Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photo via Getty Images

It's giving season, and you need not look any further than Houston's startup and innovation community for some gift ideas.

This year's Houston startup gift guide includes experiences, sustainable shopping, and more.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas, and check out the 2021, 2020 and 2019 startup gift guides as well for even more options.

For someone outdoorsy: An easy-to-book fishing trip

Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, expanded in Houston this year. Photo via Getty Images

After seeing success in last year's Rice Business Plan Competition, Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, announced this year that it's moving half of its employees to Houston, InnovationMap reported. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas. You can book a trip for your family or shop gear on the startup's website.

For a wine lover: A quick cooling tool

The Cold Cork delivers 20-second beverage chilling. Photo via Facebook/Cold Cork

Perfect for someone who loves to entertain, The idea Cold Cork came from the brains of two Houstonians who love a chilled wine at the end of a long day. However, it often happens that while you're ready for wine, but the wine's not ready for you. The device, priced at $64.95, chills liquids 20 degrees in 20 seconds.

For the new mom in your life: A game-changing breastmilk service

Milkify secured a deal on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

As seen on Shark Tank, Houston-based Milkify provides a unique service to breastfeeding moms. The company freeze dries breast milk so that families can have the convenience of formula with the nutrition of breast milk. The startup, which won at this year's Houston Innovation Awards, secured an investment on the show and even got the nod of approval from Gwyneth Paltrow. Milkify has plans to scale, as the husband-and-wife team shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

For someone who loves a sweat sesh: Smell-free athletic wear

Houston-based Accel Lifestyle's innovative line of athleisure has made it into Talbots. Photo courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

For years, Houston athletic clothing brand Accel Lifestyle has been providing its customers with sporty outfits that are designed to not hold onto any stink resulting from bacteria from sweat. As of this summer, the brand is in Talbots, so you can shop in store, as well as online.

For the trendsetter: Sustainable fashion

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

Shop for one (or all) of your loved ones sustainably with Trendy Seconds, a website created by Houstonian Maria Burgos. There's likely something for everyone on your Christmas list — and no purchase can possibly considered naughty — at least when considering your carbon footprint.

For a party animal: Brews for every occasion

Bring these to your next holiday party. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Two Houston companies formalized their partnership this year. Bayou City Hemp Company announced that it has purchased 8th Wonder Brewery, Distillery, and Cannabis. The acquisition deepens a relationship that dates back to 2021, when 8th Wonder and Bayou City Hemp partnered to create Wonder Water, a non-alcoholic beverage available with either CBD or Delta-8 that became the top-selling to-go product at 8th Wonder. Now, the combined company creates adult beverages by offering a full lineup of beer, spirits, and cannabis-infused drinks.

For a mother-daughter duo: A tool to enhance their relationship

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kindA Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

Passport Journeys, an app with a membership that helps cultivate mother-daughter relationships, can help you on your new year's resolution to heal your relationship with your mom or daughter. The intake process is $280 with monthly fees after and includes a slew of support for relationship building.

An innovative, Houston-created tool instantly chills wine and spirits. Photo via thecoldcork.com

Innovative Houston couple designs wine-cooling device

drink this in

Great inventions reveal their value within due course, but there are those creations that tell their worth almost immediately, with a first look, image, or mere mention.

The Cold Cork, a malleable pouring device that instantly chills wine and spirits, falls into that category.

It seems like such a simple idea, but that’s the thing about inventions, isn’t it? Anyone can come up with an idea, but it’s the ones that can execute that idea that make it to the finish line and etch their names in the annals of creative glory.

“I had come home from the grocery store, right at the onset of COVID, and I wanted to have a glass of wine that I bought, but it was already room temperature, and I didn't want to put ice in it,” says wine-lover and former healthcare worker Michelle Kurkiewicz. “So, we started doing some research and came up with the idea for Cold Cork.”

Timing is everything, and because the nationwide pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic offered Michelle, 33, and her husband Tyler, 30, plenty of free time, the dutiful duo was able to flesh out their labor of love.

Tyler and Michelle Kurkiewicz came up with the idea of the Cold Cork. Photo via thecoldcork.com

As it turns out, Tyler, a mechanical engineer by trade, had recently purchased a 3D printer back in January 2020, so he was able to use it to build hundreds of prototypes in-house to eventually arrive at a final design, which is based on the couple’s wedding champagne flutes.

So how does the Cold Cork work? Picture this: the wine-lover takes the Cold Cork out of the freezer (after a recommended 24 hours to thoroughly freeze), places it on top of the open bottle of wine and begins to pour.

As the liquid funnels through the stainless-steel coil, which is surrounded by a proprietary, food-grade cooling medium, the wine or spirits is chilled by 20 degrees in just 20 seconds.

To achieve the best results for red wine, pour the entire bottle through the Cold Cork into a decanter and enjoy.

And the best part? Not one part of the Cold Cork’s signature process alters the taste or composition of the drink in any way.

