world.”

The selected teams will receive $15,000 in non-dilutive funding from the accelerator, along with access to coworking space and personalized mentorship in the Liu Idea Lab.

Here are the teams for the 2024 Lilie Summer Venture Studio:

  • Coflux Purification, a patent-pending in-stream module that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water
  • Docflow, focused on streamlining residency shift scheduling
  • JewelVision, building virtual fitting rooms for jewelry e-commerce retailers using generative AI
  • Levytation, using data science and AI to answer critical questions about sales and customers for coffee shop management
  • OnGuard, a marketplace to book off-duty police officers and security professionals
  • Roster, leverages data on athletes in the NCAA Transfer Portal to automatically send updates on players to coaches
  • Solidec, a technology platform that extracts molecules from water and air, transforms them into pure chemicals and fuels without any carbon emissions
  • Veloci, a running shoe venture that addresses common pains through shoe design

Lilie launched the Summer Venture Studio last year. According to Rice, two out of the six teams selected, Helix Earth Technologies and Tierra Climate, raised venture capital funds after completing the accelerator program.

Helix Earth Technologies also went on to earn the inaugural TEX-E Prize at CERAWeek in 2023.

“The track record of our Summer Venture Studio Accelerator speaks for itself, despite being early in our second year," Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration programs at the Liu Idea Lab, said in a statement. "This is the power of entrepreneurship programming that is designed by founders, for founders, that happens at the Liu Idea Lab.”


Last year, Lilie also named 11 successful business leaders with ties to Houston to its first Lilie’s Leadership Council. Each agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs. Click here to see who made the list.
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Power grid tech co. with Houston HQ raises $25M series B

money moves

A Norway-based provider of technology for power grids whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston has raised a $25 million series B round of funding.

The venture capital arm of Polish energy giant Orlen, Norwegian cleantech fund NRP Zero, and the Norway-based Steinsvik Family Office co-led Heimdall Energy's round. Existing investors, including Investinor, Ebony, Hafslund, Lyse, and Sarsia Seed, chipped in $8.5 million of the $25 million round.

“This funding gives us fuel to grow internationally, as we continue to build our organization with the best people and industry experts in the world,” Jørgen Festervoll, CEO of Heimdall, says in a news release.

Founded in 2016, Heimdall supplies software and sensors for monitoring overhead power lines. The company says its technology can generate up to 40 percent in additional transmission capacity from existing power lines.

Heimdall entered the U.S. market in 2023 with the opening of its Houston office after operating for several years in the European market.

“Heimdall Power has built itself a unique position as an enabler for the ongoing energy transition, with fast-increasing electricity demand and queues of renewables waiting to get connected,” says Marek Garniewski, president of Orlen’s VC fund.

Heimdall says it will put the fresh funding toward scaling up production and installation of its “magic ball” sphere-shaped sensors. In the U.S., these sensors help operators of power grids maximize the capacity of the aging power infrastructure.

“In the United States alone, there are over 500,000 miles of power lines — most of which have a far higher transmission capacity than grid operators have historically been able to realize. To increase capacity, many have launched large-scale and expensive infrastructure projects,” Heimdall says.

Now, the U.S. government has stepped in to ensure that utilities are gaining more capacity from the existing infrastructure, aiming to upgrade 100,000 miles of transmission lines over the next five years.

Heimdall's technology enables grid operators and utilities to boost transmission capacity without undertaking lengthy, costly infrastructure projects. Earlier this year, the company kicked off the largest grid optimization project in the U.S. with Minnesota-based Great River Energy.

Houston energy data SaaS co. partners with trading platform

team work

In an effort to consolidate and improve energy data and forecasting, a Houston software company has expanded to a new platform.

Amperon announced that it has expanded its AI-powered energy forecaststoSnowflake Marketplace, an AI data cloud company. With the collaboration, joint customers can seamlessly integrate accurate energy forecasts into power market trading. The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector.

“As Amperon continues to modernize energy data and AI infrastructure, we’re excited to partner with Snowflake to bring the most accurate energy forecasts into a single data experience that spans multiple clouds and geographies," Alex Robart, chief revenue officer at Amperon, says in a news release. "By doing so, we’re bringing energy forecasts to where they will be accessible to more energy companies looking to increase performance and reliability."

Together, the combined technology can move the needle on enhanced accuracy in forecasting that strengthens grid reliability, manages monetary risk, and advances decarbonization.

“This partnership signifies Amperon’s commitment to deliver world-class data-driven energy management solutions," Titiaan Palazzi, head of power and Utilities at Snowflake, adds. "Together, we are helping organizations to easily and securely access the necessary insights to manage risk and maximize profitability in the energy transition."

