Who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Anouk van Pol of INGU Solutions, Eric Tait of Urban Capital Network, and Chris Howard of Softeq. Courtesy photos

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

Anouk van Pol, co-founder and COO of INGU Solutions

INGU Solutions has established its U.S. office in Houston — and is ready to tap into the city's energy industry with its revolutionary pipeline inspection-as-a-service model. Photo via LinkedIn

After generating some fresh funds from U.S. investors in 2019, Canadian pipeline services company INGU Solutions decided it was time to open a new office somewhere in the country. The startup led by a father-daughter team chose Houston and opened up an office just ahead of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The idea was to be closer to our customers,” Anouk van Pol, COO, tells InnovationMap. “Houston is the oil and gas hub, and just being able to be in [our clients'] offices and be there in person it just helps. I hope at one point COVID passes and that we can make use out of it a bit more.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, INGU, which uses data analytics and a small sensor to inspect pipes within the energy and water industries, grew 60 percent over the past two years. Click here to read more.

Eric Tait, co-founder at Urban Capital Network

Urban Capital Network have launched a fund-of-funds to allow investors to tap into later-stage startups at a much lower barrier of entry. Photo via urbancapitalnetwork.com

With its new fund of funds, Houston-based Urban Capital Network is allowing its members the chance to invest in venture funds at a much lower barrier of entry. The Horizon Fund II will deploy capital in up to five funds — each with 15 to 30 portfolio companies.

Eric Tait, co-founder at UCN, says they are looking for variety in the funds they invest in and are targeting top-tier, and highly rated VC firms all over the country that UCN's leadership has connections with.

“We’re relatively agnostic in terms of industry,” Tait says. “We do try to have a portfolio allocation that will create a return threshold that is varied.” Click here to read more.

Chris Howard, CEO and founder of Softeq

A Houston software company has announced its new venture fund. Photo courtesy of Softeq

Last week, Houston-based Softeq Development Corporation, a global full-stack development company, launched The Softeq Venture Fund, a $40 million venture fund to invest in seed and series A startup rounds. According to a news release, more than half the fund will be deployed to power the Softeq Venture Studio, Softeq's recently launched accelerator program.

“For generations, the state of Texas has been home to world-renowned tech companies who have greatly contributed to our regional success. As a local entrepreneur, advisor, and angel investor, it’s been my dream for many years to create a venture fund benefiting startups," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. "I am proud to increase our support of the state’s early-stage tech community. Our investment fund is designed to attract tech visionaries from both inside and outside the state and grow innovative concepts in Houston." Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Asma Mirza joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain how a pandemic pivot turned into a global health opportunity. Photo courtesy

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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