Softeq has named three members to its executive team. Photos courtesy of Softeq

A tech development company has expanded its executive suite with three new additions to its team.

Softeq Development Corp. has hired Craig Ceccanti as COO, Albert Esser as chief delivery officer, and Edwin Lemus as chief people officer. The new hires' roles were effective as of June 1. The Houston company, founded in 1997, creates hardware and software solutions for its clients. Softeq also runs a venture fund and studio for startups from around the world.

“With the significant growth of our engineering services business plus the addition of our Venture Studio and $40 million Venture Fund, we saw an opportunity to welcome new leaders with global experience and fresh thinking to continue evolving our business and scaling for the future,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “This is a huge investment in our team, and with the addition of these three leaders to our C-suite we will centralize our global leadership team in Houston while providing support and expertise to our team across 22 countries and clients worldwide.”

About the new executives:

  • Craig Ceccanti is a serial entrepreneur. He founded Pinot’s Palette and oversaw its franchise growth and exit before joining the founding team of sEATz — now Rivalry Technologies. The sports tech startup provides a mobile ordering software for stadiums, as well as hospital and hospitality destinations. Most recently, he founded and ran T-Minus Solutions, a custom software development company. As COO, Ceccanti will oversee the day-to-day operations of Softeq and work to improve internal and external processes.
  • With three decades of experience in tech and consulting at Daimler AG, GE, Emerson, Hilti, and Dell, Albert Esser will lead the delivery organization, which includes including solutions engineering, project management, and resource management. As chief delivery officer, he's tasked with expanding "the team’s capabilities and agility by adding to the global network of consultants," per the release, as well as leading Softeq's adoption of emerging new technologies like IoT, AI/ML, vision systems, industrial automation, robotics, cloud applications, and cyber security.
  • Edwin Lemus has 22 years of talent-related experience, and, as chief people officer, he will continue to grow the Softeq team and build a company culture for the workforce that stretches across 22 offices around the world.

Softeq Venture Studio launched over a year ago with its inaugural cohort in 2021, and the fund was launched last year. The latest cohort was announced in March.

A Houston startup is making mobile food ordering a whole lot easier within health care facilities. Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Houston tech company launches app to upgrade mobile ordering

download now

A Houston tech company has launched its mobile ordering app, the company announced last week.

Rivalry Tech, which created sEATz, an in-seat food delivery platform for sports and entertainment venues, has launched myEATZ in the App Store and Google Play. The platform is designed for facilities with 24/7/365 dining needs, and the app's initial focus is on the health care industry.

Health care employees work long shifts and have to optimize their break time. With the myEATZ app, these workers can order ahead and skip the line at nearby eateries. For Rivalry Tech's co-founder and CEO, Aaron Knape, being able to provide this tool to health care workers is a personal win for him.

“Being married to a nurse, and living next door to the largest medical center in the world, I’ve seen the challenges faced by healthcare workers the past few years," he says in a news release. "To offset long hours and short breaks, the myEATz platform can truly give time back to healthcare workers by letting them skip the line.”

Outside of health care, myEATz has also identified opportunities within the hospitality industry. Last year, myEATz launched at Margaritaville Lake Conroe to allow guests to mobile order food and beverage directly to their pool chair. The expansion is in its second phase with plans to rollout into other hotels.

Originally founded as sEATz in 2018 by Knape, Marshall Law, and Craig Ceccanti, Rivalry Tech raised $3.5 million in November. The round was led by Houston-based Sightcast, with participation from Houston-based Softeq Venture Studio, Rice University’s Valhalla Investment Group, and more.

The myEATz app is available now. Image courtesy of Rivalry Tech

The five finalists for Mentor of the Year in the Houston Innovation Awards sound off on their best advice. Photos courtesy

Houston's top startup mentors of 2022 share go-to advice for founders

words of wisdom

Houston is home to many great mentors — all hailing for completely different backgrounds.

At the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9, InnovationMap and Houston Exponential are honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have dedicated at least a portion of their lives to supporting others within the startup and tech scene in Houston.

Here are some words of wisdom from our awards honorees from the Mentor of the Year category for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards.

"I always remind people to be open and ask for help. There is a common misconception that if you disclose your idea, someone else will quickly run with it and beat you to market! ... Don’t alienate yourself by overprotecting the idea and keeping it all to yourself. The more you open up about your idea the more feedback you’ll get, good and bad, both of which are vital in the success of the product long term."

