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MassChallenge's 2021 Houston cohort snags cash prizes in 12th annual showcase

Here's what MassChallenge companies won big this year. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

Nine startups that went through the 2021 Houston cohort for MassChallenge Texas have received cash prizes from the global accelerator.

Now in its 12th year, Boston-based MassChallenge awarded 39 equity-free cash and investment prizes to 36 early-stage companies from the 2021 virtual programs across Austin, Boston, Houston, and Rhode Island. The startups were recognized at a virtual showcase. Of the 229 companies to go through the program this year, about 70 of those were a part of the Houston cohort, which was announced in June, however none of the nine Houston cohort companies are based in Houston.

Here's which companies from the Houston program received awards:

  • AEROSENS, based in Miami, is a platform able to maximize aircraft cabin security and increase efficiency while reducing costs, using Bluetooth Low Energy sensors and the everyday smartphone or tablet. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • Analatom, based in Santa Clara, California, received the $10,000 FM Global Resilience Prize. The company has created an AI Deep Learning inspection technology automatically flag surface defects in images reducing maintenance costs improving inspection quality.
  • Astrileux Corporation, based in La Jolla, California, is accelerating manufacturing of next-gen ICs at 7 nm and smaller increasing power and performance in the era of zettabyte computing. The company scored one of the three top awards — a $100,000 Diamond Award.
  • Card Medic, based in the United Kingdom, received a $50,000 Platinum Award for its innovative digital technology designed to improve communication between healthcare staff and patients, across any barrier.
  • Exum Instruments, based in Denver, is combining high-performance tech with intuitive, seamless operations, Exum is solving materials characterization for a variety of industries. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • Grain4Grain, based in San Antonio, is using proprietary upcycling technology to turn byproducts from alcohol producers into low carb, high fiber flour alternatives at low cost. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • KNWN Technologies, based in DelRay Beach, received the Houston Angel Network Investment Prize as well as a $25,000 Gold Award. The technology provides a new level of identity validation for businesses to know and protect customer identity from enrollment through the life of the relationship.
  • Krtkl, based in San Francisco, is a new high-reliability edge-computing and artificial-intelligence solutions for robotics, sensing, and communications applications. The company received the ISSNL + CASIS Technology in Space Prize.
  • LucyDX, based in Middletown, Delaware, is preventing blindness in diabetics through early detection. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.

Texas-based Ecliptic Capital will also give out its Investment Prize, but did not announce their winner at the showcase. The organization announced its full list of winners online and at the showcase.

"We designed our process to work with all founders especially those who may be overlooked or underestimated by traditional equity accelerators and investment models. These founders still benefit from and deserve access to accountability, expertise, and a network traditionally often made available only to venture-backed companies," says Siobhan Dullea, CEO of MassChallenge, in the press release. "The 229 startups from this year's cohort demonstrate just how much opportunity exists beyond the closed process of venture when we widen the lens. Congratulations to the winners."

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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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