Gala countdown

Finalists named ahead of 2022 Houston Innovation Awards Gala

Here's what Houston startups and innovators will be honored at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Graphic via Gow Media

The Houston Innovation Awards Gala is just a few weeks away — and now the city knows who all it will be celebrating on November 9.

Eight judges evaluated over 150 companies and individuals across 11 categories for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards. The event is a collaboration between InnovationMap and Houston Exponential to showcase the best of technology and innovation in the Bayou City.

This year's judges includedCarolynRodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice; Wogbe Ofori, founder of Wrx Companies; ScottGale, executive director of Halliburton Labs; AshleyDanna, senior manager of regional economic development of Greater Houston Partnership; KellyMcCormick, professor at the University of Houston; PaulCherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University; LawsonGow, CEO of Houston Exponential; and NatalieHarms, editor of InnovationMap.

All 43 of the finalists will be honored at the gala on November 9, and winners will be named in each category. Additionally, the event will honor the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient, Blair Garrou of Mercury, who was announced earlier this month.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Blue People — nearshore software developer of custom technology solutions.
  • Clutch — digital marketer that connects emerging brands to next-gen creators.
  • Steradian Technologies — health tech startup that uses deep-photonics technology to diagnose respiratory diseases in seconds, all for the price of a latte.
  • Tradeblock — peer-to-peer barter exchange for collectibles.
  • Unytag — creator of universal toll tag platform that uses a mobile app and a custom-built RFID tag.

Female-Founded Business

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, are:

  • Accel Unite, LLC — creator of science-backed self-cleaning fabric.
  • Ampersand — platform that upskills entry-level professionals, leveling the playing field with the skills and confidence they need to transition from school to the workforce.
  • CDR Companies — human resources tech platform that provides in-depth assessments, executive coaching, digital avatar coaching for all employees, leadership development and talent management services.
  • Prana Thoracic — medical device company that's providing early intervention in lung cancer.
  • Sesh Coworking — women and genderqueer inclusive coworking and community.

Hardtech Business

The finalists for the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology across life science, energy, space, and beyond, are:

  • ARIX Technologies — robotics and data analytics software company that helps industrial facilities like petrochemical plants and electric utilities prevent costly shutdowns and environmental disasters due to pipe corrosion.
  • Fluence Analytics — real-time analytics solution that optimizes processes and provides novel insights into material properties that enable customers to increase yields, improve product quality, and reduce costs.
  • Milkify — creator of patent-pending process to freeze-dry breast milk into a powder that is easy to use and transport and lasts for three years on the shelf.
  • Prana Thoracic — medical device company that's providing early intervention in lung cancer.
  • Saranas — medical device company focusing on improving patient outcomes through early detection and monitoring of internal bleeding complications.

B2B Software Business

The finalists for the B2B Software Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to impact the business sector, are:

  • Ampersand — platform that upskills entry-level professionals, leveling the playing field with the skills and confidence they need to transition from school to the workforce.
  • Liongard — software company that unlocks the intelligence hidden deep within IT systems to give MSPs an operational advantage that delivers both higher profits and an exceptional customer experience.
  • Pandata Tech — tech company that helps companies and federal organizations figure out what sensors they can trust to make critical decisions in daily operations and unforeseen events.
  • Rivalry Technologies Inc. (sEATz) — platform developer for sports and entertainment venues and has been a proven partner at stadiums and venues across the USA, and expanded the proven mobile ordering technology and best practices to develop the myEATz platform, which supports daily operations at facilities in healthcare, business dining, and leisure industries.
  • Solidatus — data management software solution that empowers organizations to connect and visualize their data relationships, simplifying how they identify, access and understand them.

Green Impact Business

The finalists for the Green Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, and beyond, are:

  • Bucha Bio — biobased materials company that combats animal and plastic waste and promotes ethical and natural bacterial and plant-based ingredients in the process.
  • Cemvita Factory — biotech company that uses a sustainable, economical, nature-inspired approach to empower companies with sustainable products and environmental technologies to decrease their carbon footprint, reverse climate change, and create a brighter future for the planet.
  • Encina Development Group — circular chemicals company that provides the basic building blocks for customers to meet their renewable content goals by enabling cyclical production and reproduction of products across a broad spectrum of ubiquitous goods, including consumer products and packaging, pharmaceuticals, construction, and much more.
  • IncentiFind — database for green building incentives that's transforming real estate through $70 billion in incentives.
  • NanoTech — materials science company that's designed a product to fireproof and improve thermal efficiencies.

