The new programming geared at idea-stage startups has officially commenced at TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMCx

There's been a lot of recent Houston innovation news, and you might have missed something. Keep up to date with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston in this innovation news roundup.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

TMCalpha premieres 

Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has long counseled budding medical entrepreneurs in various capacities through its TMC Innovation Institute, but wanted to introduce programming specifically for early-stage companies. That's how TMC alpha was born and announced at the most recent TMCx Demo Day.

The program officially launched on July 18 and will host meetups on the third Thursday of every month.

"Over the past five years, TMC Innovation has blossomed into a global proving ground for healthcare startup companies from across the world, and we could not be more pleased with the myriad ways in which the ecosystem here has expanded in nature," says TMC Innovation Director Tom Luby in a release. "That being said, we realized that TMC Innovation needed to do more for the local innovation community and offer ample resources to support homegrown talent from within the confines of the largest medical city in the world. With TMC alpha, the hope is to connect anyone with a fledgling healthcare idea to the TMC Innovation network and create a two-way channel of meaningful dialogue."

Innowatts scores extra funding and names new C-level exec

Photo via innowatts.com

Houston-based AI-enabled analytics company, Innowatts, is growing in more ways than one. The company, which is fresh off an over $18.2 million Series B fundraise, added move funds and a new C-level executive.

Veronorte, a South American venture capital firm backed by one of the largest utilities in Colombia, became an additional investor in the company with an undisclosed contribution. Meanwhile, Eric Danziger joined the company as its new chief revenue officer. He will be tasked with the growth and sales of Innowatts' eUtility™ product.

"As the utility grid becomes more complex with the proliferation of electric vehicles and distributed generation," says Danziger in a release, "utility companies have to adapt to the data generated and needs of their consumers to manage these complex requirements."

Startup snags free office space prize

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Shoot, a digital marketplace that simplifies the photographer and videographer booking process, has scored free office space in the newly opened Cannon building after receiving the second annual Insperity Innovation Scholarship.

The company was co-founded by Simbai Mutandiro and Alina Merida and has already launched its beta platform. The company will release its next version of the platform soon.

"Our relationship with The Cannon and the Insperity Innovation Scholarship are part of our initiative to help startups become successful more quickly by connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals," says Larry Shaffer, Insperity senior vice president of marketing and business development, in a release. "We congratulate Shoot on receiving this scholarship and wish the co- founders continued success in furthering their entrepreneurial dream."

The other three finalists in the contest — Delfin, Social Chains, and SOTAOG — will receive open desk memberships at The Cannon for six months.

Houston falls low on the list of cities booming with growing private companies

Texas Money

Getty Images

When it comes to the major metros with the biggest jump in private businesses with over $1 million in revenue, Houston is the last on the list for Texas cities. LendingTree looked at the data, and, between 2014 and 2016, Houston only saw an increase of 4.9 percent in million-dollar business growth. This earned the Bayou City a No. 32 ranking across the country.

Dallas was slightly ahead of Houston with 5.2 percent growth and a No. 29 rank. Meanwhile, Austin earned the top spot with 15.1 percent growth. San Antonio, the only other Texas metro in the study, ranked No. 12 with 9 percent growth.

Nesh forms partnership

Oil rig

Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

The Woodlands-based WellDatabase has announced a partnership with Nesh, an AI-optimized tool that's like the Siri or Alexa of oil and gas.

"The technology is amazing and we are thrilled to work with the Nesh team," writes John Ferrell, CEO of WellDatabase, in a blog post. "The integration allows Nesh to run real-time queries against WellDatabase. Users can ask a multitude of questions and get instant answers. They can also work with the Nesh team directly to train and build new questions and workflows."

Rice University and Cognite join forces

Courtesy of Cognite

When Oslo, Norway-based Cognite announced its dual U.S. headquarters in Houston and Austin, it had plans to engage universities from the get go. Now, the company, which specializes in data software with industrial applications, has officially created a partnership and internship program with Rice University.

"This partnership illustrates Cognite's commitment to attracting top people to build the most talented software engineering team in the world," says John Markus Lervik, Cognite co-founder and CEO, in a release. "Cognite solves some of the most complex problems related to industrial digitalization. To do that, we need the best minds, so partnering with Rice University was a natural choice."

Rice students are currently in Norway this summer working for Cognite as a part as the inaugural program.

The Cannon teams up with Thompson & Knight

Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston-based law firm Thompson & Knight has officially signed on to provide resources for The Cannon startups in a strategic partnership between the two companies.

"Thompson & Knight is pleased to partner with Houston-based entrepreneurs who are building the innovation, services, and technological platforms of the very near future," says Mark M. Sloan, managing partner of Thompson & Knight, in a news release. "We will offer our experience in the issues common to startup businesses, including intellectual property, technology, corporate, labor, and other areas of counsel that will help further the goals of these pioneering companies."

The law firm will have an office in The Cannon's recently opened building in West Houston.

Solugen names president

Getty Images


In May, Houston-based chemicals company, Solugen Inc., closed a $32 million round. Now, the company has put a portion of that money to work to hired the newest executive on the team. Jason Roberts, who has a decade of chemicals and oil and gas experience, has joined Solugen as president.

"What I found most compelling about Solugen was the company's quick successes and their overarching goal of decarbonizing the chemicals industry," says Roberts in a release. "The company's fundamental chemistry and technologies have created products that no one in the industry currently has. I am excited to join this young company's fast moving team at such a significant time in its history and look forward to helping scale their innovative products and services."

From oil and gas to space technology, these leaders are pushing forward innovation in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

One thing this week's movers and shakers in the Houston innovation ecosystem have in common is their intention to disrupt an industry using technology. Here are this week's innovators you need to know in Houston.

Francois Laborie, general manager of Cognite North Americas

Courtesy of Cognite

When it comes to data, most energy companies are squandering valuable information by not properly using their data. Cognite, which has its US headquarters in Texas, has solutions, says general manager of the company, Francois Laborie.

"Standardizing APIs across the oil and gas industry would open the door to a community of developers, which could create custom applications and connect existing market solutions," he writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. "Then more new and exciting applications and services would reach the market faster."

Click here to read Laborie's article on the importance of APIs and data management.

Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA

Courtesy of NASA

Houston is the Space City — present tense. While the city has a rich history as a major player in aerospace exploration and engineering, Houston is far from done, Steven Gonzales, NASA technology transfer strategist, tells InnovationMap.

We've always been the Space City, but for a while there, it was taken for granted. It's part of our history, but it's nice to see it brought back into the foreground to realize that it's not just history, it's who we are today.

Click here to read our Space City Month feature on Gonzalez in which he explains Houston's future in space and how NASA wants to work with startups.

Christine Galib, program director of The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator

Courtesy of Station Houston

Christine Galib has a new gig in town. The former Rice University and St. Thomas University educator is now the program director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, a program that will find and grow startups with solutions to Houston's biggest problems.

"When we look at The Ion being created as a center for entrepreneurship and innovation in Houston, there's no other city in the world has this type of level of collaboration and transparency of major players in the innovation space coming together to create, not only the physical space, but also the programming and mindset and the environment and the culture to sustain it," she tells InnovationMap.

Click here to read more about Galib and what she's excited to bring to town.

Using APIs, organizations can more easily combine their own internal data. Getty Images

Energy companies need to integrate new functions in order to better utilize data, says this expert

Houston, home to one of Cognite's U.S. headquarters, is the energy capital of the world. But while many oil and gas industry players and partners come together here, much of the data they use — or want to employ — remains siloed.

There's no lack of data. Connected devices are a wellspring of enterprise resource planning data, depth-based trajectories, piping and instrumentation diagrams, and sensor values. But incompatible operational data systems, poor data infrastructure, and restricted data access prevent organizations from easily combining data to solve problems and create solutions.

We understand these challenges because we work alongside some of the biggest operators, OEMs and engineering companies in the oil and gas business. Lundin Petroleum, Aker Energy OMV, and Aker BP are among our customers, for example.

Flexible, open application programming interfaces can address the challenges noted above. APIs enable users to search, filter and do computations on data without downloading full data sets. And they abstract the complexity of underlying storage formats.

As a result, data scientists and process engineers can access data in an efficient manner, spending more time on their use cases and less effort contending with technical details. Using APIs, organizations can more easily combine their own internal data. APIs also simplify the process of using data from industry partners and other sources.

Most companies have slightly different work processes. But common API standards can help a company combine software services and platforms from others in a way that matches its own business logic and internal processes. That can allow the company to differentiate itself from competitors by employing services from the best suppliers to create innovative solutions.

Standardizing APIs across the oil and gas industry would open the door to a community of developers, which could create custom applications and connect existing market solutions. Then more new and exciting applications and services would reach the market faster.

