CALI, a wearable physical therapy device for those with vertigo, pitched at the annual event. Photo via getcalibalance.com

These are the 16 Houston startups coming out of UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark

Best in class

For the sixth year, the University of Houston and Rice University have joined forces to give their student entrepreneurs a program to thrive in. RED Labs and OwlSpark, the two universities' accelerator programs, just concluded their seventh class with a presentation from the companies.

Over the past 12 weeks, these 16 startups and their teams of entrepreneurs have worked on their company, developing it, learning how to fundraise for it, and engaging with all sorts of other valuable resources and mentors through the program.

"With an emphasis on experimentation and rapid iteration, we teach disciplined startup strategies that help (students) have an eye for reducing risks and increasing odds," says Kerri Smith, managing director of OwlSpark.

This summer's cohort was hosted out of Station Houston this year, but the two universities have worked together since year two of each of their programs.

"We're very proud of our partnership, because in most other cities, two universities like this would probably be rivals, but we're interested in camaraderie and collaboration in this cohort because they are the future generation of entrepreneurs of Houston," says Kelly McCormick, director of RED Labs. "We really think that this sets an example of how working together produces better results than working against each other."

Adren

While the invention of the EpiPen and other compact anaphylaxis solutions have saved lives, the products are still too large to be constantly available to those who need it. Adren's co-founders created a collapsible autoinjector that can be work as a wristband.

"A functioning drug is only one piece of the puzzle," says Jacob, co-founder of Adren. (He didn't state his last name.) "Medication is only effective if it is accessible to the patient."

The company plans to continue on and patent their product with hopes to enter the marketplace by the next few years.

CookLab

Anyone can find a recipe for anything with the tap of a few keys and the click of of few buttons, but once you add in dietary restrictions, things get tricky. Not to mention the fact that so many healthy recipes aren't even that good for you.

The team at CookLab wants to eliminate this unregulated and confusing corner of the internet. CookLab's first product is a web tool that can determine whether or not a recipe is healthy by the user dropping in the URL. This product is in beta right now.

Down the road, CookLab wants to create a tool for users to be able to submit a recipe they want to make, then have CookLab generate a modified version that follows any dietary needs.

INSU

In a state of emergency where electricity is out, the diabetic population is forced to gamble with their lives when it comes to keeping their insulin insulated and cool.

INSU has a solution. The startup has created a battery operated cooler that can keep insulin from spoiling for 30 days. The battery can be charged by wall outlet or even solar panel.

The company plans to market directly to consumers as well as make strategic partnerships with emergency and health organizations.

auggie

Merchandise lines at concerts are quite possibly the single-most buzzkill of any show. In the age of UberEats and order-ahead apps, auggie sees a solution.

While you're at a show, you can easily order your favorite merch items on the app and choose to have it set aside for pickup that day or even get it mailed to you. The app is live on some downloading stores.

LilySpec

The speculum OB/GYNs use on their patients hasn't changed in 150 years, and, while effective, can be uncomfortable to patients during use. But this doesn't have to be the case.

LilySpec is a speculum designed with the patient in mind. The device is silently deployed, silicon coated for comfort, and adjustable for all women.

The LilySpec team will finish its clinical product this year, and the company's medical partners here in Texas will be able to use it on patients.

Myze

How do you staff a team for an unpredictable job? Emergency rooms face this challenge every single shift. Too many staffers makes the establishment bleed money, while too few causes burnout and even sacrifices quality of care.

Myze is developing a software platform that can use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to help ERs better staff their teams.

CALI

Those suffering from Vertigo feel like the whole world has turned upside down. CALI is a device that helps those people turn it right back around.

The wearable device allows for users to do balance exercises and claim back control of their own situation.

DASH Innovations

For those relying on a catheter, changing it out requires 150 monthly procedures on average. Each one is another opportunity for infection.

DASH Innovations has created UrinControl, a urethral valve for pediatric patients that can be installed once a month and operated with a remote to control the bladder.

Get-A-Grip

Holding onto a cup is something most everyone takes for granted. For arthritis or muscle damage patients, it's a daunting daily task.

