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

Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

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.

Brad Burke has been named the 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient. Photo via alliance.rice.edu

Houston Innovation Awards names longtime Rice leader as 2023 Trailblazer

leading innovation

In less than a month, all of Houston's innovation community's movers and shakers will gather to celebrate the Houston Innovation Awards, and the night's first honoree has officially been named.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was selected to receive the 2023 Trailblazer Award. The award was established to recognize an individual who has already left a profound impact on Houston's business and innovation ecosystem and is dedicated to continuing to support Houston and its entrepreneurs.

The award, which is selected from a group of internal and external nominations, was decided by a vote of the 2023 awards judges, who represent Houston's business, investment, and entrepreneurial community across industries. Last year, Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, accepted the award, and the inaugural recipient in 2021 was Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

Founded in 2000, the Rice Alliance has been led by Burke since its early days, and its impact had far exceeded the Rice University campus. The organization's cornerstone event, the Rice Business Plan Competition, attracts hundreds of student entrepreneurs, venture investors, and more to Houston every spring.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Burke discusses his passion for Houston and the impact he and the Rice Alliance have made on the city.

InnovationMap: ​From the Rice Business Plan Competition to the many venture days and other programing, how would you describe the Rice Alliance's impact — under your leadership for the past more than 20 years — on the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Brad Burke: From the earliest days of the Rice Alliance in 2000, our goal has been to create a community to support the launch of tech startups in Houston and bring together the resources to enable them to be successful, whether they need entrepreneurship education, mentoring, funding, legal support, opportunities for pilots, or connections. It’s been really important for us to bridge a connection between Rice University and the Houston ecosystem—so we’ve been intentional about driving our impact outside of the hedges and I always envision Rice to be a hub for entrepreneurial ecosystem and a pillar in the Houston community.

Through the Rice Business Plan Competition, our venture forums, accelerators, educational workshops, and other programs, we have coalesced hundreds, if not thousands, of investors, mentors, corporates, service providers, who collaborate with a shared goal of making Houston a leading region for entrepreneurship. The RBPC alone now has more than 350 investors and other judges and has resulted in the formation of several new investment groups including, Goose Capital, Owl Investment Group, and nCourage Entrepreneurs. We’ve also aimed to shine a light on Houston outside of the city. That’s why we’ve built global programs to bring entrepreneurs and investors here to see just how great we all know the Houston community to be. The growth of RBPC into the “world’s largest and richest student startup competition” is not just a result of the Rice Alliance, but it’s really a result of the Houston community members who have been dedicated with us for so long. We hope this is a point of pride and feels like a win for everyone in Houston, not just the Rice Alliance.

Based on our research we know that more than 3,165 startups have participated in our programs and raised more than $23 billion in funding.

IM: Rice University is an integral part of the Houston business and innovation community. Why are you and other university leaders committed to supporting entrepreneurship in Houston on and off the Rice campus?

BB: When you look across the country, in every leading region of entrepreneurship and venture capital, strong research universities played a major role as a catalyst for driving success, such as Stanford and Berkeley in Silicon Valley and MIT and Harvard in Boston. For Houston to succeed, it is important to Rice to play a similar leadership role. A key part of our mission is to help commercialize technologies developed by the incredibly talented faculty at Rice as well as other institutions in the region. But it is also to help entrepreneurs who may have no affiliation with Rice, as well as bring some of the most promising startups from other regions to Houston to meet with local investors and to encourage them to build their companies here. At the same time, we bring hundreds of investors to Houston each year from other parts of the U.S. and organize hundreds of one-on-one meetings with regional startups. By fostering and building the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we foster economic development and job creation in Houston, and can help ensure Houston remains the energy capital of the world and a global leader in healthcare and life sciences, building on the work of the Texas Medical Center.

IM: Looking back on your career so far, as well as to the future, what do you hope your legacy is?

Our philosophy has been to be supportive of and collaborative with every organization in Houston. We all share a common goal to make Houston a leading entrepreneurship region. In order to achieve this goal, it takes a collaborative effort. We have strived to serve as a role model in Houston to achieve this success. In everything we’ve built over the past 22 years at Rice Alliance, we’ve prioritized building relationships and collaborations, bringing people in, so that it’s not just the Rice Alliance’s success but Houston’s success and that when I think about legacy, that mindset and that approach is part of that.

As I look back, it feels like the trajectory of Houston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has reached an inflection point over the past several years. As I meet with leaders from around the country, they are all familiar with the success of the Rice Business Plan Competition, and increasingly view Houston as a major player in energy innovation and the energy transition. I would hope that the Rice Alliance is viewed as one of the organizations that contributed substantially to this success and has played a key role as a catalyst in the ecosystem. I hope that the success of the Rice Alliance has spurred additional support for the ecosystem, such as Rice’s investment in the Ion and the Ion Innovation District.