The device, priced at $64.95, chills liquids 20 degrees in 20 seconds. Photo via thecoldcork.com

“At first, we thought about whether the product should be inside the bottle or outside the bottle,” remembers Tyler. “But we quickly realized that there’s simply not enough room to do that amount of chilling inside a bottle. And we didn't want to have to pour any wine out. But we needed to make space to put some sort of chiller in the bottle. And so, we immediately started looking outside the bottle, and just with all the other wine gadgets, being bottle-topped and plugging in with a rubber stopper, that's immediately the direction we sort of drifted to.”

According to Tyler, the first couple of prototypes were made of a 3D filament. Initially, the idea was to focus on creating a cooling gel to compliment the coil, but that got a bit messy and, of course, there were too many wine taste-testing sessions to count.

“We definitely went through a lot of bottles of wine,” says Michelle. “But one of the first people that used our product was a sommelier and she loved it. We also gave one of our first production-level prototypes to a friend who is a manager at a restaurant. She used it on several occasions and said it was perfect for what she needed and seeing our product be used at a place that we frequented was extremely validating.”

Armed with the validation they needed to go to production, the wine-loving public could now have the product they needed to keep from having to throw all their wine in the refrigerator.

“The Cold Cork is really good for the people that maybe don't have those multi-zone fridges,” says Michelle. “We found a good niche with entry-level wine drinkers that don't have a wine fridge, but they want to drink their white wines still without being over-drank with ice cubes.

“That's really who we've been going after, and who we've seen has found a lot of value in the product. It's really the people that maybe aren't so prepared or maybe looking just for some more accessible solutions, whether it's because of the space in their apartment or financially, you know, it might be cheaper than a wine fridge. That's why we came up with the Cold Cork ourselves, because that was us, and so we kind of made a product that worked for us and found that there are a lot of people like that.”

The Cold Cork is available now and can be purchased directly from the company’s website for $64.95. In the future, more cork sizes and different colors will be offered, and more brick-and-mortar stores will carry the product. The couple pitched the idea and received investment from Trend Ventures at the 2022 Build Up Buttercup, an initiative that featured small business pitches for a select group of investors.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback directly from customers saying they use it a lot more than they thought,” says Michelle. “But then there are those people that are skeptical about how it works. That’s why I love to demo the Cold Cork in person.”

For a couple that met at a bar one night in downtown Houston, the Cold Cork is almost a poetic destination as a business endeavor and one that they both really relish.

“We both have our strengths, and we give each other a lot of support,” says Michelle.

“I’m very mechanically inclined, so I develop and invent, and Michelle is great with the marketing aspect and working with people to purchase the product,” adds Tyler. “In addition to the Cold Cork, we do have a couple of early projects that we are working on. I think there is a lot of opportunity with our technology to take what we have learned and fit that into different product lineups moving forward.”

Cold Cork Thermometer Test

Dede Raad of Dress Up Buttercup created a unique pitch series — completely fueled by her social media community — that gave a spotlight to eight businesses. Photo via dressupbuttercup.com

Houston fashionista fuels fresh brands with pitch series

money moves

After growing her audience to over a million followers on Instagram, Houston fashion blogger Dede Raad felt the pressure to expand her business — but she didn't feel inspired by any particular line of business to grow into.

"In the blogging world, which I've been doing for about seven years, everyone's next step is to start a brand and to start something of their own," Raad, founder of Dress Up Buttercup, tells InnovationMap. "I just don't have anything in my heart that I was really passionate about. I know once you start something, you have to give it your all."

But what Raad realized — after a year of thinking about her next move and a chance viewing of Shark Tank — was that tons of business founders were passionate about their own brands, and there was an opportunity for Raad use her community to support them instead of coming up with something of her own.

She put the call out to her followers to find founders with growing brands. Raad launched "Build Up Buttercup," an initiative that featured small business pitches for a select group of investors, with her husband, Ted. The event, which happened last October, resulted in eight business pitches across four episodes uploaded to Dress Up Buttercup's page that garnered hundreds of thousands of views. The initiative also resulted in a handful of investments and cash prizes.

"It was a crazy four days, but it was so cool to see the brands and the passion behind it and for Ted and I to help in both a financial and advising way," Raad says.

Raad was joined at the event with fellow investors, which included Houston-based investment firms Curate Capital and Trend Ventures, the investment arm of influencer management company Trend Management, founded by Ted Raad.

Of the eight that pitched, four companies received investments. Dress Up Buttercup invested in Houston-based jewelry company Burdlife and children's clothing brand Poppy Kids. Trend Ventures made investments in Cold Cork and Houston-based tech startup, AIM7, which closed its seed round in December.

Raad tells InnovationMap that she'd be interested in hosting another edition of "Build Up Buttercup" in the future, but for now she's focused on her two new brands. Her role within both of the companies is very hands on, she explains, and meets with the founders at least once a week. She also markets both brands to her Instagram community.

"We're not just sending you a check — we want to be involved," Raad says. "I've worked with brands for the past seven years, and I've seen what people are buying. I have such a power in my community, and I know what they like."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.