Rice University is a class act, according to the new ranking. Photo via Rice.edu

As bastion of higher learning and innovation, Rice University has racked up no shortage of accolades and appearances on "best-of" lists.

Now, a new report casts Houston's "Ivy League of the South" as a top academic institution for the dollar.

In a recent ranking, The Princeton Review declares Rice No. 10 on the list for the best value among the country's private colleges — the sole private school in the Lone Star State to make the list.

Rice University offers a top-notch "level of prestige," that, when combined with a similar "level of support provided by the university" and the "support of the residential college system," makes for "an ideal environment," the report notes. Called an "amazing place for students because of how much professors care about teaching undergraduates," Rice boasts "the happiest students in the United States," the report adds.

Another Houston school appears on the report: The University of Houston claims the No. 44 spot on the list for best value among public colleges. Not surprisingly, the University of Texas' flagship campus in Austin comes it an No. 9 for best public school value.

Elsewhere in the state, Texas A&M University in College Station appears at No. 14 on the list for best value among public colleges, while the University of Texas at Dallas lands at No. 40.

The University of California, Berkeley tops the list of the best public colleges for value, while Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, scores the same ranking among private colleges.

Princeton Review's ratings are based on analyses of more than 40 data points, including academic offerings, cost/financial aid, career placement services, graduation rates, and student debt, as well as alumni salary levels and job satisfaction.

Of more than 650 schools The Princeton Review surveyed this year, 209 made the overall Best Value Colleges list for 2021, they say.

A timely report, indeed, as the average student loan debt in Texas approaches $33,000.

"The colleges that we designate as our 'Best Values' this year are truly a select group. They comprise only about 1.2 percent of the four-year undergraduate institutions in the U.S.," Rob Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review, says in a news release. "These exceptional schools differ in many ways, yet they are alike in that all offer outstanding academics and excellent career services. As important to today's college applicants and their parents: These colleges have a comparatively low sticker price and/or generous financial aid offerings."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice University and the University of Houston each ranked No. 1 on lists on entrepreneurship programs. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston schools reign supreme on lists of best universities for entrepreneurship

we're No. 1

Perhaps Houston warrants a new nickname in addition to Space City and Bayou City. How about Entrepreneurship City?

Rice University tops a new list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S., and the University of Houston lands atop a new list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Rice and UH repeated their No. 1 rankings from last year. The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine published both lists November 17.

The Princeton Review ranked graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs based on a survey of administrators at more than 300 graduate and undergraduate schools that offer entrepreneurship programs. Schools were rated according to more than 40 metrics, including the percentage of students taking entrepreneurship courses, the number of startups founded by recent alumni, and the cash prizes offered at school-sponsored business plan competitions.

The Princeton Review, a provider of tutoring, test prep, and college admission services, noted that businesses launched by graduates of Rice's program have launched have raised more than $5.5 billion in capital over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, graduates of UH's program have started over 1,300 businesses in the past 10 years.

Entrepreneurship initiatives at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business include the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which launched in 2000, and its annual Rice Business Plan Competition; the OwlSpark Accelerator, which began in 2012; and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie), which started in 2015. In addition, Rice is developing the Midtown innovation district anchored by The Ion, set to open next spring.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez says in a release.

Here are two highlights of Rice's offerings:

  • Lilie equips students, faculty and alumni with entrepreneurial prowess through courses, co-curricular opportunities, and resources for founders such as coworking space, mentorship, and equity-free funding. Lilie hosts the university's new venture competition, the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, in which Rice-founded teams compete for $65,000 in equity-free prizes.
  • The Rice Alliance's flagship event is the Rice Business Plan Competition, billed as world's richest and largest student startup competition. Startups from across the globe — including one team from Rice — compete in front of over 300 investor and industry judges. The competition awarded more than $1.3 million in prizes in 2020.

At UH, Paul Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business, says the spirit of entrepreneurship is woven into the DNA of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the Bauer College.

"Entrepreneurship is at the heart of American business life," Pavlou says in a release. "The culture and values of the Wolff Center allow our students to found successful new companies and bring new and innovative ideas to established organizations. We believe these skills will be even more crucial in the coming years as we seek to rebuild our economy post-COVID-19."

Between 35 and 40 students are accepted each year into the Wolff Center's entrepreneurship program. However, more than 3,000 UH students from 85 different majors took at least one entrepreneurship course last year.

"The students at the Wolff Center are not just passionate about entrepreneurship. They are eager to take the lessons learned in the classroom and enhance their lives," Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a release. "Purpose isn't just a class in [the center]. It is a challenge to create the best life possible, with a focus on the student's values and on doing good in the world."

Other than UH, these Texas schools appeared on the list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • Baylor University, No. 7
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 18
  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 24
  • Texas Christian University, No. 27
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 35

Aside from Rice, these Texas schools made the list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, No. 6
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management, No. 10
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, Mays School of Business, No. 26

"The schools that made our ranking lists for 2021 all offer exceptional entrepreneurship programs," Rob Franek, The Princeton Review's editor in chief, says in a release. "Their faculties are outstanding. Their courses have robust experiential components, and their students receive outstanding mentoring and networking support."

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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.