The ultimate who's who of 2023 — these are our favorite Houston Innovators Podcast guests of last year. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In 2023, I recorded 50 episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast — a weekly discussion with a Houston innovator, startup founder, investor, and more. I've rounded up seven podcast episodes that stood out for me looking back at the year of recordings. Scroll through to see whom I selected and stream their individual episodes, and tune into the last episode of the year where I explain why I enjoyed each conversation.



Episode 174 - Rolling out nationwide - Mike Francis and Carrie Horazeck of NanoTech

NanoTech's Chief Commercial Officer Carrie Horazeck and Co-Founder and CEO Mike Francis join the Houston Innovators Podcast to celebrate the nationwide launch of their roof coating product. Photo via LinkedIn

A Houston startup is celebrating its nationwide launch of its flagship product that coats roofs to reduce energy waste.

NanoTech's Nano Shield Cool Roof Coat is a unique product that can be added onto roofs to reduce energy waste on buildings. Co-founder and CEO Mike Francis and Chief Commercial Officer Carrie Horazeck joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share more details about the product.

"It's just a coating that can go on top of existing structure — any type of commercial roof," Horazeck says on the show. "We have a pretty good amount of data from 2022 showcasing that we can reduce HVAC consumption within the building by about 30 to 40 percent.

"Our clients really see a immediate benefit in their energy bill, and, of course, if you reduce the HVAC consumption, that automatically translates to a decrease in your scope one emissions," she continues. Continue reading.


Episode 181 - Gearing up for high-speed global travel - Sassie Duggleby of Venus Aerospace

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Venus

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby is on a mission to get people home in time for dinner — whether they are traveling around the world or working for her business. That's why she founded Venus Aerospace, which is developing hypersonic space planes. It's also why she relocated the company from the West Coast to Houston.

"We knew we had to find a location where we could test our engine and still be home for dinner," Duggleby says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our company vision is 'home for dinner.' We want to fly you across the globe and have you home for dinner. And, if you work for us, we want you home for dinner."

Venus's technology enables this revolutionary travel through its supersonic combustion engine — more akin to a rocket's engine than an airplane's — that allows for travel at a higher elevation, she explains on the show. Jet engines rely on air outside of the aircraft to combust, and rocket engines work with a system that supplies air internally. And, as Duggleby explains, the engine can go further with the same amount of fuel, so it's a more sustainable way of traveling too. Continue reading.


Episode 182 - Stopping neurodegenerative diseases in their tracks - Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

When Howard Berman sought out renowned Houston Methodist researcher and neurologist Dr. Stanley Appel, he was looking for treatment for his father, who was suffering from dementia. He wasn't looking for a job, but Dr. Appel had other ideas and asked Berman to meet with him.

"I was interested in what I could do for my dad," Berman says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how he took the meeting with Dr. Appel, who then presented him with some of his research. "By slide five my jaw had hit the ground.

"He had shown that he could stop the progression in one of his early trials of ALS," Berman says.

Not too long after that meeting, Berman, who founded digital health platform imaware, joined Dr. Appel to lead commercialization of Coya Therapeutics, a biotech startup that raised over $20 million in venture funding before going public a few months ago. Continue reading.


Episode 187 - Bridging the gap to innovation - Ramanan Krishnamoorti of University of Houston

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to talk about the university's dedication to helping the city become an innovative force. Photo via UH.edu

Ramanan Krishnamoorti has had a varied career in academia, from an engineering professor to nanotech research. While he never made the transition from researcher to entrepreneur, he managed to snag a CEO title at the university about a decade ago: Chief energy officer.

Since then his role has expanded to include advancing UH's innovation of all kinds — from health tech to the arts — as vice president of energy and innovation at UH. In his role, he oversees the UH Technology Bridge, a lab and coworking space for tenants just a short drive away from UH's main campus, as well as future plans, like a new central campus hub for innovation that's in its early stages of development.

"What we really need at the university today is to bring innovation — which tech transfer is a piece of — and connect that to real-world challenges to deliver what the world needs, which is talented folks delivering new innovative, entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial programs," Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Continue reading.

Episode 193 - Innovating in the East End - Erik Ibarra of Magnolia Fund and ORDRS

Erik Ibarra's latest venture is to give agency to residents in the neighborhood he grew up in. Photo courtesy

Innovation isn't always tinkering with tech or programming software, although serial entrepreneur Erik Ibarra knows that world well. Sometimes it's about rethinking how a community improves and develops without doing the residents a disservice.

