A local venture capital investor has teamed up with the Ion to bring four workshops focused on helping founders navigate startup funding. Image courtesy of the Ion

Calling all founders — the Ion is hosting a four-part workshop series geared at educating startup CEOs on venture capital.

The Venture Capital for First Time Founders series is put on by Energy Transition Ventures and the Ion and is completely free to attendees. Serial entrepreneur and investor Neal Dikeman is hosting the series with guests joining him for each event. A networking opportunity follows onsite at Second Draught.

“Houston needs more founders," says Neal Dikeman, co-founder and partner of Energy Transition Ventures, in a news release. "The Investor Studio Series is the unvarnished reality of what it takes."

More information and registration is available online. Here's what each workshop will focus on, according to the release:

  • Startuplandia - What Makes Startups Go on Wednesday, January 11, at 4 pm. So you want to do a startup? We all have a choice in life to work for someone else or start something. But half of what you’ve been told about how tech startups form and launch is wrong - get the real story. Guest: Juliana Garaizar, vice president of Innovation and head of Greentown Labs Houston, and a board member of the Angel Capital Association
  • VC 101 - How Venture Capital Funds Work on Wednesday, January 18, at 4 pm. If you’re going to be, or raise money from, a VC, you better have a good idea of how their business works and what makes them tick — demystifying the decisions and person behind the curtain from a venture capitalist’s own experience. Guest: Andrew Nicholson, managing director of Goose Capital
  • How to Raise Venture Capital as a First-Time Founder on Wednesday, January 25, at 4 pm. Raising venture capital is an art with unwritten rules the VCs, and your advisors don’t tell you. Luckily venture capitalists are more predictable than they think — avoid the rookie mistakes and get the story on how to pull it off from a 7-time startup founder turned VC. Guest: Brad Burke, managing director of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • The Biggest Mistakes Founders Make After Raising Money on Wednesday, February 1, at 4 pm. So now you’re in the rarified Funded Founders Club. Can you avoid the first-time founder mistakes or build a VC-backed company and make it to a successful exit? Guest: John Reale, venture lead for the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and managing director of Integr8d Capital,

More guests may be announced and featured at the upcoming events. Each workshop takes place at the Ion.

“As Houston's HQ for innovation, the Ion is the perfect meeting place to host this workshop series for anyone interested or has a stake in a startup," says Christine Galib, senior director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Ion, in the release.

The Ion's Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises has named four companies to its first cohort. Photo courtesy of The Ion

New Houston accelerator supporting BIPOC in aerospace announces inaugural cohort

out of this world

A new accelerator program that is focused on aerospace innovation and supporting entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color has announced its first cohort.

The Ion's Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises, or AIA for MBEs, has named the four companies that well be a part of its inaugural cohort. The 12-week program will guide the entrepreneurs through the development of their innovations, the growth of their businesses, and the development of relationships with mentors, corporate partners, and stakeholder networks.

"Aerospace contains a myriad of dimensions and by demystifying the industry in the form of the AIA for MBEs, we are able to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem," says Christine Galib, senior director of programs at The Ion, in a news release. "It's our goal to not only support participants to be successful, but to open the playing field for other minority business enterprises hoping to enter the space."

The program's existence was possible through a partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center, DivInc, and The Ion — as well as a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency.

Here are the four companies to take part in the cohort, according to the release:

  • Axialnics Systems Inc., led by Vincent Mbuvi, is an aerospace technology platform developing a Disc-wing Rotor Aircraft Concept, which takes-off as a helicopter, carries as much payload as an airplane and flies just as fast beyond the range of typical helicopters. The innovation solves runway inefficiencies and enhances military efficiency.
  • Boozed Beverages LLC, led by Damyanna Cooke and Jim Luu, specializes in intelligent vending in the liquor industry. The company provides a contactless, AI-driven cocktail making and dispensing vending machine, for locations such as weddings and events, sporting venues, festivals, restaurants, and nightclubs and lounges.
  • NANCo Aero, led by Shern Peters, provides urban air vehicles and drones to commercial, small business, government, and nonprofit organizations. It is working to develop the first Hybrid Personal Air Vehicle capable of transporting a family over the city of Houston.
  • Stratos Perception LLC, led by Rube Williams, develops artificial intelligence solutions for space systems to benefit human productivity, safety, and enterprise. It is also developing an intelligent transducer, a tool that can monitor and control multiphase flow, for use in space such as lunar water extraction and waste processing.

The hub and its associated accelerator will be housed at The Ion when it opens up later this year — along with the organizations other accelerators — but the program is being launched virtually on Wednesday, April 21, at noon.

"The Aerospace Innovation Hub came from the idea that the aerospace industry is well-known in Houston but for many people, particularly underrepresented communities, there have been barriers in entering the aerospace industry," says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. "By offering mentorship, introduction to capital and training opportunities, with significant backing from Microsoft, The Ion is working to remove the barriers."

