Mobile vet business, virtual reality for space, plant-based biotech, and more — all this innovation and more is coming out of Houston startups. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: As 2020 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. This past year, InnovationMap featured profiles on dozens of these Houston startups — from blockchain and software companies to startups with solutions in health care and oil and gas. Here are excerpts of 10 that stood out throughout 2020 — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston health tech startup moves into new office amid major growth

BrainCheck has moved to a new office as it grows its team and expands its product. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Following a series A round of fundraising, a Houston digital health startup is on a bit of a hiring spree, leading to new office space the company has room to grow into.

BrainCheck, which was founded in 2015 by neuroscientist David Eagleman, is a cognitive assessment startup that has developed a software tool for primary care doctors to use to assess their patients' cognitive health so that they can more quickly diagnose and treat them for maladies like dementia.

The 19-person company headquartered in Houston — with a secondary office in Austin focused on product development — has relocated its operations from coworking space in the Texas Medical Center to an office in the Rice Village area. The move was made possible by an $8 million series A financing round that closed in October.

"It's pretty exciting to have reached this milestone where we need more space," Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, tells InnovationMap. "We were pretty much bursting at the seams in our old office." Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup raises $30M, plans to be 'next iconic chemical company' with plant-based alternatives

Solugen, which uses plant-centered biotechnology to produce environmentally friendly chemicals, has raised an additional $30 million and is speculated to soon reach unicorn status. Photo via solugentech.com

While Forbes recently anointed Houston-based Solugen Inc. as one of the next billion-dollar "unicorns" in the startup world, Dr. Gaurab Chakrabarti shrugs off the unicorn buzz.

Chakrabarti, a physician and scientist who's co-founder and CEO of the startup, concedes he doesn't know whether Solugen will be worth $1 billion or not. But he does know that the startup aspires to be a key competitor in the emerging "climate tech" sector, whose players strive to combat climate change. Chakrabarti estimates the climate-tech chemical space alone represents a global market opportunity valued at $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year.

Solugen's overarching goal in the climate-tech market: Replace petroleum-based chemicals with plant-based substitutes.

"I'd love it if we were the poster child that drives climate tech to be the next big, sexy trend," Chakrabarti says.

Chakrabarti acknowledges Solugen's investors, executives, and employees hope the startup succeeds financially. But success, he believes, goes beyond making money and plotting an exit strategy. Instead, Chakrabarti emphasizes "a shift in thinking" on climate tech that he says promises to transform the fledgling sector into a "true niche" that'll be "good for everyone." Click here to continue reading.

Houston mobile vet company plans to roll out services statewide

A Houston vet has seen growth in business for her mobile vet company due to the pandemic. Now, she's planning major growth. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

It's safe to say that the real winners of work-from-home trends that sparked due to the pandemic are our pets. Dogs and cats that were used to not seeing their owners for eight hours every work day now have 24-hour access to attention, treats, and ear scratches.

This increased attention pets are getting from their owners has also meant an increased awareness of pet health, says Katie Eick, founder of Houston-based Rollin' Vets, a startup that has mobilized veterinary services.

"People are home and observing their animals more. They're seeing and recognizing things they might not have if they were at work all day," Eick says.

That's, of course, not the only way the pandemic has affected business for Eick. She founded her company in 2016 and was seeing steady growth as delivery and on-demand services like Uber, DoorDash, etc. increased in use and awareness. Click here to continue reading.

With fresh funds, this Houston entrepreneur plans to scale his industrial e-commerce startup

Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, shares how his company plans to scale following its recent series C closing. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

Consumers are getting more and more used to picking up their laptops or phones and ordering everyday items in just a few clicks or taps — and seeing those items delivered in just a few days. To Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, ordering parts and tools for industrial businesses should be just as easy.

GoExpedi, which just closed a $25 million series C round, has seen rising demand for its e-commerce platform focused on industrial orders, and Neal credits this demand on a change in mindset within the industrial sector. Additionally, he says he's seen clients more and more focused on cutting costs.

Neal shared his company's plans for growth and scale, as well as how fundraising during a pandemic went, in an interview with InnovationMap. Click here to continue reading.

Family-owned composting startup redesigns how Houston disposes of waste

A Houston-area family has made it their business to help Houstonians reduce waste in a convenient, sustainable way. Photo courtesy of Happy Earth Compost

Jesse Stowers has always strived to do his part for the environment. From recycling and making eco-conscious choices, the Stowers were doing everything right, but was it enough?

