Here's some local Houston startup news you may have missed. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston startups across industries have been moving and shaking these past few weeks, and there's a chance you may have missed some of these Houston innovation stories.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, two Houston-based e-commerce startups announce big news, a tech company pitches abroad, and more.

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has expanded its business. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics company with solutions within procurement and delivery of maintenance, repair, and operations products for heavy industries, announced it has expanded into the commercial construction space.

Builders partnering with GoExpedi now have access to more than 200,000 critical parts and supplies, according to a news release from the company.

"Access to needed tools and materials in construction is already a challenge in today's supply chain environment," says GoExpedi CEO Tim Neal in the release. "Expanding into commercial construction is a natural extension of our capabilities as we already provide significant operational and cost value with our digital platform across similar heavy sectors. We're quickly ramping up the number of construction groups we're working with, giving them a better way to plan for and order materials to help avoid costly building delays."

GoExpedi raised a $25 million series C round in 2020 and is deploying these funds as the company grows. Earlier this year, the startup opened a new industrial and energy MRO warehouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

UH business college snags prestigious grant

Dean​ Paul Pavlou leads the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.

The University of Houston's C. T. Bauer College of Business is partnering with Texas A&M University and Temple University to develop and implement an energy risk tracking and alert system in Houston and San Antonio. The research project recently received $1.5 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation. The grant is part of the Smart and Connected Communities program.

"Advanced Learning for Energy Risk Tracking" (ALERT) is designed to prevent and mitigate costly and potentially devastating electricity outages — such as the 2021 winter storm — according to a news release from UH. Bauer College Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou is one of co-investigators.

"If there is one positive outcome of the winter storm, it certainly created an awareness for many people that we need to invest more in intelligent systems that can minimize the huge costs and negative impacts that electricity outages can have on people and local communities," he says in the release. "The idea of this research is to create a data-driven system to reduce, predict, and mitigate costly power outages, especially in traditionally disadvantaged communities that usually suffer the most from power outages."

The ALERT system depends on data generated by utilities, city and county governments, school districts and others, enabling preemptive repairs and allowing officials to react more quickly in the event of unforeseen outages, per the release, and a test version of the resource may begin operating in San Antonio as soon as 2022, followed by a trial in Houston.

"It's a technologically very advanced solution, but the beauty of it is that we are working with local communities to acquire the data, to enhance the system and also feed the data back to the community to actually minimize the impact on the people who suffer most from power outages," Pavlou says in the release.

Houston health tech company receives new investment

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has fresh funding. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Velentium has announced a growth recapitalization in partnership with Connecticut-based Great Point Partners. Houston-based Velentium is an engineering firm specializing in the design and manufacturing of therapeutic and diagnostic active medical devices, and GPP is a leading health care investment firm. The new investment allows Velentium to scale national operations.

"When Great Point reached out to us earlier this year, we were immediately impressed with their deep knowledge of our market and track record building businesses," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "We continue to build an organization that improves the lives of people and families by helping to bring transformative medical devices to market, and Great Point is uniquely positioned to enable us to do that at an even larger scale. Today, we are starting a new chapter and taking a crucial step in realizing our dream of having 1,000 families as part of our organization."

Velentium was created to advance the next breakthrough medical device technology — all within the same company. Innovators and inventors don't have to go through the processes — from cybersecurity to manufacturing — by themselves.

"Our dream from day one was to create a one-stop shop here in Houston where new startups with IP can come to us and know that start to finish they would have their commercial device ready for approval with the FDA and that we were going to handle everything," Purvis previously told InnovationMap.

With GPP's investment, Velentium is equipped to augment its end-to-end solutions and its nearshore and offshore manufacturing capabilities, per the release.

"Velentium has played a pivotal role in the development of groundbreaking neuromodulation devices that have led to important medical technology advancements," says GPP Managing Director Adam Dolder in the release. "We look forward to being partners with Dan, Tim and the entire team and helping them to achieve their goals for the company."

Houston startup tapped for European pitch competition

Jessica Reitmeier, is the co-founder of Pandata Tech. Photo courtesy of Pandata Tech

Houston-based Pandata Tech is one of 29 companies from around the globe competing in Scotland's Net Zero Technology Centre's Clean Energy Start-up Pitch Battle finals. Each featured company has a technology solution that can help accelerate the transition to a net zero energy industry, and 10 finalists will be selected to pitch at COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 2, 2021.

"These start-ups are truly inspiring. Offering extraordinary innovation and ambition, all these teams are developing technologies that have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Mark Anderson, TechX Director of Net Zero Technology Centre.

The Ion Houston nominated Pandata Tech to be part of the competition because of the startup's previous work in offshore energy and geothermal utility distribution.

"When we think about reducing C02 emissions by 50 percent or more by 2030 and the data required to meet that mark, it's simple — humans and algorithms need data they can trust," says Jessica Reitmeier, co-founder of Pandata.

