Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe and Rice Alliance Managing Partner Brad Burke named 10 startups to watch. Photo by Natalie Harms

Texas is booming with digital startups, and Station Houston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted a meeting of the minds to discuss the digital revolution at the inaugural Texas Digital Summit at Rice University on December 6.

Thirty-nine companies presented throughout the day; among the group were 26 from the Houston area. At the conclusion of the day, Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, and Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, announced 10 "most promising companies" that stood out to a group of investors who attended the event.

All 10 selected were Texas-based, with eight from the Houston area. Here's who the venture capitalists and investors picked for the prize.

Houston-based SafePass

Photo via safepassglobal.com

SafePass pictures a world where visitors on school or corporate campuses can be tracked. The company's technology upends the standard paper or sticker pass you get from the front office, and provides a reusable, trackable device for visitors.

"Our tracking algorithm interacts with already existing WiFi technology — so, the routers that are already at that facility," says Ronald Huff, managing director of SafePass. "We leverage that to get that real-time tracking information."

Houston-based ScribeRule

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ScribeRule operates under the assumption that your company's data has already been breached. The software protects data from both internal and external threats so that companies don't have to worry about any type of threat. The technology is scalable and easy to use.

"The problem is very simple," says Chris Melson, president and COO. "Only allow people who are authorized to see your data, see the data. And that's the problem we've solved."

"It's very difficult to protect data in a collaborative environment."

Houston-based Sensoleak

Photo via sensoleak.com

Sensoleak is making it easier for monitors in the oil and gas industry to be alerted about leaks. Using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and internet of things combined into a software, the company is providing a revolutionary solution for a longstanding problem.

"The problem right now is there is a lot of false alarms," says Shoshi Kaganovsky, founder and CEO, "and if there is a leak, it has to leak a lot before it is caught."

The company recently opened a new round of funding.

Sugar Land-based Commtrex

Photo via commtrex.com

The only open, electronic marketplace for rail shippers and asset providers is right in Houston's backyard of Sugar Land. Commtrex makes communications and connections between these transportation entities more efficient and better executed.

"Commtrex's asset management tools and market data is based on real transactions, and benefits our member companies with engagement efficiencies and financial insights," reads the website.

Houston-based Zenus

Photo via zenus-biometrics.com

Let's face it, face recognition is the future of identification, and Zenus has an award-winning technology to move the needle. Utilizing face recognition doesn't need to compromise privacy.

"We are a leading provider of face recognition software," reads the website. "Our cloud-based service can search a database of faces within a blink of an eye and it can be seamlessly integrated into any application."

Houston-based 3GiG

Photo via 3-gig.com

3GiG is a one-stop shop software company for the "oval office" needs of oil and gas companies. Energy leaders can use the services to manage projects, prospects, and more. President and CEO Kandy Lukats compares her company's services to the trending meal kits — like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh —Americans have been crazy about — all the ingredients sent right to your door.

"We believe we've found the niche between the freezer section and doing it yourself," she says.

Austin-based Towny

Photo via towny.com

This Austin company is making it more appealing to shop local. Towny looks to work in cities with under a million residents. The tool is for small, consumer-focused businesses to market their store to consumers. The small business owners pay a flat monthly rate to utilize digital marketing tools from the convenience of their phones.

Towny is already in five towns with 500 clients, says CEO Nathan Baumeister. In January, the company's monthly revenue was $17,000, but for the last two months, the tool has raked in $90,000 monthly.

"We've built a branding, mobile-first platform, where we've taken all these technologies and tactics and put it together in one package at the affordable price of $199 per month," he says.

Dallas-based CommandHound

Photo via commandhound.com

CommandHound is a B2B software that tracks employee tasks and responsibilities. It reminds users on assigned duties and keeps a record of work outcomes for later performance reviews.

"Our ultimate solution is to turn every organization into a high-performance organization through accountability," says Rene Larrave, chairman and CEO. "It's a checklist on steroids."

Houston-based SecurityGate

Photo via securitygate.io

SecurityGate is disrupting the cyber compliance and the cyber regulation market by providing cyber risk assessments at a faster rate than a human auditor could. The software analyzes data, identifies potential cyber security risks, and communicates with the company how to address the threats.

