who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Allie Danziger of Ascent Funding, Adrian Trömel of Rice University, and Michael Suffredini of Axiom Space. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from education to space tech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Allie Danziger, senior vice president and general manager of student success at Ascent Funding

Allie Danziger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her edtech startup Ampersand's exit. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

For the second time in less than six years, Houston entrepreneur Allie Danziger has navigated a company through an exit. But, with the two exists under her belt, Danziger says the two transactions could not be any more different.

Danziger founded Integrate Agency, a digital-focused public relations firm, in 2009 and sold it to another marketing and PR firm based in Austin in 2018. She founded her next company, Ampersand Professionals, in 2020 to address the challenges for upskilling young professionals to prepare them for success in the workplace — something employers really wanted, but struggled to do consistently.

Last month, Ampersand was acquired by Ascent Funding, a college loan provider that's building out a platform to support its college-aged borrowers. In this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Danziger shares how this opportunity came about and looks back on these two pivotal deals. Read more.

Adrian Trömel, assistant vice president for strategy and investments at Rice University's Office of Innovation

In his new role, Adrian Trömel will oversee the creation of the Rice Nexus, an innovation hub within the Ion that aims to bridge the gap between the university and Houston's innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University’s Office of Innovation has named Houston materials scientist-turned-entrepreneur Adrian Trömel as its new assistant vice president for strategy and investments.

Trömel founded non-invasive neurostimulation medical device company CNX Medical at the Texas Medical Innovation Institute in 2019 and most recently served as chief growth officer for Hamilton Health Box, which brings an on-site care team to company offices.

In his new role, Trömel will oversee the creation of the Rice Nexus, an innovation hub within the Ion that aims to bridge the gap between the university and Houston's innovation ecosystem. He will also lead the creation of a translational research grant fund and a university-affiliated venture fund for Rice-affiliated entrepreneurs. Read more.

Michael Suffredini, CEO and president of Axiom Space

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade.Read more.

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AI and ML have ceased to be distant dreams of the future, becoming accessible tools that can revolutionize the way startups and small businesses operate. Photo via Getty Images

In today's fast-paced and technologically driven world, artificial intelligence and machine learning have emerged as transformative technologies that hold immense potential for startups and small businesses. While AI was once perceived as the domain of large corporations, it has become increasingly accessible, enabling startups and small businesses to leverage its capabilities to drive growth, enhance efficiency, and gain a competitive edge.

To start, AI is computer software that mimics the ways humans think in order to perform complex tasks, such as analyzing. ML is a subset of AI that uses algorithms trained on data to produce models that can perform complex tasks. The terms are often interchangeable.

Let’s explore how startups and small businesses can tap into the power of AI and ML right now to make a tangible impact on their business operations.

1. Streamlining Operations with Intelligent Automation

One of the primary advantages of AI and ML is their ability to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Startups and small businesses can employ AI-powered chatbots to handle customer inquiries, freeing up valuable human resources and improving response times. Using chatbots in the past has been associated with a negative customer experience but is now more personal due to natural language processing (NLP) and offers the quick, convenient experience customers are looking for. ML algorithms can also automate data entry, data analysis, and report generation, reducing errors and boosting productivity. If you’re a business with regular customer interaction, you can implement a chatbot service. There are many chatbot service providers to explore with different price points.

2. Personalized Customer Experiences

AI and ML algorithms excel at processing vast amounts of data and extracting meaningful insights. By leveraging customer data, startups and small businesses can employ AI-driven recommendation systems to deliver personalized product recommendations, tailored marketing campaigns, and customized user experiences. This level of personalization enhances customer satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately, loyalty. For businesses with large amounts of data, you can implement a machine learning model into a basic application such as Excel. Just like chatbot service providers, there are many ML applications to choose from.

3. Enhanced Decision-Making with Predictive Analytics

Startups and small businesses often face the challenge of making informed decisions amidst uncertainty. AI and ML models can analyze historical data, identify patterns, and generate accurate predictions for various business aspects, such as demand forecasting, sales projections, and inventory management. Armed with these insights, business owners can make data-driven decisions that optimize their operations, reduce costs, and maximize profitability. Similar to creating a personalized customer experience, businesses can use ML to sift through large amounts of data, providing insights into trends not just with text, but also intention.

4. Improving Marketing and Sales Strategies

AI and ML have revolutionized marketing and sales strategies, offering startups and small businesses the ability to target the right audience with precision. Natural language processing (NLP) enables sentiment analysis, allowing businesses to gauge customer opinions and adapt their strategies accordingly. AI-powered tools can also automate lead generation, lead scoring, and customer segmentation, enabling businesses to focus their efforts on high-potential leads and optimize conversion rates. Many common CRM platforms incorporate AI with price points for small businesses.

5. Enhanced Cybersecurity and Fraud Detection

Startups and small businesses are not immune to cyber threats and fraudulent activities. AI and ML can fortify their security measures by analyzing network traffic patterns, detecting anomalies, and identifying potential threats. ML algorithms can detect fraudulent transactions in real-time, safeguarding businesses from financial losses. By deploying AI-driven cybersecurity measures, startups and small businesses can protect their data and ensure the trust of their customers.

6. Efficient Supply Chain Management

For startups and small businesses that rely on efficient supply chain management, AI and ML offer significant benefits. These technologies can optimize inventory levels, anticipate supply chain disruptions, and streamline logistics. By analyzing historical data and real-time information, AI algorithms can identify optimal delivery routes, reduce transportation costs, and minimize delays. This level of efficiency contributes to better customer service and higher customer satisfaction.

AI and ML have ceased to be distant dreams of the future, becoming accessible tools that can revolutionize the way startups and small businesses operate. It is crucial to recognize that successful implementation of these technologies requires careful planning, data quality, and ongoing monitoring. Startups and small businesses that embrace AI and ML now will position themselves as industry leaders, driving growth, and securing a competitive advantage in the dynamic business landscape of today and tomorrow.

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Terence Low is the founder and CEO of Codistas IT Services.

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