Houston Voices

Tap into the local ecosystem with Alice’s guide for Houston business owners

A one-stop shop for startup owners is now at your fingertips. Getty Images

Small business ownership is on the rise, particularly among diverse founders: women, people of color, immigrants, the differently-abled, people identifying as LGBTQ+ and veterans. These groups are starting businesses at historically high rates, and, in fact, women of color are entering entrepreneurship at higher rates than any other demographic. In the near future, entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds will represent the "new majority" of business owners.

While the reason for new business creation varies - be it out of necessity, ingenuity or opportunity - the reality for some small business owners is that their ideas never fully make it off the ground, or their businesses stall in scale due to inequitable access to resources, opportunities and networks required for growth.

Alice is working to change that.

Through thousands of hours of research, underrepresented and underestimated founders told Carolyn Rodz and her team that access to resources and opportunities was their number one barrier to success. It was then that Rodz realized technology could help solve this problem with machine learning that can help entrepreneurs from all backgrounds find the right path and connect to the right resources to start and grow their businesses. In May 2017, Alice became the first AI platform in the world dedicated to helping business owners achieve their goals through personalized and free matchmaking, based on their unique profile, interests and objectives.

"At Alice, we want to make sure every business owner has what they need, and it shouldn't matter where they come from or who they know. It's not enough to even the playing field – we want to create a whole new one," said Rodz, a Latina and three-time entrepreneur. "One of the ways we are doing that is by creating a digital hub of local resources and events, so that all business owners have access to support in their communities, from the startup world to nonprofits, like Baker Ripley and Lift Fund, to investors and lenders."

Alice's Houston Guide for Business Owners is a virtual ecosystem of real-time, real-life connections to local resources, opportunities, organizations, networks, education programs and events designed to support business development and entrepreneurial talent. The guide is kept up-to-date with machine learning algorithms, an in-house curation team and crowdsourced recommendations from the community.

Are you new to the area and looking for a work home? Alice can direct you to over 25 coworking spaces in Space City. Wondering where you can learn to code (or connect with a coder to build that app you've been dreaming about)? Alice can point you to programs like DigitalCrafts Coding Bootcamp and the Flatiron School. Not sure what business license to apply for or how to capitalize on a new sales funnel? The Houston Office of Business Opportunity, Houston SCORE, or the Women's Business Enterprise Alliance may be just what you need.

But just how does Alice do it? Alice's intelligence becomes predictive overtime in order to reduce small business fail rates. By utilizing algorithms that drive founders to relevant resources based on unique personal and company profiles (versus a curated search function), Alice becomes more personalized (and "intelligent") the more the user engages with her.

"We like to think of Alice as the business owner's sidekick. She's there night and day to help entrepreneurs build their companies, solve problems and connect with people, places and knowledge across the digital and real-life ecosystem," added Rodz.

You can access the Guide for Houston Business Owners (and 15 other city guides) on Alice at https://helloalice.com/cities/houston. And if you have a local resource, opportunity or event to recommend, you can submit your suggestion here.

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This is content from our partner, Alice.

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Building Houston

 
 

Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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