The family of five was throwing away two trash bags of waste a day that would later end up in landfills until Stowers stumbled on composting as a solution. In May, he launched Happy Earth Compost, a company set on making Houston more sustainable.

If you're unfamiliar with composting, get ready for a crash course. Composting is a sustainable method of decomposing organic solid wastes and turning that waste into compost, a substance that helps plants grow. Food scraps and household items like rice, pasta, meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, spoiled food, and tea bags are just a few of the many things that can be composted rather than thrown away.

"Your food waste and compostable waste is anywhere from 25 to 50 percent depending on the family," explains Stowers. According to Happy Earth Compost, one human creates an estimated 1,642 pounds of trash each year. Click here to continue reading.

Houston virtual reality company collaborates with space health organization

Houston-based Z3VR has been granted $500,000 to work or virtual reality applications in space. Photo courtesy of Z3VR

Houston-based startup Z3VR received a $500,000 grant from Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, last month to continue exploring how the wide world of virtual reality can boost mental and physical health for astronauts on a mission to Mars.

Founded in 2017 by a group of emerging tech enthusiasts, Z3VR discovered its niche in what CEO Josh Ruben calls the "intersection of biosensors and VR" and began consulting with TRISH in 2018. Last year, the company received its first funding from the institution to create virtual reality platforms that promote exercise and provide additional sensory experiences for isolated Mars-bound astronauts.

This new grant, however, takes Z3VR's mission one step farther. The year-long grant will allow Z3VR, in partnership with NASA labs in California and Houston, to further develop their VR platform to use eye movement tracking to identify cognitive, psychiatric, or ophthalmological issues before they arise.

Getting out ahead of issues is more important than ever on the Mission to Mars. Because of the duration and distance of the mission, these astronauts will be uniquely isolated and will face a communication lag of up to 45 minutes between space shuttle and command center.

"What that means from a health care perspective is that pretty much everything you need to treat and diagnose these astronauts needs to be self contained on the spacecraft itself," Ruben says. "The system that we are building is sensitive enough to pick up on these cognitive, ophthalmological, and psychiatric conditions well before they become clinically relevant. It'll be long before the astronaut knows there's a problem. That's the hope." Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup — buoyed by Halliburton — plans to scale

Houston-based Nanotech was the first company to be selected for Halliburton Labs, a recently announced startup incubator. Photo via halliburtonlabs.com

A Houston-based material science startup that uses nanotechnology for thermal insulation and fireproofing has been chosen as the first participant of Halliburton Labs, an innovation incubator, announced late last month by the oil and gas giant.

Halliburton Company chose Nanotech Inc., among a round of contenders to be the first participant of their 12-month program located at their Houston headquarters. Halliburton will provide Nanotech with its own office space, access to Halliburton facilities, technical expertise, and an extensive network to accelerate their product to market.

"With Nanotech's shield material we can have fireproofing infrastructure, saving lives and helping save the planet," says Mike Francis, CEO of Nanotech. "But it's tremendously difficult to scale our small lab to take our product globally, so when we heard about this opportunity with Halliburton Labs, we jumped immediately on it."

Nanotech Inc., started with a singular technology and a simple mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption globally. The base nano shield, flex shield, and forged shield products contain nanoparticles ranging from 1 micrometer to 1 nanometer in a water-based solution with other inorganic compounds. The coating is heat resistant, non-flammable, and the nontoxic properties ensure it is sustainable for the environment. Click here to continue reading.Click here to continue reading.

This Houston tech startup is helping businesses find the funds during COVID-19 crisis and beyond

Houston startup Grant Source, which helps its clients find the right grants to apply for, has seen a surge in business amid the coronavirus shutdown. Getty Images

Since 2015, Grant Source has perfected the art of helping businesses, foundations, and organizations find and secure grant funding — and now their expertise has become vital to COVID-19 response initiatives.

With the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus, America's medical organizations have been scrambling to obtain the funds required to purchase the testing kits, masks, PPE, and other life-saving products needed to help curb the effects of the global pandemic and now, thanks to the mobile and web platform, they're getting the assistance they need to accomplish that goal.

"COVID-19 response is actually our claim to fame right now," says Allen Thornton, founder and CEO of Grant Source. "We have probably done more business in the last few months than we have since we started. Simply because we are helping people find grants with the CARES Act. There's over $500 billion out there, which has created overnight a $40 billion market opportunity for us."

Grant Source has worked extensively with city, county, state, and government agencies to secure grant funding, which is why they have become a game changer for those that need emergency capital to combat COVID-19's challenges. Click here to continue reading.

