3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Craig Ceccanti of T-Minus Solutions, Ben Jawdat of Revterra, and Sam Sabbahi of Thermocuff. Photos courtesy

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

Craig Ceccanti, founder of T-Minus Solutions

Craig Ceccanti joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what he's learned in his time as an entrepreneur in Houston — and what he's focused on now. Photo courtesy of Craig Ceccanti

When deciding what his passion project would be, Craig Ceccanti looked back at his career. He's always been interested in tech, and grew a small business — Pinot's Palette — to a national franchise. Combining his skills and expertise, he founded T-Minus Solutions to provide entrepreneurs with software consulting and support.

"I love technology and mentoring other entrepreneurs — those were two big factors," Ceccanti says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "So, starting a consulting agency where we could help startups and mid sized-growth companies build custom software was kind of my perfect unicorn."

He shares more about the his career — from franchising to tech startups — as well as why he's bullish on Houston's business economy on the podcast. Click here to read more and listen to the episode.

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra

Revterra Corp. closed a $6 million series A round led by Equinor Ventures. Photo via LinkedIn

Revterra Corp. has raised $6 million in its series A funding round to propel development of its battery for electric vehicle charging stations. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

“There is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions globally,” physicist Ben Jawdat, founder and CEO of Revterra, says in a news release. “Our goal at Revterra is to deploy scalable energy storage solutions that facilitate the shift to renewables and EVs while hardening our electric grid. Our systems enable these ambitions while utilizing materials that are recyclable and based on a secure supply chain.” Click here to read more.

Thermocuff has several patents and expects FDA approval at the end of the year. Image via LinkedIn.com

Necessity is the mother of invention — and Sam Sabbahi needed a better way to heat and cool common joint injuries. Sabbahi, a physical therapist by trade, wanted to optimize the traditional way of using ice or heat packs.

“In the field, we were always getting people coming in trying to get us to purchase different medical devices and we wondered, ‘who knows what we need better than we do?’” he says. “A patient asked me ‘what a cold pack does’ and I was thinking in my head that a cold pack just cools the skin to three millimeters depth.”

Sabbahi then developed and invented a portable convection-based heating and cooling system device that could be used for joint injury rehabilitation – the device, dubbed Thermocuff, works much in the way that an air fryer circulates the air to get an even temperature. Click here to read more.

This growing mobile ordering startup has rebranded to represent its growth. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Growing Houston sportstech company rebrands following platform expansion

the rivalry is on

The Houston startup that enabled in-seat food and beverage ordering at stadiums has grown over the past few years — and the company has entered into its new era with a rebrand.

Houston-based sEATz expanded this year to evolve its technology to enable optimized mobile ordering within hospitals. Launching that new platform, called myEATz, led to a need for a defined parent company to account for the growing company. Rivalry Technology will be run by the same sEATz and myEATz team.

“I always knew that sEATz would grow into something special," says Rivalry Tech CEO and Co-Founder Aaron Knape in a news release. "As we continue to expand and grow, our brand has also grown with it. With sEATz holding sway over Sports and Entertainment, and the myEATz platform making rapid inroads into healthcare, business dining and leisure, the Rivalry Tech branding will help pull it all together.”

The rebrand comes with a new logo, website, and social media accounts. Rivalry's chief of staff, Megan Fier, designed the new logo with sEATz's original design and colors in mind.

“Knowing how recognized the sEATz brand has become, I needed to design the Rivalry Tech logo to compliment that," she says in the release. "The dual arrows pointing together represent our two platform brands. The orange sEATz half shows where we started while the navy blue myEATz shows where we are going.”

The new website also showcases both brands with information for those interested in both platforms.

“Prior to our rebrand, we had two separate websites presenting as two separate companies," Fier says. "I wanted our website to be our go-to place for both sEATz and myEATz, to show that cohesion and showcase the depth of our offerings as Rivalry Tech. The new Rivalry Tech website shares our products, tells our story, and gives site visitors a place to connect to our team all in one website. Afterall, we are more than just mobile ordering.”

The name reflects the three sEATz co-founders' alma maters: Knape graduated from Texas A&M University, Marshall Law from the University of Texas, and Craig Ceccanti from Louisiana State University.

“An Aggie, a Longhorn, and an LSU Tiger walked into a bar," Knape explains, "and it was the only name on which we could agree.“

Founded in 2018, the company has raised two seed rounds — one in 2019 and another amid the pandemic in 2020. Following that funding, Knape previously told InnovationMap that he's focused on the company's growth.

"I tell the team that we're kind of coming out of stealth mode — I know we're not in a true stealth mode, but we haven't spent a lot of money on sales and marketing," Knape says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now it's time to start putting that emphasis on who we are, that we're here, and we're ready to take over."

Craig Ceccanti joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what he's learned in his time as an entrepreneur in Houston — and what he's focused on now. Photo courtesy of Craig Ceccanti

Serial Houston entrepreneur's latest venture combines his passions for startups and software

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In 2020, Craig Ceccanti sat down to consider what his next career move would be. Former CEO and co-founder of national franchise Pinot's Palette and a co-founder of Houston sports tech startup sEATz, Ceccanti wanted a passion project.

His background is in software and computer science and, with years of experience in entrepreneurship, he decided a combination of his passions would be a software-focused consulting firm for startups and growing businesses. He founded T-Minus Solutions in November of 2020.

Ceccanti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that at Pinot's Palette, he built the software himself, using freelancers to help build out and support his work. These developers were inconsistent and never lasted long, and Ceccanti says he experienced this challenge again when developing sEATz's software. He had the idea of providing a more reliable software outsourcing service for companies.

"I love technology and mentoring other entrepreneurs — those were two big factors," Ceccanti says on the show. "So, starting a consulting agency where we could help startups and mid sized-growth companies build custom software was kind of my perfect unicorn."

T-Minus Solutions, which is bootstrapped so far, has a team of six employees, and Ceccanti says they are specifically focused on working with impactful businesses. As a passion project, he explains he's less driven by revenue and more focused on the help and guidance he can provide his clients, whether it's building software for them or helping navigate a major business decision.

"Our statement is to empower entrepreneurs," he explains. "We want to make the accessibility to technology easy for them and have a trusted technology partner for them to come to."

Ceccanti, who's a mentor at Rice University, is dedicated to helping fellow Houston entrepreneurs and aspiring founders. He says over the years as he's doled out advice over coffee or beers, he got the idea to write down some of his lessons learned. The book, “A Founder’s Guide to A Software Startup,” is expected to release later this year.

Originally from Louisiana, Ceccanti — who moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina — is enthusiastic about Houston's innovation ecosystem. He says he's seen so much progress for startups and entrepreneurs, and Houston has so many industries represented here — something extremely valuable when it comes to access to consumers.

"Houston is really unique — when you think about Dallas and Austin or even the West Coast or the Northeast — with the demand of our consumerbase. You can test out anything here — you can't say that about Austin or Dallas the way you can here," Ceccanti says. "Industrial, medical, consumer, retail, restaurant — you're in the right place. If you can make it work here, it's going to do good."

He shares more about the his career — from franchising to tech startups — as well as why he's bullish on Houston's business economy on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston-based sEATz has closed a funding round and plans to reach more fans than ever this football season. Courtesy of sEATz

Exclusive: Houston-based stadium ordering app closes near $1.3 million Seed round with plans to scale

Fantech

Fans across the country are headed to football stadiums this weekend to cheer on their teams, but only a few will have the luxury of ordering food, beer, and even merchandise from the comfort of their seats.

Houston-based sEATz has created a platform where fans can order just about anything their stadium has from an app. Much like any other ordering app, once the order is placed, a runner will pick up the food and deliver it to the customer for a small fee and a tip.

The startup is now preparing to scale up from seven venues to 10 before the year is over as well as launching a new version of the app thanks to an oversubscribed near $1.3 million Seed round led by Houston-based Valedor Partners. Houston-based Starboard Star Venture Capital also contributed to the round. SEATz has plans to launch its Series A round before the new year.

"We're building enterprise-level, scalable in-seat ordering, delivery, and pick-up software. We'll have all the data and validation we need this fall to really start to push that out," says CEO and co-founder Aaron Knape.

