Rice Business Plan Competition named its participants for 2024. Photo courtesy of Rice

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

Seventeen of the RBPC student teams walked away with investment prizes this year. Photo courtesy of Rice

Houston student startup competition doles out record-breaking more than $3M in prizes

show me the money

Over the weekend, Houston hosted what is known as the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competition, and a Texas team took the overall win and over $3 million in investment prizes were given out at the annual banquet.

The 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition was held May 11-13 and included mentoring, pitching, and networking for the 42 student teams with over 350 judges before culminating in over 80 prizes being announced. The $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes marks the largest yet for the 23-year-old competition.

"Judges told us that the quality of the startups at this year’s competition was the best ever,” says Catherine Santamaria, director of the RBPC, in the news release. “One judge went so far as to say that every startup this year was worthy of investment.”

Over 450 startups applied to the competition, and the 42 startups selected hailed from 35 universities from five countries. There were five categories: energy, clean tech and sustainability; life sciences and health care solutions; consumer products and services; hard tech; and digital enterprise. Based on the judges scores, seven startups reached the finals, and this year, three Texas teams made the finals, with two being from Rice University.

All 42 companies were eligible for investment or in-kind prizes, and, even though $1.75 million in prizes was expected to be awarded, some of this year's investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards. While the finalists walked away with various in-kind prizes too, here's a round up of the investment prizes each startup won at the awards.

Zaymo, Brigham Young University — $885,000

Zaymo, a tool for e-commerce brands that embeds the shopping experience within customers’ email, won the most amount of money at the awards ceremony. The company won third place and a $50,000 Investment Prize sponsored by David Anderson, Jon Finger, Anderson Family Fund, Finger Interests, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce. Zaymo also won the following awards:

  • $200,000 OWL Investment Prize
  • $100,000 Houston Angel Network Investment Prize
  • $500,000 Softeq Venture Fund Prize
  • $15,000 Eagle Investors Prize
  • $20,000 Novak Druce Carroll Investment Prize

Boston Quantum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology — $455,000

Boston Quantum, which is using enterprise quantum computing software to disrupt the financial industry, won the second-most amount of investment prizes and sixth place in the competition.

  • $5,000 Chevron Technology Ventures Sixth-Place Cash Prize
  • $300,000 OWL Investment Prize
  • $125,000 Softeq Venture Fund Prize
  • $25,000 Urban Capital Network Diversity Investment Prize in partnership with South Loop Ventures

FluxWorks, Texas A&M University — $350,000

Based on the judges scores, the big winner was FluxWorks, a Texas company that's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency and can offer unprecedented reliability from outer space to under the sea and even inside the human body. The company won the $350,000 GOOSE Capital Investment Grand Prize.

Skali, Northwestern University — $300,000

Skali, which didn't make it into the prestigious finalist positions, still walked away with $300,000 courtesy of the Softeq Venture Fund Prize. Skali's technology aims to better equip flights with medical emergency assistance.

TierraClimate, Rice University — $280,000

TierraClimate, a marketplace for selling verified carbon offsets to corporate buyers, won fourth place and the Norton Rose Fulbright $5,000 Prize. The company also won a $200,000 Softeq Venture Fund Prize and the $75,000 OWL Investment Prize.

AirSeal, Washington University in St. Louis — $250,000

Another non-finalist that still scored big was AirSeal, a company that's created a simple blood test for cardiovascular diagnostics. The startup secured the $250,000 TMC Innovation Healthcare Investment Prize.

Sygne Solutions, Rice University — $200,000

Sygne Solutions, a startup on a mission of eliminating a group of chemicals known as PFAS in water through its patent-pending technology, won second place and the $100,000 Investment Prize, sponsored by David Anderson, Jon Finger, Anderson Family Fund, Finger Interests, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce. The company also received the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Investment Prize.

BlueVerse, Texas Tech University — $145,000

BlueVerse, a startup with tech to merge social media with reviews and rewards for small businesses, didn't make the finals but walked away with on of the $125,000 Softeq Venture Fund Prizes and the $20,000 Novak Druce Carroll Investment Prize.