Houston energy tech startup raises $11M to grow its team locally

Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc. has raised millions in its latest round — led partially by a local VC firm — to grow its local presence. Photo via Datagration Solutions/Facebook

An $11 million round of funding will fuel national and international growth at Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc., whose cloud-based software aggregates data to improve workflows and analytics at upstream oil and gas operators.

Houston-based venture capital firm Quantum Energy Partners LLC and New York City-based venture capital firm Global Reserve Group LLC led the round. Datagration represents the sixth investment in energy tech involving the duo of Quantum Energy Partners and Global Reserve Group.

Braxton Huggins, chief marketing officer at Datagration, says the new capital will enable the company to build a technology team in Houston; add to its operations, sales, and marketing team in Houston; and supplement its development team in Austria. These new hires will help Datagration expand its national and international market presence, he says.

Huggins says Datagration aims to more than double in size by the end of 2021. The startup currently employs more than 30 people. Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup uses artificial intelligence to bring its clients better business forecasting calculations

Houston-based Complete Intelligence was just recognized by Capital Factory as the "Newcomer of the Year." Photo via completeintel.com

The business applications of artificial intelligence are boundless. Tony Nash realized AI's potential in an underserved niche.

His startup, Complete Intelligence, uses AI to focus on decision support, which looks at the data and behavior of costs and prices within a global ecosystem in a global environment to help top-tier companies make better business decisions.

"The problem that were solving is companies don't predict their costs and revenues very well," says Nash, the CEO and founder of Complete Intelligence. "There are really high error rates in company costs and revenue forecasts and so what we've done is built a globally integrated artificial intelligence platform that can help people predict their costs and their revenues with a very low error rate."

Founded in 2015, Complete Intelligence is an AI platform that forecasts assets and allows evaluation of currencies, commodities, equity indices and economics. The Woodlands-based company also does advanced procurement and revenue for corporate clients.

"We've spent a couple years building this," says Nash. "We have a platform that is helping clients with planning, finance, procurement and sales and a host of other things. We are forecasting equity markets; we are forecasting commodity prices, currencies, economics and trades. We built a model of the global economy and transactions across the global economy, so it's a very large, very detailed artificial intelligence platform."

That platform, CI Futures, has streamlined comprehensive price forecasting and data analysis, allowing for sound, data-based decisions.

"Our products are pretty simple," says Nash. "We have our basic off the shelf forecast which is called CI Futures, which is currencies, commodities, equities and economics and trade. Its basic raw data forecasts. We distribute that raw data on our website and other data distribution websites. We also have a product called Cost Flow, which is our procurement forecasting engine, where we build a material level forecasting for clients." Click here to continue reading.

Yael Katz, Topper Luciani, and Dorit Donoviel are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Houston is full of innovative people looking to make an impact — whether it's in the health tech, fashion, or science industries.

This week's innovators to know represent different industries within Houston, but they are all looking to leave a legacy in making a difference.

Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck

Photo courtesy of BrainCheck

Yael Katz has seen the company she co-founded grow tenfold in its almost five years, and now she's watching that growth from a corner office with a great view of Houston.

BrainCheck, a cognitive assessment startup that has developed a software tool for primary care doctors to use to assess their patients' cognitive health, has moved into a new office space in the West University area following a series A round of fundraising.

"It's pretty exciting to have reached this milestone where we need more space," Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, tells InnovationMap. "We were pretty much bursting at the seams in our old office." Read more.

Topper Luciani, founder and CEO of Goodfair

Photo courtesy of Goodfair

With the rise of fast fashion — in which huge clothing lines rapidly produce cheap clothing for consumers, humans are cycling through clothing at a detrimental rate.

According to a report from Business Insider, the fashion industry contributes 10 percent of the world's carbon emissions, is the second-largest user of the earth's water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics.

"I realized that there was too much stuff out there," says Topper Luciani, founder and CEO of Houston-based Goodfair, "and there is an environmental crisis being caused by the clothing industry. They're manufacturing so many items, they're using slave labor, they're pumping dyes and other chemicals into rivers. It's absolutely wild." Read more.

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

Libby Neder Photography

On the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Dorit Donoviel speaks of space health needs in ways that sound like futuristic science fiction. However, the director of the Translational Research Institute of Space Health is actively seeking solutions for issues and needs for living in space.

TRISH works hand in hand with NASA's Human Research Program to identify the program's biggest concerns, and then tap into professors, researchers, and scientists from Baylor College of Medicine, California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, and other partners in order to innovate solutions.

