Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photos courtesy

The holidays are fully upon us, and in the spirit of giving, why not give a little business to local startups as you shop for friends and family this year?

Browse this year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas below, and then click here to check out last year's gift ideas too for eight more options for you.

Low-carb treats from ChipMonk Baking

Give the gift of healthy desserts with ChipMonk Baking. Photo via chipmonkbaking.com

Houstonians David Downing and Jose Hernandez were tired of having such limited options when it came to finding healthy dessert alternatives. So, they founded ChipMonk Baking, a local, mail-order bakery that creates treats using monk fruit and allulose, a low-calorie (0.4 calories per gram) rare sugar that's found naturally in foods such as raisins, dried figs, and kiwi. Hernandez began developing ChipMonk's recipes to satisfy his taste for cookies after being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.

An online business, ChipMonk offers every snacks from cookies and bites to mixes and sweeteners. There are also a few bundles to choose from as well as a free, downloadable holiday cookbook

Skin-healthy athletic wear from Élastique

Emeline Kuhner-Stout, founder of Élastique Athletics, wanted to create a product that was easy to wear and benefitted lymphatic health. Photo courtesy of Élastique Athletics

Moms know how to make the most of their time, and that's exactly how Emeline Kuhner-Stout came across the idea for Élastique Athletics, a clothing line that promotes skin health and reduces cellulite.

"We did some research, and found that the best way to improve the appearance of your skin and move those fluids — because the cause [of cellulite] is really about those fluids that get trapped under your skin and cause a lot more negative effects other than skin appearance," Kuhner-Stout previously told InnovationMap.

She learned that exercise is the best move for improving lymphatic drainage, and another option is to do it manually through massaging and with compression. After around five years of research and development, Kuhner-Stout was able to release her first product for Élastique Athletics — a pair of leggings that have MicroPerle™ micro-massage beads in the compression leggings to massage the skin when worn.

Now, Élastique has three "wellnesswear" products available online.

Support local with Sesh Coworking

Sesh's gift sets are available for pick-up or delivery. Photo via girlsesh.com

Sesh Coworking is a space founded for women, by women, and that focus extends to the company's in-store and online market. Located in Montrose, Sesh opened its doors in February and was founded by Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler to fill a need in the coworking sector.

"We as women show up in our work lives as a whole person. We don't compartmentalize and forget about all the other things happening in our lives," Wheeler previously told InnovationMap. "We wanted a space that reflected that and embraced it."

While the market supports local female-owned business year round, Sesh has some special items for the holidays. The company has produced a 2020 Holiday Haute List to help users find the perfect gift as well as some gift bundles for the working women of the world. These sets and more are available on Sesh's online store.

Stylish sanitizers from Cobalt

Cobalt's gift set comes with a bottle of each of the company's three FDA-approved cleaning products. Photo via cobaltclean.com

This year's pandemic inspired new products and companies aplenty, and one of them here in Houston is Cobalt founded by Houstonians Molly Voorhees and Christina Milligan. Their hand sanitizing and surface cleaning products blend the importance of cleanliness and safety with the added value of accessibility and a refined appearance.

As working parents of young children, the two women wanted to create a line of sanitizing products that boosted their confidence in the safety of their environments amid a pandemic and that they'd be proud to pull out of their purse on short notice.

"Cleaning products are in your bathroom or are in an ugly looking bottle or the back of our restaurant in massive chemical containers. There is really nothing for the on-the-go market," Voorhees says.

The company sells six FDA-approved sanitizers, sprays, keychains, and to-go kits that eliminate 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses in easy to access, personal-sized, contemporary bottles, ranging from $14 to $30. The products are designed to be free of harsh, alcoholic odors and come in scents like peppermint and bubble gum.

The gift set, which is available online for $50, includes a bottle of hand sanitizer, surface spray, and mask refresher.

Humidity-conscious women's workwear from Cotidie

Cotidié's fabrics are lightweight and moisture wicking — similar to exercise clothing — making the pieces conducive to the Houston heat and humidity. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Other than during Houston's brief winter, rocking a professional wardrobe is tough in humidity that is so iconic to Houston. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag founded Cotidié to design clothes with this struggle in mind.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," Haag previously told InnovationMap. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers dresses, jackets, pants, skirts, and tops, ranging between $60 and $200 in price. The fabrics, sourced from Italy and Taiwan, provide breathable comfort, along with an elastic, structured fit for a more tailored look. All items are moisture wicking and machine washable.

"Everything we use on the line is athletic technical fabric that you would typically find in workout attire, but I've repurposed these fabrics to use in a contemporary womenswear line," Haag tells InnovationMap. "I wanted to create a more foundational capsule clothing collection that women can draw their own inspiration from."

The full collection is available online, as are gift cards.

Bonus: 8 more gift ideas from Houston startups

From after-alcohol relief to a smart pillbox, these Houston-founded companies have innovative holiday gifts to offer. Images via Instagram

Here are eight more ideas for gifts made by Houston startups. Click here,

Matthew Costello, Kristina Haag, and Greg Wright are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

It's the penultimate Monday of 2019, which means it's also the penultimate roundup of Houston innovators to know this week.

Today's featured innovators include an entrepreneur revolutionizing the maritime shipping industry, a fashion designer striving for comfort in Houston's long summers, and a startup advocate shining a spotlight on cybersecurity.

Matthew Costello, co-founder and CEO of Voyager

Matthew Costello Voyager

Houston-based Voyager, co-founded by Matthew Costello, has created a software solution for inefficient communication practices of the maritime shipping industry. Photo courtesy of Voyager

While in business school, Matthew Costello could not kick the thought of all the inefficiencies within the maritime shipping industry. He asked a friend, Bret Smart, to help him look into some of the logistical communications issues within the industry. The two co-founders of Houston-based Voyager started asking some questions for all the different parties involved in shipping across seas.

