Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photos courtesy

'Tis the season for giving — and what if you could check off your holiday to-do list and simultaneously support some local startups? This year's Houston startup gift guide includes comfortable-yet-stylish heels, culinary treats, and more.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas and check out the 2020 and 2019 startup gift guides as well for even more options.

For the family fashionista: All-day comfort shoes

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Before starting her business, Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside. Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

Earlier this year, Tomson shared the Getaway Sticks origin story with InnovationMap. The heels are available online for around $200 per pair.

For the resident chef: Fresh fish delivered

Sugar Land-based Fish Fixe floated their seafood delivery service on Shark Tank last year. Photo via Shark Tank

Houstonians Melissa Harrington and Emily Castro saw how beneficial incorporating fish into your diet can be — so they decided to launch an easier way to do it. They launched Fish Fixe in 2017 to deliver seafood with easy-to-access instructions on storage and thawing — plus cooking recipes that take around 20 minutes.

The duo appeared on the 13th season of Shark Tank last year. In 2020, as InnovationMap reported, the company saw a 400-percent increase in sales. They pitched asking for $200,000 in investment. Lori Greiner, the "queen of QVC," took the bait — and 25 percent equity.

Shoppers can stock up on various boxes from $109 to $219, or opt for a gift card for their loved one.

For the health nut: Sustainably-sourced nutrients

A Houston-based fund has deployed capital into a local nutritional supplement business. Photo via Instagram

Houston--based iwi creates nutritional supplements for the brain and the heart — and they are doing it in a sustainable setting: algae farms. These football field-sized farms operate on desert land using just salt water and sand and produce algae sustainably — all while absorbing CO2. Miguel Calatayud, CEO of the company, tells InnovationMap that the farms even area able to reuse 98 percent of the water involved in the process. Earlier this year, iwi received an investment from a local group in an $8 million deal.

The company has almost a dozen options online for around $30 per canister of supplements.

For your aging loved ones: Afterlife planning and memory keeping

The Postage — a Houston-based company that's streamlining afterlife planning — has rolled out a new app. Photo courtesy of The Postage

There's a lot that goes into legacy and afterlife planning, and a Houston startup has emerged to make the process a whole lot easier. The Postage helps its users generate their wills and organize information to leave behind, the company's founder, Emily Cisek, shares with InnovationMap. The platform also every user to leave messages, photos, and memories in a digital vault that will stand the test of time.

Giving the gift of legacy planning can be an option for anyone in your family — from the grandparents to the newlyweds.

For someone seeking luscious locks: Hair growth tracking kit

This startup is making sure every follicle of hair on your head is counted. Photo via myhaircounts.com

While it might seem odd to gift someone a hair loss tracking kit, this product from a Houston company has helped many men and women suffering from hair density challenges. MyHairCounts created a hair density imaging kit and app based on proprietary and patent-pending software. The kit includes a variety of items such as scalp imaging guides, a comb, and gel to help individuals photograph their hair follicles at specified angles. Users then upload these photographs into the app for analyses which are delivered within 48 hours. These analyses inform the user whether or not their hair regrowth treatment is effective.

The kit itself is just $40 and available online. Users can work with the company on a longer hair growth plan, too.

Bonus: What to bring to the table

Support Houston startups by bringing these goodies to your next festive shindig. Photos courtesy

Sometimes your presence is the present, and if you're headed to some holiday dinner parties, here are some innovative ideas for the potluck.

  • Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., a vertical indoor farming company producing leafy greens and herbs and delivering them locally to grocery stores in Texas and nearby states. Pick up Dream Harvest products at a Whole Foods location, and read more about the company.
  • This year has been a big one for the growing Bread Man Baking Co., as the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston. Pick up some of the company's products at Whole Foods or HEB. Read more about the company.
  • A new, “hyperpure” oxygen-enriched water brand has rolled out in Houston in single-serve and subscription options. Dubbed HOW — Hyperpure Oxygenated Water — the award-winning super-filtered water (via a 14-level filtration process that removes impurities down to the nano-level .0001 microns) is now available at 35 specialty retailers around town. Read more about the company.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Philip Dutton of Solidatus, Benjamin Foster of Nurseify, and Tasos Katsaounis of Bread Man Baking Co. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from baking to software development — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Philip Dutton, CEO of Solidatus

Philip Dutton is the new Houston-based CEO of Solidatus, a London-founded data management startup. Photo via LinkedIn

As part of a company reorganization, data management startup Solidatus has established Houston as its North American headquarters and has named co-founder Philip Dutton as its Houston-based CEO.

Founded in London in 2017, Solidatus initially focused on supplying data management software to businesses in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but has since extended its reach to North America. Overall, Solidatus employs more than 110 people. It plans to triple its U.S. headcount over the next year.

“Solidatus serves visionary organizations that desire streamlined access and clarity of their data to build smarter and more profitable businesses. That’s everyone from Fortune 500 companies that have an unmanageably complex data landscape to startups and scale-ups that want to optimize their data practices from the get-go. There is no greater concentration of these organizations than in the U.S.,” Dutton, who had been the co-CEO, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

Benjamin Foster, founder and CEO of Nurseify

Benjamin Foster was leading human resources at Gulf Coast Division during Hurricane Harvey when he saw a huge need for an alternative to hiring short-term nurses quickly. That's when he had the idea for Nurseify, a platform that allows for nurses to find jobs — and for facilities to find nurses with the specialties they need. The platform is now live in five pilot states — Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Nevada.

Nurses are facing a significant amount of burnout — in part due to what they went through during the pandemic, but also because of the stressful work environments due to hiring misalignment. Foster says he's intentionally designed the platform to be supportive of nurses.

"We want Nurseify to be known as the most nurse-friendly company in the world. We believe we can bridge the gap between administration and operations and nurses," Foster says. "We want 'Nurseify' to become a verb at some point." Click here to read more.

Tasos Katsaounis, CEO and founder of Bread Man Baking Co.

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls. He took that hobby and turned it into Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42. Click here to read more.

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Houston entrepreneur on how he cooked up a new career

kneading a change

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls.

And while for many during the pandemic it became somewhat of a cliché to bake sourdough at home, Katsaounis was getting a head start on developing the ingredients for Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42.

While in growth mode, Bread Man Baking Co. had to change its entire production process, investing in state-of-the-art industrial bakery equipment to allow them to produce at scale. The company now also uses cutting-edge breadmaking machinery to emulate Katsaounis’ Yiaya recipes from Greece to get the “hand shaping,” homemade effect in the dough.

They have also developed the capability of flash freezing their product to preserve the product’s integrity for distribution purposes without filling it with chemically based preservatives or conditioners that are traditionally used in the food industry.

“We are all about innovation and evolution, but it’s bread at the end of the day,” he says. “You have to look at it from the standpoint that there’s no way for us to triple our production and maintain quality and the integrity of an artisan bread product without innovating, without evolving, without adapting. We believe in the artisan process.”

Bread Man Baking Co. naturally ferments a majority of its products and bakes the bread in a stone deck, a traditional hearth oven with steam to obtain the coveted crusty bread that patrons desire.

The bread is sold in 65 restaurants around Houston – including Postino Wine Cafe's four locations, Georgia James, and the Tiny Boxwood concepts. The company is now also distributing to Whole Foods and H-E-B retailers, pushing out bread to five states total.

“We’ve done all this in the last six months since moving into our new facility,” he says. “It's been fun to watch. Every month is a new high sales month and we're just like, let’s keep this going.”

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Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

new to HOU

Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.

Houston physicist scores $15.5M grant for high-energy nuclear physics research

FUTURE OF PHYSICS

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

The Rice team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas. Photo via Rice.edu

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.