That's why Ibarra started Magnolia Fund, a mission-driven investment fund dedicated to enriching the East End community and preserving the neighborhood's culture and history. Ibarra, who has lived in the area the majority of his life, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, that he's looking to turn residents into investors.

"Our investors from the neighborhood, today they walk around and look at their house and say, 'I own that,' and that's great," Ibarra says. "In the future, our investors should be able to say that, and then point to a building and say, 'I own a portion of that building too. And I helped that small business over there.'" Continue reading.


Episode 198 - The undeniable impact of AI - Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI CorpEpisode 198 - The undeniable impact of AI - Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI Corp

Anshumali Shrivastava joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share the revolutionary work ThirdAI is doing for artificial intelligence. Photo via rice.edu

Anshumali Shrivastava's career has evolved alongside the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, he believes his company represents the future of the industry's widespread implementation.

Shrivastava, who's also a professor at Rice University, founded ThirdAI, pronounced "third eye," in 2021 to democratize artificial intelligence through software innovations. As Shrivastava explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, AI processes have historically been run on larger, less accessible computing hardware. ThirdAI's tools are able to run on a regular central processing unit, or CPU, rather than the more powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU.

"We focus on the problems that people are facing in the current AI ecosystem," Shrivastava says on the podcast. "Right now, if you are to build some of the large-language models and (linear programming) models, you need a lot of computing power, dedicated engineers to move it, and, even if you are using fully managed services, it's costly and there are a lot of privacy implications because you have to move data around." Continue reading.


Episode 212 - The 'frivolous' lawsuit over DEI funding - Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore of Hello Alice

Hello Alice Co-Founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the lawsuit they're facing. Photo courtesy Cayce Clifford/Hello Alice

For years, Hello Alice has been helping small businesses across the country get equitable access to funding and support. Now, the Houston tech company is facing its own obstacle: An affirmative action lawsuit.

"I don't think in a million years that we ever expected anything like this," Elizabeth Gore, co-founder and president of Hello Alice, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's surprise, then there's fear, and then there's anger. But now on the other side of it, we're emboldened, confident, and more passionate than ever."

America First Legal's lawsuit against Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance, alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. AFL was founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board. Continue reading.

Houston's health tech and startup ecosystem has some recent news to catch up on. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startups announce exec, funding — plus more innovation news

SHORT STORIES

Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from growing their executive boards to raising fresh grant funding.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a startup opens a crowdfunding round, a Houston hospital system taps into new technology, and more.

Coya Therapeutics names new president and chief medical officer

Fred Grossman will assume his new role next week. Photo via LinkedIn

Coya Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: COYA), a revolutionary biotech company based in Houston, named Dr. Fred Grossman as president and chief medical officer. The clinical-stage company, which has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again, announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO in January.

According to the company, Dr. Grossman's position, which was held by Dr. Adrian Hepner, is effective July 17.

“We are grateful for Dr. Hepner’s leadership and excellence in positioning Coya and look forward to having him continue to collaborate with the company in moving our assets forward," Howard H. Berman, CEO of Coya, says in a news release. "We also welcome Dr. Grossman, who brings decades of clinical development experience and successful execution."

Dr. Grossman has held executive positions at Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Sunovion, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, and Mesoblast Inc. (NASDAQ: MESO), developing allogeneic cellular therapies for inflammatory diseases.

CellChorus receives another SBIR grant

CellChorus, a biotech startup operating out of the University of Houston Technology Bridge, has secured additional funding. Photo via Getty Images

Fresh off a $2.3 million grant last month, Houston-based CellChorus, a single-cell analysis company, has another grant to celebrate.

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded CellChorus a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to advance development of its Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids, known as TIMING. The funding will be used to develop novel microscale arrays to support scaling dynamic single-cell analysis.

“This funding will further development of novel arrays to build on the success of our early access laboratory based in Houston,” says Mohsen Fathi, head of technology at CellChorus, in a press release. “This project will support scaling the only platform that can evaluate migration, contact dynamics, killing, survival, subcellular activity, and biomolecule secretion for the same individual cell over time and in high throughput to improve development and delivery of novel therapies.”

According to the release, the company is receiving more than $274,000 as a part of the grant, but CellChorus has the potential of receiving up to $2 million from the second phase.

“This award builds on our recent funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to advance development of a dedicated instrument platform for TIMING,” says Daniel Meyer, CEO of CellChorus, in the release.

