This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joanna Nathan of Prana Thoracic, Alfredo Arvide of Cloche, and Susan Davenport of the Greater Houston Partnership. Photos courtesy

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

Joanna Nathan, CEO, and co-founder of Prana Thoracic

Prana Thoracic, an innovative startup in the lung cancer diagnostics space, has raised its series A round of investment. Photo via LinkedIn

Joanna Nathan has been busy. It's been just under six months since the launch of her company, Prana Thoracic, a Houston health tech startup tackling lung cancer diagnostics, and the company has already secured its next round of investment funding. A medical device company developing a tool for early interception of lung cancer, the company announced last week that it closed a $3 million series A financing round.

In August, the company received a $3 million award from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. All of Prana Thoracic's funding is being used to develop the unique diagnostic product and the company's path to first-in-human clinical studies.

“Our technology provides a definitive answer to patients with lung nodules and allows physicians to intervene earlier in the lung cancer patient’s journey,” says Joanna Nathan, CEO, and co-founder of Prana, in a news release. “Our team is grateful to have the support of our investors and excited to leverage this financing to accelerate our technology to the bedside.” Read more.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director of Cloche

This new restaurant technology allows for eateries to upgrade to mobile ordering for no cost. Photo courtesy of Cloche

A new mobile software platform has launched in Houston and is currently looking for restaurants interested in utilizing their technology to upgrade their eatery with mobile ordering at no cost to the restaurant.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director of Cloche, tells InnovationMap that the idea for the platform came after the pandemic forced restaurateurs to quickly pivot to touch-free menus. Now that the consumer has adapted to scanning QR codes to view menus, the next step is to optimize ordering — something that will also help with the labor shortages that restaurants are now facing.

"Now is the time transform this industry by creating a better meal experience for the consumers, an easier job for the restaurant staff and a more efficient, more profitable business for restaurant owners," Arvide says. Read more.Read more.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW, HETI House at CERAWeek, and taking the city on tour to spread awareness of the ecosystem. Photo via houston.org

Every year, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world convenes right down the road from Houston in downtown Austin. That's a huge opportunity for the Greater Houston Partnership to showcase and congregate Housto's tech innovators.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how the GHP has made an effort to increase Houston's presence at SXSW over the past few years. This year, the third year for Houston House, the GHP and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative are convening over 20 Houston innovators for two days of programming.

"We want to further the development of our ecosystem," Davenport says on the podcast. "Houston is so uniquely place for this — we have such well-developed industry sectors and a customer base. ... All entrepreneurs want to showcase their products and talk about what their doing. We'll have people there to answer questions and, most importantly, invite them to Houston." Read more and listen to the episode.

This new restaurant technology allows for eateries to upgrade to mobile ordering for no cost. Photo courtesy of Cloche

Houston restaurant tech now serving optimized mobile ordering

order up

A new Houston company has designed a platform that enables mobile ordering at no cost to restaurants.

Cloche, a mobile software platform named after the bell-shape dish cover that's known to come with room service orders, has launched in Houston and is currently looking for restaurants interested in utilizing their technology to upgrade their eatery with mobile ordering at no cost to the restaurant.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director, tells InnovationMap that the idea for the platform came after the pandemic forced restaurateurs to quickly pivot to touch-free menus. Now that the consumer has adapted to scanning QR codes to view menus, the next step is to optimize ordering — something that will also help with the labor shortages that restaurants are now facing.

"Now is the time transform this industry by creating a better meal experience for the consumers, an easier job for the restaurant staff and a more efficient, more profitable business for restaurant owners," Arvide says.

Existing technology costs restaurants thousands, but Cloche takes its cut on the consumer side. Customers pay a small percentage of their total for a platform fee — something that costs significantly less than the tip they'd leave if they had a waiter serve their table.

"We want to put consumers in control of their meal experience by connecting consumer’s phones directly with the kitchens," Arvide says, noting that the platform allows for users to request refills, condiments, and more. "We also want to uphold the restaurants’ staff wellbeing. Our intention is not to have technology replace the human aspect of the restaurant experience but take it to the next level."

One Houston restaurant — Cascabel Mexican Vegan in Spring Branch — has already deployed the technology. The company is actively seeking new eateries to onboard the platform. Arvide says any restaurant can benefit from Cloche, but right now he things cafes and casual dining spots are primed for the platform.

"While the Cloche experience will come more natural for fast food, counter service, ghost kitchens and overall, less personal meal experiences, we are working hard on adapting our service to support everything, from food-trucks to more sophisticated upscale restaurants where we would expect – and encourage – the wait staff to shift their focus from taking food orders manually to delighting customers," Arvide says.

The software for the platform has been designed by Blue People, a Houston-based custom software development shop. The organization works with companies of all sizes looking to develop their own platform, including startups looking to build their MVPs and mobile apps. In addition to his role at Cloche, Arvide serves as chief innovation officer for Blue People.

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Texas lands in top 10 states expected to be most financially affected by weather events

report

Texas — home to everything from tornadoes to hurricanes — cracks the top 10 of a new report ranking states based on impact from weather-related events.

SmartAsset's new report factored in a myriad of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify which states face the most financial risk due to various weather events. In the report, the states were ranked by the total expected annual financial losses per person. Texas ranked at No. 10.

"With a variety of environmental events affecting the wide stretch of the United States, each state is subject to its own risks," reads the report. "Particularly, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, lightning and drought, among other events, can cause damage to buildings, agriculture and individuals alike. When considering insurance, residents and business owners in each state should account for historic and projected losses due to environmental events in their financial plans."

In Texas, the total expected annual loss per person is estimated as $283.15. The report broke down each weather event as follows:

  • Coastal flooding: $1.49
  • Drought: $3.48
  • Earthquake: $1.71
  • Heat wave: $8.16
  • Hurricane: $89.22
  • Riverine flooding: $66.05
  • Strong wind: $5.37
  • Tornado: $71.04
  • Wildfire: $8.26
  • Winter weather: $1.96
Louisiana ranked as No. 1 on the list with $555.55 per person. The state with the lowest expected loss per person from weather events was Ohio with only $63.89 estimated per person.


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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice