in it to win it

InnovationMap reveals the winners of our inaugural awards

The inaugural InnovationMap Awards revealed its big winners across eight categories and honored its Trailblazer Award recipient. Photos courtesy

The votes are in — and it's time to announce the winners of the inaugural InnovationMap Awards, presented by Techwave.

The event, held September 8 at The Cannon, honored all 28 finalists, spanning innovative Houston companies and founders, as well as our first-ever Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger. Click here to read about all the finalists.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: JulianaGaraizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs; Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon; Rajasekhar Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO of Techwave; Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap; Serafina Lalany, interim president at Houston Exponential; Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge; Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center; and Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

Want to watch the event in full? Click here.

Without further adieu, here are our 2021 InnovationMap Award winners.

Hello Alice is a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company was also nominated for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year Award and the Female-Founded Business categories.

Topl is an impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain. The company was also nominated for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year Award.

Saranas is the creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.

Nanotech is a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech was also a finalist for the People's Choice category.

Mainline is an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.

Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals. The company was also a finalist in the Energy Transition Business category.

Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds. LAMIK was also a finalist in the BIPOC-Founded Business category,

The inaugural InnovationMap Awards event, which is about three weeks away, was created to honor the best of Houston innovation. The Trailblazer Award in particular was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive the 2021 Trailblazer Award at the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. Burger was nominated and approved by this year's judges. Click here to read more about the Trailblazer Award.

And the winner is.... Cheers Health, which is creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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