Five Rice student startups to compete for more than $100,000

The Napier Rice Launch Challenge celebrates student startups across campus


Rice’s entrepreneurship center, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovative and Entrepreneurship (Lilie), is hosting its annual Napier Rice Launch Challenge Championship (NRLC) to elevate and celebrate the best startups from every corner of campus.

This year over 100 student ventures started in Lilie’s classes and co-curricular programs and competed in the early rounds of the NRLC. The Lilie team then selected a final five companies that will pitch their venture to a panel of expert judges April 16.

As one of the top research universities in the world and the home of the No. 1 ranked entrepreneurship graduate program in the country, Rice is positioned to address the world’s challenges in dealing with climate change and the energy transition, creating cutting-edge medical devices and therapeutics, discovering new materials and applications and advancing computer science to influence bits and atoms, said Kyle Judah, executive director of Lilie. 

“These ventures exemplify the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that we foster at Rice,” Judah said. “We are proud to support these kinds of ambitious ventures upending the way that the world has always worked. That is a hallmark of entrepreneurship at Rice and the Liu Idea Lab.”

These five teams will compete for their share in more than $100,000 in equity-free funding in front of a live audience in the Grand Hall of the Rice Memorial Center from 5:30-8:30pm.

Solidec: Ryan DuChanois, Yang Xia and Haotian Wang

This team from Lilie’s 2023 Innovation Fellows program has developed a new solid electrolyzer that can literally create the most sought-after molecules out of thin air, using the carbon it captures as feedstock to create next generation carbon negative chemicals.

Bonfire: Ben Liu and Michael Mounajjed

This undergraduate team from Rice Computer Science has built a mobile app for local events, getting more than 1000 Rice student users since launching a few weeks ago.

HEXAspec: Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin
This team from Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program is using its novel new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, saving energy and millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers.

Women’s Wave: Nabeeha Ghani and Cassandra Waggoner
This undergraduate team is building a platform for women aged 20-40 to meet one another, enjoy local experiences together and find their new best friend. Their friendship matchmaking artificial intelligence brings the right people together at the right time with more than 100 paying customers in the last six weeks.

CoFlux Purification: Jeremy Daum, Dana Vasquez and Alec Ajnsztajn
This team from Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program has created a new system to capture and permanently destroy the toxic PFAS forever chemicals that are in our bodies, brains and babies.

The Rice University Innovation Fellows program, run by Lilie, trains Ph.D. students and postdocs to translate research into real-world impact. Innovation fellows receive personalized mentorship, equity-free funding and dedicated time and space to focus on commercialization efforts.

For those who would like to attend the event live, register here.