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has announced its most recent cohort ahead of moving into the physical hub later this year. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston accelerator announces third cohort focused on sustainability

seeing green

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has named the five companies participating in its latest cohort, which starts next week.

Launched in 2019, the programing for the accelerator and its member companies focus on addressing the needs and challenges the city of Houston and other major metros are facing — including climate change. The five selected companies will start the 12-week program next week with a goal of securing a pilot with the city.

"We're thrilled to kick-off Cohort 3," says Christine Galib, senior director of programs at The Ion, in a news release. "The ISRCA remains a core asset in The Ion's Programs portfolio, since it enables recurring collisions, connections, and collaborations among startups, stakeholders, and subject-matter experts."

The selected startups are:

  • Phase Filter/Kinetic Synergies: The university-born startup has created an automatically changing air filter that works with existing HVAC systems to lower cost and energy use as well as eliminate the annoying chore.
  • Frakktal: In an effort to create a circular economy, Frakktal repurposes and reuses discarded polymer materials from the greater Gulf Coast region to also use in the same region.
  • Moonshot Compost: The company collects food waste from Houston residents and businesses via curbside pickup and drop-off while also collects and provides data on each pickup.
  • Teratonix: Using radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic from radio /TV broadcast, cell phone tower, wifi routers, and more, Teratonix provides solutions to generate electricity.
  • Smart Watts:The company taps into smart meter sensors to enable a personalized energy monitoring dashboard that provides users with data to make better energy use decisions.

"The ISRCA Cohort 3 will highlight companies that focus on making sure Houston is here for generations to come," says Courtney Cogdill, program manager for The Accelerator Hub at The Ion, in the release. "By activating the Houston innovation ecosystem and showcasing Houston's talent, Cohort 3 will spotlight Houston as a city committed to sustainability."

The previous cohorts of the program focused on resilience and mobility in Cohort 1 and cleantech for Cohort 2.

"As the world-at-large expands their mobility with social distancing restrictions lifted, it's important cities and businesses review their sustainability practices and carbon footprint and continue to improve upon the progress that's been made," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, in the release. "The Ion is excited to empower entrepreneurs who will play a critical role in improving sustainability. With Houston and our diverse and innovative industries as a backdrop, The Ion is prepared to address the challenges sustainability will face in a post COVID-19 world."

The program will be housed in The Ion, a 266,000-square-foot mixed-use structure, which is expected to open within the next few months, along with the organization's other accelerator programs.

Learn more about The Ion's accelerators by streaming this recent Houston Innovators Podcast with Galib and Cogdill:

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Anu Pansare of gBETA, and Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion. Courtesy photos

4 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four innovators across industries recently making headlines — from space tech to startup development organizations.

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

NASA has renewed its support for Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health. Libby Neder Photography

Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, got the green light on a grant renewal from NASA, which will allow the organization to continue to conduct biomedical research geared at protecting astronauts in deep space through 2028. NASA opted to continue the partnership and now TRISH will receive additional funding of up to $134.6 million from 2022 to 2028.

"NASA has received outstanding value from our bold approach to sourcing and advancing space health research and technologies," institute director Dorit Donoviel, says in a statement. "We are proud to be NASA's partner in its human space exploration mission and to be supporting the research necessary to create new frontiers in healthcare that will benefit all humans." Click here to read more.

Anu Pansare, director of gBETA Houston

Anu Pansare has joined the local gBETA team. Photo via gbetastartups.com

Anu Pansare has a new gig. The Sugar Land-based consultant has over 20 years of experience working with the likes of Chevron, Schlumberger, and Accenture, as well as smaller startups. Pansare, who's also been involved with the Houston Angel Network, recently started as director of gBETA's Houston office.

As the main liaison between Houston and gener8tor's national network, Pansare will lead gBETA's third cohort — for which applications are open online — through its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment. Click here to read more.

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the four accelerator programs that are striving to advance Houston. Photos courtesy of The Ion

Courtney Cogdill, program director of the Accelerator Hub, and Christine Galib, senior director, at The Ion joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what all they are focused on across the business accelerator programs at the hub. Now more than ever, innovators are dedicating their careers to resilient technologies that can enhance the city's future. And this effort comes naturally to Houstonians, Galib says on the podcast.

"There is an ethos here that is one of roll up your sleeves, collaborate, and get to work. Get the work done, and have fun while you're doing it," she says on the show. "We all come together in a time of challenge, and we really show each other that we're not just individually resilient, we are collectively resilient." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the four accelerator programs that are striving to advance Houston. Photos courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerators are working to bring out the best in Houston — from resiliency to diversity

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 71

When you look at the business accelerator programs offered at The Ion, a rising innovation hub in Midtown, you see Houston represented. From energy and space tech to resiliency and diversity, the four accelerators intentionally cover what Houston is all about.

