Florida startup Fit:Match chose Houston for its first location of its AI-enabled retail store. Photo via shopfitmatch.com

In November, on the first floor of Friendswood's Baybrook Mall, wedged between the Abercrombie & Fitch and the Apple Store, a small studio popped up. At the window, a bubblegum assortment of balloons replaced the usual spruced-up manakin, and the shop is sparse for racks of clothing.

That's because the Fit:Match studio isn't really trying to sell clothes — it's trying to help you buy them online. By fusing artificial intelligence with retail shopping, Fit:Match makes ordering clothes online more trustworthy. The writing on the walls promised to revolutionize the way that people could: "Shop what fits. Not what doesn't," reads a neon sign. The tech might not only reduce long waits for the dressing room — it could abolish it altogether.

"You never have to try on clothes again," says Haniff Brown, founder of the Florida-native startup.

The store does have a fitting room, but Brown says it's not really for trying on clothes — it's for preparing to "get fitched," the process through which the imaging tech measures a customer's body.

It's fitting that the pop-up sits next to the iPhone giant. Fit:Match uses the same 3D imaging tech as Apple's FaceID, Brown says, which blasts infrared light at thousands of dots at a user's face. Where the light bounces off, the AI technology images the person's face. The sensors at the Fit:Match studio in Baybrook Mall expand this to the rest of the body. In 10 seconds, the AI sensor lets people sketches a customer's shape through 150 measurements.

Those measurements become indicators of how well a piece of clothing will fit the wearer. In the initial phase of the project, Brown's team fitched thousands of women — wanting to keep things neat, the company hasn't ventured into men's fashion yet — and compared the scores of the AI's algorithm with how the women scored their own clothes.

Now, once a customer has been fitched at the Baybrook studio, she can log online through an app or the company site and sift through thousands of clothes that will likely fit her. Each clothing item — mostly smaller brands that range from eclectic pieces and dresses to athleisure right now, Brown says, although he's already working to partner with better-known labels — is rated with a percentage of how well it's likely to fit the individual customer, based on her measurements and on how snug or loose she likes her wear. From the array of brands, she'll get specific matches — clothes that have a 90 percent chance or higher of fitting — that might look completely different from a friend's. Over time, the app will also update her on the latest matches.

"You're going to have this personalized wallet," Brown says, adding that this will also decrease a store's rate of return. "You will see a completely truncated assortment of clothes that are meant to fit you."

The Baybrook Mall hosts Fit:Match's first location. Brown says he chose the Houston area for its size and demographics, calling it a "hotbed to test new ideas, to get traction, to get customer feedback," and is even considering expanding to the Woodlands Mall and other places around Texas, too. It's also not far from the Austin-based Capital Factory, which brought Fit:Match under its wing late last year to help the startup raise $5 million.

In the meantime, the five-member management team at Fit:Match is focused on getting more Houstonians fitched. In the first month of operations, the studio measured more than 1,200 mallgoers, and Brown says the company could fitch a quarter million in the next two or three years.

"We think that the opportunity here is immense," Brown says.

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Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

2 Houston high schools rank among America's top 100 in 2024, says U.S. News

best in class

Two Houston high schools are dominating U.S. News and World Report's prestigious annual list of the country's best public high schools.

The 2024 rankings from U.S. News, released April 23, put Houston ISD’s Carnegie Vanguard High School at No. 31 nationally (up from No. 35 last year and No. 40 in 2022) among the country’s best high schools. The school also ranks No. 248 nationally among the best STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) high schools and No. 12 among the best magnet high schools.

Meanwhile, DeBakey High School for Health Professions ranks No. 70 nationally among the best high schools (down from No. 66 last year and No. 50 in 2022) and No. 19 among best magnet high schools. DeBakey ranked No. 426 nationally among best STEM high schools.

Topping the national list for 2024 is the BASIS Peoria Charter School in Peoria, Arizona.

Each year, U.S. News evaluates about 18,000 high schools on six factors: college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth, and graduation rates.

“The 2024 Best High Schools rankings offer a starting point for parents to understand a school’s academic performance, whether it’s a prospective school or one that their child is already attending,” said LaMont Jones, Ed.D., the managing editor of education at U.S. News, in a release. “Accessible data on our high schools can empower families across the country as they navigate today’s educational environment and plan for the future.”

Elsewhere in Texas
Around the state, these Texas high schools also made it into the top 100 nationally:

  • Dallas ISD's The School for the Talented and Gifted, No. 6 (unchanged from last year). No. 21 nationally among the best STEM high schools, and No. 3 among the best magnet high schools.
  • Dallas ISD's Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School, No. 23 (down from No. 18 last year) and No. 10 nationally among the best magnet high schools.
  • Dallas ISD's Science and Engineering Magnet School, No. 29 nationally among the best high schools (down from No. 23 last year), No. 37 nationally among the best STEM high schools, and No. 11 nationally among the best magnet high schools.
  • Grand Prairie ISD's Collegiate Institute, No. 30 (up from No. 188 last year). No. 6 nationally among best charter high schools.
  • Austin ISD’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy, No. 38 (down from No. 32 last year and No. 34 in 2022). No. 34 nationally among the best STEM high schools.
  • BASIS San Antonio - Shavano Campus, No. 64 (up from No. 81 last year and No. 77 in 2022). No. 76 nationally among the best STEM high schools and No. 13 nationally among the best charter high schools.
  • Brownsville ISD's Early College High School, No. 71 (up from No. 229 last year).
  • Dallas ISD’s Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet, No. 85 (up from No. 93 last year and No. 48 in 2022) . No. 21 nationally among the best magnet high schools.

When broken down just to Texas schools, Houston's Carnegie Vanguard High School (No. 5) and DeBakey High School for Health Professions (No. 8) are both in the top 10 best-rated public high schools in Texas this year, U.S. News says.

Other Houston-area schools that rank among Texas' 100 best are:

  • No. 24 – Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Arts, Houston ISD
  • No. 25 – Challenge Early College High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 29 – Young Women's College Prep Academy, Houston ISD
  • No. 32 – Eastwood Academy, Houston ISD
  • No. 37 – Harmony School of Innovation - Katy, Katy
  • No. 40 – Kerr High School, Alief ISD, Houston
  • No. 43 – Houston Academy for International Studies, Houston ISD
  • No. 47 – East Early College High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 59 – Clear Horizons Early College High School, Clear Creek ISD, Houston
  • No. 61 – Seven Lakes High School, Katy ISD
  • No. 63 – Early College Academy at Southridge, Spring ISD, Houston
  • No. 68 – KIPP Houston High School, Houston
  • No. 70 – North Houston Early College High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 71 – Victory Early College High School, Aldine ISD, Houston
  • No. 75 – Tompkins High School, Katy ISD
  • No. 76 – Clements High School, Fort Bend ISD, Sugar Land
  • No. 82 – Sharpstown International School, Houston ISD
  • No. 85 – Tomball Star Academy, Tomball ISD
  • No. 89 – Westchester Academy for International Studies, Spring Branch ISD, Houston
  • No. 95 – Harmony School of Innovation - Sugar Land, Sugar Land
  • No. 97 – Harmony School of Discovery - Houston, Houston
  • No. 98 – Energy Institute High School, Houston ISD

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.