who's who

3​ Houston innovators to know this week

This week's innovators to know roundup includes Youngro Lee of NextSeed, Joy M. Hutton of Google's Digital Coaches, and Aaron Knape of sEATz. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three innovators across industries — from sports tech to startup mentorship.

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed

Youngro Lee NextSeed

With the acquisition, Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed, has been named the COO of Republic. Courtesy of NextSeed

Youngro Lee has a new title thanks to an acquisition. Republic, a growing New York-based private investment platform, has acquired Houston-based NextSeed, according to announcements from both companies. With the acquisition, Lee now also serves as COO of Republic.

It's a pivotal moment for the private investment community as just two weeks ago the SEC announced changes to Regulation Crowdfunding that included raising the fundraising caps from $1.07 million to $5 million. Between the new regulations and the new Republic deal, investing on NextSeed's platform will grow in scale.

"Now, by partnering with Republic, we believe that we can achieve so much more together for our entire business and investor community," NextSeed's executive team says in an email to investors. "We have known and worked with the Republic team for over four years, as both firms tried to strengthen and grow this industry since the very beginning of this movement." Read more.

Joy M. Hutton, Grow with Google Digital Coach for Houston

Joy M. Hutton will lead Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy

A new Google initiative is expanding its Texas presence this month, and Houston entrepreneur Joy M. Hutton, founder of Joy of Consulting, will serve as the Grow with Google Digital Coach for Houston.

"The Grow with Google team is making an effort to close the gap in resources that Black and LatinX small business owners have not generally had access to — in Houston and beyond," Hutton says in the release. "I live and breathe entrepreneurship, so I'm honored to participate in the Google Digital Coaches program and excited to work with Houston entrepreneurs who are traditionally underrepresented." Read more.

Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO of sEATz

Houston-based sEATz has raised funding to help scale to the demands as fans safely return to stadiums. Photo courtesy of sEATz

When COVID-19 hit, Aaron Knape and his team at sEATz had to think long and hard about how their tech platform for in-stadium food and merchandise delivery would survive. However, what seemed like an insurmountable challenge became sEATz's biggest opportunity.

"We really started seeing how integral our platform was going to be for the safe return for sports and entertainment," says Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder of sEATz."When we started getting that momentum and traction with our clients, our investor base and perspective investor base got really excited."

And those excited investors allowed the startup to raise a second seed round of venture capital to the tune of $1.6 million. Read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Meet Paul Cherukuri — the new face of innovation at Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University has created a new position to be a steward of innovation on campus — and the "Ivy League of the South" has selected the official to take on the job.

Rice University has named Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the inaugural vice president for innovation. In his role, Cherukuri will "lead Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society," per a news release from Rice.

Rice continues explaining that the new office's focus areas will be technology translation, startup creation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship training, as well as steering engagement at the Ion. The Office of Innovation and the new leadership position were created to ensure Rice is a leader within Houston and the global innovation ecosystem, says President Reginald DesRoches.

“Paul has already started to develop a culture of innovation and impact on campus in his role at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering,” DesRoches says in the release. “He has created ways for faculty to serve as academic entrepreneurs, engaged external partners in innovative pursuits and started working to improve Rice’s transfer and translation systems. I look forward to continuing to work with him on these initiatives and to leveraging Rice's world-class research community, thriving entrepreneurship programming, top-ranked degree programs and talented undergraduate and graduate student body to advance and grow the institution's innovation portfolio.”

Cherukuri — who is a physicist, chemist, and medtech entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in academia and the pharmaceutical industry — will assume the role and its responsibilities on August 16. He has served as executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering since 2016.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve in this new role at this inflection point in our university’s history,” Cherukuri says in the release. “Rice has some of the finest minds in the world and I look forward to working with President DesRoches and the leadership team he has assembled to chart a bold new path for world-changing innovation from Rice by engaging the remarkable innovation ecosystem including the Ion District, the Texas Medical Center, industry and other unique assets in Houston.”

Nine search committee members selected Cherukuri. Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Smalley-Curl Institute, led the committee.

“Paul is the perfect fit to lead our university’s innovation future,” Halas says in the release. “His entrepreneurial experience in early-stage startups and big pharma gives him a unique ability to accelerate the translation of breakthrough discoveries into the marketplace. He creates clear pathways for researchers to find new avenues for application within the research realm as well as transition into commercial use. I am excited about the work he will do for Rice in this new role.”

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