Atma Leather, Yale University —$130,000

Atma Leather, a material innovation company that's created plant-based leather from banana stems and other crop waste, came in fifth place and secured the $5,000 EY Fifth-Place Cash Prize. The startup also won:

  • $75,000 OWL Investment Prizes
  • $50,000 nCourage Investment Group’s Courageous Women Entrepreneurs Investment Prize

MyLÚA Health, Cornell University — $30,000

MyLÚA Health's AI technology supports the maternal health industry. The company won the $30,000 Pearland Economic Development Corporation Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize.

Active Surfaces, Massachusetts Institute of Technology — $25,000

With its flexible and lightweight solar panel technology, Active Surfaces scored the $25,000 New Climate Ventures Sustainability Investment Prize.

Integrated Molecular Innovations, Michigan Technological University — $25,000

Integrated Molecular Innovations, which created a wearable device that can monitor hormone levels, won the $25,000 Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium Prize.

MiraHeart, Johns Hopkins University — $25,000

MiraHeart, which created a non-invasive way of monitoring child heart conditions, also won the $25,000 Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium Prize.

Biome Future, University of Florida — $20,000

Biome Future, which creates ocean-safe chemicals via microbes in corals, won one of the $20,000 Novak Druce Carroll Investment Prizes.

Citrimer, University of Michigan — $10,000

A sustainable materials company, Citrimer won the $10,000 NABACO RBPC Alumni Network Prize.

Thryft Ship, University of Georgia — $10,000

Thryft Ship, which streamlines the shipping process for social media sellers, won a $10,000 nCourage Investment Group’s Courageous Women Entrepreneurs Investment Prize.

Pathways, Harvard University  — $5,000

Pathways, which is developing a full-stack sustainability platform for the construction industry, won $5,000 Shell Ventures Seventh-Place Cash Prize.

In addition to these investment prizes, the startups have the chance to score in-kind prizes. This year, that included:

  • $6,667 Baker Botts Legal Services In-Kind Prize to FluxWorks, Texas A&M University
  • $6,667 Baker Botts Legal Services In-Kind Prize to Sygne Solutions, Rice University
  • $6,667 Baker Botts Legal Services In-Kind PrizeFluxWorks to Zaymo, Brigham Young University
  • $10,000 New York Technology Capital CFO Consulting In-Kind to FluxWorks, Texas A&M University
  • EFN Mentoring Services to all startup competitors
  • Amazon Web Services to all startup competitors
  • Stage 2 Competition Entry to Sygne Solutions, Rice University
All 42 of the RBPC companies wins at least $950. In each of the three semi-final rounds, third place wins $2,000, fourth place wins $1,750, and fifth place wins $1,500. The wild card round, which acts as a second-chance competition for the companies that didn't originally make it to the finals, advances the wild card winner into the finals and also awards second place $1,000, third place $975, fourth place $950, and fifth place $950.
From a new hard tech grant opportunity to apply for to health tech innovation expansion, here's your latest roundup of Houston startup and innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup expands nationally, teams win DOE prize, and more local innovation news

short stories

As Houston ramps up for fall, the city's innovation news has followed suit, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston angel investors dole out prize money, the DOE grants Houston innovators some cash, a digital health company expands, and more.

2 Houston teams win DOE geothermal manufacturing prize

Both of the teams that won this competition hailed from Houston. Image via energy.gov

This week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that two Houston-based companies have won the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize — a $4.65 million competition to incentivize innovators to use 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, to address the challenges associated with operating sensitive equipment in harsh geothermal environments, per a press release. The competition challenged participants with quickly developing, testing, and revising prototypes using additive manufacturing to support the advancement of geothermal tools and technologies.

“This DOE competition harnesses breakthroughs in additive manufacturing to help overcome barriers to widespread deployment of geothermal energy,” says Alejandro Moreno, deputy assistant secretary for renewable power, in the release. “The rapid prototype development supported by this prize is spurring advancements in the geothermal industry to help power the nation from the heat beneath our feet.”

