The 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, has named eight teams to the second cohort of the Lilie Summer Venture Studio, and two have sustainability as a goal.

According to Rice, the 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings.

“We are thrilled to see such a high level of interest and excitement from Rice students for a high-growth venture accelerator,” Kyle Judah, executive director of Lilie, said in a statement. “The diversity and creativity in this year's applications were truly inspiring, and we’re excited to support these promising ventures with the resources and mentorship they need to hit escape velocity and create the next generation of pillar companies for Houston, Texas and the world.”

The selected teams will receive $15,000 in non-dilutive funding from the accelerator, along with access to coworking space and personalized mentorship in the Liu Idea Lab.

Coflux Purification, a patent-pending in-stream module that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, was named to the cohort, as was Solidec, a technology platform that extracts molecules from water and air, transforms them into pure chemicals and fuels without any carbon emissions.

Here are the rest of the teams for the 2024 Lilie Summer Venture Studio:

  • Docflow, focused on streamlining residency shift scheduling
  • JewelVision, building virtual fitting rooms for jewelry e-commerce retailers using generative AI
  • Levytation, using data science and AI to answer critical questions about sales and customers for coffee shop management
  • OnGuard, a marketplace to book off-duty police officers and security professionals
  • Roster, leverages data on athletes in the NCAA Transfer Portal to automatically send updates on players to coaches
  • Veloci, a running shoe venture that addresses common pains through shoe design

Lilie launched the Summer Venture Studio last year. According to Rice, two out of the six teams selected, Helix Earth Technologies and Tierra Climate, which both also tackle sustainability challenges, raised venture capital funds after completing the accelerator program.

Helix Earth Technologies also went on to earn the inaugural TEX-E Prize at CERAWeek in 2023.

“The track record of our Summer Venture Studio Accelerator speaks for itself, despite being early in our second year," Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration programs at the Liu Idea Lab, said in a statement. "This is the power of entrepreneurship programming that is designed by founders, for founders, that happens at the Liu Idea Lab.”

Last year, Lilie also named 11 successful business leaders with ties to Houston to its first Lilie’s Leadership Council. Each agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

The two entities will collaborate on work focused on "fields of energy and climate; quantum computing and artificial intelligence; global health and medicine; and urban futures." Photo via Rice University

Houston university inks partnership with giant French research institution

team work

Rice University and Université Paris Sciences & Lettres signed a strategic partnership agreement last week that states that the two institutions will work together on research on some of today's most pressing subject matters.

According to an announcement made on May 13 in Paris, the two schools and research hubs will collaborate on work focused on "fields of energy and climate; quantum computing and artificial intelligence; global health and medicine; and urban futures."

The partnership allows Rice to expand its presence in France, after launching its Rice Global Paris Center about two years ago.

Université PSL consists of 11 top research institutes in France and 2,900 world-class researchers and 140 research laboratories.

“We are honored and excited to partner with Paris Sciences and Lettres University and join forces to advance bold innovation and find solutions to the biggest global challenges of our time,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said in a statement. “The unique strengths and ambitions of our faculty, students, scholarship and research are what brings us together, and our passion and hope to build a better future for all is what will drive our partnership agenda. Representing two distinct geographic, economic and cultural regions known for ingenuity and excellence, Rice and PSL’s efforts will know no bounds.”

Rice and Université PSL plan to host conferences around the four research priorities of the partnership. The first took place last week at the Rice Global Paris Center. The universities will also biannually select joint research projects to support financially.

“This is a global and cross-disciplinary partnership that will benefit from both a bottom-up, research-driven dynamic and a top-down commitment at the highest level,” PSL President Alain Fuchs said in a statement. “The quality and complementarity of the researchers from PSL and Rice who mobilized for this event give us reason to believe that this partnership will get off to a rapid and productive start. It will offer a strong framework to all the PSL schools for developing collaborations within their areas of strength and their natural partners at Rice.”

Rice launched its Rice Global Paris Center in June 2022 in a historic 16th-century building in Le Marais. At the time it, the university shared that it was intended to support Rice-organized student programs, independent researchers, and international conferences, as well as a satellite and hub for other European research activity.

"Rice University's new home in the Marais has gone from an idea to a mature relative with a robust program of faculty research summits, student opportunities, cultural events and community engagement activities," Caroline Levander, Rice's global Vice President, said at the announcement of the partnership last week.

Click here to learn more about the Global Paris Center.

Last month, University of Houston also signed a memorandum of understanding with Heriot-Watt University in Scotland to focus on hydrogen energy solutions.

Rice University, which works with Houston-based Moonshot Compost, reported a milestone achievement this month. Photo via Getty Images

Houston university's compost program reaches major milestone

seeing green

Rice University and its campus community have officially diverted over 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills.

The university, which works with Houston-based Moonshot Compost, reported the milestone achievement this month. The program was originally launched in November 2020.