Memorial Hermann partners with TMC-backed virtual OB-GYN care

Two Houston-area hospitals now have access to this digital health startup's platform. Photo via Getty Images

The Memorial Hermann Health System has entered into a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based Babyscripts, a virtual care platform for managing obstetrics. The company is backed by the Texas Medical Center's venture fund and has existing ties to the city.

"Memorial Hermann strives to make Greater Houston a place where every woman's pregnancy, delivery and postpartum experience is successful and safe. This innovative partnership is a continuation of that commitment," says Dr. Victoria Regan, vice president of Women's and Children's Services at Memorial Hermann, in a news release.

Now, Memorial Hermann patients will be able to access Babyscripts myJourney, an app that delivers educational content, email campaigns, satisfaction surveys, appointment reminders, and more. The first two hospitals to receive access are Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, with plans to expand the program.

"The ability to access adequate prenatal and postpartum care is one of the largest predictors of maternal and infant health outcomes," says Anish Sebastian, CEO and co-founder of Babyscripts in the release. "With Babyscripts, Memorial Hermann is able to streamline the maternal health experience across their system, adding opportunities for access and providing consistent, high-quality pregnancy care to all patients, regardless of race, income, geography or risk."

Earn Your Freedom launches crowdfunding campaign with Houston nonprofit's support

Earn Your Freedom is looking for financial support from its community. Photo via houston.impacthub.net

Earn Your Freedom, a Houston startup that's gamifying personal finance education, has launched its first crowdfunding campaign in partnership with Impact Hub Houston.

The goal for EYF is to raise $100,000 to support its gaming programs with local schools. Impact Hub Houston is the fiscal sponsor for the raise, which is officially live and open for contributions.

The innovative and interactive web and mobile video game, which officially launched earlier this year to celebrate Financial Literacy Month, was designed to help kids build a strong foundation in money management, economics and investment in a fun and engaging way. It features challenges and real-world scenarios such as renting a first apartment, opening a first bank account, budgeting at the grocery store, buying stocks and index funds and renting or buying real estate.

“We envision a society where financial literacy is accessible to all, and where individuals are enabled with the tools to take control of their financial futures," says Keely McEnery, EYF co-founder and COO, in a press release. "We are bridging the gap between education and application, stepping in before the real-world consequences take place.”

Coya Therapeutics rang the closing bell at Nasdaq last week, celebrating six months since its IPO, new data from trials, and additions to its team. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston company with revolutionary neurodegenerative disease treatment shares milestones since IPO

ring that bell

After announcing its initial public offering earlier this year, a Houston therapeutics company has celebrated the milestone and announced recent growth as well.

Coya Therapeutics (Nasdaq: COYA) rang the closing bell last week. The clinical-stage biotech company, which has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again, announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO in January.

"We launched our IPO into one of the toughest biotech capital markets in recent memory and are enormously grateful to all our investors for the confidence they then showed in our prospects," says Howard Berman, CEO and chairman of Coya, in a June 12 letter to stockholders. "I believe that to date, we’ve executed strongly against the goals we then established, and I remain excited about our future."

In the letter, Berman shares some of the recent clinical successes from two treatments — COYA 302, a treatment for ALS, and COYA 301, a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. Both treatments have seen strong clinical proof of concept data in the respective open-label studies.

Earlier this year, Coya expanded its C-suite to include Dr. Arun Swaminathan as chief business officer. He has over 20 years of hands-on health care business executive experience. Prior to Coya, Swaminathan served in the same role for Actinium Pharmaceuticals.

"Arun is actively engaged in exploring potential strategic opportunities across our portfolio of assets as we believe successful partnering efforts have the potential to enhance our scientific bona fides, leverage our technology into new areas of unmet medical need, and importantly, possibly secure upfront fees and associated non-dilutive funding," Berman writes in the letter. "We look forward to pursuing additional value creation catalysts that further highlight our entrepreneurialism and ability to execute, while maintaining focus on our core assets."

The latest addition to the Coya team is Guillaume Dorothée, who joins the company's scientific advisory board. A leading expert on the role that the immune system and peripheral-central immune crosstalk play in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's, he's a tenured research director and team head in neuroimmunology at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris.

“I am glad and honored to join such eminent scientists on the prestigious SAB of Coya Therapeutics," he says in a June 5 statement from Coya. "I am fully convinced that innovative Treg-based immunomodulatory approaches, as developed by Coya, are highly promising therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and other neuroinflammatory conditions. I will be happy to help Coya Therapeutics in this exciting endeavor.”

