Student Entrepreneurs Debut in Houston’s First “Bayou Showcase”
Rice University and the University of Houston hosted their first joint demo day, featuring a dozen startups working on everything from water purification to a thinking club to improve a golfer’s putting to a social video-conferencing network just for college students.
The program was the first time both Houston universities worked together in nurturing their student entrepreneurs. Initially, the plan was simply to hold a joint pitch day, says Hesam Panahi, the founder of the RedLabs accelerator at the University of Houston and an Xconomist. (OwlSpark is the Rice counterpart.) “It became obvious that we could collaborate in other ways before the event,” he says. “We were really impressed with how much the community stepped up through feedback during pitch practices, community events, and field trips.”
Joining the programs as part of the Bayou Startup Showcase—Houston is called the “Bayou City”—meant that the same cohort of overly scheduled entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other mentors did not have to choose to help one or the other, he added.
The entrepreneurs were a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. Some have worked on their startups for years while others only conceived of their ideas a few months ago.
Five of the 12 have already been featured as part of Xconomy’s “startup summer school” series, such as Zodist, Luminostics, and RaptorBird Robotics. We also met Data is Beautiful Solutions, which rechristened its BioWheel product to Easel, and ProsthetiTech, which is now known as Prosus Health.
Here is the rest of the entrepreneurial lineup:
—Wavve: This U of H startup has developed what it says is a nanomaterial dubbed “filtering beads” that removes bacteria, metals, and chemicals from water better than traditional commercial filters. The startup competed in the Rice University Business Plan Competition this past April and completed the I-Corps program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. CEO Julia Lonnegren says they are seeking additional grants to do more testing and hope to partner with large filter manufacturers like Brita, Unilever, and Culligan.
—Thermal Nomad: There just aren’t enough microwaves. That’s the opening statement put forward by student entrepreneurs at Thermal Nomad at Houston. This startup says it has developed a self-heating thermos in which liquid and semi-solid foods can be heated in two minutes and at 180 degrees. The entrepreneurs are targeting athletes who compete in daylong competitions and require frequent eating.
—Nexus Software: This startup is creating a “few-to-few” social network through its photo-sharing app called Corners. The app attempts to find a customized middle-ground between one-on-one communication and sites like Twitter and Facebook which connect users to a large, open-ended group of people. Nexus is targeting the Greek system at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, as a test case.
—One Jump: This startup is developing an online database of educational enrichment opportunities, especially for underserved students. The idea is to feature a one-stop shop online for students to learn about programs, how to apply, and how to receive financial aid using a Netflix-style search. Founder Karthik Soora, a former Teach for America volunteer, says connecting underserved students like those from low-incomes to these programs often serves as crucial stepping-stone for personal enrichment. The site could also help universities connect to students with specific desired profiles, he said.
—YouHootMe: The app aims to bring the serendipity of meeting people in the real world online through geographic social networking. Users can search within a specific ecosystem—whether that’s a university or a city—and have live video chats with others in that ecosystem.
—HospiTable: The hospital table hasn’t been redesigned in more than 200 years, say founders at this Rice startup. HospiTable’s table has features like a lazy Susan, hand stabilizers, and adjustable heights in order to make it easier for patients to eat. The benefits go beyond patient comfort. Co-founder Ben Hoff says better eating habits mean fewer malnourished patients, fewer hospital days and lower readmission rates, which could lead to cost savings for hospitals.
—Big Delta Systems: Why should batteries be rectangular or cylindrical in shape? These Rice entrepreneurs have developed a spray-on flexible battery that uses existing battery chemistry in order to allow design customization of items such as wearable devices. The startup uses a 3-D printing technique to create the battery. Big Delta Systems is licensing the technology from Rice and co-founder Adrian Yao says they expect to close on a seed round of funding soon.
—Rebel Putter: Call it a smart putter. Armed with computer processing, a sensor, and a laser, Rebel Putter says its device can help golfers correct their putts in real-time without changing the feel and weight of the putter itself. All of the data is then synced to a player’s smartphone for review later. The prototype is compliant with Professional Golf Association standards, says co-founder Yize Zhao.
In introducing them, Tom Kraft, one of the startup’s mentors and a Rice entrepreneurship professor, quipped that while he thought he had done some smart things in college, “I was apparently not smart enough to figure out a way to play golf as they did for their student thesis.”