"No matter what industry vertical you're in, every single supply chain out there is worries about supply chain cyber security," says CEO Ted Gutierrez. "And the problem with that, is everyone is doing it manually."

Houston-based DeepCast.ai

Photo via deepcast.ai

Using artificial intelligence and physics, DeepCast.ai can automate operations for industrial companies.

"We simply integrate with system solutions, try to clean and facilitate the data using AI models important to the oil and gas industry," says Arturo Klie, chief technology officer and senior software engineer. "Once the data is clean, we apply our business-informed AI models to solve and provide forecasting real time and analytics.

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City of Houston approves $13M for new security tech at renovated IAH​ terminal

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A new terminal currently under construction at George Bush Intercontinental Airport just got the green light for new security technology.

This week, Houston City Council unanimously approved the funding for the new Mickey Leland International Terminal's security equipment. The Mickey Leland International Terminal Project is part of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, or ITRP, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

This new IAH International Terminal will feature an International Central Processor, or ICP, with state-of-the-art technology in a 17-lane security checkpoint — among the largest in the country — as well as ticket counters and baggage claim.

“Houston Airports strives to get passengers through TSA Security in 20 minutes or less. Today, we meet that goal at Bush Airport more than 90 percent of the time,” Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “This investment in innovative technology will enhance our efficiency and ensure that our passengers have a world-class experience each time they visit our airports.”

Going through security at IAH is about to be smoother sailing. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

The funding approval came from two ordinances, and the first one appropriates $11.8 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, service, install, and train staff on nine new automated screening lanes, called Scarabee Checkpoint Property Screening Systems, or CPSS.

Per the news release, each of these CCPS automated lanes "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people and bags/hour than existing equipment used today." Currently, Terminal D's TSA is using eight CPSS Lanes, so the additional nine lanes will bring the total to 17 lanes of security.

The other appropriates another $1.2 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, install, maintain, and train staff on six new Advanced Imaging Technology Quick Personnel Security Scanners.

The new scanners, which don't require the traveler to raise their arms, "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people/hour than existing equipment used today," per the release.

“These new security screening machines are faster, have fewer false alarms and have improved detection rates, which creates a safer experience for our passengers and airlines,” Federal Security Director for TSA at IAH Juan Sanchez adds.

The Mickey Leland International Terminal originally opened in 1990 and is currently under renovation. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

Texas has the 5th highest health care costs in the nation, Forbes says

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A new Forbes Advisor study shedding light on Americans' top financial worries has revealed Texas has the fifth highest health care costs in the nation.

Forbes Advisor's annual report compared all 50 states and Washington, D.C. across nine different metrics to determine which states have the most and least expensive health care costs in 2024.

Factors include the average annual deductibles and premiums for employees using single and family coverage through employer-provided health insurances and the percentage of adults who chose not to see a health care provider due to costs within the last year, among others. Each state was ranked based on its score out of a total 100 possible points.

Texas was No. 5 with a score of 91.38 points. North Carolina was No. 1, followed in order by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida.

According to Forbes, out-of-state families considering a move to the Lone Star State should be aware of the state's troubling statistics when it comes to family health care. More specifically, nearly 15 percent of Texas children had families who struggled to pay for their medical bills in the past 12 months, the highest percentage in the nation.

Furthermore, Texans have the highest likelihood in the U.S. to skip seeing a doctor because of cost. The report showed 16 percent of Texas adults chose not to see a doctor in the past 12 months due to the cost of health care.

"Unexpected medical bills and the cost of health care services are the top two financial worries for Americans this year, according to a recent KFF health tracking poll," the report said. "These financial fears have real-world consequences. The high cost of healthcare is leading some Americans to make tough choices—often at the expense of their health."

In the category for the percentage of adults who reported 14 or more "mentally unhealthy" days out of a month, who could not seek health care services due to cost, Texas ranked No. 3 in the U.S. with 31.5 percent of adults experiencing these issues.

The report also highlighted the crystal clear inequality in the distribution of health care costs across the U.S.

