Rice, UH Startups Pitch: Bedsores, Erectile Dysfunction & More

Houston—Not all of the startups that participate in a pitch day are actually viable companies.

But, usually, each startup founder will take a place on stage extolling the virtues of their technologies, the unaddressed markets, and ask for mentors, industry connections, and money.

Samantha Lewis, co-founder of SpecMobile, took a different tack. The Rice University startup was developing a real-time mobile chemical analysis tool to be used at oil and gas production facilities. But more than 100 interviews with energy executives made Lewis and her team realize that their technology is still at least two years out and—most crucially—that currently used solutions were good enough.

So instead of pitching the startup, Lewis spoke about the difficulty of pulling the plug and the importance of listening to what you don’t want to hear. “Our mentors provided reality checks,” she said during her turn at this year’s Bayou Startup Showcase, the demo day for OwlSpark and RedLabs, the student accelerators at Rice University and the University of Houston, respectively.

“Challenge your own assumptions and encourage others to challenge them as well,” she added.

Her departure from the usual script got my attention because it was at last year’s Bayou Startup Showcase—in addition to having attended many other groups’ demo days—that I wondered why founders weren’t more often encouraged to share stories of failure. After all, as I wrote in January, mentors and investors are always encouraging entrepreneurs to fail fast, saying they value a founder that has the ability for self-reflection and insight.

One of the people I interviewed for that article was Kerri Smith, OwlSpark’s managing director, who said she could see such a discussion playing a role in student demo days. On Tuesday evening, Smith told me she and other mentors had encouraged Lewis to make her “lessons learned” pitch instead of a traditional one.

As it turned out, Lewis’ candid assessment was among the most talked-about pitches among attendees during the reception afterwards. In my conversations around the room, mentors and investors said they appreciated the straightforward accounting of the promise, and ultimate failure, of the startup.

Tuesday’s pitch day marked the fourth program in which both Houston research universities combined their summer programs. Here are the rest of startups that presented Tuesday evening:

Atmospark (Rice): Developing a portable hardware device to generate fresh water from the atmosphere.

Blume Laboratories (UH): Making of a holistic treatment meant for erectile dysfunction as an alternative to medicines such as Viagra.

Radiate (Rice): Creating a software platform to help corporations manage employee stress.

Core Simulations (UH): Using virtual reality technology to improve physical therapy compliance.

Ascent Decor (Rice): An e-retailer targeting apartment-dwellers that offers customized home furnishings packages, such as pillows, art works, and rugs, for a monthly fee.

Drivedia (UH): Creating a vehicle-mounted digital screen that displays targeted ads depending on where a car is driving.

PredictMX (Rice): Developing hardware and software that uses analytics to predict imminent breakdowns or needed maintenance.

Ocumens (UH): Developing a multiple-player game that it says allows people to compete regardless of experience level.

Bold Power (UH): Producing an additive that improves the efficiency of polymer membranes used for chlorine gas production.

Power Audio Tours (Rice): Developing self-directed audio guides for museums that use an individual’s own cell phone and provide analytics back to the institutions.

DermaVision (UH): Creating an optical sensing patch the size of an iPad that can detect bedsores so healthcare providers can treat them before they get to a critical stage.

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