Get-A-Grip is designed to distribute the weight of the cup along the grip and make it easier and more comfortable to hold. While originally designed with these patients in mind, the grip comes in four sizes, with the smallest being perfect for babies grabbing at bottles or small children holding cups.

Everest Security

Preparing for and preventing phishing email-originated data breaches is the new normal for companies, but it's impossible to prevent employees from accidentally opening suspicious emails without thinking.

While there are plenty software protection companies out there, Everest Security couples their software solution with education, a core component for the company.

KickedOC

There are 2 million homes supposedly dedicated for off-campus housing for students, but no one-stop shop to find them. KickedOC is attempting to be that one-stop shop and make it easier for students to find their semester homes.

With listings already up in Houston, the startup hopes to expand its platform to College Station and other Texas college towns next.

Mismo Minds

Creating a creative team can be difficult if you don't have the connections already. Mismo Minds is a platform for artists, videographers, directors, etc. to join forces with others who share their creative vision. It's a social networking tool, project management platform, and job board all rolled into one.

Sports Betz

Typically for sports betting, you have two options: Impersonal bets with large pools or friendly wagers that might not ever pay off. Sports Betz is a platform where the competitive gamblers can casually bet with friends and family — but the money is pulled up front.

CIND

Chivalry is not dead, argues CIND, a new dating app. The app allows for potential matches to introduce themselves with a gift — which range from $2 to $100. Though, the recipient doesn't just walk away with the cash. The money actually goes to the recipient's nonprofit of choice. Only after the donation is made can matches start chatting.

CIND (pronounced like "Cindy") is basically digital donation dating, and everyone wins.

PCATCopycat

The Pharmacy College Admission Test isn't easy — and preparation isn't cheap.

PCATCopycat puts the power back into the hands of students. The online course is only $200 — way cheaper and easier for future pharmacists to navigate.

Second Act

Second Act is the startup that isn't. The non-company started the program with the idea of matching retirees with short-term work at various startups with the thought being that they have a lot of experience and a lot of time on their hands. While a great idea in theory, Second Act hit some walls and the company and idea are no more. The team, however, has a bright future in Houston innovation at other startups and companies.

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4 startups pitch at virtual demo day for Houston accelerator program

resillience

In light of COVID-19, it is more relevant than ever to discuss and support startups with sustainability and resiliency in mind. At the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Cohort 2 Demo Day, a virtual audience was reminded of that.

"So, 2020 has certainly been a year of unprecedented uncertainty and change for Houston, for Texas, for our country, and for our world," says Christine Galib, director of the accelerator. "The past few months in particular have been especially difficult as the global pandemic and civil unrest continue to spotlight systemic and structural scars on the face of humanity."

The virtual event was streamed on July 1 and hosted several thought leaders and presenters before concluding with pitches from four of the cohort companies.

"Through it all, and in a virtual world, Cohort 2 startups, the mentors, and our Ion team have been the change we wish to see in the world," Galib continues. "For these startups, failure is simply not an option — and neither is going at it alone."

Earlier this year, Galib announced the second cohort would be focused on solutions for Houston's air quality, water purification, and other cleantech needs. The program, backed by Intel, Microsoft, and TX/RX, launched on Earth Day and commenced shortly after. Cohort 3 is expected later this year.

Here are the four companies that pitched and the problems they are trying to solve.

Re:3D

re:3D was founded just down the street from NASA's Johnson Space Center to address the need for a mid-market 3D printing solution. The Houston-based startup also wanted to create their 3D printer that operates on recycled plastics in order to prevent excess waste.

"Where some see trash, we see opportunity," Charlotte Craff, community liaison at Re:3D says in her presentation.

Re:3D's clients can get their hands on their own Gigabot for less than $10,000, and the printer uses pellets and flakes from recycled plastics —not filament — to print new designs. Clients are also supported by the company with design software and training.

"We can help the city of Houston help meet its climate action and resilient city goals by transforming the way people think about recycling," Craff says about Re:3D's future partnerships with the city.

Water Lens

While two-thirds of the world is covered in water, only 0.7 percent is drinkable. And of that fresh water, 92 percent of it is used in agricultural and industrial settings. This is how Keith Cole, CEO and founder of Water Lens, set the scene for his presentation.