Photo courtesy

- Alfredo Arvide, Blue People and HOUnited. Arvide, who's been an advisor for over a decade, adds, that "most markets are big enough to allow competition to thrive, so keeping your idea behind close doors until you launch may hurt you as the market may not be ready for it. Having multiple players competing in the market will help you in the long run, as long as you have a great product and a sound marketing strategy."

"Understand the problem you are trying to solve. Build a team that works well together and has the intellect, drive, and willingness to develop and bring to market a solution for that problem. Leadership is not about giving orders and making all the decisions. It is about creating the environment for your team members individually and collectively to do their best work and be most fulfilled."

Photo courtesy

- Barbara Burger, adviser and board member for several startups and organizations. With over 20 years of experience supporting startups, Burger says she is mostly focused on startups dedicated to decarbonizing the energy system.

"Don't have 'rocking chair regret.' What I mean is when you are old and in a rocking chair, you aren't going to regret the year (or less) you took away from a guaranteed salary to test if your idea worked. So, take the time and follow your dreams — you never know what could happen!"

Photo courtesy

- Craig Ceccanti, T-Minus Solutions. Ceccanti, who also co-founded Pinot's Palette and Rivalry Technologies, has been mentoring for over a decade. "I love helping people and always have so helping others achieve their dreams is a natural progression for me, he says. "I've also had incredible mentors and I like to pay it forward every chance I get. I feel that mentoring is fun, therapeutic, and mutually beneficial as I feel I learn from the smart people I get to talk to daily!

"Bring great people on your journey with you — team members, advisors, investors, mentors, consultants, etc."

Photo courtesy

- Emily Reiser, Texas Medical Center and Enventure. Reiser, who's mentored companies for several years, says it's her own mentors that inspired her. "I had excellent mentors who generously gave their time for me, especially Upendra Marathi, and it's just a given that I mentor others. It's a privilege to learn from the people I mentor and see them become successful."

"Be your own cheerleader. Stay true to yourself and don't give up."

Photo courtesy

Kara Branch, founder of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "I have always been the only black woman in all my roles. As a mother of three daughters, my oldest daughter inspired Black Girls Do Engineer Corp.," Branch says. "When she daughter was 9, she came to me and said she wanted to be a software engineer. ... If anyone can help her achieve her dreams is her mom and I wanted to create a space for girls who look like my daughter to come together and do the things they love and are passionate about."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Craig Ceccanti of T-Minus Solutions, Katie Eick of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets, and Blair Garrou of Mercury. 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 venture capital to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Craig Ceccanti, founder and CEO of T-Minus Solutions

Words of wisdom from a founder who's done this all before. And then again. And again. Photo courtesy of T-Minus Solutions

After starting a company or two — or three — Craig Ceccanti has some observations on his own entrepreneurial journey. He also has some hard lessons learned, and he shared four of them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"I’m not immune to making mistakes," he writes. "As a serial entrepreneur and having started, led, and mentored various successful companies, I have made some mistakes and have been lucky enough to learn from them."Read more.

Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets Rollin' Vets joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her company's growth. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

For years, Dr. Katie Eick wanted to provide mobile veterinary care for her patients, but the technology wasn't where it needed to be. She took a gamble and bought her first truck in 2016 as ridesharing and mobile ordering took off. A new business of convenience was booming, before blasting off again amid the pandemic.

Now, the founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets says she's got the equipment, the market demand, and a $5 million round of investment to expand her business model.

The other challenge Eick says she faced early on was a misconception that mobile vet care was limited to vaccinations.

"We provide the highest level of veterinary care — right in your driveway," Eick says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how each of her trucks — she now has five — have the capability to provide all sorts of treatment. Read more.

Blair Garrou, founder and managing partner of Mercury

Blair Garrou will be recognized as the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Photo courtesy

The name Blair Garrou is quite familiar to most within Houston's startup and innovation ecosystem. As co-founder of Mercury, which launched in 2005, he's seen the city's tech world expand tenfold.

"Although we are in the midst of a recession, Houston continues to grow in three key industrial sectors of innovation – EnergyTech/ClimateTech, HealthTech, and SpaceTech. Our city has the opportunity to be a national leader in each of these sectors, and drive tremendous job growth in the future," he tells InnovationMap.

