at the helm

Research-based innovation accelerator with Houston presence names new CEO

Activate announced Cyrus Wadia as its new CEO. Photo courtesy of Activate

A national organization that helps accelerate scientists into entrepreneurs has named its new CEO.

Today, Activate announced Cyrus Wadia as CEO of the organization. Based California, Activate recently expanded to Houston. The two-year accelerator provides funding and support for its selected cohorts.

“Wadia personifies so much of what Activate is about,” says Activate’s founder and former CEO, Ilan Gur, who now heads ARIA, the UK’s multibillion-dollar innovation agency. “He is impact-driven, entrepreneurial, and cares deeply about people, family, and community. He’s one of the few people on the planet that I’d be proud and excited to have lead the next phase of what we started.”

Wadia’s new role takes effect on October 16. Todd Johnson has served as interim CEO for the past year, and he will return to his role on Activate’s board of directors with the transition.

Wadia most recently served as director of worldwide product sustainability at Amazon. He also oversaw sustainable business and innovation at Nike and was appointed assistant director of clean energy and materials R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama.

"I’m thrilled to join this incredible team at such an exciting moment for the organization. Because of Activate, scientists are designing new products, accelerating the creation of new businesses, and becoming leaders who will transform our future," Wadia says in the news release. "I look forward to building on this momentum to expand the role science leadership plays in solving society’s most pressing issues.”

As CEO, Wadia will lead the organization as it expands and operates its five communities. In eight years, Activate has advanced 188 fellows and 145 science-based startups, which have gone on to raise nearly $1.4 billion and create over 1900 jobs.

“Activate has transformed into one of the most impactful science innovation communities in the world in less than a decade,” says Liesl Schindler, Activate board chair. “The extraordinary people and culture of Activate give us nothing but confidence as we transition into the organization's next phase of growth—with Cyrus Wadia now at the helm.”

Next year, Houston will have its inaugural cohort. The program's led locally by Jeremy Pitts, managing director for Activate Houston, who was named to the role last month.

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A View From HETI

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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