short stories

Houston health cos. sweep at competition, startups announce new deals, and more innovation news

Several Houston startups claimed the top prizes at a recent competition — plus more Houston innovation news you may have missed. Photo courtesy of TNVC

It's been a busy season for the Houston innovation ecosystem, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a consumer packaged goods startup is now on shelves across Texas, a Texas energy company gets fresh funding from Houston VCs, Texas Medical Center Innovation companies sweep at a recent competition, and more.

Houston health care startups sweep recent competition

Houston-based Starling Medical took home the top prize at a recent competition. Photo courtesy of TNVC

At the 2021 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition, several Houston companies claimed top prizes — essentially sweeping the competition. The top three winners were all member companies of Texas Medical Center Innovation:

  • First Place Finalist: Houston-based Starling Medical – $50,000
  • Second Place Finalist: Houston-based Ictero Medical – $35,000
  • Third Place Finalist: Koda Health – $25,000
Other Houston-area award winners included:
  • Fourth Place Finalist: Microsilicon – $15,000
  • Sixth Place Finalist: CodeWalker – $5,000
  • Elevator Pitch First Place: EmGenysis – $5,000
  • Elevator Pitch Fourth Place: TYBR Health – $1,00
Click here to view more details on the 2021 award results.

Houston CPG company scores Central Market placement

Central Market now carries this Houston startup's baked goods. Photo courtesy of ChipMonk Baking

As of this month, Central Market shoppers in Texas can purchase Houston-based ChipMonk Baking products products. Additionally, the company announced it has added added 1,100 square feet to its existing 2,300 square-foot facility.

Founded by David Downing and Jose Hernandez, ChipMonk Baking, is a local, mail-order bakery that makes cookies, brownie bites, and other snacks using monk fruit and allulose, a low-calorie (0.4 calories per gram) rare sugar that's found naturally in foods such as raisins, dried figs, and kiwi.

The nine open Central Market locations throughout Texas will carry all nine flavors of ChipMonk's Keto Cookie Bites.

"Here in Houston, ChipMonk is the healthy option — there is nothing else like our products being made in a city that's known around the world for food," says Downing in a press release. "When you consider Houston's diversity and international culinary reputation, the lack of local health-food representation and production just doesn't make sense. We love this city and are working to change that."

Houston Methodist doles out $2.5 million in grants

Houston Methodist has contributed a couple million dollars to Houston nonprofits. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston Methodist announced a couple weeks ago that it has awarded nearly $2.5 million in community grant investment to 37 Houston-area nonprofit organizations, according to a news release from the health care organization.

Over 177 Houston nonprofits applied for the Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program, a program created last year to address the social determinants of health that lead to health inequities within racial, ethnic and social minorities.

"We continuously strive to build and maintain a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment both within our hospital walls and within our communities," says Arianne Dowdell, vice-president, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist, in the release. "The grant program and all the deserving organizations awarded funds are critical in shaping our community, which Houston Methodist has proudly supported for decades. We look forward to fostering the growth and development of meaningful programs that will benefit underserved and underrepresented groups in Houston."

The program, which includes both DEI Grants and Social Equity Grants, is funded by a $25 million fund established by Houston Methodist to be doled out over five years to support underserved communities.

Innovative energy company receives funding from Houston venture capital

Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners and Chevron Technology Ventures have again invested in this Austin-area energy company. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Two Houston venture capital groups recently went in on Round Rock, Texas-based Infinitum Electric's $40 million series C funding round. Houston-based Cottonwood Technology Fund and Chevron Technology Ventures — both existing investors for the company — doubled down on their support in the new round led by San Francisco-based Energy Innovation Capital.

The fresh funds will allow the company to scale production of its ultra-high-efficiency, lightweight motors and "expand production of the company's IEs Series motors for commercial and industrial applications and complete development of its IEm Series motors for the rapidly growing electric vehicle market," according to the company's news release.

"We're excited to ramp production of our motors after seeing significant demand in the commercial HVAC and industrial markets, as well as the growing interest from electric vehicle suppliers who see the potential a highly efficient, lightweight motor can deliver," says Ben Schuler, founder and CEO of Infinitum Electric, in the news release. "Partnering with Energy Innovation Capital, Rockwell Automation and our existing investors allows us to scale and power machines more efficiently and sustainably."

Houston nanotechnology startup scores distribution deal

Houston-based NanoTech, currently housed in Halliburton Labs, has a new distribution agreement. Photo via halliburtonlabs.com

NanoTech has announced a new distribution agreement with Warrior Ace Hardware, a supplier of specialty products for the commercial and residential building industries. NanoTech uses material science to create NanoShield, a fire-proofing and insulation product.

The new partnership offers a key opportunity for NanoTech, which recently closed a $5 million round of funding.

"Ace Hardware has close to 100 years of distribution and retail experience. We are excited to partner with such a respected brand to get us one step closer to saving a tremendous amount of lives, protecting infrastructure, and reducing energy consumption," says Mike Francis, CEO of NanoTech in a news release.

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Building Houston

 
 

This Houston staffing firm has tapped into tech to support the growing gig economy workforce. Photo via Getty Images

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

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