“The genesis of the current composting program was a partnership between Housing and Dining, the Office of Sustainability and an undergraduate student named Ashley Fitzpatrick,” says Richard Johnson, senior executive director for sustainability at Rice, in a news release.

“We spent quite a bit of time developing options for food waste composting at Rice with those efforts really ramping up in 2019. After a pilot project, further reflection and an interruption due to the pandemic, we found Moonshot Compost, and they proved to be the partner we needed.”

Fitzpatrick, the student who started it all went on to graduate and now works for Moonshot Compost. She did leave a legacy of student involvement in the program, and Isabelle Chang now serves as an undergraduate student intern in the Office of Sustainability. The role includes liaising with students and other major players on campus who have feedback for the program.

Rice previously had a composting program, but it never reached the same level of scale, per the news release.

“Many years ago — from the late 1990s to about 2007 — we had an on-campus composting device called the Earth Tub that provided food waste composting at one campus kitchen,” Johnson said. “However, the device failed, and frankly, the process of operating the device, getting the food waste into the device and maintaining it all proved onerous. Interest in composting remained after we decommissioned the Earth Tub, and for years we looked for alternatives [before finding Moonshot Compost].”

Launched in July 2020 by Chris Wood and Joe Villa, Moonshot operates with a team of drivers utilizing its data platform to quantify the environmental benefits of composting. The duo went on to team up with energy industry veteran Rene Ramirez to harness their compost into clean hydrogen power.

Last fall, Moonshot Hydrogen signed a memorandum of understanding with the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialization. The agreement includes facilitating the first operating commercial pilot that biologically turns food waste into hydrogen.

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

3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

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.

ConnectSmart, which launched in Houston in 2022, is a Houston-based app that uses live data from local transportation authorities to suggest better travel times, routes and transportation methods to users. Image via houstonconnectsmart.com

Houston university partners with local traffic app to promote eco-friendly rides

on the road again

Rice University has partnered up with the Texas Department of Transportation's ConnectSmart program to help students find eco-friendly travel options in the Houston area.

ConnectSmart, which launched in Houston in 2022, is a Houston-based app that uses live data from local transportation authorities to suggest better travel times, routes and transportation methods to users. It also allows users to purchase bus and METRO tickets, and find BCycle e-bikes, directly in the app.

As of April 1, Rice students and those with a Rice email address can now sign up for ConnectSmart and will receive free or subsidized Metro QCards, according to an announcement from the university.

"ConnectSmart is an app that allows Rice users and people who sign up with their Rice email address to set up carpooling groups as well as figure out alternative means of transportation to and from wherever they’re going,” Kristianna Bowles, sustainability program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said in the statement. “That includes access to the METRORail, bus stops and cycling routes. It’s going to be a good tool for us to promote alternative and sustainable transportation features as well as increase equity, especially around our hourly employees who come in earlier in the morning or who may not have access to a vehicle.”

Bowles adds that the university also hopes ConnectSmart will help the Rice community explore the Greater Houston Area.

“Rice’s students are located in the heart of one of the largest cities in the country, so this helps foster students’ ability to explore Houston’s culture through foods, the arts and public events,” she added.

ConnectSmart also provides users with access to Tow and Go’s no-cost emergency roadside services, helps them connect with Houston's miles of bike lanes and connect multiple modes of transportation to beat Houston traffic. The new ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite also aims to help workplaces increase their staff’s access to affordable and sustainable transportation, while also collecting data on commuting and decarbonization initiatives to incorporate into ESG reporting.

The app is the result of a partnership between TxDOT, the Federal Highway Administration , the Houston-Galveston Area Council, City of Houston, Houston METRO, Houston TranStar, Tow and Go, BCycle, Conroe Connection, Fort Bend Transit and Harris County Transit. ConnectSmart's partnership with Rice was part of the university's Earth Month.

Last year, Houston got a break on a list of U.S. cities with the worst commutes, ranking only at No. 23.
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Texas hydrogen research hub brings on new corporate partner

howdy, partner

A Texas US Department of Energy initiative has added a new corporate player.

Hitachi Energy has joined the DOE's H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond initiative with GTI Energy, Frontier Energy, The University of Texas Austin, and others. The initiative, which opened earlier this year, plans to assist in “integrating utility-scale renewable energy sources with power grids and managing and orchestrating a variety of energy sources” according to a news release.

Most of the ‘H2@Scale project’s activities take place at University of Texas JJ Pickle Research Center in Austin. The project is part of a larger one to expand hydrogen’s role and help to decarbonize Texas. The ‘H2@Scale' project consists of multiple hydrogen production options like a vehicle refueling station alongside a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Overall, the project is one of the largest collections of renewable hydrogen production, onsite storage, and end-use technologies that are all located at the same site.

Another larger goal is to investigate the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of hydrogen generation from renewable resources, which all aligns with the project’s vision of decarbonization efforts.

Hitachi Energy is part of the full hydrogen value chain from early-stage project origination and design. They also work to ensure grid compliance, power conversion systems and asset management solutions.

