Who's Who

5 Houston innovators headed to SXSW to know this week

Take a good look at these Houston entrepreneurs' faces, because you might be seeing them in downtown Austin next weekend for SXSW. Photos courtesy

Welcome to a special edition of InnovationMap's weekly innovators to know series. This week has more innovators featured than ever, and we're highlighting a particular group of people: The Houston founders headed for SXSW in Austin later this week. From startup founders, coworking space leaders, and pitch competition organizers, here's the Houston SXSW attendees you should know about.

Scott Parazynski, CEO of Fluidity Technologies

Courtesy of Fluidity

Houston-based Fluidity Technologies and its drone controller, FT Aviator, will be presenting at the 11th annual SXSW Pitch event on Saturday, March 9, at 5 p.m. The company has been named a finalist in the Hyper-Connected Communities category. Fluidity is lead by CEO Scott Parazynski, a former NASA astronaut, pilot, and physician. The FT Aviator has the potential to revolutionize drone technology. The joystick-like controller is based off movement in space, Parazynski says, and is less prone to user error by someone not as well trained in drone operation.

Fluidity will find out if it wins in its category on Sunday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the SXSW Pitch awards program.

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon

Courtesy of The Cannon

There's no better setting to talk Texas entrepreneurialism than a stage at SXSW, and that's what Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, is going to be doing on the "Austinpreneur: The Texas Startup Manifesto" panel presented by Capital Factory on Saturday, March 9, at 11 am.

Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, has been juggling a lot since the launch of Cannon Ventures last year and the anticipation of The Cannon's new West Houston 120,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to deliver in May.

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston

Courtesy of Station Houston

Gabriella Rowe, the fearless leader of startup acceleration hub, Station Houston, is headed for the state capital to talk, well, capital. Rowe will be a panelist on the "Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions" panel on Saturday, March 9, at 12:30 pm.

Rowe has served as CEO of Station Houston since August. The nonprofit has a lot going on ahead of The Ion's launch, of which the Station is the programming partner. Read more about that — and why Rowe says wild horses couldn't drag her out of Houston —in her Featured Innovator piece.

Katharine Forth, founder and CEO of Zibrio

Courtesy of Zibrio

Another Houston company selected as a finalist of the 11th annual SXSW Pitch event is Zibrio SmartScale, which is in the Health and Wearable category and is presenting on Sunday, March 10, at 5 pm. The company is all about balance. Its product, a smart scale that tracks balance, aims to reduce dangers that come with poor balance — injuries, deaths, and costs from falls. Katharine Forth leads the company as CEO and founder. The company was a member of TMCx's 2015 medical devices cohort.

Right after pitching, Forth will find out if her company wins in its category on Sunday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the SXSW Pitch awards program.

Greg Wright, founder of HATCH Pitch

Courtesy of HATCH

For the eighth year, Houston-based HATCH Pitch is headed to Austin for SXSW to host its pitch competition focused on startups making the world a better place. Greg Wright, founder of the pitch program, will be there leading the event, which takes place on Monday, March 11, from 10 am to noon. The competition will be between four finalists. While only invited guests guests can attend, the pitches will be streamed online in an interactive way, so viewers can post comments or questions to the mentors, pitchers, and judges.

Jan E. Odegard, Deanea LeFlore, and Chris Valka have been named senior directors at The Ion. Photos courtesy of The Ion

The Ion, an entrepreneurship center being developed in the old Sears building in Midtown by the Rice Management Company, has named three new senior directors to its team.

Deanea LeFlore, Jan E. Odegard, and Chris Valka are the three newly named leaders of the organization, effective immediately. They join — and will report to — Gabriella Rowe, who was named executive director in October.

"To grow the Houston innovation system and spearhead our mission for the Ion we've hired three new leaders with fresh perspectives, ideas, and approaches," says Allison K. Thacker, president and chief investment officer of the Rice Management Company, in a news release. "Each individual has a unique connection to Houston and the Ion, and we're thrilled to have them join our effort to build on the culture of innovation across our city, and within the community we're cultivating at the Ion."

To focus on the Ion's Academic Partner Network, Jan E. Odegard has been appointed senior director of industry and academic partners. Odegard's background includes research and leadership at Rice University in computing. Odegard will also oversee The Ion's labs, which include human/robotics interaction lab, an immersive reality lab and an industrial prototyping lab.

Deanea LeFlore has been named senior director of community and corporate engagement. Like Rowe, LeFlore had a similar role at Station Houston before this new position. Before that, she spent most of her career working for the city of Houston and served under four Mayors over 17 years.

Lastly, Chris Valka, has been hired as senior director of operations, overseeing finance, accounting, human resources, operations, and facilities management. Prior to this position, Valka served in the president's cabinet overseeing a similar spectrum of responsibilities at the University of St. Thomas.

"As we prepare for The Ion's opening in early 2021, we are excited to welcome Deanea LeFlore, Dr. Jan E. Odegard, and Chris Valka, to our growing team," says Rowe in the release. "I am excited to see what this diverse group of experts will bring to our efforts to build an inclusive innovation hub in a tech-forward environment that promotes all that is great about Houston."

The 270,000-square-foot Ion building broke ground in July of last year and is slated to open in 2021. Recently, the organization announced its first programming partner — Rice University's Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, and select courses have already begun.