Smart City Business

The finalists for the Smart City Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a tech solution within transportation, infrastructure, data, and beyond, are:

  • Pandata Tech — tech company that helps companies and federal organizations figure out what sensors they can trust to make critical decisions in daily operations and unforeseen events.
  • Rescunomics — platform that provides innovative solutions global safety pain points.
  • Sensytec — IoT Solutions platform that expedites and enhances concrete construction operations.
  • Sparks Spaces — builder of hospitality-focused electric vehicle charging hubs
  • Unytag — creator of universal toll tag platform that uses a mobile app and a custom-built RFID tag.

New to Hou Business

The New to Hou Business category, honoring an innovative company, accelerator, or investor that has relocated its primary operations to Houston within the past three years, are:

  • Allthenticate — platform that replaces passwords and keys with an easy-to-use smartphone phone app.
  • Bucha Bio — biobased materials company that combats animal and plastic waste and promotes ethical and natural bacterial and plant-based ingredients in the process.
  • Fluence Analytics — real-time analytics solution that optimizes processes and provides novel insights into material properties that enable customers to increase yields, improve product quality, and reduce costs.
  • INGU — pipeline inspection solution to achieve Net Zero and ESG compliance for the water and oil and gas pipeline infrastructure.
  • Venus Aerospace — creator of a hypersonic spaceplane capable of one-hour global travel.

People's Choice: Startup of the Year

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during of the event, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — biotech company that uses a sustainable, economical, nature-inspired approach to empower companies with sustainable products and environmental technologies to decrease their carbon footprint, reverse climate change, and create a brighter future for the planet.
  • LevelField Financial — financial service platform that serves customers interested in the digital asset class.
  • Milkify — creator of patent-pending process to freeze-dry breast milk into a powder that is easy to use and transport and lasts for three years on the shelf.
  • Rivalry Technologies Inc. (sEATz) — platform developer for sports and entertainment venues and has been a proven partner at stadiums and venues across the USA, and expanded the proven mobile ordering technology and best practices to develop the myEATz platform, which supports daily operations at facilities in healthcare, business dining, and leisure industries.
  • Tradeblock — peer-to-peer barter exchange for collectibles.

DEI Champion

The finalists for the DEI Champion category, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, are:

  • Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist
  • Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston Incubator at Greentown Labs and lead investor at Portfolia
  • Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corporation
  • Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation
  • Rob Schapiro, director of the Energy Acceleration Program at Microsoft

Mentor of the Year

The finalists for the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, are:

  • Alfredo Arvide, chief innovation officer at Blue People
  • Barbara Burger, board member, mentor, and advisor to several startups
  • Craig Ceccanti, founder and CEO of T-Minus Solutions
  • Emily Reiser, associate director of innovation at the Texas Medical Center
  • Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. and developer and manager at Intel Corp.

Investor of the Year 

The finalists for the Investor of the Year category, honoring an individual who is leading venture capital or angel investing, are:

  • Chris Howard, founder of the Softeq Venture Fund, Softeq Venture Studio, and Softeq Development Corp.
  • John (JR) Reale, managing director of Integr8d Capital and venture lead of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund
  • Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs and lead investor at Portfolia
  • Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury
  • Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund

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Building Houston

 
 

No matter what stage your company is in, here's what you need to know about navigating a communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

The significance of effective communication and its contribution to a company’s success are points regularly stressed by conference panelists and forum speakers. Yet for many founders it’s advice that fuels frustration for how to make communications a priority with a lack of understanding of the practice.

This article combines insights from investors, customers, advisers, and founders, with actionable recommendations that benefit both startups and growth stage leaders who are scaling the impact of their companies.

