SeekerPitch won the third annual CodeLaunch Houston. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The third annual CodeLaunch Houston event resulted in two winners — one chosen by the audience, the other by judges — both tackling separate issues in the future of work.

SeekerPitch, a next-generation hiring platform that provides artificial intelligence-enhanced and video technology tools to both job hunters and hiring teams, took the grant prize, which was voted on by the audience of the February 28 event. The team was supported by Honeycomb Software, which won last year's competition too with its startup partner, E360.

"In Gen Z right now, landing an interview is like winning the lottery," Ryan Reisner, president and founder of SeekerPitch, says in his pitch at the event. "And employers have their own set of problems — they're having a hard time connecting with the next generation."

iShiftX, supported by Houston-based Blue People, secured the judges' award with a tie-breaking vote. The company, founded by Landi Spearman, uses digital twin technology to provide 24/7 leadership coaching at a scalable level.

"Leaders have the biggest impact on our teams, our children, on the future, and on the next generation," Spearman says in her final appeal to judges and the audience. She called out the burnout and stress of leadership and coaching, and she pitched her tech enabled solution.

In addition to SeekerPitch and iShiftX, four other startups with their development support partners pitched, including:

The competition consisted of three rounds where two startups went head-to-head, and attendees were asked to vote for their favorite pitch. SeekerPitch, iShiftX, and Allonge Financial made it to the final round before the two winners were announced based on a final round of voting.
CodeLaunch is back with its 2024 Houston cohort. Photo via codelaunch.com

Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

After winning CodeLaunch last year, Matt Bonasera, enterprise architect at E360, looks forward to the future of the energy tech company. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Growing Houston energy tech company aims to improve building energy efficiency, air quality

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Houston-based energy efficiency company Energy 360 is working to balance what is often viewed as a tradeoff between high quality clean air and energy efficiency within corporate buildings.

E360 is a subsidiary of InTech Energy, a software company that provides a variety of energy efficiency solutions for commercial spaces. The enterprise architect of E360, Matt Bonasera, says the platform functions as an energy management system as it monitors air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and can adjust electricity usage among a host of other outputs.

“We are trying to holistically look at each building instead of just looking at it purely from the energy efficiency perspective or purely from looking at it from a health perspective,” Bonasera says.

Bonasera says E360 is the “last mile” in the energy transition, ensuring companies stick to their cost and energy-saving tactics after implementing them via consistent monitoring. E360 also helps users acquire energy efficiency grants from the U.S. government, using the platform to keep corporations accountable to their energy-saving goals.

“The market is really desperate for energy efficiency and there’s a lot of low hanging fruit out there. Only 10 percent of buildings have any energy efficiency mechanisms whatsoever,” Bonasera shares.

Bonasera says E360 predominantly works with corporations that own their own commercial space, particularly charter schools, churches, and Native American reservations. Though the platform is designed to save building-owners money and can assist commercial subletters, Bonasera says E360’s users tend to have a personal interest in their own air quality and emissions, prompting them to use the system.

Bonasera says E360 has the potential to dramatically improve the learning environment in schools since contracting with Stafford ISD and several charter schools. After implementing E360’s air quality monitoring and purifying system, Bonasera said schools experienced a significant drop in absenteeism.

“If you just improve the air quality in the building, students will do better, they will have better grades and we will have better outcomes,” Bonasera says.

After initially rolling their product out in California, Bonasera says E360 is gaining serious traction in the South, particularly in Texas. Following the devastating Winter Storm Uri, Bonasera says there has been increased interest in systems like E360 as Texans are hyper-aware of the delicate state of the energy grid.

“In Texas people are looking for ways to be more energy efficient and self-sufficient and this is a way that we help them,” Bonasera shares.

E360 won the top prize at CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, in March 2023 and Bonasera says he is excited about what the future holds as they continuously release new updates to the platform.

