The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards celebrated Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

That's a wrap on the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards — and boy did the event deliver on networking, award wins, and plenty of celebrating Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community.

With a crowd of around 600 attendees, the Houston Innovation Awards, which took place on November 8 at Silver Street Studios in partnership with Houston Exponential, celebrated over 50 finalists and a dozen winners across categories. Click here to see who won an award.

Learn more about this year's honorees in InnovationMap's the editorial series:

See below for photos from the event.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards took place on Nov. 8.

Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 13 categories. Photos courtesy

Houston Innovation Awards winners revealed at 2023 event

drum roll, please...

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you.

The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger.

The 2023 judges — who represent various industries and verticals in Houston — scored over 200 submissions. The event, hosted November 8 in partnership with Houston Exponential and emceed by Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, revealed the winners.

The event's sponsors included Halliburton Labs, Microsoft, The Ion, Houston Community College, Houston Energy Transition Initiative, NOV, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky, 8th Wonder Brewery, and 8th Wonder Cannabis.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Owned Business: Milkify

The winner of the BIPOC-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.

Female-Owned Business: The Postage

The winner of the Female-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Hardtech Business: Syzygy Plasmonics

The winner of the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology, is Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels.

Digital Solutions Business: RepeatMD

The winner of the Digital Solutions Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to a problem in an industry, is RepeatMD, software platform for customer loyalty, eCommerce, and fintech solutions to enhance the patient experience and provide a new source of revenue for the aesthetics and wellness space.

Social Impact Business: ALLY Energy

The winner of the Social Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution that would enhance humanity or society in a significant way, is ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.

Sustainability Business: Fervo Energy

The winner of the Sustainability Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, circular economy, and beyond, is Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Life Science Business: CellChorus

The winner of the Life Science Business category, honoring an innovative company within the health and medical industries designing a treatment or technology, is CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.

Corporate of the Year: Houston Methodist

The winner of the Corporate of the Year category, honoring a corporation that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community, Houston Methodist, a hospital system and health care innovation leader.

DEI Champion: Calicia Johnson

The winner of the DEI Champion, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is Calicia Johnson, chair of Blacks at Microsoft Houston.

Ecosystem Builder: Joey Sanchez

The winner of the Ecosystem Builder category, honoring an individual who has acted as a leader in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem, is Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion.

Mentor of the Year: Wade Pinder

The winner of the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston.

People's Choice: 

The winner of the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during the event, is Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

Fifteen of Houston Innovation Awards finalists share the best advice they've given or received. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Houston Innovation Awards finalists share top advice for fellow founders

Take note

The startup journey is a long and winding road, and there's many ways to navigate it. Fifteen of this year's finalists have shared what their most valuable startup advice for their fellow Houston founders.

From the importance of mentorship to tips for female and BIPOC founders, these pearls of wisdom come directly from a selection of finalists across a handful of categories, including DEI Champion, BIPOC-Owned Business, Female-Owned Business, and Mentor of the Year.

Read these excerpts of advice from Houston's innovation community's top startup founders and supporters.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we'll name the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners.