Garrou was nominated and selected by a group of judges to be the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient, and will be honored at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Read more.

Words of wisdom from a founder who's done this all before. And then again. And again. Photo via Getty Images

4 lessons learned from this Houston-based serial entrepreneur

guest column

A true test to determine if you are an entrepreneur is knowing if you can recognize your failures. From the outside, we often think of every business leader as having a resume of success stories. You see CEOs in magazines, on television, and in the news, but what you don’t always see is their often-endless list of ideas and decisions that simply didn’t work. Those failures may include a startup that didn’t launch or a key decision that went sideways. Either way, these missteps are often there if you listen to their stories or look hard enough.

I’m not immune to making mistakes. As a serial entrepreneur and having started, led, and mentored various successful companies, I have made some mistakes and have been lucky enough to learn from them. Below is a list of key takeaways I’ve compiled from years of learning.

1. Know what kind of entrepreneur you are.

Before you even get to the service or product that you want to create, learn a little bit about who you are as a leader. Check out a BOSI assessment online to help you determine if you are a Builder, Opportunist, Specialist, or Innovator. Knowing and utilizing your strengths as well as looking for help with your weaknesses will take you far. This also will make a big difference if you are searching for a co-founder. When I started Pinot’s Palette, my co-founder and I both were strong Builders. Without understanding this ahead of time, we ended up wasting time and money overbuilding features that didn’t need to be perfected pre-launch. Looking back, we could have benefited from adding an Opportunist to our team early on and focusing our time on our strengths.

2. You pay for experience….one way or another.

I can’t take full credit for this lesson. My mentor, Dr. Al Napier, shared this sentiment with me years ago. The concept is that you will either pay an in-house expert or consultant early on or you will pay for the mistakes you make with scar tissue. Sometimes, those mistakes can be detrimental. Of course, there’s a time and place to spend money and you don’t want to overspend early, but you need to balance bootstrapping with deploying capital to prevent a game-ending error.

3. Truly understand your vision and how to implement it. 

Staying focused isn’t always easy. You have an idea, but how do you get from step 1 to success? It’s easy to get off track and go down the wrong path – a critical error! As Lori Clements taught me, utilizing EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) to organize your vision and stay disciplined will ultimately help you become a better leader. I started working with an EOS coach back in my Pinot’s Palette days and it was a game-changer for how we solved problems. Now, I recommend it to every budding entrepreneur.

4. Build your support network early.

Having a support system in every aspect of life is important. In business, having the right people to lean on and run ideas by can be vital. For each business that I’ve started, there have been emotional and mental hardships to work through. You have your business “baby” and often employees leaning on you to make the right decisions. You can find a professional network through your alumni groups or just seek out other entrepreneurs also going through a similar phase in their business.

Ultimately, you need to be mentally prepared, knowing there will be ups and downs in your business. There is no way to prevent all errors but hopefully turning the mistakes into lessons is what defines leaders.

------

Craig Ceccanti is a serial entrepreneur and has co-founded Houston-based Rivalry Technologies and Pinot's Palette. He is the founder, president, and CEO of T-Minus Solutions, a software company.

Softeq Venture Studio's growing portfolio of startups in its accelerator work out of FUSE Workspace in City Centre. Image via fuseworkspace.com

Houston tech company adds 22 startups to its accelerator

now accelerating

A Houston early-stage accelerator has named 22 startups to its latest cohort.

Softeq Development Corp. has announced the companies joining the Softeq Venture Studio, the tech services company's accelerator program. A total of 22 companies have joined the program — hailing from the United Kingdom, Iceland, Mexico, Peru, and across the United States. This addition nearly doubles the program's portfolio, bringing the total number of startups to 49.

“This year has been a significant one for the Softeq Venture Fund and our portfolio companies. Due to the hard work of our team and the success achieved by previous founders, we’ve seen our investors and our entrepreneurs evolve to be more global than ever, and with more ambitious plans to revolutionize their industries," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. "We continue to attract world-class founders to Houston for our program that de-risks startups and investments."

Howard also announced a new limited partner. Houston entrepreneur Craig Ceccanti — co-founder of Pinot’s Palette and Rivalry Technologies — is the latest investor to join the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund, which is anticipated to close by the end of the year.