“I think we’re at an inflection point in the company and I think this is going to be a really pivotal year for us in growth,” Bonasera says.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss changes to the organization's spring summit. Photo courtesy of HX

HX revamps, rebrands annual innovation week to attract a wider range of entrepreneurs

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 215

For three years, Houston Exponential has hosted a week-long event showcasing and connecting Houston's tech and innovation community, but next year it might look a little different.

Houston Tech Rodeo, which originated in 2020, has been rebranded to H-Town Roundup, but the week of innovation and entrepreneurship still has the same goal of providing programming and events that connect and educate Houstonians. And, for the ease of transition, the organization is still conveniently referring to the event as HTR.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the change is meant to make for a more inclusive experience for entrepreneurs of small businesses, something she's seen a need for since she took on her role last year.

"This year, we've had the better part of a year to think about what can be different and how can we serve the founder," she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Branch explains that some members of the Houston community confused the event for being associated with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo or for being only for true tech people. Branch says the wanted to open the door a little wider to entrepreneurs who are innovative without necessarily working in technology.

"That's not what we wanted — to exclude anyone," she says. "H-Town Roundup is going to allow us to be more inclusive."


CodeLaunch, a Plano-based accelerator that produces high-energy startup pitch events, is returning to HTR for 2024. Last year, the Houston winner, which was Energy360, went on to win overall, Branch says.

On the show, Branch says in general 2024 should be a better year for Houston's innovation ecosystem. In light of 2023's challenges and uncertainty, the year has not been a good one for anyone within the startup and tech value chain.

"We took a step back to take a step forward," Branch says, "and that's across the board — whether you're an investor, an organization, an entrepreneur — because there was so much uncertainty."

"Let's revisit the playbook," she adds. "We're facing a big game, and we can't use yesterday's tools to get there."

CodeLaunch named its winner — and more Houston innovation news. Photo courtesy of Honeycomb

Houston startup secures bank partnership, energy tech co. wins competition, and more

short stories

Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from being recognized for their out-of-this-world innovation to big wins.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a Houston company snags a major partnership, an energy tech startup wins big on stage, and more.

The Postage gets a new partner

The Postage platform will be available to AmBank Company's employees, customers, and their families. Photo courtesy of The Postage

A Houston tech platform that streamlines estate and legacy planning has entered into a partnership with AmBank Company — American State Bank, American Investment & Trust, and Perspective Insurance — in Sioux Center, Iowa. The bank will deliver The Postage's services to its employees, customers, and their families.

The Postage unique platform allows users important information organizational tools, as well as state-specific will document creation. The technology also allows users to share meaningful family memories, write future messages, and collaborate with loved ones of their choosing.

"Community is at the core of everything American State Bank does. They exemplify that by supporting their customers through the myriad of choices that arise while navigating their financial lives. The Postage fits right into that, and we are thrilled to share our platform with their employees and customers in their planning and organization efforts," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage, in a news release. "We hope to grow awareness of the family-driven digital solution and provide AmBank's customers the opportunity to gain control and safeguard their critical information. We look forward to providing AmBank's customers with the guidance they need to protect their wealth and wisdom now and for generations to come."

The partnership, which rolled out last month, was announced as American State Bank and the family of brands celebrated 50 years of business.

"Our commitment to delivering outstanding service and top-notch products to our customers, colleagues, and community has been unwavering for over half a century," says Joel Westra, AmBank first vice president. "This partnership allows us to extend our digital services while staying true to our core values of connection and community.

"Our team has witnessed the struggles of families coping with losing a loved one, we recognized the need for a service like The Postage," he continues. "Far too often, people are uncertain about the next steps, the whereabouts of important documents, and even their loved one's final wishes. We recognize that to prevent these challenges, families need help navigating difficult conversations and guidance on how to get started with their planning, which The Postage provides."

E360 wins Houston startup competition

E360 and Honeycomb Software share the win at the 2023 Houston CodeLaunch event. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, hosted its second Houston startup pitch competition last week, and a Houston energy efficiency startup emerged victorious.

E360 won the top prize at the event on March 2. The program paired six finalists with consultant development teams to pitch and compete for up to $150,000. The startup's technology is a holistic building solution that monitors both the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of commercial buildings.