"Be comfortable with asking for and accepting help. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint, but helping yourself with supportive people around is critical." — Cameron Carter of Rosarium Health, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Underrepresented founders often have trouble asking for what they want or deserve. ... Don't be scared to ask for what you want, or what you believe you deserve." — Pedro Silva of Milkify, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"It's not 'fake it' until you make it. It's 'take it' until you make it. Be proud to be you." — Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"When starting a company, remember it’s a game of attrition. The best way to last longer than your nearest neighbor is to find your tribe." — Aaron Fitzgerald of Mars Materials, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Know your worth and add tax. Choose your partners wisely — at home and work. Invest in the best stock you own: YOU." — Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Whatever battle you're fighting now that no one knows about — go ahead and WIN the war." — Shoshi Kaganovsky of Feelit Technologies, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"My advice would be to find truly effective mentors who are willing to open up their network for you. It doesn't matter if the mentors are men or women — what matters is that they genuinely care about your professional success and who you are as a person." — Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Healthcare, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Remember...There are a BILLION ways to apply sunscreen, but no matter how you apply it, it ALL protects you from the sun. Like sunscreen, there are infinite ways to succeed in the startup world. Trust your gut, stick to your vision, and keep trying until you find what works for you. ... Your purpose and vision should be your North Star, guiding decisions in team-building, coaching, and creating a company culture. Stick to that purpose—it's what will drive you through the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship." — Emily Cisek of The Postage, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"First and foremost, embrace your uniqueness. As a woman of color, you bring a distinctive perspective to the table. Your background is not just a part of who you are; it's a strength that sets you apart in a male-dominated industry. ... Resilience is your greatest ally. Challenges will arise, and it's okay to acknowledge them. What matters most is how you respond. Each obstacle is an opportunity for growth and learning. ... Lastly, trust yourself. You are not just running a business; you are shaping a narrative of empowerment and change." — Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery Technologies, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Figure out, learn, and understand your mission inside and out and use it to make all your major business (and sometimes personal) decisions." — LaGina R Harris, founder and CEO of The Us Space and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Know your value and continue advocating for inclusion." — Janice Tran of Kanin Energy, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Be your true, authentic self. There are going to be some people that like what you are doing, and there's going to be some people that don't, but the biggest thing is being true to who you are, and that's always going to flourish more than being who someone else wants you to be." — Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Until you hire someone, you are the one wearing the product manager hat. You've got to love the problem more than the solution." — Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Be the person your younger self needed. Representation really does matter. Be a listening ear, share your lessons, and allow people to blossom under your leadership." — Michelle Ngome, founder and president of the African American Marketing Association and DEI Champion finalist

"Embrace your unique perspective as a source of strength and innovation. ... In Houston's dynamic startup scene, your presence and contributions as a traditionally marginalized founder or investor are essential for driving innovation and diversity. By staying resilient, seeking support, and advocating for inclusivity, you can navigate the entrepreneurial journey and make a lasting impact on both your business and the broader community." — Jessica Adebiyi, diversity and professional development director at Womble Bond Dickinson and DEI Champion finalist

Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? Some of the best in Houston are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Looking for a job? These 2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists are hiring

calling all applicants

More than half of this year's startup finalists in the Houston Innovation Awards are hiring — who's looking for a job at one of the best startups in Houston?

When submitting their applications for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, which is taking place November 8 at Silver Street Studios, every startup was asked if it's hiring. Twenty-seven of the 35 startup honorees said yes, ranging from over 20 to just one positions open at each company.

Click here to secure your tickets to see which of these growing startups win.

Here's a look at which of the top startups in Houston are seeking new team members.

Double-digit growth

When it comes to the awards finalists looking to scale their team by 10 or more new hires, five finalists are growing rapidly.

Medical practice software platform RepeatMD, fresh off a $40 million raise — which included participation from Houston-based Mercury — is reportedly growing its team. The company, which has 115 employees already, is looking for over 20 new hires.

Female-owned business Feelit Technologies, which is using nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, has 50 employees, and only three of which are in Houston – for now. The company hopes to grow its team by 12 to 15 employees in Houston alone.

Square Robot, an energy industry-focused robotics company that recently grew its presence in Houston, is hiring 10 to 30 new team members. It has 24 employees already in Houston.

Solugen, an alternative chemicals business, has around 140 of its 200 employees in Houston. The company, which has raised over $600 million to date, is hiring an additional 10 to 15 new hires.

Additionally, Blue People, also a finalist in last year's awards, is hiring 25 new employees. The company was founded in 2015 in Mexico and relocated its primary operations to Houston in 2020. Blue People, which develops software innovation for its clients, has over 150 employees — 10 of whom, including C-level executives, are based in Houston. Some of the company's new hires will be based in town.

Steady growth

Four Houston startups are hiring within the six to 10 team member range — all with fairly significant employee counts already.

