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

 
 

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Another product, RadOnc-AI, is designed to help doctors prescribe radiation dose plans for head and neck cancers.

“Ideally the perfect plan would be to provide radiation to the tumor and nothing around it,” says Havelka. “We’ve built a product, RadOnc-AI, which autogenerates the dose treatment plan based on medical images of that patient.”

It can be an hours-long process for doctors to figure out the path and dose of radiation themselves, but the new product “can build that initial pass in about five minutes,” Havelka says.

That in itself is an exciting development, but because this technology was developed using the expertise of some of the world’s top oncologists, “the first pass plan is in line with what [patients would] get at tier-one institutions,” explains Havelka. This creates “tremendous equity” among patients who can afford to travel to major facilities and those that can’t.

To that end, RadOnc-AI was recently awarded a $1.55 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency that funds cancer research. The Radiological Society of North America announced late last year that InformAI was named an Aunt Minnie Best of Radiology Finalist.

“It’s quite prestigious for our company,” says Havelka. Other recent laurels include InformAI being named one of the 10 most promising companies by the Texas Life Science Forum in November.

And InformAI is only gaining steam. A third product is earlier in its stage of development. TransplantAI will optimize donor organ and patient recipient matches.

“A lot of organs are harvested and discarded,” Havelka says.

His AI product has been trained on a million donor transplants to help determine who is the best recipient for an organ. It even takes urgency into account, based on a patient’s expected mortality within 90 days. The product is currently a fully functional prototype and will soon move through its initial regulatory clearances.

The company — currently backed by three VC funds, including DEFTA Partners, Delight Ventures, and Joyance Partners — is planning to do another seed round in Q2 of 2023.

“We’ve been able to get recognized for digital health products that can be taken to market globally,” says Havelka.

But what he says he’s most excited about is the social impact of his products. With more money raised, InformAI will be able to speed up development of additional products, including expanding the cancers that the company will be targeting. And with that, more and more patients will one day be treated with the highest level of care.

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