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

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of in-person and online innovation events, including the inaugural InnovationMap Awards, and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like demo days, workshops, conventions, and more.

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

September 8 — The InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave

Celebrate Houston innovation's movers and shakers at this inaugural event. Find out who of the 28 finalists — listed here — will take home a win and vote IN REAL TIME on this year's people's choice winner.

The event is on Wednesday, September 8, at 5:30 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 9 — Illuminate Houston: An Innovation Conversation

Illuminate Houston, presented by the Greater Houston Partnership, is an event series highlighting business leaders who challenge the way we think about the future. Illuminate Houston features dynamic formats where speakers and attendees discuss trends, technologies and issues that define how we do business. Following the keynote presentation by Caleb Deerinwater, Vice President – Fiber Sales & Distribution at AT&T, the audience will participate in an interactive fishbowl discussion. A fishbowl is a format fosters group participation in conversation and lets the content emerge from the group's comments and questions.

The event is on Thursday, September 9, at noon. It's free to members ($25 for non-members) and happening online. Click here to register.

September 11 — BioVentures Pitch Day

BioVentures is Enventure's 10-week accelerator program that supports budding entrepreneurs as they turn their ideas into a life science startup. This year, the group has four startups who will pitch their technology. Each team will be giving a 10-minute pitch followed by 20 minutes of Q&A. This event will be virtual through Zoom.

The event is on Saturday, September 11, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 15 — Building Better Teams by Fostering Equity in the Workplace

As an early-stage entrepreneur, you want to attract the most exceptional talent who will help your company grow. Developing and implementing an effective DEI strategy can be essential to your efforts to secure the very best people to help maintain your competitive advantage. Join this panel from JLABS featuring Fiona Mack, regional head of JLABS @ TMC.

The event is on Wednesday, September 15, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 16 — The State of Space

The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting its second annual State of Space event with featured speaker Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, and panelists Steve Altemus, President and CEO, Intuitive Machines LLC and Tim Kopra, Vice President of Robotics and Space, MDA Ltd.

The event is on Thursday, September 16, at 10:30 am at Marriott Marquis (1777 Walker St.). It's $75 for members and $150 for non-members. Click here to register.

September 16 — Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator Demo Day

The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is hosting its inaugural demo day celebrating its inaugural class. Register to hear from 12 startups and participate in audience Q&A. Prior to pitches, stroll through our virtual showcase to learn more about the startups and network or chat with your fellow attendees.

The event is on Thursday, September 16, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 16 — Rice Data Science Career Mixer

The Rice Data Science Career Mixer is an excellent opportunity for companies to network with the brightest students at Rice University and discuss potential career opportunities in computational and data science fields.

The event is on Thursday, September 16, at 5 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 18 — Houston Hackathon 2021

To celebrate the National Civic Day of Hacking, Impact Hub Houston invites all people who want to make a difference in our region to join them at the annual Houston Hackathon. This is a "civic" hackathon, focused on ideating, designing, and developing both policy-based and tech solutions to some of Houston's greatest challenges. Project stakeholders will be there from the city, local organizations, and Houston's impact community.

The event is on Saturday, September 18, at 11 am to 3 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 21 — Email Marketing: A How To

Join The Cannon's HubSpot for Startups partner for a fast-paced session covering the key elements of email marketing. In this workshop, we'll go over HubSpot's playbook for:

  • Creating a winning email marketing strategy
  • Generating traffic to your website and converting traffic into leads
  • Leveraging automation to nurture leads
  • Email marketing best practices and common mistakes to avoid

The event is on Tuesday, September 21, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 22 — Are You Ready to Fundraise?

Raising money for your new venture doesn't have to be a mystery. When it comes to fundraising, there are specific things to keep in mind. Catch The Cannon's next webinar with Founder's Compass.

  • Understand the timing of the process
  • Understand your target audience (investors) and the value proposition that will appeal to them
  • Understand the obligations, risks, and consequences (on both sides)
The event is on Wednesday, September 22, at 10 am. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 29 — Equity in Green Jobs

The projected growth of the climatetech industry and its ability to train and employ people means that there is abundant potential to create wealth and jobs, especially for low-income communities and communities of color. Greentown Labs invites you to hear from experts who will share how we can build toward a resilient, low-carbon future while simultaneously and rapidly expanding opportunities for women and people of color to economically benefit from and help drive the climatetech revolution.

The conversation will cover:

  • The current state of Houston's quickly evolving energy landscape
  • Skills applicable to the energy transition
  • Examples of comprehensive climatetech workforce development programs
  • Incorporating equity into green jobs

The event is on Wednesday, September 29, at 4 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

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Houston sustainability-focused company raises $50 million to plant new indoor farming facility

seeing green

Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., which specializes in sustainably growing produce, has landed a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. The facility will enable the company to dramatically ramp up its operations.

The new facility, which will be built in Southwest Houston, is scheduled for completion in January 2023. Dream Harvest’s existing 7,500-square-foot facility in Southwest Houston supplies 45 Whole Foods stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as Sweetgreen restaurants in Texas.

The company currently employs 25 people. With the addition of the 100,000-square-foot facility, Dream Harvest’s headcount will rise to 65.

Dream Harvest relies on wind-powered, year-round indoor vertical farming to generate 400 times the yield of an outdoor farm while using 95 percent less water and no pesticides.

“Because the vast majority of America’s produce is grown in California and has to be shipped over long distances, most of the country receives produce that is old, has a poor flavor profile, and a short shelf life — a major contributing factor to the more than 30 percent of fresh vegetables being discarded in the U.S. each year,” Dream Harvest says in a December 7 news release.