Houston e-commerce services provider announces strategic partnership

Houston-based e-commerce software startup and Amazon competitor raises $25M in its series A

Cart.com has a new partner, which has increased access to tools for its clients. Photo via cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, an end-to-end ecommerce services provider and Amazon competitor, announced a strategic partnership with Clearco, the world's largest ecommerce investor. With the new partnership, Cart.com's clients will receive access to Clearco's capital financing and Clearco's portfolio of over 5,500 companies will have access to Cart.com's end-to-end e-commerce platform.

"We're committed to making all aspects of running an ecommerce business streamlined and hassle-free — and that includes getting access to the capital needed to fuel growth," says Omair Tariq, Cart.com CEO, in a news release. "Through this partnership we're giving online sellers frictionless access to the resources they need to scale up, while allowing founders to stay laser-focused on serving their customers and building their brand."

The two companies share the mission to democratize ecommerce by delivering easier, more streamlined access to critical resources — including capital, services, and domain-specific information — which have previously only been available to companies like Amazon.

"Like Cart.com, we envision a world where founding a business is accessible to everyone, and where founders can access essential capital without having to jump through endless hoops," says Andrew D'Souza, Clearco CEO, in the release. "By partnering with Cart.com, Clearco companies will be able to access the platform's end-to-end ecommerce engine — including online store technology, integrated fulfillment services, and customer service support — to scale their ecommerce growth."

Paul Pavlou has been named as the dean of C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. Courtesy of UH

New UH business school dean plans to bring innovation into play

Featured Innovator

Earlier this year, the University of Houston named a new dean for its C.T. Bauer College of Business. Paul Pavlou officially started his position on July 1, and, even though he has only a few days under his belt at UH, the new dean has a long career in education.

Most recently, Pavlou served as senior associate dean at Temple University within its business program and specializing in data analytics for business. Pavlou also has ties to Houston, as he received his bachelor's from Rice University after receiving a Fulbright Scholarship.

"My life was transformed by higher education," Pavlou says. "So, I feel the need to give back in terms of helping other students — especially of modest means like myself to do well in life and get a good job."

Pavlou has a lot on his plate entering the fall semester. He plans to continue enhancing the college's programs and faculty, while also continue the school's effort to bring in innovation and industry.

The new dean spoke with InnovationMap about what all he sees in Bauer's future.

InnovationMap: How has the first few days on the job been?

Paul Pavlou: So far it's been very exciting. There's so many opportunities for the Bauer College in innovation and technology in new areas that we're considering such health care, analytics, some of the existing areas in energy. So, the goal in my first few days is to talk to as many stakeholders as possible. Try to get to know our existing practices internally, what the opportunities are in the city, and of course, broadly, nationally, internationally. And accordingly, the plan is to see how we can focus on this needs of the industry, how we can create cutting edge programs and prepare the next generation of the workforce, obviously for the city of Houston or the state of Texas nationally and even that globally.

IM: What are some things on your plate that you hope to bring to the college?

PP: In general, one of the areas that I'd like to see us moving into as a college is the digital learning online and how we can do that in a way that it's convenient and flexible for students. Also at the same time, not only maintain the quality of traditional instruction, but also using technology intelligently to provide an even higher quality, more interactive experience for students.

The second thing that I'm very passionate about as well as the notion of experiential learning. I think students should learn from experience and learn by doing. So I would like to see how we can improve this at this college. I'm very happy to report that Bauer has very strong connections to industry, but I would like to make it an even a very strong proposition for the entire college — making sure that, you know, different courses that have an experiential component such as project or working closely with industry.

IM: How is Bauer focusing on the needs the city has for an emerging workforce?

PP: I think increasingly I find and identify more of the city's needs, but I think one of them is the idea of the analytics space and how to use the data. And that's across the board. I talk to people in health care and they say that health care analytics and using data in hospitals is a very important aspect.

More broadly, cutting edge technology is something that is very important not only the city of Houston but beyond. So. we're discussing this idea of artificial intelligence, and how we can play a role in this in a very important emerging area.

One of the things that I would like to see more of is for the University of Houston to work more closely with the business community. We're trying to develop partnerships with the greater Houston partnership and to see what they need as an industry, perhaps for the next generation of workforce.

IM: What role do you see the school playing in the city's innovation ecosystem?

PP: I think we can play a multiple roles. We're an educational organization, so we train the students. We want make sure that through our degrees and offerings have executive programs, and that we satisfy the need for competence and skills needed. And that's why I want us to be on the cutting edge, not only now but in the next five or 10 years.

Second, through our research and through our connections to industry, I want us to be cutting edge in terms of projects and basic research we can actually provide, whether it's analytics, artificial intelligence, or energy. Through our centers and our research, we have world class research faculty in the college. I want us to be out there and to start with the major challenges and help them.

IM: How is the college working with other programs within the university?

PP: One thing I'd like to specify, is that Bauer is obviously a college of business, but I want to take a very broad, multidisciplinary perspective and be very collaborative with the college of medicine, engineering, and nursing. And the idea is to be more open in terms of partnerships with different areas that innovation and new ideas may come into play and provide the business and entrepreneurship components to bring these ideas to market.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.