Courtney Cogdill, program director of the Accelerator Hub, and Christine Galib, senior director, at The Ion joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what all they are focused on across the business accelerator programs at the hub. Editor's note: This podcast was recorded ahead of the winter storm that affected the state of Texas this week.

Now more than ever, innovators are dedicating their careers to resilient technologies that can enhance the city's future. And this effort comes naturally to Houstonians, Galib says on the podcast.

"There is an ethos here that is one of roll up your sleeves, collaborate, and get to work. Get the work done, and have fun while you're doing it," she says on the show. "We all come together in a time of challenge, and we really show each other that we're not just individually resilient, we are collectively resilient."

Neither Galib nor Cogdill are from Houston — but each have observed the same resiliency among the city and its people.

"Houston really just picks itself back up by the bootstraps and just runs," Cogdill says.

But The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, launched in 2019, was only just the beginning for The Ion's Accelerator Hub. Last year, three more accelerator programs were announced — the Aerospace Innovation Hub for Minority Business Enterprises at The Ion, Austin-based DivInc's Accelerator, and the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator. These were made possible through a series of grants — a $1.4 million one from NASA to launch the ASCI-Hub and a $1.5 million one from Economic Development Administration.

Galib and Cogdill discuss each of the programs, as well as what they are excited for when The Ion opens later this year. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

The second cohort of The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator hosted a day full of thought leadership and startup pitches. Photo by Shobeir Ansari, Getty Images

4 startups pitch at virtual demo day for Houston accelerator program

resillience

In light of COVID-19, it is more relevant than ever to discuss and support startups with sustainability and resiliency in mind. At The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Cohort 2 Demo Day, a virtual audience was reminded of that.

"So, 2020 has certainly been a year of unprecedented uncertainty and change for Houston, for Texas, for our country, and for our world," says Christine Galib, director of the accelerator. "The past few months in particular have been especially difficult as the global pandemic and civil unrest continue to spotlight systemic and structural scars on the face of humanity."

The virtual event was streamed on July 1 and hosted several thought leaders and presenters before concluding with pitches from four of the cohort companies.

"Through it all, and in a virtual world, Cohort 2 startups, the mentors, and our Ion team have been the change we wish to see in the world," Galib continues. "For these startups, failure is simply not an option — and neither is going at it alone."

Earlier this year, Galib announced the second cohort would be focused on solutions for Houston's air quality, water purification, and other cleantech needs. The program, backed by Intel, Microsoft, and TX/RX, launched on Earth Day and commenced shortly after. Cohort 3 is expected later this year.

Here are the four companies that pitched and the problems they are trying to solve.

Re:3D

re:3D was founded just down the street from NASA's Johnson Space Center to address the need for a mid-market 3D printing solution. The Houston-based startup also wanted to create their 3D printer that operates on recycled plastics in order to prevent excess waste.

"Where some see trash, we see opportunity," Charlotte Craff, community liaison at Re:3D says in her presentation.

Re:3D's clients can get their hands on their own Gigabot for less than $10,000, and the printer uses pellets and flakes from recycled plastics —not filament — to print new designs. Clients are also supported by the company with design software and training.

"We can help the city of Houston help meet its climate action and resilient city goals by transforming the way people think about recycling," Craff says about Re:3D's future partnerships with the city.

Water Lens

While two-thirds of the world is covered in water, only 0.7 percent is drinkable. And of that fresh water, 92 percent of it is used in agricultural and industrial settings. This is how Keith Cole, CEO and founder of Water Lens, set the scene for his presentation.

Water Lens, which is based in Houston with a lab located in Austin, wants to solve the problem of cities and countries running out of fresh, drinkable water by equipping huge water-using companies with a water testing tool.

"We've developed a system to let anyone test any water literally anywhere in the world," Cole says, citing clients like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Halliburton.

S2G Energy

S2G Energy, based in Mexico, is focused on optimizing energy management in order to digitize, empower, and unlock potential for cost-saving efforts and technology.

In his pitch, Geronimo Martinez, founder of S2G Energy, points out that restaurants, commercial buildings, and other adjacent industries can save money by implementing energy management solutions that come out of S2G Energy's expertise. In Mexico, Martinez says, clients include the top two restaurant chains that — especially during COVID-19 — need optimization and cost saving now more than ever.

Eigen Control

A refinery's distillation columns are expensive — their fuel use accounts for 50 of operating costs, says Dean Guma, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Eigen Control.

Guma explains in his pitch how Eigen Control's technology can plug into existing sensors, model networks based on data, and employ the startup's artificial intelligent technology to reduce carbon emissions and save money on operating costs.

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

money moves

Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

moon rider

Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

guest column

One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

Network

A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

Employee Referrals

When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

Alternative Candidates

In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

Contingent Workforce

Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

Internal Talent

Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.