"Everyone tosses the word 'innovation' around, but that means, to us, taking risks in science. Health care, in particular, is very risk averse, but the space industry is taking risks every single day when they put people in a rocket and hurl them into space," Donoviel says on the podcast. "If we're going to mars, for example, we are going to put people at risk." Read more.

Houston-based BrainCheck has expanded into its own office space, innovators to know, and The Ion names new leadership — here are this week's top stories. Photo courtesy of BrainCheck

5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

what's trending

Editor's note: This week's top stories include new office space for a growing Houston health tech company, an energy software-as-a-service startup raises more money than it expected, and more trending innovation news.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's innovators to know are focused on bringing startup programming and venture capital to Houston. Courtesy photos

This past week has been full of exciting innovation news in Houston — from big fundraising round closings to a new unicorn coming out of the Bayou City.

Houston innovators to know this week include a new program director for Houston's newest startup accelerator, a venture capital fund leader, and more. Continue reading.

Houston health tech startup moves into new office amid major growth

BrainCheck has moved to a new office as it grows its team and expands its product. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Following a series A round of fundraising, a Houston digital health startup is on a bit of a hiring spree, leading to new office space the company has room to grow into.

BrainCheck, which was founded in 2015 by neuroscientist David Eagleman, is a cognitive assessment startup that has developed a software tool for primary care doctors to use to assess their patients' cognitive health so that they can more quickly diagnose and treat them for maladies like dementia.

The 19-person company headquartered in Houston — with a secondary office in Austin focused on product development — has relocated its operations from coworking space in the Texas Medical Center to an office in the Rice Village area. The move was made possible by an $8 million series A financing round that closed in October. Continue reading.

TMCx company receives investment from Houston VC, UH program recognized, and more innovation news

TMCx

A TMCx company has raised money in Houston, UH's online program named best in the nation, and more Houston innovation news. Courtesy of TMCx

Houston's innovation ecosystem has seen a busy January so far — the city has claimed a unicorn in High Radius, The Ion has named a series of new execs, and so much more.

Given this influx of news, you might've missed some other Houston innovation headlines, like UH being recognized for its online master's program, recent fundings, and Texas being named a state for female entrepreneurs. Here's a few short stories to catch you up. Continue reading.

The Ion Houston names 3 new execs to its team

Jan E. Odegard, Deanea LeFlore, and Chris Valka have been named senior directors at The Ion. Photos courtesy of The Ion

The Ion, an entrepreneurship center being developed in the old Sears building in Midtown by the Rice Management Company, has named three new senior directors to its team.

Deanea LeFlore, Jan E. Odegard, and Chris Valka are the three newly named leaders of the organization, effective immediately. They join — and will report to — Gabriella Rowe, who was named executive director in October.

"To grow the Houston innovation system and spearhead our mission for the Ion we've hired three new leaders with fresh perspectives, ideas, and approaches," says Allison K. Thacker, president and chief investment officer of the Rice Management Company, in a news release. "Each individual has a unique connection to Houston and the Ion, and we're thrilled to have them join our effort to build on the culture of innovation across our city, and within the community we're cultivating at the Ion." Continue reading.

Houston-based oil and gas software company raises $1.6 million

XXXL pumpjack silhouettes

Houston-based M1neral has raised $1.6 million in an oversubscribed pre-seed round. Getty Images

A Houston energy tech startup that's digitally optimizing the minerals rights buying and selling process has closed an oversubscribed pre-seed financing round to the tune of $1.6 million.

M1neral's round was co-led by Amnis Ventures and Pheasant Energy, among a few other select investors and strategic partners. The company was co-founded by Jacob Avery, Kyle Chapman, and Shawn Cutter.

"Amnis Ventures is delighted to co-lead the current round of funding in M1neral. The founders come with deep knowledge of oil and gas, coupled with proven, delivered technology implementations in the energy space," says Manuel Silva III, president of Amnis Ventures Inc., in a press release. "The M1neral platform will bring age-old upstream oil and gas processes into the technology revolution of the 21st century that we have come to expect in other sectors." Continue reading.

BrainCheck has moved to a new office as it grows its team and expands its product. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston health tech startup moves into new office amid major growth

growth

Following a series A round of fundraising, a Houston digital health startup is on a bit of a hiring spree, leading to new office space the company has room to grow into.