To ensure adoption and success of such a standardization effort, the APIs would need to be well crafted and intuitive to use. These APIs would have to include the business logic required to perform the operations to empower users. In addition, APIs would need to define and allow for the sharing of desired information objects in a consistent way.

Best practices in defining common APIs for sharing data within the industry include:

  • Introducing APIs iteratively, driven by concrete use cases with business value
  • Ensuring all services using the API provide relevant output and insights in a structured machine-readable format, enabling ingestion into the API to ensure continuous enrichment of the data set
  • Making all data searchable
  • Preventing underlying technology from being exposed through the APIs to ensure continuous optimization and allow companies to implement their technology of choice
  • Supporting all external data sharing through an open, well-documented and well-versioned API, using the OpenAPI standard

If oil and gas industry operators define APIs, suppliers will embrace them. That will "grease" the value chain, allowing it to move with less friction and waste.

Operations and maintenance are a natural place for API harmonization to start. Standardized APIs also can enable operators to aggregate and use environmental, equipment and systems, health and safety, and other data. That will accelerate digital transformation in oil and gas and enable companies to leverage innovative solutions coming from the ecosystem, reduce waste, and improve operations, making production more sustainable.

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Francois Laborie is the general manager of Cognite North Americas.

Cognite is opening two offices in Texas. Getty Images

European software company plans first U.S. office in Houston

New to town

When considering entering the United States market, Francois Laborie, general manager of Cognite North Americas, of course considered some of the obvious cities for a regional headquarters.

"Initially, when we talked about the US, people assumed Silicon Valley or Boston, because we are a traditional software company," Laborie says. "But we really didn't consider too long because the customers we work with require a pretty deep understanding of industry."

The Norway-based company decided to bet on the energy capital of the world and has announced future offices in Houston as well as Austin — both to open by this summer. This will be Cognite's first expansion outside of Northern Europe. The company makes data software for industrial businesses — oil and gas being a huge focus, as is engineering, equipment manufacturing, shipping, and more.

"The industrial world is very siloed and closed, and we are changing a lot of things in that world," Laborie says. "In the digital world, data and information only becomes valuable as you share it. We are all about liberating data, contextualizing it, and then drawing value out of it."

Laborie says the Houston office will be the company's energy hub — both current and prospective clients of Cognite have pressences in town. Meanwhile, Austin will be the tech hub, since the city has a large tech talent pool. Currently, Austin is on the path to be the U.S. headquarters, but nothing is set in stone at the moment, Laborie says.

Cognite, which expects around 50 employees (both new hires and relocations) split between the two locations, already has strategic Houston partnerships in place. Cognite will operate out of Station Houston and even has an internship program and partnership with Rice University. Overall, Laborie says the reception of the city has been positive.

"Houston went above and beyond," Laborie says. "The relationship with Rice has been very interesting because they are working closely with the Houston municipality to transform this image of Houston to get a stronger driver on innovation with the Innovation District, which spoke very loudly to us."

These partnerships are a crucial party of the company, Laborie says, and Cognite plans to work within Houston's innovation ecosystem to continue to push the envelope on innovative technologies.

"We have partnerships with large corporations, but we also see the importance to work with smaller companies to drive innovation — even if they aren't directly related," Laborie says.

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Houston Methodist executive to lead the hospital into the future of health care

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 11

It may come as no surprise to anyone who's met Roberta Schwartz that she's a self starter. Schwartz, who is the executive vice president and chief innovation officer for Houston Methodist, was among the group that organized to create what is now the Center for Innovation within the hospital system.

But one of her earlier moments of innovation leadership came when she was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. She co-founded the Young Survival Coalition to help connect young breast cancer patients like herself.

"I was 27 when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer — I have no family history, no cancer in the family. It certainly was a shock to my system," Schwartz says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Once I was diagnosed, and through some of the original surgery and care I had to do, I knew that I wanted to reach out and find a larger community of young women."

Now, in her role at Houston Methodist, Schwartz hopes to help cultivate new avenues of innovation within health care — from wearable technology and virtual reality to a human resources chatbot and a patient messaging platform.

Schwartz discusses these new technologies — as well as a new tech hub the hospital system is working on to demonstrate the future of health care — in the episode. Stream the episode below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Houstonians have access to ordering liquor at their fingertips — thanks to a new Texas law

There's an app for that

It's about to be a lot easier to order your favorite handle of booze straight to your door, thanks to new legislation. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission just began accepting applications for permits enabling services like Favor and Instacart to bring alcohol to your home.