“Hitachi Energy is proud to be a key partner in the US Department of Energy’s ‘H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond’ project. The initiative comes at a pivotal moment in our commitment to advancing hydrogen production and its role in the evolving clean energy landscape,” Executive Vice President and Region Head of North America at Hitachi Energy Anthony Allard says in a news release. “As hydrogen emerges as a critical element in decarbonizing hard-to-abate industries, Hitachi Energy remains dedicated to drive innovation and sustainability on a global scale.”

Hitachi’s project teams will undertake feasibility studies for scaling up hydrogen production and use, which will aim to benefit the development of a strategic plan and implementation of the H2@Scale project in the Port of Houston and the region of the Gulf Coast. The teams will also seek opportunities to leverage prospective hydrogen users, pre-existing hydrogen pipelines, and large networks of concentrated industrial infrastructure. Then, they will work to identify environmental and economic benefits of hydrogen deployment in the area.

Earlier this year, Hitachi Energy teamed up with teamed up with Houston-based electrical transmission developer Grid United for a collaboration to work on high-voltage direct current technology for Grid United transmission projects. These projects will aim to interconnect the eastern and western regional power grids in the U.S. The Eastern Interconnection east of the Rocky Mountains, the Western Interconnection west of the Rockies and the Texas Interconnection run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, make up the three main power grids.

Houston company advances electronics recycling mission with new accreditation

seeing green

An innovative Houston company focused on sustainable tech recycling has expanded.

CompuCycle describes its unique Plastics Recycling System as the first and only certified, single solution e-waste recycling business. The company's unique process can now break down discarded technology products into single polymers that can then be reused in the manufacturing process.

“Properly managing all components of electronics is a cornerstone of sustainability and environmental responsibility,” Kelly Adels Hess, CEO of CompuCycle, says in a news release. “Making single polymer plastics that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can reuse to produce new electronics or other products, while adhering to international recycling standards, is a gamechanger for domestic companies and those that need their plastics shipped globally.”

As of now, CompuCycle reports that it's the only service in the country that can provide a recycling solution for both metals and plastics in-house. The company has met the Environmental Protection Agency’s two accredited certification standards, e-Stewards and R2 certification requirements, per the release.

“We saw an opportunity to solve an industry challenge by creating the first domestic, sustainable, single-solution e-waste plastics program that reduces the amount of plastic negatively impacting the environment, while also making it advantageous for companies to recycle and reuse. It’s truly a win for everyone involved,” adds Clive Hess, president at CompuCycle.

CompuCycle, which has over a 20-year history, added recycling electronics to its toolkit in 2019. While CompuCycle has focused on responsible electronics disposal since Kelly's father-in-law, John Hess, founded the company in 1996, certain recent events have increased the need to recycle more efficiently.

"China is no longer accepting scrap, which is where a lot of materials would go after it was dismantled," Kelly told InnovationMap in 2019. "That's why we've created this solution to be able to responsibly handle it here in the U.S."

New Houston study shows health impacts of full vehicle electrification in major U.S. cities

what could be

A new study from the University of Houston shows that there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for full vehicle electrification in America's largest U.S. cities.

The study by Ali Mousavinezhad and Yunsoo Choi considered changes in air pollution, specifically PM2.5 and ozone levels, in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago under different electrification scenarios and how the changes could impact public health.

“Our findings indicate vehicle electrification generally contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and lowering the mortality rate associated with exposure to toxic air pollutants,” Mousavinezhad said in a statement.

However, Mousavinezhad and Choi found that full electrification in Los Angeles could have negative impacts on public health.

Switching fully to electric vehicles could prevent 157 premature deaths each month in Houston, 796 deaths in New York and 328 in Chicago, according to the study. But in Los Angeles, full electrification would increase mortality.

Additionally, full electrification would save between $51 million to $249 million per day for New York, Chicago, and Houston in health-related costs. But Los Angeles would face economic losses of up to $18 million per day.

This was largely due to the unique weather and geography in Los Angeles that can trap air pollutants that harm the lungs. The study found that full electrification would lead to increases in PM2.5 and MDA8 ozone. According to UH, the study reveals the importance and "complexity of air quality management."

“The four largest U.S. cities have distinct anthropogenic sources of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, “Choi added. “Each city requires unique regulations or strategies, including different scenarios for the adoption of electric vehicles, to reduce concentrations of these pollutants and greenhouse gases effectively.”

Mousavinezhad, lead author, is a recent Ph.D. graduate from UH. Choi is a professor of atmospheric chemistry, AI deep learning, air quality modeling and satellite remote sensing. The study, titled “Air quality and health co-benefits of vehicle electrification and emission controls in the most populated United States urban hubs: insights from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston,” was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment earlier this year.

Earlier this year, Texas ranked low in a study that looked at the closest EV charging stations equivalent to a trip to the gas station. However, another study showed that Texas is among the top of the pack for states with the most electric vehicle registrations, but Houston fell behind other large metros in the state for EV friendliness. Click here to read more about both reports.