Kid-Themed Wearable Wins Top Prize in Rice Student Startup Contest

KiLife Tech, a Brigham Young University student startup, won the grand prize in this year’s Rice Business Plan Competition.

The startup makes a smartband for children aged 18 months to seven, which buzzes and rings should the child wander beyond a designated distance set by the parents. The Kiband is connected to the parent’s smartphone which also receives an alert.

KiLife, which takes back to Provo, UT, a grand prize worth nearly $600,000, was one of 42 student startups in the competition which took place over the weekend. Nearly 300 judges sat through rounds of pitches over three days, winnowing down the number of companies to six. The top six finalists were announced Saturday evening at a gala dinner.

This year’s competition featured companies from as far as Thailand and Germany, with innovations in medical devices, more efficient batteries, software, and apps.

This year’s celebratory dinner had a much more subdued feeling. Gone were the spontaneous doubling and tripling of checks at the podium. Aziz Gilani, a Mercury Fund partner, who last year altered a $10,000 check to instead read $1,000,000 for an Indian student startup, acknowledged the changed circumstances.  “My partners have taken my Sharpies away from me,” he said as he presented the firm’s award this year.

Even Rice Alliance chief Brad Burke’s prodding of the wait staff to pour more wine—and thereby fuel check-writing—seemed less insistent this year. But perhaps that’s reflective of the Houston investor mindset when oil hovers at half the price it did a year ago, today’s $56 versus around $100 last spring.

A new feature of the contest this year was a “People’s Choice” award of $5,000 which was decided by popular vote on a Facebook page. About 20,000 votes were cast for MyHelpster, a University of Manchester company that’s built an online platform for small business to source freelance skilled employees like marketers.

Here are the rest of the finalists. (The place doesn’t necessarily correspond to the total amount of funding a company may receive. In addition to the pitch competition in which the startups are ranked, sponsor prizes are awarded as well.)

—Second place with $73,000: Inscope Medical Solutions, University of Louisville.

—Third place with $162,000: Hyliion, Carnegie Mellon University.

—Fourth place with $137,100: Veritas Medical, University of Utah.

—Fifth place with $49,000: DexMat, Rice University.

—Sixth place with $31,000: Aerox, Thammasat University.


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