With Amperon's integrated short-term demand and renewables forecasts, Snowflake users can optimize power markets trading activity and manage load risk.

"Amperon on Snowflake enables us to easily integrate our different data streams into a single unified view," Jack Wang, senior power trader and head of US Power Analysis at Axpo, says. "We value having complete access and control over our analytics and visualization tools. Snowflake allows us to quickly track and analyze the evolution of every forecast Amperon generates, which ultimately leads to better insights into our trading strategy."

Amperon, which recently expanded operations to Europe, closed a $20 million series B round last fall led by Energize Capital and tripled its team in the past year and a half.

In March, Amperon announced that it replatformed its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure.

Learn more about the company on the Houston Innovators Podcast episode with Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Amperon.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Rice research on bond and stock market differences, earnings variations

houston voices

At the end of every quarter, publicly traded companies announce their profits and losses in an earnings report. These updates provide insight into a company’s performance and, in theory, give investors and shareholders clarity on whether to buy, sell or hold. If earnings are good, the stock price may soar. If they’re down, the price might plunge.

However, the implications for the stock price may not be immediately clear to all investors. In the face of this uncertainty, sellers will ask for high prices, and buyers will offer low ones, creating a significant “bid-ask spread.” When this happens, it becomes more costly to trade, and the stock becomes less liquid.

This is a well-documented effect on equity stock markets. However, according to research by Stefan Huber (Rice Business), Chongho Kim (Seoul National University) and Edward M. Watts (Yale SOM), the corporate bond market responds differently to earnings news. This is because bond markets differ from stock markets in a significant way.

Stocks v. Bonds: What Happens When Earnings Are Announced?

Equities are usually traded on centralized exchanges (e.g., New York Stock Exchange). The exchange automatically queues up buyers and sellers according to the quote they’ve entered. Trades are executed electronically, and the parties involved are typically anonymous. A prospective buyer might purchase Microsoft shares from someone drawing down their 401(k) — or they could be buying from Bill Gates himself.

Corporate bond markets work differently. They are “over-the-counter” (OTC) markets, meaning a buyer or seller needs to find a counterparty to trade with. This involves getting quotes from and negotiating with potential counterparties. This is an inherent friction in bond trading that results in much higher costs of trading in the form of wider bid-ask spreads.

Here’s what Huber and his colleagues learned from the research: Earnings announcements prompt many investors to trade. And on OTC markets, potential buyers and sellers become easier to find and negotiate with.

A Stronger Bargaining Position for Bonds

According to Huber, “When earnings information comes out, a lot of people want to trade. In bond markets, that makes it much easier to find someone to trade with. The more options you have to trade, the stronger your bargaining position becomes, and the lower your trading costs go.”

He compares the process to shopping in a market with a flexible approach to pricing.

“Let's say you're at a farmers market and you want to buy an apple,” Huber says. “If there is only one seller, you buy the apple from that person. They can ask for whatever price they want. But if there are multiple sellers, you can ask around, and there is potential to get a better price. The price you get depends on the number of options you have in trading partners.”

What’s at Stake?

Although bonds receive less attention than equities, the stakes are high. There is about $10 trillion in outstanding corporate debt in the U.S., and more than $34 billion in average daily trading volume.

A detailed record of bond trades is available from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which requires that trades be reported via their Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (TRACE).

The study from Huber and co-authors uses an enhanced version of TRACE to examine trades executed between 2002 and 2020. The team analyzed the thirty-day periods before and after earnings announcements to gather data about volume, bid-ask spreads and other measures of liquidity.

They find that, like on the stock market, there are more investors and broker-dealers trading bonds around earnings announcements. However, unlike on the stock market, transaction costs for bonds decrease by 6 to 7 percent in the form of bid-ask spreads.

What Sets This Research Apart?

“Taking a purely information asymmetry-based view would predict that what happens to stock liquidity would also happen to bonds,” Huber says. “A piece of information drops, and some people are better able to work with it, so others price protect, and bid-ask spreads and the cost of trading go up.”

“But if you consider the search and bargaining frictions in bond markets, you get a more nuanced picture. While information asymmetry increases, like it does on stock markets, the information prompts more investors into bond trading, which makes it easier to find counterparties and get better transaction prices. Consequently, bid-ask spreads go down. This search and bargaining friction does not really exist on equities exchanges. But we cannot ignore it in OTC markets.”

As corporate debt markets continue to grow in importance, it will become crucial for investors and regulators to understand the nuanced factors influencing their liquidity. This study provides a solid foundation for future research.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom. For more, see “Earnings News and Over-the-Counter Markets.” Journal of Accounting Research 62.2 (2024): 701-35.