Rice, Houston University Accelerators Showcase Student-Led Startups

This year’s Bayou Startup Showcase began, and ended, with waterworks that made good on its name.

BSS, which combines the accelerator programs of the University of Houston and Rice University, held its demo day Tuesday, after which a thunderous storm swept through Houston, breaking weeks of 100 degree-plus heat. This second annual summer session was scheduled to begin the day after Memorial Day, but another thunderstorm caused Houston’s many bayous to break their banks, leaving many neighborhoods flooded.

“We thought about postponing, but we decided to push through,” said Kerri Smith, managing director of Rice’s Owlspark accelerator. “This truly was a ‘bayou’ startup showcase.”

The demo day of Owlspark and U of H’s RedLabs accelerator featured 14 startups. They featured innovations such as apps or software to create a sort of crowd-sourced photo service from Guestographer; provide customized meals for cancer patients from Digichef; and give stalled car owners a way to comparison shop tow-truck services in real time from Towbee.

The companies are very young but it was interesting to see the breadth of the ideas on display. Arovia hawked a high-resolution, Wi-Fi-enabled 24-inch screen that founder Alexander Wesley said could collapse down to the size of a fist. (Unfortunately, he didn’t demonstrate it on stage.)

One U of H student team was ambitious enough to launch Lumen Motors, a new automaker focused on building and selling what it calls the first luxury electric car. (Founder Juan Gallegos says they hope to unveil the car at the Geneva Motor Show in 2018.)

Other startups in Tuesday’s lineup included:

Open Factory: The company sells 3-D printers that it says is capable of higher resolution and detail.

Victory Crate: A website and subscription service for board games enthusiasts to find new games.

Showcoach: A website and private video messaging service to connect professional baseball coaches with kids needing instruction.

Wholistic Advisors: A website that connects cancer doctors and patients with holistic health practitioner services such as massage, acupuncture, and music therapy.

Datafuel: A website with customized training for analytical software used in the oil and gas industry.

SenseWatch: Software that leverages sensor capabilities in smart watches that expands functions to include gestures.

Ziel Solutions: A sleeve worn by baseball players that contains sensors that can detect when a pitcher’s arm is stressed and possibly injured.

Teomics: Software for more accurate tissue diagnosis.

OcuCheck: An onsite eye exam service that can be performed at corporate sites.

Last year, Smith and Hesam Panahi, founder of RedLabs, decided to coordinate their summer programs. After all, each accelerator would be calling on largely the same group of entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and executives to serve as mentors.

And four alumni companies made presentations updating the audience on their progress. Among them, Medical Informatics, a Houston-based health IT company that in June received FDA clearance to sell the first version of its data alert system, and Big Delta Systems, maker of a free-form battery, seemed to have made the most progress in terms of customer acquisition and fundraising.

The other two companies were Luminostics and Zodist, both of which wrote about in stories last year.

This year, the student entrepreneurs were hosted at TMCx, the Texas Medical Center’s accelerator. They worked alongside the 22 startups in TMCx’s first class, helping to create a startup nexus previously unseen in Houston, said Bill McKeon, TMC’s COO and chief strategy officer.

“This place is feeling more and more like Palo Alto every day,” he said.

[Editor’s Note: Intended as a quirky thank you to the accelerators’ sponsors, the video here malfunctioned at the demo day. Clearly, Houston’s triple-digit heat indexes have made the executive teams at Owlspark and RedLabs delirious as they have, literally, turned up the heat. Check out the video and see for yourselves.]

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