TMCx awards TriFusion, Bold Diagnostics accelerator prizes
Rice University had more than its usual flurry of activity as 42 collegiate teams descended on Houston to compete for $1.5 million in prizes as part of the Rice Business Plan Competition held April 14 to 16.
Hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, the event attracted student startups from all over the globe touting their products and developments in categories including energy, life sciences, information technology, mobile apps, web, clean tech and biotech.
The competition kicked off with elevator pitches and concluded with an awards banquet at the Hilton Americas, Houston.
This is the 16th year for the awards, which began with nine teams competing for $10,000, Brad Burke, managing director of Rice Alliance, told a crowd of hundreds at the banquet Saturday night.
“This makes it the largest and richest business plan competition in the world,” he said.
Since 2001, some 181 collegiate teams launched companies after competing at the business plan competition and have gone on to raise about $1.4 billion in funding, according to a slide presentation shown at the banquet.
Many of the judges presenting their respective awards commented that the caliber of the student teams this year made it extra difficult to choose a team. Some even increased the amount they were giving when they made the award announcement.
“This was one of the best years as there were lot of great competitors,” Alexander Rozenfeld, venture principal of Shell Technology Ventures, said before awarding his company’s $10,000 energy prize to Carnegie Mellon University’s Gecko Robotics, a company that builds robots for industrial inspections.
Jennifer Garson, tech to market program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy, called this year’s cohort of startups, “mind-blowingly impressive.”
This year, there were nearly 300 judges, including newcomer Erik Halvorsen, Ph.D., director of TMC Innovation Institute.
“I was really impressed with all of it, how well organized it was, the diversity of the teams that were competing and the quality of the teams presenting,” he said. “I don’t think there was a single presentation or product discussed that was not interesting.”
When it came down to choosing finalists, Halvorsen noted that it became difficult to select between them because they were such good teams, and the quality of the presentations were quite polished.
From the elevator pitches to the first-round presentations to the feedback from judges, he could see the evolution of the teams over the course of the three days.
“They got stronger, and when we finally got to the finals to hear the six teams, I could see that they had made improvements in their presentations, and they were quite impressive,” he said.
TMCx handed out three awards at the banquet, including a $25,000 medical device accelerator prize to Texas A&M University’s TriFusion Devices, which offers breakthrough 3-D printed products and services aimed at the health care and sports equipment industries. They now have an invite to join the medical device cohort at TMCx that begins in August of this year.
Halvorsen said this company stood out by its passion for what it was doing.
“The three founders are unbelievably passionate about the company, the product and who they are building it for,” he said. “They are building a company that could do the most good for as many as possible, and they also wanted to be able to return money to their investors. Their technology is potentially unique and transformative in the prosthetics market and in terms of other 3-D printing.”
TriFusion was also the overall winner, picking up the $300,000 GOOSE Society of Texas Investment Grand Prize.
The $25,000 digital health accelerator prize went to Northwestern University’s Bold Diagnostics, which has developed a wearable to innovate blood pressure monitoring. They also have an invitation to join the medical device cohort. The company took home the fourth place overall prize.
Halvorsen liked that Bold addressed an unmet clinical need: “Unchecked and unregulated blood pressure is the biggest contributor to a majority of our chronic health problems,” he said. “If their studies show the technology is proven, their product, which consistently monitors blood pressure and feeds it back to a doctor, could really be transformative.”
Dartmouth College’s Oncolinx, developing targeted cancer therapies that both destroy tumors and activate immunological memory to improve patient response durability, was awarded one year of co-working space at TMCx that they could take advantage of as early as May of this year.
Halvorsen said he has spoken to Oncolinx about using the space, and it looks promising as the company is in a position to move into their clinical trials within the next year.
“Where better to do those early-stage oncology trials than at MD Anderson? We need more early-stage therapeutic companies in Houston, whether they come out of Houston or are coming to Houston,” he said. “The cool thing is Oncolinx has 14 signed partnerships with pharma companies, and that never happens, which tells you the potential for their technology.”