News from RICE University

Student startups awarded more than $75,000 at 2022 Napier Rice Launch Challenge

HOUSTON – (April 21, 2022) – A student startup developing a filter that helps limit water waste in power plants claimed the top prize at this year's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge (NRLC).

The first-place venture, Helix Earth Technologies, aims to help power-plant operators reduce water use and thus their operating costs. Founder Rawand Rasheed, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at Rice University, has been testing his proof-of-concept on the power plants on campus.


The competition began with 84 teams before being whittled down to six for the April 20 championship round, which featured five-minute pitches to a panel of judges followed by seven minutes of questions about their startups for a shot at equity-free seed funding. This year’s judges included Thomas Ball, co-founder and managing director at Next Coast Ventures; Lisa Besserman, managing director at Expa; and Xiaodi Zhang, chief product officer at 1stDibs.

The top three teams won a share of the prize pool. Helix Earth Technologies won $35,000 for first place, second-place EpiFresh won $25,000 and third-place Guildata won $10,000.

Other prizes included:

  • Guildata, [email protected]: The Sen Social Pioneer Prize, $1,000.
  • SkySpace, Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations, $1,500.
  • Aqualight Materials, Chevron Tech Ventures Climate Innovations Prize, $2,500.
  • Berman Foods, Norman E. Leebron Audience Choice Award, $1,500.

All competitors received personalized mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs, investors and subject matter experts from across Houston and Rice’s alumni community. They also received coaching on how to deliver pitches as well as help from the team at Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie) on refining their ventures and accelerating their progress.

Lilie, which puts on the NRLC, serves Rice undergraduates and graduate students, faculty and alumni from every corner of campus through courses and co-curricular programs that develop an entrepreneurial skillset and mindset that can be applied to any industry to create impact. Student founders have access to everything needed to accelerate their venture — coworking space, community, equity-free funding and personalized mentorship. This goes hand in hand with the vast network, educational services and resources of the country’s No. 1-ranked entrepreneurship program.

Named after Rice professor emeritus and entrepreneurship program founder H. Albert Napier, this year's NRLC was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions and Chevron Technology Ventures, with continuing support from the Napier family, the Liu Family Foundation and the Sen family.

To learn more, visit or Lilie’s website,