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 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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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 logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.

High-tech Formula 1 cars rev engines toward Houston for unique event

lights out and away we go

Houstonians with a passion for Formula 1 racing have to drive to Austin — and spend a lot of money — to get up close to the innovative cars that reach speeds over 200 miles per hour. That’s all going to change in September.

The Bayou City will be the next host of a Red Bull Showrun. Held on Saturday, September 7 at Discovery Green in downtown Houston, the free event will feature one of Red Bull’s championship-winning RB7 car flying down the streets around the park.

Best of all, it’s completely free to attend. Of course, those who want a great view of the action may purchase $50 grandstand tickets that went on sale this morning.

Held previously in other cities without F1 races such as New York, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., Red Bull uses the Showrun to bring the sport to new fans. Although the sport traces its history to the ‘50s, it has seen a boost in popularity thanks to Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a Netflix show that offers a behind-the-scenes look at key people on each of the 10 teams.

Red Bull’s Formula 1 team is riding particularly high at the moment, having won the Constructors Championship in both 2022 and 2023 on the strength of its car and driver Max Verstappen, who has won three consecutive Drivers’ Championship titles and currently leads the championship this year, too.

"The best part about any Red Bull Showrun is being able to bring Formula One to some fans that have already seen it, but more importantly to some who have never seen Formula One before," David Coulthard, a former Red Bull Racing Grand Prix driver who won 13 races during his 15-year career, said in a statement.

Held from noon to 2 pm, the RB7 car will make a number of trips on the streets, doing doughnuts and burnouts and generally being very fast and loud. In between those runs, the Showrun will feature appearances by other Red Bull athletes and a DJ battle between local legends DJ Mr. Rogers and Chase B, who is the longtime DJ for hip hop star Travis Scott. A complete lineup of appearances will be released at a later date, according to a release.

Fans will also have access to a fan zone with food vendors, F1 racing simulators, Oracle Red Bull Racing merchandise, and other free activities.

For more information, including how to purchase grandstand tickets, visit the event’s website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.