This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jeremy Pitts of Activate Houston, Tim Boire of VenoStent, and Kevin Knobloch of Greentown Labs. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from medical device to climatetech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Jeremy Pitts, managing director for Activate Houston

Jeremy Pitts has been named the inaugural Houston managing director for Activate. Photo via LinkedIn

Activate named Jeremy Pitts as the Houston managing director this month. The nonprofit, which announced its new Houston program earlier this year, was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products.

For Activate Houston, the challenge is to focus on finding and supporting innovators within the energy sector.

"There are so many reasons to be excited about the energy transition and overall innovation ecosystem in Houston — the region's leadership in energy and desire to maintain that leadership through the energy transition, the many corporations leading the charge to be part of that change who are speaking with their actions and not just their words, the incredible access to talent, the region's diversity, the list goes on and on," Pitts tells InnovationMap. Read more.

Tim Boire, CEO and co-founder of VenoStent

Tim Boire shares his company's roadmap on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Commercializing a health tech innovation is a long game — fraught with regulatory obstacles, cyclical rounds of funding, and continuous improvement — all fueled by the desire to enhance treatment and save lives.

That's Tim Boire's plan. And it's a thorough one at that. On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Boire — president and CEO of VenoStent, a medical device startup that’s designing a unique material for hemodialysis patients — shares his roadmap for his company.

"We believe we can be pioneers of a paradigm shift in vascular surgery — to not just treat problems after they've already occurred, but actually prevent them from occurring in the first place," he says in the episode. Read more.

Kevin Knobloch , CEO of Greentown Labs

Kevin Knobloch will lead Greentown Labs as CEO. Photo via LinkedIn

While not based in Houston, Kevin Knobloch, who served as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term, is definitely going to be someone to know in the innovation ecosystem. He will be CEO of Greentown Labs, effective September 5. In his role, Knobloch will oversee both Greentown locations in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

“I’m honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to once again pass the leadership baton,” Greentown Co-Founder Jason Hanna says, who has been serving as interim CEO. “Especially so given Kevin’s incredible record of climate leadership. I’m excited for the future of this organization and the impact he can make as Greentown enters the second decade of its climate mission.” Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emily Keeton of Loeb.nyc, Steve Kean of GHP, and Lacey Tezino of Passport Journeys. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Emily Keeton, operating partner and investor of Loeb.nyc

Emily Keeton has worn a lot of hats in Houston's innovation ecosystem and beyond. She shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how she's engaging with companies these days, what the future holds for Houston, and more. Photo courtesy

Emily Keeton has had a front-row seat as the Houston innovation ecosystem developed — first hands on as a co-founder of Station Houston, and later from outside looking in from New York. As she shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast, she's hopeful about the future of the community.

"I am very optimistic about the future of Houston. It's a long game, and I think people need to keep showing up," she says on the show.

Now based in Houston, her latest endeavor is working with Michael Loeb on Loeb.nyc, a New York-based investment firm with shared services — marketing, design, etc. — with his portfolio. Read more.

Steve Kean, incoming president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership

Steve Kean will transition from leading Kinder Morgan to assuming the role of president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership later this year. Photo courtesy of the GHP

Steve Kean, who currently serves as the CEO of Kinder Morgan Inc., has been announced as the next president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. He's expected to transition from CEO to board of directors member at Kinder Morgan on August 1. Kean will then assume his new position at GHP no later than Dec. 1.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our region in this role," he says. "I look forward to building on what Bob, the Board, members, and staff of the Partnership have accomplished. I know first-hand the opportunities that a vibrant business sector can create for people and communities. I look forward to expanding those opportunities further.”

The GHP's outgoing president and CEO, Bob Harvey, announced his retirement earlier this year, and will remain in his position until Kean is onboarded. Read more.

A Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

When Lacey Tezino’s mother died of cancer she vowed to help other mothers and daughters find their own ways to bond in beautiful, nurturing ways. She turned that vow into a mission that is now available for others to embark on with an online therapy app tailored specifically for the mother-daughter dynamic Passport Journeys.

The app, which launched aptly on Mother's Day, can be downloaded via Apple or Google Play, and includes video therapy sessions, journal opportunities, interactive worksheets, and help those who need access to this form of mental health help with ease.