Recently, Berman joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Coya's mission and plan post IPO.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics, Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, and Jim Sledzik of Aramco Ventures. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from biotech to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Howard Berman, co-founder and CEO of Coya Therapeutics

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

Howard Berman, as co-founder and CEO, has been at the helm of Coya Therapeutics as its hit some major milestones — from raising over $20 million in venture investment to taking the company public. Coya's IPO occured in a tough market — only 12 biotech companies went public last year, Berman explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast. To Berman, that just proves how passionate the team was about getting this product to those who need it.

"It really says something for the fortitude and our team to come together to make it happen," he says on the show. "We're able to deliver and execute in a difficult market climate.

"Once you're a public company, you have different expectations," he continues. "But you also have the opportunity to go out and attract additional investors in ways you can't do as a private company." Read more.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy 

Fervo Energy has raised additional funding to continue executing on its mission of more reliable geothermal energy production. Photo via LinkedIn

Fervo Energy, which has developed a process for drilling horizontal wells for commercial geothermal production as well as distributed fiber optic sensing to geothermal reservoir development, has secured the $10 million strategic investment from Devon Energy Corp.

“We are thrilled to have Devon as a partner,” says Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, in a news release. “Devon is a technology leader with historic and unparalleled expertise in drilling and completing wells. We expect this partnership will help unlock further potential for geothermal as the primary 24/7 renewable energy source.” Read more.

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, will serve on Greentown's Industry Leadership Council. Photo via Aramco

Houston-based Aramco Americas, an arm of the Saudi Arabian energy giant, has joined climatetech incubator Greentown Labs as a top-tier partner.

In its role as a “Terawatt Partner,” Aramco Americas will gain access to activities within Greentown’s industry and entrepreneurial network. In addition, Aramco Americas will participate in Greentown’s Industry Leadership Council, an advisory group. Jim Sledzik, managing director of Aramco Ventures North America, will serve on the council. Read more.

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

Why this Houston innovator is racing to commercialize its unique treatment for neurodegenerative diseases

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 182

When Howard Berman sought out renowned Houston Methodist researcher and neurologist Dr. Stanley Appel, he was looking for treatment for his father, who was suffering from dementia. He wasn't looking for a job, but Dr. Appel had other ideas and asked Berman to meet with him.

"I was interested in what I could do for my dad," Berman says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how he took the meeting with Dr. Appel, who then presented him with some of his research. "By slide five my jaw had hit the ground.

"He had shown that he could stop the progression in one of his early trials of ALS," Berman says.

Not too long after that meeting, Berman, who founded digital health platform imaware, joined Dr. Appel to lead commercialization of Coya Therapeutics, a biotech startup that raised over $20 million in venture funding before going public a few months ago.

Coya has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again. Diseases like ALS, the company's focus right now, prevent T-regs from doing their job in controlling inflammation, and without these cells hard at work, the human body doesn't stand a chance in fighting autoimmune threats.

Berman, as co-founder and CEO, has been at the helm of the company leading it through both the fundraising and IPO processes. Coya's IPO occured in a tough market — only 12 biotech companies went public last year, he explains. To Berman, that just proves how passionate the team was about getting this product to those who need it.

"It really says something for the fortitude and our team to come together to make it happen," he says on the show. "We're able to deliver and execute in a difficult market climate.

"Once you're a public company, you have different expectations," he continues. "But you also have the opportunity to go out and attract additional investors in ways you can't do as a private company."

For Berman, whose father passed away earlier this year, it's a personal motivation that drives him to lead the company — as well as an opportunity to advance the city of Houston.

"The next number of years as we develop this therapeutic regimen for ALS, we have the potential to transform Houston into something more than it is currently," he says. "Our success will be the city's success."

Berman shares more of the Coya Therapeutics story on the podcast, as well as how he sees Houston's potential as an emerging hub for biotech. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup scores on TV, medical entrepreneurs land new gigs, and more innovation news

short stories

It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, new hires, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a startup snags investment from two sharks, two medical professionals take on new roles, and more.

Milkify lures in two sharks on TV debut

Berkley Luck and Pedro Silva, the wife and husband team behind Milkify, appeared on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

Milkify, a Houston startup that's created a breastmilk freeze-drying business, appeared on ABC's Shark Tank on April 7 and got two investors to bite. Gwyneth Paltrow and Lori Greiner agreed to a $400,000 convertible note for 20 percent equity in the company.