But I hope the legacy will extend beyond Houston, as we were a co-founder of the Texas University Network for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (TUNIE), along with UT Dallas, in order to help every university in the state of Texas enhance its entrepreneurship program. And we are the headquarters for Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) which brings together over 300 universities each year to network and share best practices. Both organizations reflect positively on Rice and the Houston ecosystem.

Most of all, I recognize that whatever we have accomplished has been due to the amazing team members that comprise the Rice Alliance. It is without a doubt the best group of people I have ever worked with in my career.

I’m proud of the relationships and collaborations we have formed at all levels: within our Rice Alliance team, with the RBPC and many judges and the formation of new investor groups, the formation of TUNIE and relationships with universities within Texas, and leadership of the GCEC, a collaboration of other universities across the U.S. and the world.

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Join InnovationMap and Houston Exponential in celebrating Brad Burke and the other honorees — who will be announced next week — at the November 8 event.


Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, is expanding in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

A Louisiana-born, Houston-backed outdoors activity startup is expanding into the Bayou City

growing in Hou

A Louisiana-founded hunting and fishing startup is growing its operations and expanding into Houston.

Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, will move half of its employees to Houston and will join the Greater Houston Partnership, according to a release from the GHP. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas.

The company was founded in 2021 by a group of Louisiana State University students after noticing a gap in the outdoor travel space. Last year, founders Logan Meaux, Joel Moreau, Wyatt Mallett and Tam Nguyen entered in the Rice Business Plan Competition and won the fourth-most in investments and prizes, totaling $218,000.

“Entering the Rice Business Plan Competition helped close out our $1.8 million seed round last September,” Meaux, co-founder and CEO of Mallard Bay, says in a statement. “Not only did it help us raise money, but the recognition and the contacts we made were instrumental in growing the business and sparked the idea to expand to Houston. Prior to the competition, we were unaware of all that the Houston startup ecosystem had to offer, but quickly realized the value of having a network here in Houston.”

That same year the company also acquired Texas-based marketing firm, Bourbon Media. The company also recently launched GuideTech, which provides guides and charter services with tools like calendar management and payment solutions for back-office use, the Baton Rouge Business Report reported earlier this year.

According to the GHP, Mallard Bay now works with more than 300 outfitters, ranchers and charter captains. The company has seen more than 1,000 percent YOY growth over the last five months.

Houston-based technology services development company Softeq Venture Studio is a major investor in Mallard Bay. According to a statement from Billy Grandy, chief innovation officer at Softeq and Managing Partner of the Softeq Venture Fund, the company began working with Mallard Bay in 2022.

"The company has garnered significant interest since participating in The Softeq Venture Studio, our hands-on startup accelerator program and we are eager to see where this next chapter takes them," Grandy added in the statement.

Softeq announced its latest cohort for its accelerator program in May.

Houston is also home to outdoors and sporting equipment marketplace Everest. Founder and CEO Bill Voss spoke on the Houston Innovators Podcast about how Everest aims to disrupt the marketplace with its seller-friendly platform.
Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has received an impressive award for his leadership. Photo via Rice.edu

Houston innovation leader receives prestigious higher ed award

big winner

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

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

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

“Brad’s sustained leadership has been a driving force in making these transformative accomplishments within Rice and the broader higher education community,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches writes in his nomination letter.

The Rice Alliance is home to many of Rice University's innovation and entrepreneurship programming, including annual Energy Tech Venture Forum, the Clean Energy Accelerator, OwlSpark, Blue Launch, Texas Life Science Forum, and more.

The cornerstone program for Rice Alliance is the annual Rice Business Plan Competition, which Burke has overseen grow from nine regional universities competing for $10,000 in 2001 to 42 global teams securing investment and prices totalling $3.4 million in prizes in 2023.

While Rice has developed these programs for innovation and entrepreneurship on campus, a key component to the Rice Alliance is its role in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem, Burke previously told InnovationMap on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"I think Houston has this culture of collaboration that I suspect that some other major cities don't have in the same way," Burke says on the show. "And while we're a big city, the entrepreneurial ecosystem feels like a small network of a lot of people who work really well together."



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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.

Houston startup secures $10M to expand into rural communities

ready to grow

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.

The company has pioneered a proprietary “small footprint primary care delivery model,” which is considered suitable for rural markets, employer worksites, office buildings, schools, and university campuses. The cost-effective microclinics are “prefabricated facilities” that are designed for primary care services, and employ a hybrid in-person and telemedicine care approach.

Hamilton began his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, which is a micro-hospital system in the Houston area that later moved to private equity.

The recently acquired funding will help expedite the high-touch care model to 98 million Americans in HPSAs, which was a goal for when the company was established during the Covid-19 pandemic. HHB has made partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to provide primary care services both at existing FQHC centers and through new sites in rural areas.

"Hamilton Health Box that was designed to deliver the lowest possible price of primary and preventative care," Hamilton said in a previous interview with Innovation Map. "We built that to be able to take that care to the jobsite and meet the customer where they are at."