This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Adrianne Stone of Bayou City Startups, Sarma Velamuri of Luminare, and Curtis Jackson of G-Unity Foundation. 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 health tech to nonprofit — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Adrianne Stone, founder of Bayou City Startups

Every month, Adrianne Stone of Bayou City Startups hosts a happy hour for startup founders to create a safe space to network, collaborate, commensurate, and more. Photo courtesy of Adrianne Stone

Adrianne Stone knows firsthand how lonely the startup founder journey is, so she set out to help create a community for founders when she started Bayou City Startups last year. Now, Stone shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast that her monthly happy hours attract over 50 attendees on average.

"Being the venture associate with Capital Factory in Houston, I'd seen what the Houston ecosystem had to offer. There were events — happy hours, coffee meet-ups, all these things," Stone says on the show. "But it was not just a casual networking event usually. I wanted a consistent community where I could show up and say, 'guys, I had the worst week,' to people who got where I was coming from and who could commensurate or lean in and help."

The next opportunity to network with Bayou City Startups is Tuesday, July 18, from 5 to 7 pm at Kirby Ice House. Read more.

Sarma Velamuri, co-founder and CEO of Luminare

Sepsis has been the No. 1 killer hospitals, but this Houston startup has a tech to help mitigate the risk. Photo via Getty Images

When he was an internal medicine physician, Sarma Velamuri watched helplessly as a friend’s 22-year-old daughter lost her life to sepsis. He had to tell his friend that she would not be coming home.

“There are 300,000-plus people a year who die of sepsis,” says Velamuri. “It’s important that people understand it’s not just those who are most susceptible to infections.”

This fact is not only unfortunate, but preventable. And that’s why Velamuri, who describes himself as “a recovering hospitalist,” co-founded Luminare in 2014. A full-time CEO since 2017, Velamuri, who runs the company with co-founder and CTO Marcus Rydberg, is based in the TMC Innovation Factory. Read more.

Curtis Jackson, founder of the G-Unity Foundation

For the second year, Curtis Jackson's program supported Houston student entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of G-Unity

Chances are, you've heard of 50 Cent — his 2003 album "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" was a soundtrack to many. But Curtis James Jackson III, 50 Cent's real name, has done a lot since gracing your radios. He moved to Houston in 2021 and founded the G-Unity Foundation. In May, he wrapped on the second year of the G-Unity Business Labs, a business development incubator for Houston Independent School District high schoolers.

"I’ve spent years donating my time and energy to communities in need. I started G-Unity to do the same—to give back to kids so they have it a little easier than I did," Jackson writes on the website. "Team building and entrepreneurship are skills I learned along the way, but they are so important to develop early. I look forward to G-Unity supporting programs that are doing the crucial work of teaching kids to excel at life."

Around 150 students participated, and the winners are splitting a $500,000 investment. Read more.

Every month, Adrianne Stone of Bayou City Startups hosts a happy hour for startup founders to create a safe space to network, collaborate, commensurate, and more. Photo courtesy of Adrianne Stone

Houston innovator dedicated to fostering community within local founders

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 194

Starting a company can be daunting and lonely, but entrepreneurs — at least those who call Houston home — have a monthly opportunity to connect with fellow founders thanks to Adrianne Stone.

Stone, who's had a varied career from getting her PhD in Translational Biology & Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and joining the 23andMe team as a scientist to supporting founders at Capital Factory, launched Bayou City Startups last year to help connect Houston founders over beers. Now, Stone shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast that her monthly Bayou City Startups meetups attract over 50 attendees on average.

"Being the venture associate with Capital Factory in Houston, I'd seen what the Houston ecosystem had to offer. There were events — happy hours, coffee meet-ups, all these things," Stone says. "But it was not just a casual networking event usually. I wanted a consistent community where I could show up and say, 'guys, I had the worst week,' to people who got where I was coming from and who could commensurate or lean in and help."

Stone observes a need for that type of community more in Houston than Silicon Valley, where she worked when she was at 23andMe. The Bayou City has less of a concentrated startup scene.

"Houston and the Bay Area could not be more different in a lot of ways," she explains. "Everybody I met had a startup in California — it didn't matter if they worked somewhere else, they had a startup.

"I would love to see more of that here in Houston," Stone continues. "Our founders in Houston are super scrappy. They do so much with so little, and we just do not have the amount of capital floating around this ecosystem that you do in SF. I'd love to see more of that here too."

The next opportunity to network with Bayou City Startups is Tuesday, July 18, from 5 to 7 pm at Kirby Ice House. Stone says she picks different types of bars all over the city to meet people where they are and to offer a variety of locations. She adds that she's always up for co-hosts and partners.

Part of what makes Stone, who consults with startups in a professional capacity, an interesting point of view is her "zig-zagging" career. She's held a wide range of roles at an even wider range of professions before she made it to tech startups.

“The through line for me is following my curiosity,” she says on the show. “I was interested in politics, so I did a White House internship. I had a background in science, so I wanted to do something with it, so I went into teaching. Through teaching, I got interested in web development and blogging, so that's how I made the transition into the digital space.”