“It’s a dream team — Lori and Gwyneth — to help us grow this company and help us take it and make it more available to moms," says Berkley Luck, COO and co-founder, on the show.

Luck founded the company with her husband, Pedro Silva, and told InnovationMap the company has freeze-dried and powdered more than half a million ounces of breast milk since founding in 2019.

On the show, the duo explained that some of the customers' employers paid for the process.

“It gives such agency to working moms, it empowers them,” Paltrow says on the show. “I work at a company with so many women and nursing mothers. Breastfeeding really factors in for women. This makes working less of a guilty experience for mothers.”

Coya Therapeutics onboards new C-suite exec

Arun Swaminathan was named chief business officer at Coya Therapeutics. Photo courtesy of Coya

Coya Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company with multiple therapeutic platforms, announced Arun Swaminathan will be taking on the role of chief business officer. He will be responsible for new business development partnerships, including licensing opportunities, across the company. Swaminathan has over 20 years of hands-on health care business executive experience.

“Our team is excited to welcome Arun to Coya at such an exciting time in our evolution. We look forward to working with him as we leverage his extensive experience and successful track record in corporate strategy and business development,” says Howard H. Berman, CEO of Coya, in a news release. “This is an opportune time for Arun to join our team on the heels of recent positive data and as we accelerate the clinical development of our biologic and cell therapy Treg immunomodulatory assets. We are confident that Arun’s contributions will prove to be impactful for Coya and our shareholders.”

Prior to Coya, Swaminathan served in the same role for Actinium Pharmaceuticals.

“Coya has an innovative pipeline, and its multiple therapeutic platforms provide a strong base for potential value-creating partnerships,” says Swaminathan in the release. “I look forward to working with Howard and the Coya team to realize the promise of Coya’s portfolio and deliver new therapies for patients.”

INOVUES named to accelerator

Window-retrofitting climatetech company has joined a new startup accelerator. Photo via inovues.com

A Houston company that is retrofitting commercial buildings for energy efficiency has joined a brand new Maryland-based accelerator. INOVUES has been named to the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.'s inaugural cohort for its Hospitality Tech Accelerator.

The six selected companies are focusing on some of the hospitality industry’s top sustainability challenges, according to a news release, including energy, water, and waste reduction and management. The cohort will be supported by experts in the sustainability, travel, foodservice, and hospitality industries from Growth Advisors International Network and Bethesda Green’s Innovation Lab mentor network, per the release.

“We were particularly impressed by the caliber of applicants for this inaugural program,” says Bill Tompkins, president and CEO of MCEDC, in a statement. “The selected companies have developed innovative solutions that can be implemented today to reduce food and material waste, detect water loss, and provide fast and convenient energy savings through high-performance insulation, AI and machine learning, and smart glass retrofits."

In a recent interview with InnovationMap, founder Anas Al Kassas says commercial building energy efficiency is a major contributor to energy consumption.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas said in December. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

3 female founders named to prestigious list

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, Ghazal Qureshi, and Robin Scott were named to Inc. magazine's list of female founders. Photos courtesy

Earlier this month, Inc. magazine revealed its list of the top 200 female founders, and three Houston-area women made the cut.

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace, and Robin Scott, co-founder of CEO of Segment HR, were recognized as trailblazers in male-dominated industries. Ghazal Qureshi, CEO and founder of UpBrainery, was honored on the list of innovators using tech to impact the world.

"These 200 female founders have identified solutions to difficult problems and created valuable, industry-changing companies out of them. We congratulate this year's list on their achievements and look forward to their continued success," says Scott Omelianuk, Inc. editor in chief, in a news release.

The full list is available online and in the April edition of the magazine.

TMC Innovation names cancer program's entrepreneur in residence

TMC has welcomed Dr. Tinashe Chandauka to its innovation team. Photo via TMC.edu

The Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory has again expanded its team with the addition of another entrepreneur in residence — this time to support the Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, or ACT.

Dr. Tinashe Chandauka, according to TMC, is a "life science company builder. He has both a MD and PhD, and has a background in venture capital and business development. Prior to this role, he was director of early pipeline development at Tarsus Pharmaceuticals, an Irvine-based ophthalmology company.

Chandauka joins Zaffer Syed, entrepreneur in residence for medtech, who was announced earlier this year.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.