"In some states, residents face much steeper health care expenses, including higher premiums and deductibles, which make them more likely to delay medical care due to costs," the report said.

For example, Texas' average annual premiums for both plus-one health insurance coverage ($4,626, according to the study) and family coverage ($7,051.33) through employer-provided policies was the No. 4-highest in the nation.

Elsewhere in the U.S.

The state with the most expensive health care costs is North Carolina, with a score of 100 points. 27 percent of adults in North Carolina reported struggling with their mental health who could not seek a doctor due to cost, and 11.3 percent of all adults in the state chose not to see a doctor within the last 12 months because of costs.

Hawaii (No. 50) is the state with the least expensive health care costs, according to Forbes. Hawaii had the lowest percentages of adults struggling with mental health (11.6 percent) and adults who chose not to see a doctor within the last year (5.7 percent). The average annual premium for employees in Hawaii using a family coverage plan through employer-provided health insurance is $5,373.67, and the average annual deductible for the same family coverage plan is $3,115.

The top 10 states with the most expensive health care are:

  • No. 1 – North Carolina
  • No. 2 – South Dakota
  • No. 3 – Nebraska
  • No. 4 – Florida
  • No. 5 – Texas
  • No. 6 – South Carolina
  • No. 7 – Arizona
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – New Hampshire
  • No. 10 – Louisiana

The full report and its methodology can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston startup recognized for inclusivity on journey to commercialize next-gen therapeutics

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A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.

Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to be in the health and nutrition category at SXSW.

“We did really well, but there was another company that also did really well. And so we were not selected for the pitch competition, which we were a little bummed about because I killed the pitch,” Burkhardt recalls.

But Phiogen is worthy of note, pitch competition or not. The new company spun off from research at Dr. Anthony Maresso’s TAILOR Labs, a personalized phage therapy center at Baylor College of Medicine, last June.

“Our whole goal is to create the next generation of anti-infectives,” says Burkhardt.

That means that the company is making alternatives to antibiotics, but as Burkhardt says, “We’re hoping to be better than antibiotics.”

How does it work? Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

“You can imagine them as the predators in the bacteria world, but they don't infect humans. They don't affect animals. They only infect bacteria,” Burkhardt explains.

Phiogen utilizes carefully honed bacteriophages to attack bacteria that include the baddies behind urinary tract infection (UTI), bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and skin wounds.

The team’s primary focus is on treatment-resistant UTI. One example was a male patient who received Phiogen’s treatment thanks to an emergency-use authorization from the FDA. The gentleman had been suffering from an infection for 20 years. He was treated with Phiogen’s bacteriophage therapy for two weeks and completely cleared his infection with no recurrence.

Amanda Burkhardt is the CEO of Phiogen. Photo via LinkedIn

But Phiogen has its sights set well beyond the first maladies it’s treated. An oft-quoted 2016 report projected that by 2050, 10 million people a year will be dying from drug-resistant infections.

“A lot of scientists call it the silent pandemic because it's happening now, we're living in it, but there's just not as much being said about it because it normally happens to people who are already in the hospital for something else, or it's a comorbidity, but that's not always the case, especially when we're talking about urinary tract infections,” says Burkhardt.

Bacteriophages are important because they can be quickly trained to fight against resistant strains, whereas it takes years and millions of dollars to develop new antibiotics. There are 13 clinical trials that are currently taking place for bacteriophage therapy. Burkhardt estimates that the treatment method will likely gain FDA approval in the next five years.

“The FDA actually has been super flexible on progressing forward. Because they are naturally occurring, there's not really a safety risk with these products,” she says.

And Burkhardt, whose background is in life-science commercialization, says there’s no better place to build Phiogen than in Houston.

“You have Boston, you have the Bay [Area], and you have the Gulf Coast,” she says. “And Houston is cheaper, the people are friendlier, and it’s not a bad place to be in the winter.”

She also mentions the impressive shadow that Helix Park will cast over the ecosystem. Phiogen will move later this year to the new campus — one of the labs selected to join Baylor College of Medicine.

And as for that prize, chances are, it won’t be Phiogen’s last.