A finalist in last year's awards too, Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is again growing its team. With 48 on-site employees and 23 working remotely, Venus's team will add another five to 10 employees.

Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, has 112 employees in Houston and plans to hire another eight to its team.

Lastly, Fervo Energy, which recently raised $10 million, has 63 full-time employees (34 in Houston, 29 outside of Houston) and looking to hire seven more.

Seeking selectively

The following awards finalists are looking to grow their teams by just a handful or so — between one and five — of new hires:

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
  • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
  • CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.
  • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment.
  • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry.
  • Hope Biosciences, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the development and delivery of adult stem cell based therapeutics.
  • Innovapptive, empowering the deskless workers in operations, maintenance and warehouses by unlocking the power of SAP through mobility.
  • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future.
  • Koda Health, , a tech-enabled care coordination service to improve serious illness care planning and drive savings for value-based care at scale.
  • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk.
  • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.
  • Starling Medical, bringing the future of a proactive and predictive home-based healthcare system to patients today through passive AI powered at home urine screening.
  • Taurus Vascular, pioneering a new era of aortic aneurysm treatment by developing minimally invasive catheter solutions to drive better long-term patient outcomes.
  • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon.
  • UpBrainery Technologies, an innovative educational technology company that provides personalized and adaptive learning experiences to learners
  • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas.
  • Voyager Portal, helping commodity shippers identify root causes of demurrage, reduce risk and streamline the entire fixture process.

Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of May. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for May

where to be

It's time to look at what's on the agenda for May for Houston innovators — from pitch competitions to networking events.

Here's a roundup of events not to miss this month. Mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

May 1-4 — Offshore Technology Conference

Since 1969, OTC has served as a central hub convening the best and brightest minds in the world to share ideas, and innovations and discuss, debate, and build consensus around the most pressing topics facing the offshore energy sector.

The event is Monday, May 1, to Thursday, May 4, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

May 2 — EDGE Technology Showcase 2023: Delivering the Future

Oceanit’s 2023 EDGE Technology Showcase will run alongside Houston's Offshore Technology Conference, the Oceanit EDGE Technology Showcase event will feature technologies that are delivering the future, from deep sea to deep space — from disruptive innovations to scalable turnkey solutions.

The event is Tuesday, May 2, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, at 1940 Air Terminal Museum. Click here to register.

May 3 — Women, Wine & Web Design - Houston

Create a web page, enjoy some wine, and network with like-minded Houston area women.

The event is Wednesday, May 3, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, at Improving (10111 Richmond Ave.). Click here to register.

May 10 — Energy 2.0 UN-Conference - NetZero: A Race We Can All Win

Energy 2.0 is the UNconference where we celebrate diverse perspectives, technologies, and people driving the energy transition forward.

The event is Wednesday, May 10, from 8 am to 5 pm, at Woodside Energy (1500 Post Oak Blvd.). Click here to register.

May 11 — Investor Studio Series Dream Big Ventures x Ion

Hear from experts Staci Latoison, founder of Dream Big Ventures; Ramona Ortega, founder and CEO of WealthBuild.ai; and Nan Almodovar, CEO & broker.

The event is Thursday, May 11, from 5 to 7 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

May 11-13 — Rice Business Plan Competition

With access to mentors, real-world experience and investment opportunities, the Rice Business Plan Competition helps student founders stay on target and realize their potential. Click here to see the 2023 teams.

The event is Thursday, May 11, to Saturday, May 13, at Rice University. Click here to register.

May 12 — Linkedin Profile Refresh Workshop

This event is not just about learning new tips and tricks; it's about putting them into practice right then and there.

During the workshop, you'll have the opportunity to work on your LinkedIn profile in real-time, making changes and optimizing it for more visibility and opportunities.

The event is Friday, May 12, from 8:30 to 10:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

May 17 — Engage VC: Scale Venture Partners

Alex Niehenke, Partner at Scale Venture Partners is coming to Houston and will be featured in our fireside chat moderated by Emily Hak, Managing Director, Private Capital Markets at Insperity.