BrainCheck, which was founded in 2015 by neuroscientist David Eagleman, is a cognitive assessment startup that has developed a software tool for primary care doctors to use to assess their patients' cognitive health so that they can more quickly diagnose and treat them for maladies like dementia.

The 19-person company headquartered in Houston — with a secondary office in Austin focused on product development — has relocated its operations from coworking space in the Texas Medical Center to an office in the Rice Village area. The move was made possible by an $8 million series A financing round that closed in October.

"It's pretty exciting to have reached this milestone where we need more space," Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, tells InnovationMap. "We were pretty much bursting at the seams in our old office."

The move comes at a time when the company is building out its team. Katz says she is looking to fill a few roles within marketing, sales, and R&D. The team expects to expand to around 25 people by the end of Q1 and then again to 32 employees by the end of the year.

The new positions are needed in part to support the company's product development growth. Rather than just assessing cognitive health, BrainCheck is piloting some automated care plan technology.

"We have a lot of new product development that's underway," Katz says. "A big focus is expanding the output of the cognitive assessment into the cognitive care management."

Following the BrainCheck assessment, this new software will automate a cognitive care plan that doctors can then customize for his or her patients.

"The care plan process right now takes a very long time for the doctors to do, and therefore is very seldom done," Katz says.

And, in some cases, care plans aren't done because there's no cure or limited medications that help these types of cognitive diseases.

"A lot of people think of dementia sometimes as something there's no treatment for," Katz says. "It's true that there are limited pharmaceutical treatments for it, but there's evidence that comprehensive management of the disease is effective."

BrainCheck has opened the door on cognitive assessment. Traditional cognitive assessment used to only be done through a lengthy process and only by a small group of neuropsychologists. It's difficult for patients to find a neuropsychologist and then book an appointment.

"There's a big need to empower primary care doctors to have that ability to assess and manage patients' cognitive help," Katz says, explaining that this creates a perfect market for BrainCheck.

UH's business school has been recognized for innovation and entrepreneurship. Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

Houston health tech company raises $8M, former WeWork exec has a new gig, UH programs recognized, and more innovation news

Short stories

Hitting headlines this month are innovation news stories from sustainability and education to funding and startup competitions.

In this innovation news roundup, two health-focused startups raise money, the University of Houston earns two pats on the back, a Houston-based former WeWork exec joined the C-suite of a sustainable clothing company, and more.

BrainCheck closes $8 million series A round

BrainCheck has received funding to grow its cognitive assessment platform. Photo via braincheck.com

Houston-based BrainCheck, a cognitive health tech platform closed its $8 million series A funding round. Austin-based S3 Ventures and Chicago-based Tensility Venture Partners co-led the round, and Austin-based True Wealth Ventures and Kansas-based Nueterra Capital also contributed to the round.

BrainCheck's digital platform allows physicians to better assess cognitive function in their patients. The new funds will be used for research and development, including customizing the platform's algorithm for an enhanced patient experience, according to a news release.

"Cognitive healthcare should be an end-to-end solution where problems can be assessed early, and results shared between patients and physicians," says Dr. Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, in the release. "By analyzing multiple forms of data, BrainCheck helps physicians create and fine tune personalized interventions. This not only improves outcomes for current patients, but is invaluable to developing management and treatment strategies for future generations."

Former WeWork exec Emily Keeton joins C-suite of a sustainable clothing startup

Goodfair has created a digital thrifting platform. Photo via goodfair.com

After a little over two years at WeWork in leadership positions, Emily Keeton has left the coworking space company to join a Houston startup. Keeton, who was among the founders of Station Houston, is now the chief operating officer at Goodfair, a direct-to-consumer thrift platform based in Houston.

"The rise of fast fashion is contributing to major environmental change," she tells InnovationMap. "Right now, the average American buys 68 new garments a year and wears each one only 7 times. Clothing production is responsible for over 20 percent of all industrial water pollution."

Keeton says she was connected with Goodfair's CEO, Topper Luciani, through the company's lead investor, Paul Bricault of California-based Amplify. Luciani just moved to Houston, and the company also has a warehouse here.

Goodfair sells bundles of "pre-loved" clothes based on size and category at a low price point.

"You know you'll get a medium flannel shirt, but you don't know exactly what color. If you don't like it, you can get a new order for the cost of shipping only," Keeton says. "We have created an entirely new model for this industry, which is an over $14 billion market."

NurseDash raises bridge round as the startup braces for growth

Houston-based NurseDash is the Uber of staffing nursing shifts in medical facilities. Photo via nursedash.com

A growing Houston startup has received bridge funding ahead of opening a larger round. NurseDash, a digital staffing tool for nurses and medical facilities, has received $500,000 from East Coast-based SEI Ventures.

