Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? These ones are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

After scouring Houston for the best of the Houston innovation ecosystem and evaluating dozens of companies, InnovationMap has announced the finalists in its inaugural awards. But which of these companies are growing their teams?

Turns out, almost all of them have open positions — some planning to double their teams over the next year. In fact, the 28 companies that make up our cohort of finalists are looking for over 250 new employees — some have these positions open now and others are seeking these new team members over the next 12 months.

Let's look at how many new hires these top startups are looking for.

Biggest gains

The InnovationMap Awards finalist with the loftiest hiring goal is Liongard, which is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category. Liongard — a platform that helps IT companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems — is looking to fill 70 positions over the next year. The company, founded in 2015, has just over 100 employees now.

The startup finalist with the second highest hiring goals is Nanotech, a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech is looking to hire over 40 new employees in the next 12 months, which would almost triple its current staff of 15. Founded in 2019 by Mike Francis, the company is a finalist in both the Energy Transition and People's Choice categories.

Another People's Choice finalist, GoCo, and its all-in-one employee management platform, is currently looking to grow its team by adding 20 new employees to its staff of 53. The company was founded in 2015 and has since raised over $12 million in VC funding.

Also looking to grow their team by 20 new hires is Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company, co-founded by Carolyn Rodz, is up for an award in the BIPOC-Founded, Female-Founded, and People's Choice categories.

GoExpedi, whose founder and CEO Timothy Neal is a finalist in the Top Founder Under 40 category, currently has 17 positions open at the moment and is looking to add those new hires into its team of over 150 employees. The e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).

While Female-Founded Business finalist RingOn — a wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking — is only currently looking for six new hires, the company is expecting to hiring another 15 new employees next year. Right now, the company's employee count is at three.

Steady growth

A few of the awards finalists are sporting hiring goals in the seven to 12 new staffers range. Space Tech finalist NANCO Aero, which is developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles, is hiring a dozen new employees — a big goal considering the company currently has just four employees.

Enercross LLC, automation software for the energy industry, is a finalist in the Energy Transition category and is looking to add 11 new people to its team of 42. Meanwhile Sports Tech finalist sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events — is looking to about double its team of 10 over the few months.

Health Tech finalist Medical Informatics Corp. is the creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions. The company has seven open positions to grow its team of 36.

Seeking selectively

The following InnovationMap Awards finalists are looking to grow their teams with between two and six new hires:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Find out which of these employers take home the win at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

And the finalists for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards are... Graphic via Gow Media

InnovationMap names 28 Houston startup finalists for inaugural awards

who will take home the win?

Who are Houston's rising stars across energy transition, sports tech, health, and more? InnovationMap set out on a quest to discover that for its inaugural awards. Ahead of the September 8 event, we're revealing the finalists across all categories.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs; Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon; Rajasekhar Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO of Techwave; Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap; Serafina Lalany, interim president at Houston Exponential; Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge; Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center; and Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

The winners will be announced and celebrated — along with this year's previously announced Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger of Chevron Technology Ventures — at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business Award category, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.

Female-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business Award category presented by Veritex Community Bank, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by women, include:

  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • RingOn — wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Health Care Business Finalists

The finalists for the Health Care Business Award category presented by Gray Reed, which honors health care businesses with an innovative solution within life sciences, include:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.

Energy Transition Business Finalists

The finalists for the Energy Transition Business category, which honors energy business with innovative solutions within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, and beyond, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • Enercross LLC — automation software for the energy industry.
  • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Renewell Energy — converting idle oil and gas wells into flexible energy storage.

Sports Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Sports Tech Business category, which is honoring a sports tech business with an innovative solution within sports are:

  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • Mainline — an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.
  • sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events.

Space Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Space Tech Business category, which is honoring an aerospace business with an innovative solution within space exploration. are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • NANCO Aero — developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles.

Top Founder Under 40 Finalists

The finalists for the Top Founder Under 40 category, which honors an innovative founder younger than 40 by Sept. 8, 2021, are:

  • Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Timothy Neal of GoExpedi — an e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company that is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).
  • Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds.
  • Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Emily Cisek of The Postage — a legacy planning platform using tech to make afterlife decision making easier.

