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10 most promising Texas startups revealed at inaugural Houston summit

Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe and Rice Alliance Managing Partner Brad Burke named 10 startups to watch. Photo by Natalie Harms

Texas is booming with digital startups, and Station Houston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted a meeting of the minds to discuss the digital revolution at the inaugural Texas Digital Summit at Rice University on December 6.

Thirty-nine companies presented throughout the day; among the group were 26 from the Houston area. At the conclusion of the day, Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, and Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, announced 10 "most promising companies" that stood out to a group of investors who attended the event.

All 10 selected were Texas-based, with eight from the Houston area. Here's who the venture capitalists and investors picked for the prize.

Houston-based SafePass

Photo via safepassglobal.com

SafePass pictures a world where visitors on school or corporate campuses can be tracked. The company's technology upends the standard paper or sticker pass you get from the front office, and provides a reusable, trackable device for visitors.

"Our tracking algorithm interacts with already existing WiFi technology — so, the routers that are already at that facility," says Ronald Huff, managing director of SafePass. "We leverage that to get that real-time tracking information."

Houston-based ScribeRule

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ScribeRule operates under the assumption that your company's data has already been breached. The software protects data from both internal and external threats so that companies don't have to worry about any type of threat. The technology is scalable and easy to use.

"The problem is very simple," says Chris Melson, president and COO. "Only allow people who are authorized to see your data, see the data. And that's the problem we've solved."

"It's very difficult to protect data in a collaborative environment."

Houston-based Sensoleak

Photo via sensoleak.com

Sensoleak is making it easier for monitors in the oil and gas industry to be alerted about leaks. Using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and internet of things combined into a software, the company is providing a revolutionary solution for a longstanding problem.

"The problem right now is there is a lot of false alarms," says Shoshi Kaganovsky, founder and CEO, "and if there is a leak, it has to leak a lot before it is caught."

The company recently opened a new round of funding.

Sugar Land-based Commtrex

Photo via commtrex.com

The only open, electronic marketplace for rail shippers and asset providers is right in Houston's backyard of Sugar Land. Commtrex makes communications and connections between these transportation entities more efficient and better executed.

"Commtrex's asset management tools and market data is based on real transactions, and benefits our member companies with engagement efficiencies and financial insights," reads the website.

Houston-based Zenus

Photo via zenus-biometrics.com

Let's face it, face recognition is the future of identification, and Zenus has an award-winning technology to move the needle. Utilizing face recognition doesn't need to compromise privacy.

"We are a leading provider of face recognition software," reads the website. "Our cloud-based service can search a database of faces within a blink of an eye and it can be seamlessly integrated into any application."

Houston-based 3GiG

Photo via 3-gig.com

3GiG is a one-stop shop software company for the "oval office" needs of oil and gas companies. Energy leaders can use the services to manage projects, prospects, and more. President and CEO Kandy Lukats compares her company's services to the trending meal kits — like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh —Americans have been crazy about — all the ingredients sent right to your door.

"We believe we've found the niche between the freezer section and doing it yourself," she says.

Austin-based Towny

Photo via towny.com

This Austin company is making it more appealing to shop local. Towny looks to work in cities with under a million residents. The tool is for small, consumer-focused businesses to market their store to consumers. The small business owners pay a flat monthly rate to utilize digital marketing tools from the convenience of their phones.

Towny is already in five towns with 500 clients, says CEO Nathan Baumeister. In January, the company's monthly revenue was $17,000, but for the last two months, the tool has raked in $90,000 monthly.

"We've built a branding, mobile-first platform, where we've taken all these technologies and tactics and put it together in one package at the affordable price of $199 per month," he says.

Dallas-based CommandHound

Photo via commandhound.com

CommandHound is a B2B software that tracks employee tasks and responsibilities. It reminds users on assigned duties and keeps a record of work outcomes for later performance reviews.

"Our ultimate solution is to turn every organization into a high-performance organization through accountability," says Rene Larrave, chairman and CEO. "It's a checklist on steroids."

Houston-based SecurityGate

Photo via securitygate.io

SecurityGate is disrupting the cyber compliance and the cyber regulation market by providing cyber risk assessments at a faster rate than a human auditor could. The software analyzes data, identifies potential cyber security risks, and communicates with the company how to address the threats.

"No matter what industry vertical you're in, every single supply chain out there is worries about supply chain cyber security," says CEO Ted Gutierrez. "And the problem with that, is everyone is doing it manually."