The corporate-backed fund has contributed greatly to higher education institutions, like Capella University, which has a large nursing program.

"Some of the ways we think we can help NurseDash accelerate their growth is getting getting word out to Capella's tens of thousands of alumni and hundreds of employer partners to make sure they are aware of the advantages of the platform, and potentially organizing an educational partnership as well," Taylor Chapman, Houston native and principal at SEI Ventures, tells InnovationMap.

NurseDash, which launched in 2017, now has a presence in 80 facilities on the platform and over 1,000 clinician users in Houston, Austin, and Northeast Ohio.

"We are excited to have SEI join us as a strategic investor and the opportunity that it brings for us to provide enhanced educational opportunities to our clinicians as well as greater exposure the wonderfully talented group that comprises the alumni and nursing students of Cappella University," says CEO and Co-founder Jake Kohl in an email.

University of Houston programs receive recognition

The University of Houston's business school has been recognized for two of its programs. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

The University of Houston's business school has two more feathers to add to its cap.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek named the MBA program at the C. T. Bauer College of Business as among the world's best programs for entrepreneurs. The program tied for ninth in the B- category out of 126 programs surveyed.

"Bauer students indeed reflect the values of our beloved Houston," Professional Programs Associate Dean Leiser Silva says in a news release. "Like our city, they have grit, they are resilient, and they are the bearers of an unparalleled ingenuity. It is in their character to assume calculated risks and be entrepreneurs."

Meanwhile, Bauer's Stimulating Urban Renewal through Entrepreneurship received the 2019 Award of Excellence for Innovation + Talent at the recent University Economic Development Association annual summit. The program creates a partnership between UH students and local entrepreneurs and area business leaders.

"At the heart of the program is experiential learning for our students, along with a commitment to service and civic engagement," says SURE™ founder and director Saleha Khumawala, in a news release.

Capital Factory seeks Texas companies for artificial intelligence challenge

blockchain

Capital Factory is looking for AI companies to compete for $100,000. Getty Images

Austin-based Capital Factory, which has a statewide presence, is looking for startups with artificial intelligence technologies.

The $100,000 Artificial Intelligence Challenge is asking companies to submit their solutions to four key challenges decided by the Army Artificial Intelligence Task Force. The four challenges are: Intelligence support for long-range precision, automated threat recognition for the next-generation combat vehicle, human resources and talent management, and predictive maintenance for military assets.

The competition will conclude on November 12th, at Capital Factory's Defense Innovation Summit. Five technology finalists will be judged by a panel, and one will receive a $100,000 investment that day. The deadline to apply online is October 21.

Work & Mother announces new location

Houston-based Work & Mother is rethinking how new mothers pump in the office. Courtesy of Work & Mother

Houston startup Work & Mother, which runs lactation centers for new moms returning to work, has another location opening. Brookfield Properties announced that Work & Mother has signed a lease for a 949-square-foot space at Three Allen Center at 333 Clay St. in downtown Houston with an expectation top open next summer.

"We are thrilled to partner with Brookfield Properties on this project. We've found that companies aren't equipped to fully address such a private and intimate issue as pumping breast milk in the office," says Abbey Donnell, founder and CEO, in a news release. "It doesn't make sense for every company in a large office tower to take this on individually. Work & Mother is a better economic option for companies in that they reduce their legal risks and create a better working environment, preserving their own office space for their core business."

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Houston school recognized as among the top institutions in the nation

better than all the rest

Houston's Rice University continues to burnish its reputation in higher education.

A ranking released May 5 by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a British company that specializes in higher education data, puts Rice at No. 23 among the top colleges and universities in the U.S. It's the highest-rated Texas school on the list.

Harvard University appears at No. 1 in the ranking, followed by Stanford University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • The University of Texas at Austin ranks 29th.
  • Texas A&M University in College Station ranks 64th.
  • The University of Houston ranks 66th.
  • The University of Texas at Dallas ranks 83rd.

To come up with its ranking, QS Quacquarelli Symonds looked at five factors for more than 350 colleges and universities around the country: employability, learning experience, diversity and internationalization, and research.

Here's how Rice fares in each of those categories:

  • Employability, No. 42.
  • Learning experience, No. 7.
  • Diversity and internationalization, tied for No. 32.
  • Research, No. 33.