Her advice to fellow zig-zaggers? Knowing when to say no to things.

"You can overcommit yourself and you're going to burnout or drop the ball or end up disappointing people," she says, admitting she's had to get better at this herself. "Practice saying no. Make it your default. Founders tend to say yes first."

Stone shares more about her career and her observations on Houston's startup ecosystem on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

This week's innovators to know include Richard Seline of ResilientH20, Adrianne Stone of Capital Factory, and Ethan Saadia of Wayt. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor'snote: All three of this week's Houston innovators to know started something new amid a global pandemic — a new job at a Texas-wide accelerator, a new app to help shops and businesses safely serve customers, and a new resilience-focused hub that launched just in time for hurricane season.

Richard Seline, managing director of ResilientH20

Richard Seline of ResilientH2O Partners explains how he's helping foster new hurricane and flood prevention technologies in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

Following Hurricane Harvey, Richard Seline saw several emerging startups focusing on flood tech. Meanwhile, he saw insurance companies very interested in finding new technologies in the same space. But, these two entities were not talking.

"It's two different languages," Seline says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a whole language and a whole mindset within the insurance industry that is not real well known."

Seline, managing director of ResilientH20, along with the Insurance Information Institute and The Cannon, has launched the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub to foster this type of technology and bring insuratech startups and the big insurance players to the table. Stream the podcast and read more.

Adrianne Stone, venture associate for Capital Factory

Adrianne Stone has joined Capital Factory's Houston operations as the company prioritizes digital startup interaction. Photo courtesy of Capital Factory

After spending a year and a half in Silicon Valley on the products team for 23andme, Adrianne Stone is back in Houston, filling the venture associate role for Capital Factory. Stone got her Ph.D from Baylor College of Medicine and replaces Brittany Barreto, another BCM Ph.D who left the position to pursue a new venture.

"The mindset in Silicon Valley is different from how it is here in Texas — in good ways and bad ways. It was interesting to be exposed to a very potent startup vibe," Stone tells InnovationMap. "I'm looking forward to being able to meet all the cool companies, founders, and investors we have here in the Houston area." Read more.

Ethan Saadia, app developer and creator of Wayt

Ethan Saadia, a 17-year-old high school student, created an app to improve the user experience of shopping during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Wayt

Like most of the world, Ethan Saadia has seen small, local businesses suffer from the social distancing mandates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Saadia, a rising high school senior, wanted to do something to help.

He created Wayt, a smartphone app that provides businesses and their customers with a platform to communicate making curbside pickup, booking appointments, and even join a virtual line. Ultimately, Wayt has a great opportunity to help businesses — even outside of a pandemic

"From my perspective and experiences from my friends and family," says Saadia, "curbside pickup and virtual lines are definitely here to stay because even before the pandemic, popular places used to have long lines and that presented many new challenges. The pandemic is just accelerating technological change that will make our lives easier." Read more.

Adrianne Stone has joined Capital Factory's Houston operations as the company prioritizes digital startup interaction. Photo courtesy of Capital Factory

Statewide accelerator hires new Houston staffer and embraces 'virtual first' approach amid COVID-19

new hire

For years, Capital Factory has existed to promote innovation and grow startups across Texas and has expanded from its headquarters in Austin to Dallas, Houston, and beyond. In light of COVID-19, the organization has pivoted to make sure it can work with startups remotely and online.

"I think Capital Factory has successfully embraced virtual first," says Bryan Chambers, vice president of the accelerator and fund at Capital Factory. "I think it's gone well and it feels like we're just hitting our stride."

Chambers admits that the onset of the coronavirus had a great effect on Capital Factory — SXSW being canceled did its damage on the organization, which has a huge presence every year. However, cross-state startup collaboration is the driving force behind Capital Factory's Texas Manifesto.

"We're one big state, and we're one big startup ecosystem," Chambers says. "The resources across Dallas, Houston, Austin, North Texas, and San Antonio are available for everybody. Candidly, COVID aligns with that. There's no better time — COVID is erasing the boundaries in a virtual world."

In addition to navigating the transition to virtual operations, Capital Factory has also introduced its newest Houston staff member, as Adrianne Stone has started this week as venture associate for the organization. Stone received her Ph.D in Translational Biology and Molecular Medicine from Baylor College of Medicine before heading out to the West Coast and working at 23andme. She brings both her experience with health tech and Silicon Valley to her position.

"The mindset in Silicon Valley is different from how it is here in Texas — in good ways and bad ways. It was interesting to be exposed to a very potent startup vibe," Stone tells InnovationMap. "I'm looking forward to being able to meet all the cool companies, founders, and investors we have here in the Houston area."

Stone replaces Brittany Barreto, who helped in coordinating her replacement and is staying on part-time for the rest of August to help with training and immersion into the ecosystem. Barreto, who is one of the founders of the recently launched startup masterclass Founder's Compass, has also introduced a new brand called Femtech Focus, that includes a podcast where she talks to innovators in the women's health and wellness space.