The competition launched in January 2020, and the finalists presented their innovations at the annual Geothermal Rising conference in Reno, Nevada. The winning teams each were awarded $500,000 in cash and up to $200,000 to test their innovations in the field. The two Houston-based winning teams were:

  • Team Downhole Emerging Technologies: "This team developed an alternative to traditional packer systems," the release states. "The all-metal, retrievable packer system is designed specifically for high temperatures, extreme pressures, and corrosion experienced in geothermal wells. The Downhole Emerging Technologies’ partnership resulted in the production of the largest Inconel additively manufactured component by Proto Labs, Inc. and the development of DET’s tool, the Diamond ETIP (Extreme Temperature Isolation Packer).”
  • Team Ultra-High Temperature Logging Tool: "This team developed a technology that uses a labyrinthian heat sink to reduce thermal emissivity and increase the exposure time of temperature sensitive electronic components," according to the release. "Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a powder bed laser fusion technique to manufacture the heat sink design, with the aim that the technology would solve limitations around maximum temperature rating and lifetime of electronics in logging and measurement tools. The team also worked closely with Sandia National Laboratories to test the logging prototype in a high-temperature setting."

Koda Health expands across the country

Koda Health has gone nationwide. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health has announced via LinkedIn that it has expanded into a handful of new states recently: Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, Virginia, California, and Maryland. These six expansions have all been announced over the past month following the announcement in July that the company is going nationwide.

"Every state has different regulations and requirements for their advancecare planning documents. So, the folks at Nixon Gwilt Law and Koda Health have been hard at work making our platform compliant in every single state," the company announced in a post. "It's hard work, but we're committed to helping patients stay in control of their health care journey, regardless of where they call home."

Koda Health was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship and launched by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry in March of 2020. The platform uses AI to help patients create advanced medical care directives and documents, such as a living will, through its proprietary machine learning approach.

In February, Koda closed over $3 million in seed funding in order to grow its staff and support expansion. Now, including Texas, Koda is in seven states across the country.

Houston angels dole out cash to RBPC winner

Hoth Intelligence — a digital health startup — is cashing in on its RBPC prizes. Photo via Getty Images

The Houston Angel Network announced its investment of over $160,000 in Hoth Intelligence, the winner of HAN’s prize at the 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition.

“Following the HAN award announcement at the RBPC banquet, we learned that the Houston Chapter of The Indus investor Entrepreneurs (TiE) was also interested in Hoth as an investment for its members," says HAN Chairman Richard Hunter in a news release.

The organizations collaborated on due diligence and negotiation of the investment terms. Hunter led HAN's due diligence and Jeff Tomlinson led the effort on behalf of TiE.

The company, which was established at University of Pittsburgh, has developed an artificial intelligence platform for health care providers. The company's RBPC prize initially totaled $386,700 in investment awards from a handful of entities.

Per HAN's news release, Houston investment firms Prosalus Capital Partners joined in with a $300,000 investment and PiFei VC contributed an additional $100,000.”

“Several companies at the 2022 RPBC, including Hoth Intelligence, ranked very high in the TiE judging," says TiE Houston Chapter President Ram Shenoy. "We therefore decided to pursue due diligence and were very pleased to have worked with HAN to expeditiously complete the deal. To date, it has attracted TiE investors from chapters in Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and Southern California who have committed over $154,000 in investment.”

Sustainable biz tapped for prestigious program

This Houston entrepreneur is getting ready to pitch. Image courtesy

Houston-based Trendy Seconds was chosen as part of the SOCAP Global Entrepreneur 2022 Cohort — a prestigious event in the social entrepreneurship world that grants scholarships to entrepreneurs from all over the globe.

Trendy Seconds is an online marketplace where women can find pre-owned clothing or shop for new clothing from sustainable brands. The company shares items from more than 50 brands that can be searched by category, style, size, price, condition, and positive impact. To ensure the clothing is high quality, shoppers will find only gently-used or new items featured on Trendy Seconds.