The event is Wednesday, May 17, from 8:30 to 10:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

May 17-19: Ion Activation Festival

Ion District is celebrating its second annual festival of innovation in Houston, known as Activation Festival which will feature:

  • A multi-day showcase of Ion District + Ion and its innovation ecosystem partners
  • An array of futuristic activations and programs alongside a lineup of engaging keynote speakers and experiences
  • A community-wide block party Friday to celebrate the heart of Houston's new innovation district

The event is Wednesday, May 17, to Friday, May 19, at The Ion. Click here to register.

May 18 — Softeq Venture Studio Houston Investor Demo Day: H1 2023 Cohort

At the Houston Investor Demo Day, founders will give their 3-minute pitch, followed by a networking session where you may get a demo of their product and ask any questions. We need you there to evaluate them for investment and give them feedback! Afterward, happy hour and dinner.

The event is Thursday, May 18, from 3 to 7 pm, at Fleming's Steakhouse (CityCentre). Click here to register.

May 23 — Houston Veterans In Residence Showcase

Bunker Labs’ Veterans in Residence Showcase is a nationwide event, celebrating our program participants as they have completed Bunker Labs' six month Veterans in Residence Program.

The event is Tuesday, May 23, from 6 to 8 pm, at Impact Hub Houston. Click here to register.

May 25 — Greentown Houston + BCG X Pitch Day

Join Greentown Houston and BCG X for a pitch competition featuring Greentown startups that are raising their pre-seed and seed rounds to grow their networks and scale their cutting-edge climatetech solutions. The winners will walk away with a total of $10,000 in cash prizes and services support from BCG X. We will also have a Fan Favorite prize, sponsored by O'Melveny who will provide in-kind service in the form of 5 hours of virtual 1:1 office consult on general corporate matters.

The event is Thursday, May 25, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

May 30-31 — Women in Tech Texas

Discover the technologies in today's quickly changing world and learn new forward-thinking concepts in business and the workforce that will radically change our future. Join over 1,000 leading women in technology and diversity champions driving the innovation revolution to pioneer the future of technology and business.

The event is Tuesday, May 30, to Wednesday, May 31, at the Hyatt Regency. Click here to register.

May 31 — Demystifying Startup Impact Investing: SWAN Impact Network

SWAN Impact Network is joining the startup ecosystem in Houston. Join the organization for a panel with local thought leaders on "Demystifying Startup Impact Investing” and a time for networking over light bites and drinks. SWAN is an angel network whose members put their money to work to make a difference by enabling creative entrepreneurs with solid plans for financial success to address the world’s most pressing problems.

The event is Wednesday, May 31, from 6 to 7:30 pm, at Ion Houston. Click here to register.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston for March. Photo via Getty Images

10 can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for March

where to be

It's time to look at what's on the agenda for Houston innovators for the month of March — a busy one, from the end of Tech Rodeo and the start of CERAWeek, plus many more things to add to your calendars.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


March 2 — CodeLaunch Houston

Improving is hosting CodeLaunch Houston — a high energy startup pitch competition — which will round out Houston Tech Rodeo, which is taking place from Monday, February 17, through Thursday, March 2. Check out the finalists here.

The event is Thursday, March 2, from 6 to 9 pm, at 713 Music Hall. Click here to register.

March 4 — Softeq Chili Showdown

Softeq is hosting its chili cookoff event and official after-party of Houston Tech Rodeo. The event will include the broader Houston community, drive awareness of startup development resources available to the community, demonstrate new technology, feature local culture, and promote local startup job creation, all while benefiting Lemonade Day, a fun, experiential program that teaches youth how to start, own and operate their very own business.

The event is Saturday, March 4, from 10 am to 2 pm, at Truck Yard Houston. Click here to register.

March 6 — Energy Workforce of the Future Summit

At this year's summit, Ally Energy will unveil the Energy Workforce Outlook study on workforce transition and hear from leaders, policymakers, startup CEOs, investors, and innovators about how to take all energy forward.