“Outside of our target audience being mother-daughter, we are also the first teletherapy app to find prescribed activities,“ Tezino tells InnovationMap. “We are the first ones that are actually having the therapist in between their video sessions assign the mother-daughter pair intentional bonding activities. It is meant for them to spend quality time on where they are at in their relationship…there aren’t any other apps that are doing that.” Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emmanuel Urquieta of TRISH, Ariel Jones of Qualtrics XM, and Lawson Gow of Pokatok. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

WHO'S WHO

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


Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, chief medical officer of TRISH

Emmanuel Urquieta, chief medical officer of TRISH, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Since 2021, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health has conducted its research on four missions — which has meant an unparalleled access to space health data for TRISH.

“We really saw the value of implementing research in civilians because they are different from your traditional government astronaut,” Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, chief medical officer for TRISH, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “In civilians, you see a more diverse population.”

Urquieta says TRISH's experiments on these missions all fall within a few pillars of space health, including space's effects on sensory motor skills, like balance and motion sickness, as well as mental health, environmental data from the vehicles, vital monitoring, and more. Read more.

Ariel Jones, head of health care provider solution strategy for Qualtrics XM

As the health care industry continues to evolve, experience management technology will play an increasingly important role in addressing health equity gaps and improving the health and well-being of patients across the globe. Photo courtesy

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ariel Jones, head of health care provider solution strategy for Qualtrics XM, addresses inequalities in health care — and how technology, specifical experience management tech, can help bridge the gap.

"As the health care industry continues to evolve, experience management technology will play an increasingly important role in addressing health equity gaps and improving the health and well-being of patients across the globe," she writes. Read more.

Lawson Gow, co-founder of Pokatok

A new sports festival is headed to Houston next year. Photo courtesy of Pokatok

Pokatok, the recently announced, four-day sports festival is slated to take place April 4-7, 2024.

“Pokatok will not only be the largest gathering of the entire sports tech ecosystem, it will also be a true fan festival for sports enthusiasts,” says Gow in the news release. “Everyone speaks the language of sport, it’s an incredibly powerful unifier of our society, and this festival will bring together people from around the world to experience hundreds of events revolving around the new and the next in sport.”

The festival, which has secured support from Houston First, the Greater Houston Partnership, and the Harris County Houston Sports Authority to put on the event, will feature two tracks — one focused on sports innovation and the other surrounding a fan experience. Pokatok X will include an expo and showcase focused on sports innovation, bringing together startups, investors, accelerators, athletes, and industry experts to dive into sports tech. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Isabella Schmitt of Proxima Clinical Research, Rob Schapiro of Microsoft, and Lara Cottingham of Greentown Labs. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Isabella Schmitt, director of regulatory affairs at Proxima Clinical Research and principal at M1 MedTech

A Houston life science expert shares what she thinks Houston needs to work on to continue growing as an health care innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy

Houston is home to the world's largest medical center, but it still tends to fall behind other metros when it comes to life science innovation hub rankings. Isabella Schmitt, director of regulatory affairs at Proxima Clinical Research and principal at M1 MedTech, writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about why this is — and what can be done to change that.

"Houston's life sciences sector holds immense growth potential, but addressing funding, talent recruitment, regulatory navigation, and collaboration challenges is needed for continued success," she writes. "By tackling these issues and leveraging its unique strengths, Houston can establish itself as a significant player in the global life sciences arenas. If we wait too long, we won’t be able to truly establish the Third Coast because another player will come into the mix, and we’ll lose companies like BioMatrix to their golden shores." Read more.

Rob Schapiro, Energy Acceleration Program director and Houston site leader for Microsoft

Rob Schapiro of Microsoft joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss DEI initiatives, translating between the tech in the energy sectors, AI, and more. Photo courtesy of Microsoft

At a glance, Rob Schapiro admits his resume might not make the most sense. A trained geologist with decades of experience in the energy sector, Schapiro made the move to Microsoft three years ago.

"I saw this disconnect between technology companies and energy companies — they didn't really speak the same language," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I thought I could help potentially solve this problem and work between the two as a sort of translator."

Now, as Microsoft’s Energy Acceleration Program director and site leader for the company’s Houston office, which is located in the Ion, Schapiro is deeply embedded in Houston's innovation ecosystem and is dedicated to helping advance Houston's role energy transition in a sustainable and equitable way. Read more.