Through the program, Founder Maria Burgos will pitch live in San Francisco on October 20.

Deadline approaches for Activate Anywhere

Calling all scientists on a mission. Image via Getty Images

A global accelerator billed as "for scientists on a mission" has opened its latest round of registration. Activate Anywhere is a remote-based program for hard tech innovators that takes no equity, requires no fees, and provides significant financial support, including a living stipend of up to $110,000 a year, $100,000 in R&D funding, $100,000 additional flexible capital, health care coverage, travel allowance, and more.

Applications September 15, but registration to apply is free and open now. The deadline to apply is October 31 and finalists will be announced in February.

To be eligible for the program, you must:

  • have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years post-baccalaureate scientific research, engineering, or technology development experience.
  • be the leader of a technical project or company that is relevant to our target industries and is based in the physical or biological sciences, or related engineering disciplines.
  • be leading the commercial development of a hardware-based technology innovation for the first time i.e. not a repeat hard-tech founder. You may apply as a solo applicant or with one co-applicant.
  • not have raised more than $2 million in debt or equity funding from non-governmental sources for the proposed project at the time of the application deadline.
  • be able to work in the U.S. for the duration of the fellowship, and have access to a qualified host laboratory.

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a health tech startup has grown its team, a coworking company opens its latest location, and more. Shobeir Ansar/Getty Images

Houston named a top market for remote tech workers, startup doubles its staff, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its ability to employ remote tech talent, a coworking company opens a new location, a med device startup doubles its staff, and more.

New report finds Houston a top market for remote tech talent

Houston is a top city for employing remote tech workers. Graphic via Karat

In a new report, Karat — a Seattle-based human resources company — looked at which metros were best for attracting remote tech talent. The company first completed the report based on 2020 due to a changing workforce spurred by the pandemic.

"Last year we took our first look at the rapidly expanding remote software engineer hiring landscape. As more organizations shifted to remote or hybrid working models we had started to see significantly improving candidate performance outside of the more-established tech hubs," writes Patrick Wu, data analyst at Karat, in a blog post. "Today, as even more top tech companies commit to hiring remote software engineers, we’re taking a look at how this landscape has continued to evolve."

Houston ranked No. 6 this year in the list of 10 metros just ahead of No. 7 Austin. Last year, Houston ranked as No. 2 and Dallas at No. 9, but that North Texas metro fell off the top 10 for 2021. Pittsburgh maintained its top spot on this list year over year.

Houston artificial heart company makes strategic hires

This med device company has eight new team members. Photo via bivacor.com

BiVACOR, a Houston-based cardiatric medical device company, announced that it has doubled the size of its team with the addition of eight team members. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“The diversity of skills and experience throughout the company is something we are very proud of, and I am pleased to welcome this all-star group of individuals to the team,” says Daniel Timms, BiVACOR founder and CEO, in a December news release. “They will each play an integral role in the overall accomplishments of BiVACOR, specifically as we undertake benchtop and preclinical verification activities so that we can commence our First in Human early feasibility study in the near future.”

Here's who recently joined the company at both its United States and Australia-based operations:

  • Nathan Kong, purchasing administrator
  • Farhad Akhavan, systems engineer
  • David Duarte, verification and validation engineer
  • Paul Chiver, manufacturing technician
  • Lindsey Brede, financial controller
  • Dawnel Scott, director QA/RA
  • Mairi Maclean, director of product development
  • Nicole Bartnikowski, scientific manager (Australia)

“Having the ability to attract and hire individuals with the industry knowledge and pedigrees of this world-class team is a testament to how BiVACOR is perceived in the industry," Timms continues. "Each of them brings a unique perspective and skillset to BiVACOR and will play an important role in furthering our technology.”