"I'm ready to get back into the founder's saddle," Barreto says, adding that there's more to come for Femtech Focus.

Throughout her tenure, Barreto has overseen Capital Factory's Houston portfolio companies — both identifying potential investment opportunities and connecting startups to resources and mentors. She passes the torch to her former BCM classmate, and says she's excited to do so to a fellow Ph.D.

"The last year and a half, I've working really hard on laying this foundation. I don't want all that hard work to go away, so I cared a lot about who was going to take my position," she says. "I wanted to make sure that all my founders had someone who cared about them as much as I do."

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Houston e-commerce unicorn secures $130M in financing

scaling up

Houston-based Cart.com, which operates a multichannel commerce platform, has secured $105 million in debt refinancing from investment manager BlackRock.

The debt refinancing follows a recent $25 million series C extension round, bringing Cart.com’s series C total to $85 million. The scaleup’s valuation now stands at $1.2 billion, making it one of the few $1 billion-plus “unicorns” in the Houston area.

“Scaleup” refers to a startup that has achieved tremendous growth and has maintained a stable workforce, among other positive milestones. Airbnb, Peloton, and Uber are prime examples of businesses that evolved from startup to scaleup.

Cart.com says the new term loan facility from BlackRock consolidates its venture debt into one package “at competitive terms.” Those terms weren’t disclosed.

The company says the refinancing will enable it to expand into new markets and improve its technology, including its Constellation OMS order management system.

“Cart.com is one of the fastest-growing providers of commerce and logistics solutions today, and I’m excited to partner with BlackRock as we continue to aggressively invest to help our customers operate more efficiently,” Omair Tariq, the company’s founder and CEO, says in a news release.

Through a network of 14 fulfillment centers, Cart.com supports over 6,000 customers and 75 million orders per year.

"BlackRock is pleased to support Cart.com as it advances its mission to unify digital and physical commerce infrastructure," says Keon Reed, a director at BlackRock. “This latest facility underscores our confidence in the company’s differentiated product offerings and financial strategy as it enters its next stage of growth.”

Elon Musk says he's moving SpaceX, X headquarters from California to Texas

cha-cha-changes

Billionaire Elon Musk says he's moving the headquarters of SpaceX and social media company X to Texas from California.

Musk posted on X Tuesday that he plans on moving SpaceX from Hawthorne, California, to the company's rocket launch site dubbed Starbase in Texas. X will move to Austin from San Francisco.

He called a new law signed Monday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom that bars school districts from requiring staff to notify parents of their child’s gender identification change the “final straw.”

“I did make it clear to Governor Newsom about a year ago that laws of this nature would force families and companies to leave California to protect their children,” Musk wrote.

Tesla, where Musk is CEO, moved its corporate headquarters to Austin from Palo Alto, California in 2021.

Musk has also said that he has moved his residence from California to Texas, where there is no state personal income tax.

SpaceX builds and launches its massive Starship rockets from the southern tip of Texas at Boca Chica Beach, near the Mexican border at a site called Starbase. The company’s smaller Falcon 9 rockets take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Southern California.

It’s just below South Padre Island, and about 20 miles from Brownsville.

Play it back: This Houston innovator is on a mission to develop tech for the moon

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 244

Editor's note: This week on the Houston Innovators Podcast, we’re revisiting a conversation with Tim Crain, the co-founder and CTO at Intuitive Machines, that originally ran in October of 2023.

If you haven't noticed, the moon is having a bit of a moment — and Tim Crain of Intuitive Machines is here for it.

For the past five or so years, NASA and the federal government have introduced and strengthened initiatives to support innovation of technology to be used to get to and explore the moon.

NASA, which is currently focused on its Artemis program that's sending four missions to the moon, also launched the Commercial Lunar Payload Services that's working with several American companies, including Intuitive Machines, to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface.

"Around 2018 or 2019, the moon came back into favor as a destination for American space policy, and it came back in such a way that there's a directive at the national level — at a level above NASA — to explore and develop the moon as a national priority," Crain says in the episode.



On the show, Crain explains the history of Intuitive Machines, which has taken an indirect path to where it is today. The company was founded in 2013 by Crain and co-founders CEO Steve Altemus and Chairman Kamal Ghaffarian as a space-focused think tank. Crain says they learned how to run a business and meet customers' needs and expectations, but they never fell in love with any of the early technologies and ideas they developed — from long-range drones to precision drilling technologies.

But the company answered NASA's call for moon technology development, and Intuitive Machines won three of the NASA contracts so far, representing three missions for NASA.

"We dipped our toe in the 'let's develop the moon' river and promptly got pulled all the way in," Crain says. "We left our think tank, broad, multi-sector efforts behind, and really pivoted at that point to focus entirely on NASA's CLPS needs. ... The timing really could not have been any better."

Since recording the podcast, Intuitive Machines celebrated a historic mission that landed the first lunar lander on the surface of the moon in over 50 years — and the first commercially operated mission ever. The company is also working on a $30 million project for NASA to develop lunar lander technology.

This week, Intuitive Machines announced a successful test result for engine technology to be used in the lunar lander project.