Here's what startups took home wins at CERAWeek. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Over 200 startups participated in CERAWeek this year, and 18 of those companies pitched at a Greater Houston Partnership event.

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative, an initiative to promote Houston's work within the energy transition, hosted its second annual HETI Energy Ventures Competition at CERAWeek Innovation Agora. The competition was divided into four categories. The first batch of startups consisted of five companies from the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, or TEX-E, a collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas.

The winning startups shared $50,000 of prizes, sponsored by TEX-E. Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies — which has developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA — won both the first place prize and fan favorite for the category. Helix's co-founders, Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, walked away with $25,000 in prizes

Founded by Bryon Praslicka, Daniel Zamarron, and Craig Newman from Texas A&M University, Flux Works LLC, and its magnetic gear technology, took second place and $15,000 home. Tierra Climate, a two-sided marketplace for carbon offsets and other sustainability efforts founded by Emma Konet and Jacob Mansfield from Rice University, won third place and $10,000.

Helix Earth Technologies walked away with the top prize of the TEX-E category. Photo via greentownlabs.com

The next sets of startup pitches we broken down by funding stages — pre-seed and seed, series A, and series B and beyond.

Red Shift Energy, uses plasma energy to produce hydrogen from hydrogen sulfide, won fan favorite in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by HX Venture Fund. A member of Halliburton Labs, the company also was recognized as Chevron favorite.

Per the judging panel, CanaGas won the title of most promising in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by Alchemy Industrial. The Canadian company liquifies natural gas without costly cryogenics or stripping of the gas.

Houston-based Criterion Energy Partners won both the most-promising series A company category sponsored by SLB, but also the fan favorite series A category sponsored by Guerrella LLC. A geothermal energy tech company, Criterion was also a member of Rice's inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator cohort.

OptiSeis Solutions also won in both categories for the series B track. The company, a geophysical acquisition design and software company, won the title of most promising in the series B category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments and the series B fan favorite category sponsored by Halliburton Labs.

Lastly, the competition named the Most Impactful DEI, a category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments. Austin-based Gazelle Ecosystems, a social innovation startup with eco-solutions for corporations, won that category.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.