Why marketing communications is important

Marketing communications combines the use of messages and a broad spectrum of tools to communicate with target audiences in attracting customers, cultivating relationships, acquiring funding, increasing visibility, and growing influence.

To define marketing communications in singular terms limits its impact. “For some, communications is simply a pretty graphic,” says Adam Lipman, managing partner of Ecliptic Capital, “and they don’t think about the importance of communications that speak to the needs of their key audiences in language that will resonate with them.”

It can be tempting to jump straight to producing tools that you can touch, hear and see, but applying thoughtful strategies first has everything to do with how successful those tools will be.

A dangerous misconception

Regardless of how innovative your device, therapeutic or service, there is always competition, including the option of customers doing nothing. “We call it the good enough problem,” says Lipman. “If what’s currently being done is considered good enough, what is the incentive to improve or change it with your idea?”

Comparison is a common method for comprehending a disruptor’s unprecedented concept. Your wearable device that does something no one else’s does will, at the very least, be categorized and compared to other wearables. Your innovative concept for improving cardiovascular patient outcomes will be compared within the broad category of cardiovascular care. To believe there’s no competition to challenge your success, regardless of how unique, is a false sense of security that requires proactive messaging.

“If you don’t define your brand, someone else is going to do it for you, and it may not be what you want,” warns Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda Health.

The analogy we use when formulating messaging for our clients is to define their “seat at the table” so that no matter who or how many competitors are seated alongside them, the advantage their solution offers and the beneficial role they fill within the ecosystem is very clear.

Strategically connecting the dots

Distinguishing your company from its competition and motivating action on the part of investors or customers requires communication strategies that connect all the dots.

“Many entrepreneurs think their technology will sell itself,” says Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications for Houston Methodist. “But for me to understand what we gain by utilizing their product, I want to know what problem are they solving. Does their product increase efficiencies, improve patient satisfaction, or answer a financial problem? Answering these questions is fundamental.”

In addition to messaging that clearly defines how your company is uniquely capable of delivering valuable solutions, it’s important to apply strategies for speaking your audience’s language and identifying the pain points you are capable of relieving. It also requires considering the perspective and experience of an audience’s different members. For instance, if presenting to an investor who is also a neurologist, sharing scientific data will be appreciated. For others, the why and how of what you offer may be better told through story.

The homework you do to fully understand your audience’s needs will not only produce beneficial insights but also demonstrate a level of commitment that can impress influencers and potential funders.

“I’m drawn to founders who want to walk in their customer’s shoes. They are generally deeply empathetic because they've spent time literally walking the halls with them and sat in the chairs next to them,” says John “JR” Reale, venture lead for the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund. “It’s very endearing to see a founder who wants to understand and continue to learn from who they want to serve.”

Actionable advice

Just as marketing communications is defined by multiple components, there are several actionable strategies for getting past the understanding phase. Here are three key recommendations to implement, whether a startup with limited resources or a company experiencing accelerated growth.

As a startup

  • Develop brand messaging that distinguishes your solutions from the competition and captures the compelling purpose and passion of your company’s mission.
  • Establish a working relationship with professional communicators. Though your budget is small, it’s a great way to develop trust and familiarity within the parameters of a single project for when greater resources allow expanded assistance in the future.
  • Identify each of your key audiences, including strategic partners, community influencers, and end users, as well as potential investors and other funding sources. The list may be daunting, so rank contacts in each category and unleash your entrepreneurial curiosity to research their needs and priorities.

The growth stage company

  • Invest in comprehensive communication consultation to elevate your startup marketing communications to the 2.0 level of expected sophistication. This is when the working relationship seeds you planted with a professional communicator really pays off. Trust has been established and there is a fundamental understanding for who you are and why it matters.
  • Just as your business plan provides vital direction, a strategic communications plan functions as an essential blueprint for achieving your goals, including connecting with target audiences, increasing visibility, marketing your company’s services or products, and strengthening your bottom line. Strategies should be tailored to your organization’s specific needs and identify the tools necessary for achieving success.
  • Prioritize and produce marketing tools identified in your plan that promote the company’s impact and build on the brand reputation it has achieved.

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Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

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