Lara Cottingham, vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs

Greentown Houston is asking its current and potential members what they want in a wet lab. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

Greentown Labs is in the early stages of building out a wet lab for its members. But first, Lara Cottingham, vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs, says they want to know what their members actually want.

"We want to announce to the community that this is something we're going to build — but we still need a lot of feedback and input from startups so we can learn what exactly they need or want to see from the wet lab," Cottingham tells InnovationMap. "No two wet labs are the same."

Right now, there aren't any details available about timeline or specifics of the new facility. Greentown is prioritizing getting feedback from its members and having conversations with potential sponsors and corporate partners. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Nicolaus Radford of Nauticus Robotics, Josh Teekell of SmartAC.com, and Zhifeng Ren of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, shares the latest from his company and why we're primed for a hardtech movement. Image via LinkedIn

It's been a busy past year or so for Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics. He's taken his company public at a difficult time for the market, launched new partnerships with the United States Marine Corps, and even welcomed a new family member.

Originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus Robotics has designed a fleet of underwater robots and a software platform for autonomous operations. Radford caught up with InnovationMap about these recent milestones for him and the company in an interview.

"I look back on it and it's, you know, ringing the Nasdaq bell when we listed, and giving that speech at the podium — it was a surreal moment," he tells InnovationMap. "I was excited but cautious at the same time. I mean, the life of a CEO of a public company at large, it's all about the process following a process, the regulations, the administration of the public company, the filings, the reportings — it can feel daunting. I have to rise to the occasion to tackle that in this the next stage of the company." Read more.

​Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com

Josh Teekell joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com's sensors can monitor all aspects of air conditioning units and report back any issues, meaning homeowners have quicker and less costly repairs. Teekell says he's focused on sales, and he's going to do that with the $22 million raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment." Read more.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH

A team of researchers out of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston has discovered a faster way of transportation. Photo via UH.edu

Researchers at the University of Houston and in Germany released a proof-of-concept paper this month that uncovers a new, fuel efficient means of transportation that they say could one day make air travel and traditional freight transport obsolete.

"I call it a world-changing technology,” Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH and author of the paper, said in a statement.

Published in the journal APL Energy, the paper demonstrates a new way of using superconductors to move vehicles along existing highways while transporting liquified hydrogen at the same time. Until now, the costs of using superconductivity for transportation has held back innovation in the field. This model also reduces the need for a separate specialized pipeline system to transport liquified hydrogen that's able to keep the fuel source at minus 424 degrees Fahrenheit. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics, Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, and Jim Sledzik of Aramco Ventures. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from biotech to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Howard Berman, co-founder and CEO of Coya Therapeutics

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

Howard Berman, as co-founder and CEO, has been at the helm of Coya Therapeutics as its hit some major milestones — from raising over $20 million in venture investment to taking the company public. Coya's IPO occured in a tough market — only 12 biotech companies went public last year, Berman explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast. To Berman, that just proves how passionate the team was about getting this product to those who need it.

"It really says something for the fortitude and our team to come together to make it happen," he says on the show. "We're able to deliver and execute in a difficult market climate.

"Once you're a public company, you have different expectations," he continues. "But you also have the opportunity to go out and attract additional investors in ways you can't do as a private company." Read more.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy 

Fervo Energy has raised additional funding to continue executing on its mission of more reliable geothermal energy production. Photo via LinkedIn

Fervo Energy, which has developed a process for drilling horizontal wells for commercial geothermal production as well as distributed fiber optic sensing to geothermal reservoir development, has secured the $10 million strategic investment from Devon Energy Corp.

“We are thrilled to have Devon as a partner,” says Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, in a news release. “Devon is a technology leader with historic and unparalleled expertise in drilling and completing wells. We expect this partnership will help unlock further potential for geothermal as the primary 24/7 renewable energy source.” Read more.

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, will serve on Greentown's Industry Leadership Council. Photo via Aramco

Houston-based Aramco Americas, an arm of the Saudi Arabian energy giant, has joined climatetech incubator Greentown Labs as a top-tier partner.

In its role as a “Terawatt Partner,” Aramco Americas will gain access to activities within Greentown’s industry and entrepreneurial network. In addition, Aramco Americas will participate in Greentown’s Industry Leadership Council, an advisory group. Jim Sledzik, managing director of Aramco Ventures North America, will serve on the council. Read more.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

------

Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.