Water Lens, which is based in Houston with a lab located in Austin, wants to solve the problem of cities and countries running out of fresh, drinkable water by equipping huge water-using companies with a water testing tool.

"We've developed a system to let anyone test any water literally anywhere in the world," Cole says, citing clients like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Halliburton.

S2G Energy

S2G Energy, based in Mexico, is focused on optimizing energy management in order to digitize, empower, and unlock potential for cost-saving efforts and technology.

In his pitch, Geronimo Martinez, founder of S2G Energy, points out that restaurants, commercial buildings, and other adjacent industries can save money by implementing energy management solutions that come out of S2G Energy's expertise. In Mexico, Martinez says, clients include the top two restaurant chains that — especially during COVID-19 — need optimization and cost saving now more than ever.

Eigen Control

A refinery's distillation columns are expensive — their fuel use accounts for 50 of operating costs, says Dean Guma, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Eigen Control.

Guma explains in his pitch how Eigen Control's technology can plug into existing sensors, model networks based on data, and employ the startup's artificial intelligent technology to reduce carbon emissions and save money on operating costs.

Houston researchers find new eco-friendly way to preserve produce

preventing waste

Hunger impacts over 800 million people worldwide, leaving nearly 10 percent of the population suffering from chronic undernourishment. The distressing reality of food shortages co-exists in a world where 1.3 billion tons of food — nearly a third of what's produced — is wasted each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rice University's scientific research team's latest discovery takes a crack at ending food shortages and improving sustainability with a common kitchen necessity: eggs.

The discovery of egg-based coating is promising to researchers, as it manages to both prolong produce shelf-life by double while impacting the environment.

"We are reducing the cost, and at the same time we are reducing the waste," says Muhammad M. Rahman, a research scientist at Rice University. "One in every eight people are hungry...on the other side, 33 percent of food is wasted."

It's no secret that overflowing landfills contribute to the climate crisis, piling high with food waste each year. While the United States produces more than seven billion eggs a year, manufacturers reject 3 percent of them. The Rice University researchers estimate that more than 200 million eggs end up in U.S. landfills annually.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, half of all landfill gas is methane, a hazardous greenhouse gas that contributes to detrimental climate change. Landfills are the third-largest contributor to methane emissions in the country, riding the coattails of agriculture and the energy industry.

COVID-19 has upended supply chains across the nation, and in recent months food waste has become an even more pressing issue. The disruptions of consumer purchasing habits and the indefinite closures of theme parks and select restaurants put a burden on farmers who planned for larger harvests and restaurants unsure of how to adjust. With more Americans cooking at home, panic-buying from grocery stores is also playing a role in accumulating waste.

To understand the challenges of the food industry, it's important to acknowledge the biggest menace to the supply chain: perishability. Fruits and vegetables only last a few days once arriving in grocery stores due to culprits like dehydration, texture deterioration, respiration and microbial growth. Rice University researchers sought to create a coating that addresses each of these issues in a natural, cost-effective way.

Brown School of Engineering materials scientist, Pulickei Ajayan, and his colleagues, were looking for a protein to fight issues like food waste. Rahman, a researcher in Ajayan's lab, received his Ph.D. from Cornell University studying the structure-property relationship in green nanocomposites. He and his fellow researchers found that egg whites were a suitable protein that wouldn't alter the biological and physiological properties of fruit. The study published in Advanced Materials took one year and three months to complete.

According to Rahman, the egg-based coating is non-toxic, biodegradable and healthier than other alternatives on the market. Wax is one common method of fruit preservation that can result in adverse effects on gut cells and the body over time.

"Long-term consumption of wax is not actually good and is very bad for your health," says Dr. Rahman. After wax is consumed, gut cells fragment the preservatives in wax to ions. This process can have a negative impact on "membrane disruption, essential metabolite inhibition, energy drainage to restore homeostasis, and reductions in body-weight gain," according to the research abstract.

Preservation efforts like wax, modified atmospheric packaging and paraffin-based active coatings are not only more expensive and less healthy, but they also alter the taste and look of fruits.

"Reducing food shortages in ways that don't involve genetic modification, inedible coatings or chemical additives is important for sustainable living," Ajayan states in a press release.