Jack Moran, a spokesman for QS Quacquarelli Symonds, says that although the rankings "continue to command record levels of interest, we know that the American higher education sector is wrestling with questions that do not fall within the scope of our … rankings — questions of equity, access, representation, and social justice."

"The QS USA University Rankings have been carefully crafted to shine some independent light on which institutions are doing most to foster the essential relationship between education and social change," Moran adds.

More students soon will be able to take advantage of the top-rated education offered by Rice. In March, the private university announced it would expand the number of undergraduates by 20 percent by the fall of 2025. This would raise undergraduate enrollment to 4,800 and total enrollment to about 9,000.

"Rice's extraordinary applicant pool has grown dramatically despite the challenges posed by the pandemic," President David Leebron says in a news release.

Rice says the number of student applications has climbed 75 percent over the past four years. In 2020, the university received roughly 28 applications for every available slot. For the fall of 2021, almost 30,000 applicants flooded Rice, up 26 percent from the previous year.

Leebron says Rice's previous expansion of enrollment "greatly increased our national and international student applications, enrollment, and visibility. We also dramatically increased diversity on our campus, and we were able to extend the benefits of a Rice education to many more students."

Houston research: Why venture capital firms might change a startup's leadership

houston voices

Consider the 21st century's most storied CEOs: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos. All have one thing in common – not only did they run their companies, they founded them.

Each of these corporate leaders, in other words, had to deal with venture capital firms to find critical resources for their firm's success. And it didn't always end well. Jobs was famously fired when Apple's board replaced him with the former CEO of a soft drink company – a disaster from which Apple took years to recover.

Even if changing CEOs doesn't always work out, however, it often does. And when VCs invest heavily in a company, they are proactive in making their investment pay off. Uber founder Travis Kalanick, for example, who cofounded the ride-sharing app Uber, was pressured to step down in 2017 after the company was rocked by scandals that included reported sexual harassment.

Though Kalanick's flameout drew global attention, being swapped out is actually commonplace for CEOs of startups, according to Rice Business Professor Yan "Anthea" Zhang. In a new study coauthored with Salim Chahine of the American University of Beirut, Zhang examined data on 1,156 venture-capital-backed U.S. initial public offerings between 1995 and 2013. Out of this sample, they found that 472 firms, or 40.8 percent, changed CEOs between the first round of venture capital financing and the IPO.

Venture capitalists often have strong reasons for swapping a CEO out, Zhang notes. Guiding a company from its startup phase to the initial public offering requires a huge learning curve. Attention must be paid to human resources, efficiency, public relations – hurdles that can stymie even the most successful startup leaders. Just as in public companies, CEO deficiencies in these areas can harm a company's IPO success and its stock value after the IPO.

A range of other factors, some subtle, lie behind VC decisions to change startup leadership, the researchers found. Distance between the startup and the venture capital firm's headquarters is one such factor. If a New York VC firm funds a company in Nevada, monitoring the day-to-day work of the startup is more difficult and costly than if the venture capital firm is based in California.

A CEO directly appointed by a venture capitalist is more likely to be seen as the venture capital firm's agent, allowing the VC firm to directly control the startup, the researchers write. Overall, VC firms unable to closely monitor the startups they funded were more likely to look for new leadership.

The CEO's past experience, described by the researchers as "human capital," is also pivotal. A CEO who has successfully led a prior IPO is much less likely to be replaced than one who hasn't been through the experience, Zhang's team found. Similarly, a CEO with finance/accounting experience, an MBA, or a graduate level degree is likely to be seen as more credible than one who lacks such experience or degree.

Chaotic as it might seem to swap horses midstream, replacing a CEO for one with more experience and education correlates to a better valuation of the public offering, the researchers found.

These findings are particularly timely now, in the era of COVID-19. As businesses turn to Zoom and other remote techniques, VCs may be questioning more than ever how well they can monitor their investments without frequent site visits and in-person meetings. Building a company has always been a heavy lift. When your funder can only measure your work through a screen, surviving as a startup CEO may be tougher than ever.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Yan "Anthea" Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Houston innovator joins ESG roundtable, Rice names cohort of student startups, and more innovation news

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It's been a busy season for the Houston innovation ecosystem, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a software startup is focusing on diversity and inclusion, an angel network has a new partner organization, a Houston innovator is playing a major role in ESG, and more.

GoCo hosts its first-ever DEI Hackathon

GoCo is hosting its first hackathon. Photo via Getty Images

GoCo.io, a Houston-based human resources software-as-a-service company, is hosting its first hackathon for diversity, equity, and inclusion begining today, May 6, and continuing through tomorrow, May 7.