People’s Choice: Startup of the Year Finalists

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, which will each present a 60-second live elevator pitch at the event on September 8, are:

    • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
    • GoCo — all-in-one employee management platform.
    • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
    • Liongard — a platform that helps Information Technology companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems.
    • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
    • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
    • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.

    SpaceFund, based in Houston and Austin, has almost reached halfway for its $20 million fundraise. Photo via NASA/Unsplash

    Space-focused fund with HQ in Houston rockets toward $20M goal

    money moves

    A venture capital firm co-located in Houston and Austin has announced a recent closing of a $20 million fund.

    SpaceFund has raised $9 million toward its its $20 million BlastOff Fund as of this week — surpassing its initial first close goal of $5 million.

    "We are thrilled to see how many investors are placing their trust in our team," says SpaceFund founder Rick Tumlinson in a news release. "We spent a lot of time slowly and carefully developing our processes and credibility, so we can better serve both investors and the amazing space startup community, and it's paying off."

    Launched in 2019 with an initial fund that closed in August of 2020, SpaceFund has already invested in 13 exciting space startups. The new fund will build on those investments while also expanding its portfolio, according to the release.

    "SpaceFund is about combining a bold approach with a very conservative diligence and investment process," says Meagan Crawford, SpaceFund's managing partner, in the release. "The BlastOff Fund continues our careful growth plan but is designed to accelerate our ability to place investment into those companies that are leading the Space Revolution."

    San Francisco-based innovator Jed McCaleb — co-founder and the CTO of Stellar Development Foundation, a nonprofit building an accessible cryptocurrency platform — anchored the BlastOff Fund.

    "I came to SpaceFund to ask questions because they are seen as credible thought leaders in the space investment industry," McCaleb says in the release. "By the time we finished talking, it was clear they were an obvious choice to help me invest in this amazing field."

    McCaleb has a keen interest in commercial space, according to the release.

    "Jed is a well-informed investor and one who deeply cares about the future of space and humanity," adds Crawford. "He is exactly the kind of investor we hope to attract into the SpaceFund family. For us, this isn't just about money. It is about how we can best impact the future. Jed and the other investors in the fund get that."

    Houston-based space companies Axiom Space, Eden Grow Systems, and Cognitive Space are among SpaceFund's current portfolio.

    "There is a reason we call this the BlastOff fund," says Tumlinson. "Anyone who follows what is happening in space can see that after almost 60 years, this industry is taking off. Our job is to help investors climb aboard the right companies to carry them to their financial destinations as we open the Frontier."

    This four Houstonians saw a need in their industries and — rather than accepting the status quo — found a solution. Courtesy photos

    4 Houston innovators to know this week

    Who's who

    The crux of innovation is identifying a problem and using your skills to ideate a solution. Each of these four innovators had their "aha" moments that led to their research and development moments, and now to where they are today.

    Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld and Jacques Zaneveld, founders of Lazarus 3D

    Photo courtesy of Lazarus 3D

    It seemed a little antiquated that surgeons were still practicing their techniques on various fruits. Baylor College of Medicine-educated Drs. Jacques Zaneveld and Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld founded Lazarus3D in 2014 to build a better training model — and layer by layer, they created models of abs and ribs and even hearts with a 3D printer.

    "We adapted pre-existing 3D printing technology in a novel proprietary way that allows us to, overnight, build soft, silicone or hydrogel models of human anatomy," says Jacques, who serves as CEO. "They can be treated just like real tissue."

    Read the full story here.

    Guy de Carufel, founder and CEO of Cognitive Space

    Photo courtesy of Guy du Carufel

    Guy du Carufel knows that in just a matter of years, there will be so many satellites orbiting the early and collecting data, there's not going to be enough people to monitor them. And, frankly, people shouldn't have to. That's why du Carufel created an artificial intelligence-enabled, cloud-based technology that can track and manage each of these satellite clusters on behalf of the cluster's owner.

    "We're currently at an inflection point where the satellite industry is expected to grow up to five folds in the next 10 years because of the large companies building up these satellites," du Carufel says. "There are around 2,000 satellites active right now, and that's expected to grow to over 10,000 in the next 10 years."

    Read the full story here.

    Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI

    Photo courtesy of InformAI

    Hospitals and medical centers can be tough places to keep track of data — but that doesn't have to be the case. Jim Havelka founded InformAI to help doctors and health care providers tap into their data to provide better diagnoses and preventative care.

    "There were several things missing," says Havelka. "One was access to very large data sets, because it wasn't really until the last five or 10 years that digitalization of data, especially in the health care vertical became more widespread and available in a format that's usable. The second convergence was the technology, the ability to process very large data sets."

    Houston celebrated 50 years since the Apollo moon landing on July 20. Here are some startups that are going to be a part of the next 50 years of space tech in Houston. Photo via NASA.gov

    5 startups keeping Houston known as the Space City

    space tech

    This month, for the most part, has been looking back on the history Houston has as the Space City in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. While it's great to recognize the men and women who made this city the major player in space exploration that it is, there are still entrepreneurs today with space applications and experience that represent the future of the Space City.

    From space tech to former NASA expert-founded companies, here are five companies keeping Houston's rep as the Space City.

    Cemvita Factory

    Cemvita Factory

    Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

    Carbon dioxide poses a problem for two major Houston-related industries: Oil and gas and Space. Cemvita Factory, which has a technology that can convert CO2 into other chemicals, has the potential to revolutionize both industries. The Houston startup is growing and Moji Karimi, who founded the company with his sister, Tara Karimi, says 2019 is all about execution.

    "We're in Houston, and we have a technology that is from biotech and have applications in the space industry and the energy industry," Karimi says. "There would not have been any better place for us in the country than Houston."

    Click here to read more about Cemvita Factory.

    Re:3D

    Courtesy of re:3D

    Two NASA colleagues hung up their metaphorical space space suits to start a 3D-printing company. Six years later, re:3D had grown large enough to warrant a new, swankier space — just down the street from the Johnson Space Center.

    The company makes an affordable and customizable 3D printer, called the Gigabot, and has clients across industries in over 50 countries. Recently, re:3D introduced sustainable options, including printing using plastic waste. The 7,000-square-foot space allows for anyone in the community to learn about the 3D printing process, tour the facility, attend social events or workshops, or even buy a printer or some of the company's merchandise.

    Click here to read more about re:3D.

    Cognitive Space

    Pexels

    Satellites are getting smaller and easier to launch, which has causing a significant growth in these devices entering earth's atmosphere. Former NASA specialist Guy de Carufel — through his company Cognitive Space — created a much-needed solution to managing satellites using cloud-based AI technology.

    "By next year we will have major contracts, and growing our team to 15 to 20 people. We'll have a commercial product by then and servicing some commercial players," de Carufel says on his company's growth plan. "Five years from now, we'll probably be in many different verticals, spawning from what we have now to really expand and apply our systems to as many applications as possible."

    Click here to learn more about Cognitive Space.

    Zibrio

    Pexels

    Balance is extremely important for humans. Being off balanced can be an indicator of a bigger health issue or a warning sign not to attempt something dangerous. During her postdoctoral work, Katharine Forth and her colleagues at NASA developed a technology to help track balance for astronauts. They designed a compact tool that was a game changer.

    "The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

    Forth evolved her technology to create a commercial product that allows for users to track their own balance for her Houston-based company, Zibrio. The startup has grown since its founding in 2015 and just this month worked with the 13,700 athletes at the National Senior Games. Zibrio measured the balance of the seniors aged 50 to 103 in order to make sure they were ready and healthy enough to compete without risking injury.

    Click here to read more about Zibrio.

    Blue Bear Capital

    Courtesy of Tim Kopra

    Tim Kopra spent over 244 days in space, and now he's using his tech background to invest in emerging energy companies with his Houston-based investment firm, Blue Bear Capital.

    "On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

    Blue Bear Capital focuses on cutting-edge technology that has the potential to make waves in the oil and gas industry.

    Click here to read more about Blue Bear Capital.

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    Early-stage accelerator announces 5 startups to its fall 2021 Houston cohort

    ready to grow

    An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

    The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

    • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
    • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
    • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
    • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
    • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

    The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

    "The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

    The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

    "Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

    gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

    "These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

    Houston university's MBA program claims coveted top spot of annual ranking

    top of class

    Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business has raked in yet another top spot on an annual list of top MBA programs.

