Here's what energy transition companies stood out to Rice Alliance's experts. Photo via Rice Alliance

At the 20th annual Energy Tech Venture Forum presented by Rice Alliance for technology and Entrepreneurship, 11 startups scored recognition from the event's investors who evaluated over 90 early-stage energy transition companies.

"The selection process was both exhilarating and challenging given the incredible ideas we've seen today," says Jason Sidhu, director of information services business engagement at TC Energy, who announced the top companies. "I want to extend my gratitude to every company that participate din this year's Energy Tech Venture Forum. Your commitment to solving energy problems and pursuing ambitions ideas is truly commendable."

In addition to the top 10 most-promising companies, the event's attendees decided the people's choice pick out of the 50 or so pitching companies. The winner of that recognition was Calgary, Alberta-based Galatea Technologies, which has created a tech platform to enhance workflows for operational, financial, and environmental performance.

The top companies, according to the Rice Alliance experts and investors, were:

  • Circular economy startup, Polystyvert. Based in Montreal, the company has created a unique dissolution recycling process that creates a material that can contribute to cutting carbon emissions by up to 90 percent.
  • United Kingdom-based Mirico provides a tracking technology to its customers to measure climate gases (like methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ammonia), across areas up to half a square mile and in all conditions.
  • Protein Evolution, from New Haven, Connecticut, taps into a combination of green chemistry and enzyme technology to break down synthetic polymers.
  • Another Canadian company, Ayrton Energy, based in Calgary, created a liquid organic H2 carrier (LOHC) storage technology presents an opportunity for large, scalable and efficient transport of H2 over long distances.
  • Also representing New Haven, Connecticut, Carbon Loop is on a mission to make carbon capture and conversion scalable through carbon dioxide electrolysis using a proprietary catalyst to convert captured carbon dioxide into methanol.d
  • Based in London, Mobilus Labs has designed a new way for frontline communication with an in-helmet hardware and software solution. software solution designed for the frontline workforce.
  • 1s1 Energy, based in California, is working on producing low-cost green hydrogen by creating new materials to unlock unprecedented electrolyzer efficiency, durability, and more.
  • From Skokie, Illinois, Numat is specializing in solutions within Metal-organic framework (MOF) research to enhance the process of separating the hazardous chemicals negatively impacting human health and the environment.
  • Mantel, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a molten borate technology to capture CO2 in a new and efficient way.
  • The lone Houston-based company, Mars Materials is working to produce acrylonitrile using CO2 and biomass to enable decarbonization applications in carbon fiber and wastewater treatment.
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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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.
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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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.