GoCo's entire staff is going to work for over 36 hours to build solutions aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for small businesses.

"Building technology to help HR make a difference in the workplace is what we're all about at GoCo," says Allie Collins, head of GoCo's DEI Task Force, in a news release. "HR professionals are being called upon to make profound and meaningful changes to combat racism and inequities. We're hosting this event because our whole team is passionate about creating apps and resources to facilitate that change."

The competitors will be on teams and will present their projects on Monday, May 10, for a panel of judges.

Rice Alliance backs diversity-focused angel investment network

Maria Maso, CEO of baMa, has announced Rice Alliance as a partner organization. Photo courtesy of Nijalon Dunn

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has become a baMa champion of diversity for angel network baMa, or the Business Angel Minority Association.

"Rice Alliance aims to foster an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that not only values differences, but also elevates them as sources of strength and innovation," says Rice Alliance's managing director, Brad Burke, in a news release.

According to the release, baMa will help to introduce Rice to more diverse businesses. The angel network has already tapped into Rice's ecosystem with the $50,000 investment prize baMa awarded during the Rice Business Plan Competition in March.

"Diversity and education go hand by hand so counting with the support of Rice Alliance is a huge step in order to accomplish baMa's goal: close the investment gap in minority-led startups," says baMa CEO, Maria Maso.

Topl named to ESG council

Kim Raath will serve on CNBC's ESG Council. Photo courtesy of Topl

Kim Raath, CEO of Houston-based blockchain company, Topl, has announced that she has been invited to join the CNBC's ESG Council. She was selected among execs from large corporations like companies such as The HEINEKEN Company, Nestlé, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Nissan Motor Corporation, Bain & Company, Credit Suisse, and more.

"As a young startup, this is one of our most exciting milestones. Sitting at the table with industry leaders is great momentum for both Topl's success and our larger ESG mission," Raath writes in Topl's newsletter. "Traceable transparency in supply chains is a game changer for global commerce, and now Topl can learn from and collaborate with multinational corporations. This opportunity will help position our purpose-built blockchain as a solution to solve some of the biggest and most critical problems our world faces, and as we strive to build a more sustainable future for all."

The council is a roundtable of 30 business leaders across industries focused on the challenges posed by sustainability — and the strategies needed to overcome them, according to Raath.

Is Texas a good state for nurses?

A new report ranks states based on their opportunities and friendly environment for nurses. Photo via Getty Images

The Lone Star State's nursing industry was put to the test for a new report from WalletHub, a personal financial website. The study compared all 50 states based on opportunity and competition and work environment. Texas ranked No. 12 overall.

Ranked solely on opportunity and competition — which included evaluating salary, schools, nurses per 1,000 residents, and more — Texas came in at No. 11.

The top states on the list were Arizona, Washington, and Nevada, respectively.

Rice University announces OwlSpark's ninth cohort

Meet the 10 student startups that are joining the OwlSpark family this summer. Photo courtesy of OwlSpark

Rice University's student startup accelerator has named 10 startup teams to its ninth cohort, which kicks off later this month. OwlSpark's 2021 cohort includes teams from across industries — hospitality, sports, oil and gas, consumer, staffing, automotive and more. According to a release from Rice, these are the companies selected:

  • Capybara - a networked platform that facilitates the company-to-company transfer of IT employees with similar skill sets (for example, software developers)
  • ChckMate – a data-driven platform designed to improve customer dining experiences, drive loyalty and increase revenue
  • GatherX Analytics – an AI software platform that predicts location and quantity of hydrocarbon liquid dropout for use by the upstream oil and gas industry
  • HARK – an easy-to-use app designed to significantly enhance the way in which neurodivergent or cognitively impaired individuals communicate real-time with caregivers and loved ones
  • Home Maintainer - a comprehensive solution for homeowners to manage and simplify home maintenance and efficiency
  • OneLab - a robust cloud-based repository designed for effective organization and easy access to a body of data on a specific area of research
  • Oversox– waterproof, durable, sock-like coverings designed to easily slip over the outside of a shoe for use by the serious hiker
  • rutd – an enterprise software and mobile application that provides immediate, actionable, suicide prevention resources to military veterans and family members
  • Tailer – a training platform and sales tool for electric vehicle dealerships and sales personnel
  • Yellow Saffron Labs – a risk analysis platform that gathers datasets from peer-reviewed scientific publications for use by organizations to observe industry trends or upcoming scientific disruptions or discoveries