BiVACOR is developing its Total Artificial Heart, or TAH. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

Coworking company opens new Houston location

Common Desk has a new West Houston location. Photo via Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk has announced the opening of its newest location in Westchase District. The flexible workspace company opened its first location in Houston in October 2020 and unveiled four more locations since then. The company shares in a news release that two more spots will be opening in 2022.

Common Desk - Westchase (2500 CityWest Blvd) ha 20,000 square feet of coworking space with 54 private offices, four office suites, six conference rooms, and shared space. Tenants will have access to an outdoor space, reserved and unreserved garage parking, a fitness center, and Common Desk's coffee brand, Fiction Coffee.

"When thinking about expanding our reach in the city, we knew we wanted to be somewhere in West Houston,” says Bobby Spoden, community sales manager at Common Desk, in the release. “Community comes first at Common Desk, and we love that the Westchase District shares the same value. We couldn't be more excited and honored to become part of the rich community in the West Houston area, and we're looking forward to the new additions to our vibrant member base."

Houston fintech unicorn expands on partnership with software company

HighRadius has deepened its partnership with Genpact. Photo via highradius.com

New York-based Genpact and Houston-based HighRadius announced the expansion of their strategic partnership. The expanded partnerships means the merging HighRadius's Autonomous Software platform with Genpact’s global accounts receivables and digital process and delivery expertise to enhance client experience across the board.

“Now more than ever, the finance function plays a vital role in leading businesses through crises, providing agility and insight that lead to greater resilience. To thrive, organizations must connect, predict and adapt at speed, placing data at their core and embracing digital technologies,” says Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO at Genpact, in a news release. “Bringing our two companies together in even deeper partnership will allow a new level of predictive intelligence that can derive meaningful insights and lead to impactful action for our clients.”

The duo originally teamed up in February of 2020 to bring together their expertise — digital automation solutions and advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“If we paint the picture of the future of finance, and therefore the future of the CFO and the CFO organization, we think about the world of the CFO as one where technologies will basically allow them to make decisions every minute,” says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO at HighRadius, in the release. “Prediction is what the machine will do. Decision, judgment and experience are never going to go away from human beings. So, humans are going to spend more time than they do today on decisions and examining business outcomes. That’s where the HighRadius and Genpact partnership can make a big difference.”

3 deadlines approach for Houston startup opportunities

Don't miss these three founder opportunities. Photo via Rice

Three different entrepreneurial opportunities have deadlines quick approaching.

  • The Rice Business Plan Competition, which is planned for April 7-9 this year, has its applications open until January 31. Any graduate-student startup, in a broad range of industries, from any university, in any degree program, in any country, can apply to the RBPC. Learn more about the competition and how to apply online at https://rbpc.rice.edu/compete.
  • Applications are open for the Black Girl Ventures Change Agent Fellowship, a nine-month leadership skills development program for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. Selected applicants, who must be based in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston or Detroit, will each receive a $10,000 stipend. The time commitment is about 8 hours/month. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2022, and decisions will be made by mid-February. Learn more and apply at https://www.blackgirlventures.org/fellowship.
  • The 2022 HCC Business Plan Competition has applications open through January 28. The BPC will begin in late February and run through early June, with six free, virtual, 1.5 hour training  sessions. To learn more about the program and eligibility, click here.

Register for some of these informative online events happening throughout the month of April. Photo by Luis Alvarez/Getty

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events online in April ​

where to be online

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of online innovation events — from Zoom panels to virtual conferences — and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — from workshops and webinars to summits and pitch parties.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

April 1 — Tax and Accounting for Startups

In Ioogo's free webinar, you will learn:

  • Business entities (sole prop, LLC, and corporation) and the benefits of each
  • Bookkeeping requirements to manage your business and file taxes DIY or hire an accountant - we'll give you tips on the best option for the stage of your business
  • Reports - we'll explain the important ones to pay attention to as a business owner
  • Taxes - we'll discuss filing requirements and important deadlines
The event is on Thursday, April 1, at 10 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 6 — Accelerating the Energy Transition

Plug and Play is pleased to co-host a signature Deep Dive with DCP Midstream. In this event, DCP Midstream and other industry leaders will review some decarbonization initiatives they have been leading along with industry opportunities in carbon capture, sequestration, and methane leak management. Leading startups with solutions in these areas will present.