In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that widens the door for liquor delivery across the Lone Star State. Any third-party company seeking to launch the service can now obtain a so-called consumer delivery permit from TABC. Chris Porter, a TABC spokesman, tells CultureMap that the first permits should be issued during the third week of December — just in time for Christmas Day and New Year's Eve parties.

In a December 5 news release, TABC executive director Bentley Nettles says this law is "an important step forward for Texas consumers, as well as alcohol retailers. For years, Texans across the state have relied on third-party services to deliver everything from clothing to vehicles. Now, at long last, alcohol can be delivered as well."

Before enactment of the law, certain businesses like liquor stores could distribute beer, wine, and liquor in Texas to homes and businesses. But through this year's legislative update, third-party companies now will be permitted to pick up beer, wine, and liquor from a state-licensed retailer such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store and then take it to customers — either as solo purchases or along with food orders.

"We primarily see this as appealing to third-party delivery services," Porter says. "There are laws on the books which became effective in September that allow restaurants with the proper permit to deliver alcohol along with food on their own. Of course, if these businesses opt instead to contract that delivery to a third party, then the third party would need the new consumer delivery permit."

The new law mandates that drivers and booze buyers be at least 21 years old, which is the legal age for alcohol consumption in Texas.

Among the businesses and organizations that backed the legislation are San Antonio grocery chain H-E-B, which owns the Austin-based Favor delivery app; Instacart; the Houston-based Landry's restaurant conglomerate; e-commerce giant Amazon; TechNet; the Texas Restaurant Association; Beer Alliance of Texas; Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas; and the California-based Wine Institute.

"This law will allow more businesses to take advantage of on-demand delivery apps that enable them to reach more customers, while ensuring deliveries of alcohol are carried out safely and responsibly," David Edmonson, TechNet's executive director for Texas and the Southeast, said in a June news release.

The Texas Restaurant Association applauds the law as a way for restaurants to better compete in the on-demand economy.

"With customers increasingly craving convenience, and hotels, grocery stores, and package stores already permitted to allow alcohol to be taken or delivered off the premises, this legislation [levels] the playing field for restaurants," the association says in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Photos: Rice Alliance reveals new office space

new digs

Rice University's entrepreneurship-driving entity has a new, updated office on campus. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship cut the ribbon on its 3,000-square-foot Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite just in time for the holidays.

The space was made possible by a $1 million donation from its namesake couple, Rice engineering alumnus William "Bill" Sick and his wife, Stephanie. Bill Sick was among the first supporters and mentors to the program when it was formed in 2000.

"[Bill is] passionate about building entrepreneurship at Rice University and passionate about the importance of entrepreneurship in driving innovation and economic development in this country," Brad Burke, managing director at the alliance, says. "Bill has watched Rice's program go from an unranked program to the No. 1 entrepreneurship program in the country and felt the Rice Alliance needed a larger, more appropriate space commensurate with the Rice Alliance's impact on Rice and on the Houston community."

Burke says the Rice Alliance's new home — located in McNair Hall, which houses the Jones Graduate School of Business — will be better accommodating for the number of industry professionals that come onto the Rice campus for events, programming, mentorship, and more.

"The Rice Alliance meets frequently with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, students, mentors, and other members of the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem," Burke says. "The new space is on the first floor of the Jones School and is much more accessible and visible to our guests and visitors."

The Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite has doubled the Alliance's space and has allowed the organization to co-locate with another innovation-focus entity on campus. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or LILIE, will have an office in the space, better connecting the two organizations that have worked hand-in-hand for a number of years.

Some visual elements of the space include bright green walls, which sets the Rice Alliance apart from the school with an energetic feel. The space also features a number of Houston art, including:

  • A three-paneled piece by local Houston artist DUAL, which was commissioned by Rice Alliance for the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • A neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery adorns the entrance wall.
  • In a way to honor Houston's history, mosaic tile flooring from the Blue Tile Project is also featured in the space.

Gensler designed the space and b. bell builders was the general contractor. Quynhmai Nguyen, Rice Alliance's senior director of operations and event planning, worked with Gensler and made the final detailed design decisions.

Energetic new space

The new space, which premiered with a holiday party last week, features a neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery.