Ten individuals from Rice University have been named to the second cohort of the Innovation Fellowship program. Photos via Rice.edu

A program with a mission to translate research into innovative startups has named its 2023 cohort of fellows.

Rice University's Innovation Fellows program, which is run by the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Office of Innovation, has announced the 10 innovators that will be joining the program this year. The program, open to Rice faculty and doctoral and postdoctoral students, provides support — funding, mentorship, and more — to move innovation out of labs and into commercialization.

“The Rice Innovation Fellows program is a critical part of our efforts to support innovation and entrepreneurship,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches says in a news release. “These exceptional individuals represent some of the most innovative and promising research being conducted at Rice, and we’re thrilled to support them as they work to bring their ideas to the world.”

According to the release, the 10 members of the 2023 cohort are:

  • Martha Fowler, a doctoral student from the bioengineering lab of Omid Veiseh
  • Carson Cole, a doctoral student from the chemistry lab of Jeff Hartgerink
  • Fatima Ahsan, a doctoral student from the electrical and computer engineering lab of Behnaam Aazhang
  • Siraj Sidhik, a doctoral student from the materials science and nanoengineering lab of Aditya Mohite
  • Roman Zhuravel, a postdoctoral student from the physics and astronomy lab of Guido Pagano
  • Samira Aghlara-Fotovat, a doctoral student from the bioengineering lab of Veiseh
  • Clarke Wilkirson, a doctoral student from the mechanical engineering lab of Peter Lillehoj
  • Yuren Feng, a doctoral student from the civil and environmental engineering lab of Qilin Li
  • Yang Xia, a doctoral student from the chemical and molecular engineering lab of Haotian Wang
  • Thao Vy Nguyen, a doctoral student from the chemical engineering lab of Sibani Lisa Biswal

Each of Rice's Innovation Fellows will receive up to $20,000 in funding, as well as access to the university's network for mentorship and training.

“We're incredibly excited to welcome this exceptional group of researchers into the Innovation Fellows program,” says Yael Hochberg, head of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative and faculty director for Lilie, in the release. “We look forward to working with them as they bring their groundbreaking research to market and make a real impact on the world.”

Last year's inaugural cohort in raised more than $1 million in venture capital funding and over $3 million in additional nondilutive funding, as well as earning more than $500,000 in revenue.

Some of the 2022 cohort's accomplishments included Helix Earth Technologies winning the inaugural TEX-E Prize and Sygne Solutions securing second place and $200,000 at the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition.

Paul Cherukuri, Rice’s vice president for innovation, who recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast, explains how this is one avenue Rice has for getting innovation off campus and into industry.

“With commercialization of research at the forefront of what Rice University wants to do,” says Cherukuri, "the Innovation Fellows program is the first in a constellation of programs and resources developed by the Office of Innovation to help impactful new ventures overcome the hard tech ‘valley of death’ and transition from the campus to the community, so we can help create the next generation of game-changing company for Houston, Texas and the world,."

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Houston chemist lands $2M NIH grant for cancer treatment research

future of cellular health

A Rice University chemist has landed a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health for his work that aims to reprogram the genetic code and explore the role certain cells play in causing diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator, associate professor of chemistry, from the NIH's Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which supports medically focused laboratories.

Xiao will use the five-year grant to develop noncanonical amino acids (ncAAs) with diverse properties to help build proteins, according to a statement from Rice. He and his team will then use the ncAAs to explore the vivo sensors for enzymes involved in posttranslational modifications (PTMs), which play a role in the development of cancers and neurological disorders. Additionally, the team will look to develop a way to detect these enzymes in living organisms in real-time rather than in a lab.

“This innovative approach could revolutionize how we understand and control cellular functions,” Xiao said in the statement.

According to Rice, these developments could have major implications for the way diseases are treated, specifically for epigenetic inhibitors that are used to treat cancer.

Xiao helped lead the charge to launch Rice's new Synthesis X Center this spring. The center, which was born out of informal meetings between Xio's lab and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, aims to improve cancer outcomes by turning fundamental research into clinical applications.

They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

Houston neighbor ranks as one of America's most livable small cities

mo city

Some Houston suburbs stick out from the rest thanks to their affluent residents, and now Missouri City is getting time in the spotlight, thanks to its new ranking as the No. 77 most livable small city in the country.

The tiny but mighty Houston neighbor, located less than 20 miles southwest of Houston, was among six Texas cities that earned a top-100 ranking in SmartAsset's 2024 " Most Livable Small Cities" report. It compared 281 U.S. cities with populations between 65,000 and 100,000 residents across eight metrics, such as a resident's housing costs as a percentage of household income, the city's average commute times, and the proportions of entertainment, food service, and healthcare establishments.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Missouri City has an estimated population of over 76,000 residents, whose median household income comes out to $97,211. SmartAsset calculated that a Missouri City household's annual housing costs only take up 19.4 percent of that household's income. Additionally, the study found only six percent of the town's population live below the poverty level.

Here's how Missouri City performed in two other metrics in the study:

  • 1.4 percent – The proportion of arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses as a percentage of all businesses
  • 29.9 minutes – Worker's average commute time

But income and housing aren't the only things that make Missouri City one of the most livable small cities in Texas. Residents benefit from its proximity from central Houston, but the town mainly prides itself on its spacious park system, playgrounds, and other recreational activities.

Missouri City, Texas

Missouri City residents have plenty of parkland to enjoy. www.missouricitytx.gov

The Missouri City Parks and Recreation Departmen meticulously maintains 21 parks spanning just over 515 acres of land, an additional 500 acres of undeveloped parkland, and 14.4 miles of trails throughout the town, according to the city's website."Small cities may offer cost benefits for residents looking to stretch their income while enjoying a comfortable – and more spacious – lifestyle," the report's author wrote. "While livability is a subjective concept that may take on different definitions for different people, some elements of a community can come close to being universally beneficial."

Missouri City is also home to Fort Bend Town Square, a massive mixed-use development at the intersection of TX 6 and the Fort Bend Parkway. It offers apartments, shopping, and restaurants, including a rumored location of Trill Burgers.

Other Houston-area cities that earned a spot in the report include

Spring (No. 227) and Baytown (No. 254).The five remaining Texas cities that were among the top 100 most livable small cities in the U.S. include Flower Mound (No. 29), Leander (No. 60), Mansfield (No. 69), Pflugerville (No. 78), and Cedar Park (No. 85).

The top 10 most livable small cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – Troy, Michigan
  • No. 2 – Rochester Hills, Michigan
  • No. 3 – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
  • No. 4 – Franklin, Tennessee
  • No. 5 – Redmond, Washington
  • No. 6 – Appleton, Wisconsin
  • No. 7 – Apex, North Carolina
  • No. 8 – Plymouth, Minnesota
  • No. 9 – Livonia, Michigan
  • No. 10 – Oshkosh, Wisconsin

The report examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2022 1-year American Community Survey and the 2021 County Business Patterns Survey to determine its rankings.The report and its methodology can be found on

smartasset.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.