Houston-based DeepCast.ai

Photo via deepcast.ai

Using artificial intelligence and physics, DeepCast.ai can automate operations for industrial companies.

"We simply integrate with system solutions, try to clean and facilitate the data using AI models important to the oil and gas industry," says Arturo Klie, chief technology officer and senior software engineer. "Once the data is clean, we apply our business-informed AI models to solve and provide forecasting real time and analytics.

The local community has raised some concerns about Rice Management Company's Ion project's effect on the Third Ward. Courtesy of Rice University

The city of Houston has been buzzing about Rice Management Company's Ion Innovation Hub — a 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub project expected to deliver in 2021 — but there's one group isn't so thrilled with the plans: The Third Ward community.

In a public community meeting on November 12, community members gathered at the Wesley AME Church to plan a Community Benefits Agreement that would legally bind The Innovation District's development team and the Rice Management Company to move forward with the local residents' indicated best interests. According to the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement, a newly formed group to work on the CBA, it would be the first of its kind in Houston.

The coalition is supported by Third Ward is Home Civic Club, the Emancipation Economic Development Council, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats - Harris County, and the Houston Society for Change.

Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, presented the project's plans to the crowd, recognizing that innovation ecosystems across the country have issues with diversity.

"When you look around the tech ecosystems in the United States today, there are a couple things that stand out," Rowe says. "First and foremost is that they are extremely white and extremely male."

But since Houston is still developing its innovation infrastructure, Rowe says, the city has more opportunities to take the lessons learned from these other ecosystems and be more proactive about including diverse efforts.

One of the things The Ion is planning to incorporate to engage the community is a free coworking space — the only free coworking space in Houston, Rowe says. The Ion plans also include two public parks and community events, and both will be free and open to the public.

The Ion promises to bring free coworking, park space, and events to the area. Courtesy of Rice University

After the presentation, the estimated 150 community members in the crowd had the opportunity to address Rowe. While one local resident expressed concern with the non-inclusive verbiage The Ion is using — describing the area as "Midtown" over the pre-gentrification descriptor of Third Ward — other concerns surrounded the lack of diversity of the decision makers on the project.

"For me, that's where we need to start, which is in diversity," says Rowe, who mentions she has diversity among her programming team. "I look to all of you to come to get included in our team as we're growing."

Another concern that was raised was the job opportunities on the construction site itself. While Rowe didn't mention any specific job opportunities in construction, she did say she had been asked by the Rice Management Company to tap local artists to design the fences surrounding the site.

The meeting pivoted toward a discussion about the CBA and the importance the agreement would have moving forward. Assata Richards, founder of Sankofa Research Institute and local activist, and Mary Claire Neal, a Rice University student and leader of the Students for a Just and Equitable Innovation Corridor, and Carl Davis, chair of the Houston Society for Change and a representative of the church, have teamed up to move forward with the agreement.

Texas Appleseed, a group of volunteer lawyers, has agreed to help create and enforce the agreement, and Jeffrey Lowe, associate professor in the department of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, has also advised the organizations.

"We've been told what's going to happen, but there's no binding agreement to make sure that it's going to happen," Richards says. "Those are just nice wishlists."

Moreover, the initiatives that have been suggested, enforceable or not, aren't enough, Richards adds, again stressing the importance of the CBA.

"We're going to be smarter this time. We're going to work with the people who have the power and make the decisions," Richards says. "You're doing all this development and come and tell me that you want art outside the building? We're talking millions of dollars of construction."

While the terms of the CBA are still in the works, some of the requests mentioned in the meeting include jobs, preservation of communities of color, affordable housing initiatives, access to affordable groceries, and opportunities for minority and African American-owned businesses.

The Ion Innovation Hub Proposed Site Plan The Ion Innovation Hub Proposed Site Plan was included in notes pre-released ahead of the Houston Planning Commission's November 14 meeting. Photo via HPC

Neal proceeded with a presentation of actionable ways students and community members can get involved and make their voices heard. Her presentation included new concerns following the release of the master plan of The Innovation District, which the Houston Chronicle released earlier this week. The plans included a parking area that will be the next construction project following The Ion. The variance request is headed to the planning commission on Thursday.

"That's a two-day turnaround and it's the first opportunity for us to do something," Neal says. The group is intending to at least acquire a delay in the variance request moving forward.

The meeting wrapped up with a call to action for local residents as well as students. Since The Ion will include local academic institutions, student and alumni input is crucial.

"We want you to hold up and pause and think carefully on how this development is going to benefit and affect the community," Richards says.