    A new ranking from Poets & Quants, which covers news about business schools, puts Rice at No. 3 among the world's best MBA programs for entrepreneurship. That's up from No. 15 on last year's list.

    The Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis grabbed the top spot in this year's ranking. Elsewhere in Texas, the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business lands at No. 14, the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth at No. 35, and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in University Park at No. 36.

    Poets & Quants judged the schools on 16 metrics related to their entrepreneurship initiatives.

    Poets & Quants says Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business "itself is less than three decades old. But entrepreneurship was baked into its DNA from the get-go. The late Ed Williams and current professor Al Napier are credited with starting the entrepreneurial focus. But it wasn't until 2013 when Jones plucked Yael Hochberg from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management that the program really started to surge."

    Rice's entrepreneurship offering combines academic courses and associated programs led by the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie) with programs offered by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

    "The ability to be a student while working on your startup in class, under the expert guidance of our world-class faculty, gives our Rice entrepreneurs a competitive advantage over any others out there," Hochberg, head of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative and academic director of the Rice Alliance, says in a news release.

    The Rice Alliance's OwlSpark Accelerator supplements the MBA program. The accelerator serves as a capstone program and launchpad for students seeking to start their own businesses. Meanwhile, the Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest intercollegiate student startup competition in the world, lets students pitch their startups in front of more than 300 judges. And the Rice Alliance Technology Venture Forums allows students to showcase their startups to investors and corporations.

    "The ability for students to launch their nascent startups, obtain mentoring from members of the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem, and then pitch to hundreds of angel investors, venture capitalists, and corporations provides a unique opportunity that cannot be found on many campuses or in many regions," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance.

    Houston entrepreneur amps up support for diverse businesses with new NAACP partnership

    HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 107

    Carolyn Rodz didn't feel the need to rush into Hello Alice's series B raise. The company, which was co-founded by Rodz and Elizabeth Gore in 2017, closed its series B at $21 million this summer, but Rodz says they did so with a specific goal.

    Rodz, who joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, says she didn't want to get on the cycle that is round after round of venture capital. Instead, she's prioritizing profitability. And to have that, Hello Alice — platform for small business owners to find capital, networks and business services — needed to be able to reach more small business owners.

    "When we made the decision to raise, it was really about making sure that we had good, strong core fundamentals and that we felt like we were putting good money to work where we can scale the business," Rodz says on the show. "It's our belief that the more smalls business owners we can support, it gives us a more unified and stronger voice to go implement systemic change."

    The round was led by Virginia-based QED Investors with participation from new investors including Backstage Capital, Green Book Ventures, Harbert Growth Partners, and How Women Invest. It followed what was not only a rollercoaster of a year for the small businesses Hello Alice exists to serve, but also the company itself.

    "It changed us permanently as a company," Rodz says of the pandemic.

    On the show, Rodz characterizes the time for Hello Alice, which included slimming down the company's overhead, while simultaneously offering thought leadership, support, and resources for companies. Within a few days of the shutdown, Hello Alice was helping to deploy grants to entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19.

    As challenging as the pandemic was for Hello Alice, it was validating too. Rodz says the company had a 700 percent increase in revenue and an 1,100 percent acquisition growth.

    "We'd never operated in a downcycle, but what we learned through that process was that we're a really valuable resource for business owners when times are great, but we're also a really valuable resource for them when times are tough," she explains.

    This validation set the scene for the series B, but following that raise, and, due in part to the doors opened by new investor networks, a new partnership with the NAACP Empowerment Program. Rodz says that the NAACP was given a lot of resources to put to work to build racial equity through economic empowerment. The relationship began with an introduction from Hello Alice investor, Green Book.

    "They are real co-builders of this platform with us, so we're making sure we're actually putting money back into those communities," Rodz says of the partnerships Hello Alice has had with the NAACP and other equitable organizations. "NAACP was a huge milestone for us, something we're really proud of as a business. And I think it's a partnership that will continue to grow and make sure that we're aligned with how we're working on how we can build better together.

    Rodz shares more on Hello Alice's growth as well as her observations on how Houston has evolved as an innovation ecosystem. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.