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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

 
 

SurgWise is giving surgical teams the right support for hiring. Photo via Getty Images

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”

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