SEATz got its start when co-founder and COO Marshall Law missed a particularly amazing play by the Astros during a World Series gameduring a World Series game because he was waiting in line to get food for his family. In a world of Uber and Favor, it was time for stadiums to step up their convenience. Law and Knape had been friends for a while — they met through their wives — and they regularly bounced business ideas off each other.

"We would meet every couple weeks in the Heights for coffee and throw spaghetti at the wall. We knew we'd eventually find an idea together," Law says. "After I left that Astros game, I texted him from the parking lot and told him, 'I found it.'"

The duo teamed up with another friend, Craig Ceccanti —CEO and founder of Houston-based Pinot's Palette, which has locations across the United States — and created sEATz's parent company, Rivalry Technologies. The name's an homage to the fact that the men are from rivalry schools — Law went to the University of Texas, Knape went to Texas A&M University, and Ceccanti went to Louisiana State University.

Part of sEATz ability to grow so rapidly has been a series of key partnerships. A Rice University business master's grad, Knape got them a foot in the door at his alma mater, and sEATz's first game was at Rice last year. Then, the startup was connected to Jamey Rootes, president at the Houston Texans, at an event at The Cannon Houston. That partnership lead to an introduction with Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., a global food service and staffing company. SEATz is a member of Cannon Ventures, as well as being a member company of Capital Factory, which has its Houston outpost at The Cannon.

"At this point, we know that fans want food in their seats," Knape says. "That concerns the concessionaires because they don't want an app that just helps them sell food, because they already have long lines. What we have on the back end actually helps them divert that traffic and reduce those lines."

Aramark got sEATz into the University of Houston's basketball games, but the university then switched their food service company to Delaware North. However, sEATz had proven itself to the athletic department at UH, and wrote it in Delaware North's contract that they will work with sEATz.

At this point, the growing company has contracts in Houston with NRG Stadium, UH's TDECU Stadium and Fertitta Center, Rice Stadium, and Constellation Field. SEATz also worked 71 games of the Corpus Cristi Hooks and recently had its first out-of-state expansion to the University of Southern Mississippi. In its first game on campus, sEATz saw over 700 downloads for just the first game.

"Now that we're there, Mississippi State and Ole Miss want it too," Knape says. "Our expansion is really coming on."

The team has big ideas for sEATz and Rivalry Technologies. SEATz has applications in all types of venues — music or entertainment and even resorts.

sEATz Concession food to your seat? That's what sEATz makes possible. Courtesy of sEATz

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Houston doctors recognized among top creative leaders in business

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This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

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Samsung sets sights on nearly $200 billion expansion in Texas

chipping in

As it builds a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor, tech giant Samsung is eyeing a long-term strategy in the Texas area that could lead to a potential investment of close to $200 billion.

Samsung’s plans, first reported by the Austin Business Journal, call for an additional $192.1 billion investment in the Austin area over several decades that would create at least 10,000 new jobs at 11 new chipmaking plants. These facilities would be at the new Taylor site and the company’s existing site in Northeast Austin.

The first of the 11 new plants wouldn’t be completed until 2034, according to the Business Journal.

“Samsung has a history already in the Austin market as an employer of choice, providing high wages, great benefits, and a great working environment. All of this will be on steroids in the not-too-distant future, creating a historic boost to the already booming Austin economy,” John Boyd Jr., a corporate site selection consultant, tells CultureMap.

Samsung’s preliminary plans were revealed in filings with the State of Texas seeking possible financial incentives for the more than $190 billion expansion. The South Korean conglomerate says the filings are part of the company’s long-range planning for U.S. chipmaking facilities.

Given that Samsung’s 11 new plants would be decades in the making, there’s no certainty at this point that any part of the potential $192.1 billion expansion will ever be built.

Last November, Samsung announced it would build a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor to complete its semiconductor operations in Northeast Austin. Construction is underway, with completion set for 2024. Boyd proclaimed last year that the Taylor project will trigger an “economic tsunami” in the quiet Williamson County suburb.

The Taylor facility, which is expected to employ more than 2,000 people, ranks among the largest foreign economic development projects in U.S. history. The impact of a nearly $200 billion cluster of 11 new chipmaking plants would far eclipse the Taylor project.

The Taylor factory will produce advanced chips that power mobile and 5G capabilities, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.