“The goal I pursued at CodeLaunch was to meet industry leaders and investors who can help take the product to the next level," says Mat Bonassera, chief enterprise architect at E360, in a news release. “The vast majority of buildings are both incredibly inefficient as well as dangerous to their occupants, due to the dangerous levels of compounds in the air.

"We solve both these complex problems at the same time," he continues. "This is unheard of in our industry. We do this by monitoring vast sums of IOT data and then using Machine Learning and real-time monitoring we adjust the building to optimize its performance. This is a revolutionary way to look at commercial buildings."

E360 shares the win with its partner development team Honeycomb Software, an international custom software development company. The provided hands-on support to E360 scale during a two-day hackathon held February 25 and 26.

“The desire to promote energy efficiency of the buildings and the sustainability in business influenced our decision of whom to work with during the Hackathon," says Oleksandr Semeniuk, CEO of Honeycomb Software, in the release. "Our team worked tirelessly to expand the functionality of E360, and this victory is a testament to their hard work and dedication."

Axiom named among most innovative companies

KBR is one of Axiom Space's partners on its new NASA-sanctioned ISS project. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

Fast Company named it's 50 most innovative companies — and Axiom Space, a Houston-based commercial, full-service orbital mission provider, was named No. 49 on the list. It was also recognized as one of the most innovative space tech companies "for going to space without a chaperone," per the magazine.

The article recognized several of Axiom's accomplishments, including:

  • Managing the first all-private mission to the International Space Station in April of 2022. The mission sent a four-person crew into space for 17 days.
  • Developing plans to expand the international community of space explorers, including Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and others.
  • Building a module to attach to the ISS, which is progress toward the world’s first commercial free-floating space station.

“In the space business, there’s a big focus on the transportation, the rockets,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom, tells Fast Company. “But if you think about the railroads that were built across the U.S., they were built to serve a destination. Without a reason to go somewhere, they wouldn’t exist. We’re building the destination in space—the real estate to allow multiple businesses to operate in low-Earth orbit and take advantage of the microgravity environment.”

NASA also makes the ranking for "showing that a public space program can still do big things," according to the list.

Calling all student-founded startups and businesses

Rice and UH have programs for startup and small business entrepreneurs. Photo via uh.edu

Rice University and the University of Houston have upcoming deadlines for their summer accelerators. The summer programs all operate in coordination with each other and offer support for student, faculty, or staff founders and their startups and small businesses.

The four programs, and their focus and application deadlines, are as follows:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one Rice student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's RedLabs is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one UH student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 31.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at Rice. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's Red Launch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at UH. Apply by March 31.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston for March. Photo via Getty Images

10 can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for March

where to be

It's time to look at what's on the agenda for Houston innovators for the month of March — a busy one, from the end of Tech Rodeo and the start of CERAWeek, plus many more things to add to your calendars.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


March 2 — CodeLaunch Houston

Improving is hosting CodeLaunch Houston — a high energy startup pitch competition — which will round out Houston Tech Rodeo, which is taking place from Monday, February 17, through Thursday, March 2. Check out the finalists here.

The event is Thursday, March 2, from 6 to 9 pm, at 713 Music Hall. Click here to register.

March 4 — Softeq Chili Showdown

Softeq is hosting its chili cookoff event and official after-party of Houston Tech Rodeo. The event will include the broader Houston community, drive awareness of startup development resources available to the community, demonstrate new technology, feature local culture, and promote local startup job creation, all while benefiting Lemonade Day, a fun, experiential program that teaches youth how to start, own and operate their very own business.

The event is Saturday, March 4, from 10 am to 2 pm, at Truck Yard Houston. Click here to register.

March 6 — Energy Workforce of the Future Summit

At this year's summit, Ally Energy will unveil the Energy Workforce Outlook study on workforce transition and hear from leaders, policymakers, startup CEOs, investors, and innovators about how to take all energy forward.