The event is on Tuesday, April 6, at 9 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 6-9 — Rice Business Plan Competition

The competition, entering its 21st year, gives collegiate entrepreneurs real-world experience to pitch their startups, enhance their business strategy and learn what it takes to launch a successful company. Hosted and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship—which is Rice University's internationally-recognized initiative devoted to the support of entrepreneurship—and Rice Business. Over 20 years it has grown from nine teams competing for $10,000 in prize money in 2001, to 42 teams from around the world competing for more than $1.5 million in cash and prizes. For the first time in competition history, the 2021 event will showcase 54 student-led startups.

The competition takes place April 6 to 9. Two events are open to the public — the elevator pitches on Tuesday, April 6, at 4 pm and the final round on on Friday, April 9, at 9 am. It's free and can be accessed live on YouTube. Click here to learnmore.

April 7 — Product Management Ask Me Anything

The product life cycle is complex. From gathering consumer data, to crafting a vision, and the many steps around execution, launch, and satisfaction, a career in product management requires leaders and teams to wear many hats. So, what does it take to be a great product manager? And what should you expect in a product role? Learn the ins and outs of this career with our panel of PMs, who will share their perspectives from a variety of backgrounds and industries at this event hosted by Liu Idea Lab For Innovation And Entrepreneurship (Lilie).

The event is on Wednesday, April 7, from noon to 1 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 8 — Inclusion: The Key to Building Strong Startups

Join Greentown Lab's webinar to understand how prioritizing diversity and inclusion can build a stronger, happier, and more successful startup team. Co-hosted by Aleria Research, this online event is geared toward helping companies, regardless of size and maturity, build stronger, more diverse, and ultimately more successful teams.

The event is on Thursday, April 8, from 11 am to noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 13 — Black in Tech Summit presented by Deloitte

Capital Factory welcomes you to our 3rd Annual Black In Tech Summit. Attendees can look forward to a keynote chat from a serial entrepreneur or investor, insightful discussion sessions, a startup showcase pitch competition, Epic Office Hours, and panels on relevant topics facing the tech ecosystem.

The event is on Tuesday, April 13, from noon to 2:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.


April 21 — Aerospace Innovation Accelerator Cohort 1 Launch Event

Celebrate The Ion's Aerospace Innovation Accelerator's Cohort 1, hear from thought leaders on the importance of the Accelerator and the Hub and how both contribute to economic resilience and workforce development, and meet the startups and MBEs selected to participate in the first cohort of the Aerospace Innovation Accelerator.

The event is on Wednesday, April 21, at 1:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 22 — Greentown Houston Grand Opening Livestream

Welcome Greentown Labs to Houston — attendees will be able to meet startups that are a part of the program, hear from energy and civic leaders, catch the latest Greentown partners, and watch the building's ribbon cutting.

The event is on Thursday, April 22, at 2 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 22 — 2021 H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge - Startup Competition

Support student startups in our annual pitch challenge with a chance to win cash prizes. Join Liu Idea Lab For Innovation And Entrepreneurship virtually for the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Startup Competition. Rice-affiliated teams – undergrads, grads, and MBAs - are competing for $65k in equity-free seed funding. Watch pitches, network with the Rice entrepreneurship community, and vote for your favorite idea. Attendance is open to Rice students, Rice alumni, and friends of Rice.

The event is on Thursday, April 22, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 29 — EnergyNEXT: Methane Strategies Forum

Today's energy companies are finding methane emissions/leaks big and small with an astounding range of technologies, Satellites, Fixed-wing Planes, Helicopters, Fixed Wing Drones, Quadcopters, Vehicles, and Handheld Devices/Sensors all drive emissions reductions, boost public relations, investor support and corporate ESG goals.

Which technologies and projects will add the most value and usher your energy operations into the next generation?

