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

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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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.