The event is Monday, March 6, from 8 am to 2 pm, at The Petroleum Club of Houston. Click here to register.

March 6 — Transition on Tap at Greentown Labs

Transition On Tap is Greentown Labs' monthly networking event devoted to fostering conversations and connections among the climate and energy transition ecosystem in Houston and beyond. Entrepreneurs, investors, students, and friends of climatetech are invited to attend, meet colleagues, discuss solutions, and engage with our growing community.

The event is Monday, March 6, at 5 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

March 6-10 — CERAWeek by S&P Global

CERAWeek by S&P Global returns to downtown Houston. The annual conference brings energy leaders from around the world to discuss the industry's trends and future. The Agora track focuses on the future of energy, which includes clean energy and innovation.

The conference is Monday, March 6, to Friday, March 10, at The George R. Brown Convention Center. Click here to register.

March 7 — Energy Tech Venture Day

The Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day is a fast-paced event connecting nearly 40 energy ventures with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service provider. Ventures will give 3-minute pitches with a networking reception so you can meet the energy ventures and learn more about their technologies.

The event is Tuesday, March 7, from 3 to 6:30 pm, at Rice University. Click here to register.

March 8 — Navigating Careers: Insights & Inspiration from Women Who Have Done It All

In today’s career landscape for C-level leaders, directors, university innovators, entrepreneurs, and founders, what does success look like? How do women navigate barriers, turn challenges into opportunities, and tackle whatever comes their way with poise and confidence? Join us at the Ion for a panel featuring high-profile women thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and influencers--all on top of their field and all with incredible journeys and stories. These women will share their wisdom and wit in authentic ways. A not-to-miss panel, followed by breakout room discussions with each panelist!

The event is Wednesday, March 8, from 8:30 to 11 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 8 — International Women’s Day Luncheon

This luncheon aims to celebrate womanhood while acknowledging and getting inspired for the challenge of promoting progress.

The event is Wednesday, March 8, from 11 am to 2 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

March 9 — Dream Big Ventures Investor Studio Series: Energizing Latino/a Investors

Join the Ion for a fireside chat with Dream Big Ventures Founder & CEO Staci LaToison, and Angeles Investors CEO & Board President David Olivencia, to discuss trends in venture capital and angel investing, and how they are helping increase access to capital for underrepresented founders.

The event is Thursday, March 9, from 5 to 7 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 10 — TMC Innovation: Federal Health Innovation Day

TMCi is hosting a Federal Health Innovation Day with participation from various federal government agencies focused on health care and innovation. There will be opportunity for face time with the representatives and food will be provided.

The event is Friday, March 10, from 8 am to 2 pm, at TMC Innovation. Click here to register.

March 10-19 — SXSW (in Austin)

Houston founders, investors, and other tech community members will make their way to Austin for SXSW, an interactive festival that is again bringing startup pitches, thought leadership, and more. The Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House returns on March 13 at the Fairmont Hotel, and will be open to badge holders.

The conference is Friday, March 10, to Sunday, March 19, in Downtown Austin. Click here to register.

March 27-28 — Mission Innovate: Reimagining Space Technology to Solve Today’s Challenges

Innovators from around the greater Houston area will convene for a two-day event to innovate, disrupt, and create commercial space companies. Entrepreneurs will work with licensable intellectual property from NASA’s IP portfolio to solve some of the largest problems facing the industry. Experienced and first-time founders will form teams, ideate, and pitch their ideas to renown technology entrepreneurs, including members of the innovation teams at NASA! As part of the event, teams will be taught critical startup methodologies, advised by experienced business leaders, and network with an entire community that dreams of shaping the commercial space industry.

The event is Monday, March 27, to Tuesday, March 28, at The Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

March 29 — The Cannon Fish Creek Grand Opening Party

Celebrate the opening of The Cannon Fish Creek, which is located in Montgomery, Texas, within the Woodforest community.

The event is Wednesday, March 29, from 4 to 6 pm, at The Cannon Fish Creek. Click here to register.

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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.