First Cohort of Innovation Fellows Announced

Dear Rice Community,

For Rice student entrepreneurs, building a business on campus just got easier. The Provost’s Office and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship recently announced the selection of the inaugural class of Rice Innovation Fellows, providing educational and financial support to the next generation of scientist and engineer-led spinout ventures.

Building on Rice University’s legacy of transformational research, Provost Reginald DesRoches announced the creation of the Rice Innovation Fellows program this fall. The announcement is the university’s first concerted effort to translate research into new ventures. The program selects Ph.D. and postdoctoral students with research breakthroughs that show commercial promise and supports their development with equity-free funding, as well as coworking space and a yearlong program of education and personalized mentorship run by the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Rice’s center for entrepreneurship.

After a rigorous selection process from dozens of applications from across campus, the fellows were chosen by the program committee comprised of leaders from the Institute for Biosciences & Bioengineering, the Ken Kennedy Institute, the Smalley Curl Institute and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

“This is an exciting time for Rice and for Houston as we build the university’s pipeline of translational research to launch from the campus into the community,” said Liu Idea Lab Executive Director Kyle Judah.

“The inaugural cohort of Rice Innovation Fellows represents some of the most exciting research areas and topics across our campus,” DesRoches said. “From new materials reducing food waste and destroying toxic chemicals in our water, to synthetic biology and bioengineering students developing new tools and treatment platforms, these fellows are solving the most pressing problems facing our world in the coming decades.”

The nine fellows are:

  • Rawand Rasheed, Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D. ’23
    Professor Daniel Preston’s Lab
    Rasheed’s filtration and water capture technology can help cooling towers operate more cost effectively and buildings reduce energy consumption.
  • Rosa Selenia Guerra Resendez, Systems, Synthetic, and Physical Biology Ph.D. ’24
    Professor Isaac Hilton’s Lab
    Resendez’s research uses epigenomic editing to re-energize exhausted immune cells, supercharging the body’s immune system and removing one of the big bottlenecks to cancer and other CAR-T therapeutics.
  • Wei Meng, Civil & Environmental Engineering Ph.D. ’22
    Professor Satish Nagarajaiah and Professor Bruce Weisman Labs
    Meng’s research utilizes carbon nanotubes to create a “second skin” for buildings, airplanes and other infrastructure that easily allows engineers to measure and track structural health and integrity, preventing failure before it turns fatal.
  • Alfredo Costilla-Reyes, Computer Science Postdoc ’23
    Professor Ben Hu’s Lab
    Costilla-Reyes’ cutting-edge AI research, AutoML, is already one of the most popular open-source machine learning codebases in the world. Now he’s bringing AI to manufacturing to improve defect detection on production lines in the factory of the future.
  • Neethu Pottackal, Materials and NanoEngineering Ph.D.’24
    Professor Pulickel Ajayan’s Lab
    Pottackal’s research creates novel coatings for fruits and vegetables that slows decay, cutting into the massive problem of food waste. Inspired by her own allergies, Pottackal has created coatings that are organic and edible for some of the largest produce categories.
  • James Lee, Systems, Synthetic & Physical Biology Ph.D. ’22
    Professor Francois St-Pierre’s Lab
    Lee’s research can help revolutionize the early research and development process for life science and pharma companies, using computer vision-enabled microscopes to analyze thousands of cells and other biological products at once, cutting off years of time and speeding time to market.
  • Nicolas Marquez Peraca, Physics Ph.D. ’23
    Professor Junichiro Kono’s Lab
    Marquez Peraca is exploring the power of carbon nanotubes to radically transform how batteries for electric vehicles and consumer electronics can manage heat, vastly improving performance in cold environments.
  • Bo Wang, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. ’23
    Professor Michael Wong’s Lab
  • Wang has discovered novel chemical compounds that can miraculously destroy PFAS, the toxic chemicals found in all our bodies, brains and babies due to plastics in our water supply.
  • Mei-Li Laracuente, Bioengineering Ph.D. ’23
    Professor Kevin McHugh’s Lab
    Laracuente brings together her background as a medical doctor and Ph.D. in developing a novel drug-delivery platform that can precisely control the dosage release, removing one of the major patient pain points — daily medication adherence — in treating diseases from cancer to HIV and mental health disorders.

“These fellows are just the beginning in Rice’s investment to train our science and engineering faculty and students to take their innovations beyond publication and into the real world,” DesRoches said.

The Rice Innovation Fellows program follows a productive year for the commercialization of Rice’s research. In 2021, Syzygy Plasmonics raised a $23 million Series B round of funding, and human tissue 3D-printing spinout Volumetric, led by Rice Bioengineering Professor Jordan Miller, was acquired by 3D Systems in a deal worth up to $400 million. In January 2022, Professor Omid Veiseh announced his spinout, Avenge Bio, had raised $45M in Series A funding for their novel cancer immunotherapeutics.

For more information on the Rice Innovation Fellows program, please visit or email


Reginald DesRoches, Howard Hughes Provost

Yael Hochberg, Head of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (Lilie)