The magic of preservation is all in the ingredients. Rice University's edible coating is mostly made from household items. Seventy percent of the egg coating is made from egg whites and yolk. Cellulose nanocrystals, a biopolymer from wood, are mixed with the egg to create a gas barrier and keep the produce from shriveling. To add elasticity to the brittle poly-albumen (egg), glycerol helps make the coating flexible. Finally, curcumin—an extract found in turmeric—works as an antibacterial to reduce the microbial growth and preserve the fruit's freshness.

The experiment was done by dipping strawberries, avocados, papayas and bananas in the multifunctional coating and comparing them with uncoated fruits. Observation during the decaying process showed that the coated fruits had about double the shelf-life of their non-coated counterparts.

For people with egg allergies, the coating can be removed simply by rinsing the produce in water. Rice University researchers are also beginning to test plant-based proteins for vegan consumers.

For its first iteration, Rahman finds that the coating shows "optimistic results" and "potential" for the future of food preservation.

"These are already very green materials. In the next phase, we are trying to optimize this coating and extend the samples from fruits to vegetables and eggs," says Rahman.

Researchers will also work to test a spray protein, making it easier for both commercial providers as well as consumers looking for an at-home coating option. From a lab in Rice University to a potential shelf life in stores, the innovation of food coating is just beginning.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

It's a new month and Houston's innovation ecosystem is continuing to grow amid the coronavirus pandemic. This week's Houston innovators to know roundup reflects that growth with a new-to-town incubator's newly names leader — plus an entrepreneur creating an virtual reality app to escape and a communications expert's advice on navigating COVID-19.

Juliana Garaizar, launch director of Greentown Houston

Juliana Garaizar is working to help set up Houston's Greentown Labs incubator with diversity and inclusion in mind. Courtesy photo

Juliana Garaizar has had to keep a huge secret for a while. The launch director of new-to-Houston Greentown Labs has known about the cleantech incubator's plan to expand to the Bayou City for a while, and now the news is out. Of course, launching amid a pandemic isn't ideal, but Garaizar says its allowed a strong relationship with the original group based in Boston to form.

"I think the silver lining of this COVID-19 experience is that we are much more integrated with the Boston team, and we're learning at a much faster rate," she says. "That's why we decided to also open Houston for virtual memberships before we open our building in Q1 of 2021."

Garaizar joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to share her experience with the organization and how she'll be setting up Houston operations with diversity and inclusion in mind. Read more and stream the episode.

Derek Armstrong, CEO and founder of Armstrong Innovations

Derek Armstrong, a Houston native, founded his design company, Armstrong Innovations. Photo courtesy of Oculus Go

Derek Armstrong had been working on a new virtual reality app for relaxation and meditation that users can enter into for an opportunity to escape reality for a bit — little did he know that was something more people than ever would want to do.

His company, a Houston-area industrial design startup, Armstrong Innovations, just launched two Oculus Go app games, aptly named 'Escape'. The VR app was designed with relaxation and meditation in mind but has doubled as a new way to relax and sightsee without leaving your home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The sights and sounds of our new app assist with mindfulness and meditation," says CEO and founder Derek Armstrong. "It's about focusing on the sights and sounds, especially with the virus growing. It's a quick getaway without having to physically go anywhere." Read more.

Megan Silianoff, founder and creative director of Mad Meg Creative Services

Megan Silianoff has been helping clients navigate communications during a pandemic. Courtesy photo

The worst part of contracting COVID-19 — aside from suffering from the disease itself — is diligently communicating the risk of exposure to people you've been around especially to coworkers, employees, clients, etc. In a guest article for InnovationMap, Megan Silianoff of Mad Meg Creative Services, sets the scene for you to be prepared should you find yourself in this situation,

"We understand as communication experts, informing a client, boss, or anyone that you've potentially exposed them is scary messaging to share," she writes. "Guilt is the number one emotion people report experiencing when they realize they've potentially exposed someone or a group of people, even though the respective exposure was inadvertent. Nevertheless it's crucial to communicate the exposure quickly and effectively as that's how Houston can hinder the spread of this disease through our city." Read more.