who's who

4 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah Essama of Teach for America Houston, Scott Schneider of HTX Labs, and Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four local innovators across industries — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Sarah Essama, director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston

Sarah Essama of Teach For America Houston shares how she innovated a new way for students themselves to learn how to innovate. Photo courtesy of Sarah Essama

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase. Click here to read more.

Scott Schneider, CEO and founder of HTX Labs

Scott Schneider of HTX Labs has something to celebrate. Photo via htxlabs.com

A Houston-based virtual reality training provider has closed its first round of funding. HTX Labs announced last month that it has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption. Click here to read more.

​Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez 

Two Houston health care innovators got the green light to distribute their low-cost COVID-19 vaccine in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of TMC

After months of development and testing, the Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

The top lifestyle innovation stories of the year included a new surfing spot coming to town. Rendering courtesy of Beach Street Development

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. When it came to the lifestyle innovation — whether it's fit tech companies or space bartenders — in Houston, five stories trended among readers. Be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston startup seeks to simplify sustainable fashion

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

When the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, people found themselves at home with a surplus of free time. Puzzles covered dining room tables, remnants of new hobbies were strewn across dens, TikTok dances were rehearsed, and television was binged. Maria Burgos found herself watching Netflix’s “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which inspired her to clean out her closet. In practicing Kondo’s dogma of parting with items that don’t “spark joy,” Burgos uncovered a bigger issue to purge: America’s unsustainable fashion industry.

With piles of clothing ready for a new home, Burgos searched for reliable organizations to donate her possessions. Her research led her to learn more about the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment.

According to Slate, almost 24 billion pounds of clothes and shoes are thrown out each year — more than double what we tossed two decades ago. Americans consume more than 20 billion garments each year, and each garment can be expected to be worn around seven times, according to The Wall Street Journal. We’re buying more clothing than ever when clothing is at its lowest cost. Read more.

New surfing lagoon paradise to bring ocean-perfect waves to Houston

Surf's up soon for Houstonians thanks to this new innovative development. Rendering courtesy of Beach Street Development

Thanks to its relative proximity to the coast, Houston has always enjoyed an underground surf culture (be it shortboarding, longboarding, or even tanker surfing). Now, those who walk the nose and shred can at a new, world-class surf destination coming to Generation Park in north Houston.

HTX Surf will ride into Generation Park in fall of 2024, per an announcement by creators Beach Street Development, the company pushes the barefoot life with its man-made surfing lagoons.

Why the north Houston locale, versus closer to Galveston? Beach Street notes in press materials that the lagoon park is a mere 10 minutes from Bush Intercontinental Airport, making for easy access for visitors from all over. Read more.

Laundry startup unfolds new service in Houston

Hampr Lite will give Houstonians a taste of what it's laundry service is like. Image courtesy of Hampr

As Laurel Hess sat on a video call with a board member for her startup laundry service, a pile of laundry was peeking behind her.

“How can you have clothes piling up while owning a laundry business?” they asked.

Hess coolly replied, “Because laundry just doesn’t stop. It’s literally always there.”

Hampr is a hyper-local laundry and pick-up service that is connected and operated through an online app. The Lafayette-based company, which identified Houston as an early test market, links people who are in need of pick-up and wash laundry services with people in the local communities who are seeking work without leaving home. Read more.

Houston restaurant veteran pops open award-winning and sustainable new bottled water

HOW water comes to you via subscription. Photo by Alex Montoya

Houstonians who are picky about their bottled water but also environmentally minded now have a refreshing local option — one that even comes to them.

A new, “hyperpure” oxygen-enriched water brand has rolled out in Houston in single-serve and subscription options. Dubbed HOW — Hyperpure Oxygenated Water — the award-winning super-filtered water (via a 14-level filtration process that removes impurities down to the nano-level .0001 microns) is now available at 35 specialty retailers around town. Read more.

Celebrity family inks exclusive deal with Houston-based real estate platform ahead of return to HBO

The Hos are back for Season 2 after inking a big deal with Realty.com. Photo by Elizabeth Morris/HBO Max

Houston power fam The Hos are once again back in the house. The docu-reality series stars of House of Ho returned to streaming network HBO Max for a 10-episode second season this week.

Season 2 kicks off with three episodes, with three new episodes to follow on September 1, and the final four episodes debuting September 8, according to HBO.

As fans recall, Season 1 introduced the nation to patriarch Binh and matriarch Hue, who went from Vietnamese immigrants to building a multi-million dollar real estate and banking empire. The Season 1 cast included the Hos’ son Washington and his wife Lesley; their daughter Judy and her fiancé Nate Nguyễn; and Aunt Tina; and Cousin Sammy, who has become an influencer with a propensity for ending posts with “b*tches.”

Aside from flashing their opulent lifestyle and navigating cultural clashes, the Hos are still wheeling and dealing. The Houstonians have inked an exclusive deal with Realty.com to “deliver world-class service to clients in the Houston area,” according to a Realty.com announcement. Read more.

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