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

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.
Here's what student teams from around the world were invited to compete in the Rice Business Plan Competition. Photo via rice.edu

Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2023

getting pitch perfect

Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has named the 42 student startup teams that were extended invitations to compete in the 23rd annual Rice Business Plan Competition

The 2023 startup competition will take place on Rice University campus May 11 to 13, and the teams representing 37 universities from six countries will pitch to investors, mentors, and other industry leaders for the chance to win funding and prizes. Last year's RBPC doled out nearly $2 million in investment prizes.

This year, Rice saw its largest number of student startups applying for the RBPC internal qualifier from within campus. The university selected three to move on to compete at RBPC in May — Sygne Solutions, Neurnano Therapeutics, and Tierra Climate, which also received a total of $5,000 in cash prizes to these top three teams.

The 2023 RBPC will focus on five categories: energy, cleantech and sustainability; life science and health care solutions; consumer products and services; hard tech; and digital enterprise.

This invited companies, if they attend, will join the ranks of the 784 teams that previously competed in RBPC and have raised more than $4.6 billion in capital, as well as seen more than 50 successful exits including five IPOs.

The 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition invitees, according to Rice University's news release:

  • Active Surfaces, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Adrigo Insights, Saint Mary’s University (Canada)
  • AirSeal, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Algbio, Yeditepe University (Turkey)
  • Arch Pet Food, University of Chicago
  • Astria Biosciences, University of Pittsburgh
  • Atma Leather, Yale University
  • Atop, UCLA
  • Biome Future, University of Florida
  • BioSens8, Boston University
  • BlueVerse, Texas Tech University
  • Boardible, Northwestern University
  • Boston Quantum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • ceres plant protein cereal, Tulane University
  • Citrimer, University of Michigan
  • Dart Bioscience, University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
  • DetoXyFi, Harvard University
  • E-Sentience, Duke University
  • Edulis Therapeutics, Carnegie Mellon University
  • FluxWorks, Texas A&M University
  • Integrated Molecular Innovations, Michigan Technological University
  • Inzipio, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • LoopX AI, University of Waterloo (Canada)
  • Magnify Biosciences, Carnegie Mellon University
  • MiraHeart, Johns Hopkins University
  • MyLÚA, Cornell University
  • Outmore Living, University of Texas
  • Pathways, Harvard University
  • Pediatrica Therapeutics, University of Arkansas
  • Perseus Materials, Stanford University
  • Pike Robotics, University of Texas
  • Quantanx, Arizona State University
  • Sheza, San Diego State University
  • Skali, Northwestern University
  • Sundial Solar Components, University of Utah
  • Thryft Ship, University of Georgia
  • Tierra Climate, Rice University
  • TrashTrap Sustainability Solutions, Visvesvaraya Technological University (India)
  • Unchained, North Carolina A&T State University
  • Unsmudgeable, Babson College
  • Vivicaly, University of Pennsylvania
  • Zaymo, Brigham Young University
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Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.