"The data we got back was pretty alarming," Costello says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It basically showed that whoever you speak to in the maritime industry, people are spending about 40 percent of their day on what we would consider low-value, low-complexity tasks." Read more and stream the podcast here.

Kristina Haag, founder of Cotidíe

Kristina Haag worked a corporate job that required her to run around Houston. She thought of her new fashion line out of wanting stylish clothes conducive to Houston's climate. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Houston is a humid subtropical climate — the majority of the year brings hot and sticky weather. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag found herself struggling to find traditional clothing that is comfortable in the Texas heat, so she created it herself.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," says Haag, founder of the clothing line Cotidié. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers pieces specifically tailored for women who are up against Houston's hot and muggy climate. Read more here.

Greg Wright, founder of Hatch Pitch

Houston-based Hatch Pitch will host two competitions in spring of 2020 — one marks the return of the competition to the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Hatch Pitch

For eight years, Greg Wright has been organizing a SXSW pitch competition in Austin for startups from around the world that are using technology to improve life. In 2020, Wright is bringing Houston-based Hatch Pitch back into the Bayou City — a goal he's had for a while — for a new cybersecurity-focused event.

"Many people know us as being associated with Austin and SXSW, but not many people know us as being based in Houston," Wright tells InnovationMap. "There's been a big push to bring Hatch back to Houston, and what we've been struggling with is finding the right vehicle."

After Hatch Pitch Summit returns to Austin for its ninth year on March 16, Cyber Hatch will be hosted by the annual Houston Cyber Summit on April 28. Read more here.

Cotidié's fabrics are lightweight and moisture wicking — similar to exercise clothing — making the pieces conducive to the Houston heat and humidity. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Local entrepreneur designs fashionable clothes with Houston's heat and humidity in mind

h-town workwear

Houston is a humid subtropical climate — the majority of the year brings hot and sticky weather. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag found herself struggling to find traditional clothing that is comfortable in the Texas heat, so she created it herself.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," says Haag, founder of the clothing line Cotidié. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers pieces specifically tailored for women who are up against Houston's hot and muggy climate.

The line offers dresses, jackets, pants, skirts, and tops, ranging between $60 and $200 in price. The fabrics, sourced from Italy and Taiwan, provide breathable comfort, along with an elastic, structured fit for a more tailored look. All items are moisture wicking and machine washable. The line uses three different fabrics: LunAir, 88 percent polyester and 12 percent spandex; SolaSmooth, 73 percent nylon and 27 percent elastane; and StellaForm, 59 percent nylon and 41 percent elastane.

"Everything we use on the line is athletic technical fabric that you would typically find in workout attire, but I've repurposed these fabrics to use in a contemporary womenswear line," Haag tells InnovationMap. "I wanted to create a more foundational capsule clothing collection that women can draw their own inspiration from."

Haag, originally from Houston, studied history and business at Rice University before moving to London to attend the British School of Fashion. Following a few years of work at a London-based fashion PR firm, she returned to Texas. Haag was working a corporate job that required extensive job-site visits.

"I thought, how is there not more stylish women's clothing on the market that is comfortable and functional," says Haag.

The name Cotidié, which means "daily" or "every day," encompasses Haag's desire to create clothing that can be worn at work, for travel, on weekends, and more. Haag was determined to find comfortable professional clothing that held up in Houston's heat and humidity and created Cotidié to bridge the gap between technical performance wear and business attire, introducing a new kind of clothing for stylish women on the go.

Kristina Haag worked a corporate job that required her to run around Houston. She thought of her new fashion line out of wanting stylish clothes conducive to Houston's climate. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Haag worked for over a year testing different fabrics and designing each piece to blend feminine style with technical performance. Haag works with Sew Pro Production, an apparel manufacturer based in Houston to develop the pieces.

For Cotidié's fall and winter line, which launched in October 2019, Haag adapted the pieces for cooler weather as the temperature shifts.

Haag plans to expand the marketing of Cotidié to a national scale in the next year. The company currently has two employees and has plans to begin fundraising efforts in 2020. The company currently ships internationally.

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

dollar signs

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

future of medicine

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.

Houston student selected for prestigious health care research program

bright future

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.”

Ziaee aims to become a physician who can use an understanding of social health conditions to guide his clinical practice. At a young age, he was inspired to go into the field by his family's own experience.

According to UH, Ziaee is the oldest child of Iranian American immigrants. He saw firsthand the challenges of how language and cultural barriers can impact patients' access to and level of care.

“I think a lot of people define health as purely biological, but a lot of other factors influence our well-being, such as mental health, financial health, and even access to good food, medical care and the internet,” he said in a statement. “I am interested in seeing the relationship among all these things and how they impact our health. So far, a lot of health policies and systems have not really looked beyond biology.”

"I want everyone to have an equal chance to access health care and take charge of their well-being. We need to have the systems in place that let people do that,” he added.

Ziaee is already on his way to helping Houston-based and national health systems and organizations make headway in this area.

He was named as a student regent on the UH System Board of Regents last year, sits on the board of the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross, and is an Albert Schweitzer Fellow.

Last year he was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John R. Lewis scholar, for which he presented his research project about predicting food insecurity in pediatric clinical settings and recommendations to improve the assessment based off his summer research with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Prior to this, he completed a 10-week guided research experience using data visualization and predictive modeling techniques to assess food insecurity in the Third Ward.

“I just took every opportunity that came to me,” Ziaee said. “All my experiences connect with my central desire to increase health access and improve health care. I am very intentional about connecting the dots to my passion.”

Earlier this year, three UH student researchers were named among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). The projects were each awarded between about $750,000 to up to $1.5 million.