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, says his company’s method for growing lettuce, baby greens, kale, mustards, herbs, collards, and cabbage helps cut down on food waste.

“Demand for our produce has far outpaced supply, an encouraging validation of our approach as well as positive news for our planet, which is facing the rising problem of food and resource waste,” Shauk says. “While we have the yields today to support our business, we are pleased to partner with Orion on this financing, which will enable us to greatly expand our production and increase access to our produce for many more consumers.”

Dream Harvest expects to expand distribution to more than 250 retail locations in 2022.

“Orion’s focus on sustainable infrastructure and deep experience in building large industrial facilities will be complementary to Dream Harvest’s impressive track record of being a reliable supplier to high-caliber customers by achieving consistent yields, food safety, and operational efficiencies … ,” says Nazar Massouh, co-managing partner and CEO of Orion Energy Partners, which has offices in Houston and New York City.

Other companies in the Orion Energy Partners portfolio include Houston-based Caliche Development Partners, Tomball-based Python Holdings, The Woodlands-based Evolution Well Services, Houston-based Produced Water Transfer, and Houston-based Tiger Rentals.

Zain Shauk is the co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Exclusive: Houston logistics SaaS startup raises $2.5M seed round

money moves

A Houston company that's providing software solutions for middle-mile logistics challenges has raised fresh funding.

Velostics Inc., which has an enterprise software-as-a-service model that specializes in automating inbound logistics at industrial facilities — like terminals and warehouses — announced it has raised $2.5 million. The seed round was led by Kansas-based Flyover Capital with participation from Small Ventures USA, Cultivation Capital, Starboard Star, Congress Avenue Ventures and BioUrja Ventures.

Founded by Gaurav Khandewal, Velostics targets the $37 billion inbound logistics management market, a so-called "log jam" for businesses that the company's software strives to make flow a lot more optimally.

“Flyover is incredibly excited to support the Velostics team in their mission to transform inbound logistics,” says Keith Molzer, managing partner at Flyover Capital. “This segment of the supply chain is ripe for better technology to address challenges of congestion, driver labor shortages, and the growing demands of ecommerce. Gaurav and team are an exceptional group of entrepreneurs ready to drive efficiency and a better customer experience at industrial facilities.”

The fresh funding will go toward recruiting top talent for Velostics's team, particularly in its account management, inside sales, and marketing departments, as well as continuing to develop the AI-driven product, which has an impact for both its users and the environment.

“Idling trucks waiting outside facilities emit over 42 million tons of CO2 annually — eight times the US national average. By orchestrating the movement of trucks in and out of facilities, not only do we provide tremendous supply chain benefits, we also help the environment," Khandewal says in the release. "We’re excited to partner with our customers and our investors to solve global congestion.”

Flyover Capital was founded in 2014 and has a keen interest in the Houston market, Dan Kerr, principal at the firm, previously told InnovationMap.

Houston is "one of the cities among those that fall in our region where we plan to spend a significant amount of time," Kerr said in May of last year. "We cover a lot of ground, but there are certain cities were we try to get there quarterly. Houston is definitely one of those places."

In September, Khandewal joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and discussed how he has been a champion of Houston innovation since he started ChaiOne in 2009. He shared how he thinks the city has a great opportunity to be a leader in logistics technology.

"I think that there are some trends in Houston that I'm seeing as a founder, and one of them is logistics," Khandewal says on the show.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne and Velostics Gaurav Khandelwal is the CEO and founder of Velostics. Photo courtesy

Houston VC-backed tech founder on reinventing a sales team and supporting financial independence

Houston innovators podcast episode 112

Four years ago, Samantha Ettus found herself as a keynote speaker in a room with thousands of ambitious and talented women. It was a conference for multi-level marketing sales associates and, as Ettus found out later, most of them — despite their talent and passion — were losing money on whatever product they were selling.

"I realized there was a problem. There obviously was a need — all of these people want to be doing something outside of their families that gives them fulfillment and meaning and has goals associated with it — but they also want to be earning money," Ettus says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the first part was being fulfilled — but the second part wasn't."

Ettus created an alternative to check both of those boxes. Park Place Payments is a fintech startup founded in 2018 in California. Houston was one of the initial six test market for the business model, and the company now has over 1,000 account executives across all 50 states. Sales team members are trained for free on how to sell Park Place's payment processor service to local businesses.

Ettus says the payment processor industry is competitive and most small business owners are very disappointed with the customer service they receive. The average business changes payment processors every three years, Ettus says, and Park Place wants to change that.

"Payments is an industry where something always goes wrong," Ettus says. "As a small business owner, if you can't reach someone — that's really important for the livelihood of your business. ... We really think of ourselves as an outsourced payment partner for small businesses."

This past year has been one for growth for Park Place, Ettus says, and earlier this year, she closed on the company's seed round, which was supported by Curate Capital, founded by Houstonian Carrie Colbert. Now the company is focused on its tech team, including hiring a CTO. Early next year, Ettus hopes to close a Series A round, again with support — financially and otherwise — from Colbert.

"I feel so lucky because a lot of people pointed us to traditional Silicon Valley VCs in the beginning, and I had a lot of conversations. I didn't feel some of those firms had the patience to grow with us," Ettus says.

The company has been tied to Houston from its early days, from testing the business in town to a Houston-based early hire, Nancy Decker Lent, who is a founding member of the team and head of product for Park Place.

Ettus shares more on her passion for supporting financial independence for women and how she plans to grow her company on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.