The event is on Thursday, April 29, at 10 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

April 30 — Digital Transformation and Innovation in Renewable Energy: The Texas Edition

Join General Assembly to explore sustainability and how business and tech impact the health of our planet. Hear from experts in clean energy, environmental entrepreneurship, corporate sustainability, and B Corporations who will share their insights into how the industry can impact the environment. In addition, walk away with actionable steps you can take to live and work more sustainably, network with other local professionals interested in ethical business practices, and gain insight into what actions different industries are really doing to be more sustainable.

The event is on Friday, April 30, at 11 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

Rice University's annual global student startup competition named the startups that will compete for over $1 million in investment prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice Business Plan Competition names 2021 startups to compete for over $1M in prizes

challenge accepted

After receiving applications from over 440 startups from around the world, the Rice Business Plan Competition has named 54 startups to compete in the 2021 event.

Touted as the world's largest and richest student startup competition, RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, takes place April 6 to 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC will be virtually held.

"In the midst of a chaotic year, I'm excited to bring good news to deserving startups," says Peter Rodriguez, dean of the Jones Graduate School of Business, in a video announcement. "For the second year now, we'll bring this competition to you virtually, and while we'll miss welcoming you to Houston, we see this as an opportunity to lower the participation barrier for startups."

Per usual, the competition will be made up of elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants will also receive virtual networking and mentoring.

"The virtual competition will still bring with it the mentorship, guidance, and, of course, the sought after more than $1 million in prizes, including $350,000 investment grand prize from Goose Capital," Rodriguez says in the video.

Over the past 20 years, the competition has seen over 700 startups go on to raise $2.675 billion in funding. The 2021 class — listed below — joins those ranks.

The 2021 RBPC startups include:

  • Candelytics, Harvard University
  • Paldara Inc., Oklahoma State University
  • Bruxaway Inc., University of Texas
  • Smoove Creations, Northern Kentucky University
  • Flowaste Inc., University of Notre Dame
  • Polair, Johns Hopkins University
  • Kit Switch, Standard University
  • Kegstand, Colorado University at Boulder
  • Bullyproof, University of Arkansas
  • AI Pow, Texas A&M University
  • Solbots Technologies, BITS Pilani
  • Lelantos Inc., Columbia University
  • Early Intervention Systems, George Washington University
  • Phenologic, Michigan State University
  • AI-Ris, Texa A&M University
  • Lira Inc., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Shelly XU Design (SXD), Harvard University
  • Transform LLC, University of Virginia
  • Almond Finance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Aspire360, Columbia University
  • Mindtrace, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Renew Innovations, Chulalongkorn University
  • MentumQR, University of Western Ontario
  • Hubly Surgical, Johns Hopkins University
  • FibreCoat GmbH, RWTH Aachen University
  • LFAnt Medical, McGill University
  • GABA, Morehouse School of Medicine
  • EasyFlo, University of New Mexico
  • SwiftSku, Auburn University
  • Floe, Yale University
  • blip energy, Northwestern University
  • Cerobex Drug Delivery Technologies, Tufts University
  • M Aerospace RTC, CETYS University
  • NASADYA, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
  • Flux Hybrids, NC State University
  • ANIMA IRIS, University of Pennsylvania
  • Big & Mini, University of Texas at Austin
  • OYA, UCLA
  • ArchGuard, Duke University
  • Padma Agrobotics, Arizona State University
  • VRapeutic, University of Ottawa
  • SEAAV Athletics, Quinnipiac University
  • Adatto Market, UCLA
  • Karkinex, Rice University
  • AgZen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Blue Comet Medical Solutions, Northwestern University
  • Land Maverick, Fairfield University
  • Anthro Energy, Stanford University
  • ShuffleMe, Indiana University Bloomington
  • ElevateU, Arizona State University
  • QBuddy, Cornell University
  • SimpL, University of Pittsburgh
  • Ichosia Biotechnology, George Washington University
  • Neurava, Purdue University
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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

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. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

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.