“Investors constantly search for opportunities that balance opportunity and risk, and ones that help us grow and maximize returns while maintaining a measure of stability and diversification,” says Ceccanti in the release. “Joining the Softeq Venture Fund is an exciting opportunity because it provides a de-risked investment opportunity plus the ability to participate in a hands-on fashion in Houston within these high-growth industries.”

The trend among the new cohort joining the program for the next three months includes health tech, sports tech, fintech, e0-commerce, Web 3.0, and more. Participating starups will have access to FUSE Workspace, as well as support and guidance from Softeq Venture Studio staff, Softeq engineers, local mentors, investors, and earlier cohort members.

“During our startup journey, we participated in leading technology accelerator Y Combinator. Later on, we realized through our users’ feedback we needed to improve our product with additional technology expertise and support to reach our full potential,” says Gerardo Briones, founder and CEO of new cohort startup Pagaloop of Mexico City. “That’s why we chose to participate in the Softeq Venture Studio. Softeq engineers have experience building enterprise-grade applications that scale up. We also get more opportunities to meet investors to bring our product to all of Latin America.”

The complete list of the new cohort of the Softeq Venture Fund, according to the news release, includes the following companies:

  • Adkaddy gets brands out of your email and into a powerful brand management tool. From discovery to promotions, shipping and receipts, this is digital commerce your way.
  • Allkind is benefiting reproductive healthcare globally by innovating fertility matching, empowering personal goals & improving modern family building.
  • atease is where 133 million government and military employees with strict rental requirements find approved, affordable, and reimbursable lodging options.
  • Boxes provides convenient, space-efficient, highly measurable, sampling and trial vending technology for premium CPG companies looking to reach customers where they shop and live.
  • Hapi is a stock trading platform with no minimums and no commissions focused on consumers in Latin America.
  • HelloDoctor puts qualified, responsive, and affordable doctors on the screens of 89 million cell phones of patients in Mexico. Healthcare just got better in Latin America.
  • Hightag is an automated media capture and delivery system that helps mountain bikers, skiers, and other action sport athletes capture and share their greatest moments.
  • IncentiFind is the nation’s go-to database of green building incentives, transforming U.S. real estate through $70 billion in incentives.
  • JamFeed aggregates artists' social media and music streaming content into an automated no-code website where artists can control their brand, their business, and their relationship with fans in one platform in less than 5 minutes.
  • Lesson Squad helps brands turn their customers into loyal users by creating a branded hub where customers can take lessons, enter competitions, and discover products.
  • LVED is an easy to use expert guided platform that provides everything families need to plan, organize, legally document end of life wishes, and memorialize loved ones.
  • Mesada is a digital remittance company that is utilizes blockchain technology to offer fast, efficient, and easy money transfers throughout the Latin American region.
  • Motusi is a whole-body wearable with AI to generate deeper insights related to movement quality and injury insights to help athletes progress in their performance or recovery.
  • MyShoots is an app for shooting sports organizations to connect with and market to their clients more efficiently, while allowing field-sports brands to connect with their customers.
  • Pagaloop is a fintech company that allows Latin American businesses more control over their cash flow when performing B2B transactions.
  • RESCUNOMICS offers a mobile app that helps save lives by expediting rescuer protocols and providing visibility into building floor plans and more.
  • sEATz connects fans to concessions and merchandise for in-seat delivery or pick-up reducing concession lines, increasing throughput, improving sales, and driving fan satisfaction.
  • SpecsX is transforming eye care into a virtual care model reducing costs, inconvenience for patients and providers, and giving everyone access to perfect vision.
  • Struttur Sports is an NFT platform where athletes share their experiences by connecting and combining digital and In Real Life events to create the deep interactions sports fans crave.
  • Svarmi is a digital platform that defines and prioritizes areas where business and progress influence nature providing meaningful, insightful metrics and proof of regulatory compliance.
  • SynvergySvn digitizes the movements of athletes with integrated wearables like the J-Sleeve so players, coaches, and trainers can diagnose muscle memory and improve repeat performance.
  • WulfTech protects and preserves the health of high-value K9 working dogs through smart wearable technology for government agencies, the military, and first responders.

The Softeq Venture Studio announced its inaugural cohort a year ago, and the fund was launched earlier this year. In August, Softeq expanded to New Hampshire to reach more startups and entrepreneurs.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.