The event is Monday, March 6, from 8 am to 2 pm, at The Petroleum Club of Houston. Click here to register.

March 6 — Transition on Tap at Greentown Labs

Transition On Tap is Greentown Labs' monthly networking event devoted to fostering conversations and connections among the climate and energy transition ecosystem in Houston and beyond. Entrepreneurs, investors, students, and friends of climatetech are invited to attend, meet colleagues, discuss solutions, and engage with our growing community.

The event is Monday, March 6, at 5 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

March 6-10 — CERAWeek by S&P Global

CERAWeek by S&P Global returns to downtown Houston. The annual conference brings energy leaders from around the world to discuss the industry's trends and future. The Agora track focuses on the future of energy, which includes clean energy and innovation.

The conference is Monday, March 6, to Friday, March 10, at The George R. Brown Convention Center. Click here to register.

March 7 — Energy Tech Venture Day

The Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day is a fast-paced event connecting nearly 40 energy ventures with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service provider. Ventures will give 3-minute pitches with a networking reception so you can meet the energy ventures and learn more about their technologies.

The event is Tuesday, March 7, from 3 to 6:30 pm, at Rice University. Click here to register.

March 8 — Navigating Careers: Insights & Inspiration from Women Who Have Done It All

In today’s career landscape for C-level leaders, directors, university innovators, entrepreneurs, and founders, what does success look like? How do women navigate barriers, turn challenges into opportunities, and tackle whatever comes their way with poise and confidence? Join us at the Ion for a panel featuring high-profile women thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and influencers--all on top of their field and all with incredible journeys and stories. These women will share their wisdom and wit in authentic ways. A not-to-miss panel, followed by breakout room discussions with each panelist!

The event is Wednesday, March 8, from 8:30 to 11 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 8 — International Women’s Day Luncheon

This luncheon aims to celebrate womanhood while acknowledging and getting inspired for the challenge of promoting progress.

The event is Wednesday, March 8, from 11 am to 2 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

March 9 — Dream Big Ventures Investor Studio Series: Energizing Latino/a Investors

Join the Ion for a fireside chat with Dream Big Ventures Founder & CEO Staci LaToison, and Angeles Investors CEO & Board President David Olivencia, to discuss trends in venture capital and angel investing, and how they are helping increase access to capital for underrepresented founders.

The event is Thursday, March 9, from 5 to 7 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 10 — TMC Innovation: Federal Health Innovation Day

TMCi is hosting a Federal Health Innovation Day with participation from various federal government agencies focused on health care and innovation. There will be opportunity for face time with the representatives and food will be provided.

The event is Friday, March 10, from 8 am to 2 pm, at TMC Innovation. Click here to register.

March 10-19 — SXSW (in Austin)

Houston founders, investors, and other tech community members will make their way to Austin for SXSW, an interactive festival that is again bringing startup pitches, thought leadership, and more. The Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House returns on March 13 at the Fairmont Hotel, and will be open to badge holders.

The conference is Friday, March 10, to Sunday, March 19, in Downtown Austin. Click here to register.

March 27-28 — Mission Innovate: Reimagining Space Technology to Solve Today’s Challenges

Innovators from around the greater Houston area will convene for a two-day event to innovate, disrupt, and create commercial space companies. Entrepreneurs will work with licensable intellectual property from NASA’s IP portfolio to solve some of the largest problems facing the industry. Experienced and first-time founders will form teams, ideate, and pitch their ideas to renown technology entrepreneurs, including members of the innovation teams at NASA! As part of the event, teams will be taught critical startup methodologies, advised by experienced business leaders, and network with an entire community that dreams of shaping the commercial space industry.

The event is Monday, March 27, to Tuesday, March 28, at The Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

March 29 — The Cannon Fish Creek Grand Opening Party

Celebrate the opening of The Cannon Fish Creek, which is located in Montgomery, Texas, within the Woodforest community.

The event is Wednesday, March 29, from 4 to 6 pm, at The Cannon Fish Creek. Click here to register.

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Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.

Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.