UH Startups Join Rice Startups for Tech Company Pitches to Packed House
Startups from University of Houston’s RED Labs accelerator helped unite Houston’s tech entrepreneurship community at the inaugural Bayou Startup Showcase, culminating three months of collaboration with Rice University accelerator OwlSpark.
Five RED Labs startups and eight OwlSpark startups pitched their innovations to an audience of more than 500, including local startup community members and investors as well as business school faculty and administration. The event featured guest speaker Houston City Council member Ed Gonzalez, who presented RED Labs and OwlSpark with certificates from Mayor Annise D. Parker declaring Aug. 14 as Houston Entrepreneurship Day.
“This event married a connection between RED Labs and OwlSpark that was extremely beneficial to our growth as entrepreneurs,” said Julia Loennegren, an alumna of the C. T. Bauer College of Business and member of RED Labs. “It was eye opening to see all of the teams with technologies in very different industries, from health care to software applications, all work together facing the similar situation of learning how to become entrepreneurs.”
Loennegren, representing her company Wavve, kicked off the program as not only the first presenter, but the only female designated to pitch at the event. A product of the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at Bauer College, Loennegren shared with the crowd her company’s solution to the global issue of contaminated water, with toxic drinking water incidents happening throughout the United States and in other developed areas like her home country, Sweden. Wavve’s nanotechnology — also referred to as filtering beads — would help remove bacteria, chemicals and metals from water. Currently, the traditional commercial filters on the market only eliminate a portion of these contaminants, Loennegren said. She and co-founders Eric Beydoun, Valeria Bernadac and Ivette Rubio aim to target water filter key manufacturing players such as Pur, Culligan and 3M.
Each team of entrepreneurs was a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and alumni representing disciplines ranging from engineering to finance. One member from each team pitched for six minutes and delivered what the company’s technology does, how it benefits the customer and the vision for future funding and testing.
“Presenting our pitch was a bit bittersweet, but an absolute rush to showcase the fruits of our labor from the past three months,” Bauer MBA alumnus Travis Arnold said. “Even though the event is over, this was just a springboard for us, and it’s time to kick into high gear.”
Arnold was the presenter for Thermal Nomad, a company marketing a self-heating thermos that allows customers to “heat up food anytime, anywhere.” As he and his co-founders, Daniyal Inamullah and Dylan Bailey, continue to pursue their target market — athletes competing in daylong competitions who require frequent on-the-go meals — they will rely on feedback received at the event to further perfect their technology.
After all 13 teams completed their pitches, the official showcase portion of the program began, allowing everyone in the audience to network with the companies, ask questions and offer feedback, and check out the latest prototypes of the technologies.
“We have had representatives from UH, Shell and even other developers show a high interest in our product, which is more than I expected to occur from just today’s event,” RED Labs member Rakshak Talwar said. “The showcase has been a great experience, but it’s not over for us as entrepreneurs. It has just started.”
Talwar and business partner, Micah Thomas, both UH engineers, had sign-up sheets filling up fast for people to join the mailing list for their company, RaptorBird. The duo is developing RAVN, a technology that boasts making civilian drones more intelligent through hardware and software systems that allow customization. RaptorBird is looking to help war or disaster-stricken countries, simply by having a drone that is smaller, faster and more efficient to help deliver necessities such as food when roads are blocked or non-accessible.
Other RED Labs startups who pitched onstage included Luminostics and Zodist. Luminostics founders Gavin Garvey, Gabe Hodges, Andrew Paterson and Bala Raja have licensed UH research on light-emitting nanoparticles which they developed into a rapid medical diagnostic testing system that can be analyzed via smartphone. Zodist provides a weekly subscription box of customized e-juices for personal vaporizers with a goal to encourage customers to switch to vaping instead of smoking. Founders Tom Huynh, Tri Nguyen and Joshua Wathen are all former smokers who within the last year have seen their company grow twice as fast as the $2 billion e-cigarette market.
Bayou Startup Showcase was co-founded by Bauer Clinical Assistant Professor and RED Labs founder Hesam Panahi. He and organizers from Rice are already planning next year’s event, which will be hosted by UH and Bauer College.
By Danielle Ponder