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."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dan Purvis of Velentium, Tony Sanchez of OneNexus Environmental, and Kevin Doffing of Energy Capital of the Future. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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Dan Purvis, CEO and founder of Velentium, is leading his growing company with culture in mind. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Local tech exec expands med device company into oil and gas in a 'uniquely Houston' way

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 90

When asked about founding his company, the first thing Dan Purvis wants to talk about is the culture.

"The technology of today and the technology of 24 months from now will be very different," Purvis, CEO and founder of Houston-based Velentium, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Being culture-forward allows us to make sure that the people we have on staff are able to flex with the industry."

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 explains.

These days, cybersecurity is top of mind for Velentium, as the technology Purvis and his team are working with include life and death situations. While IT and other software security is important, protecting patients using new medical devices is paramount.

"If you have a dog in your backyard and you have one hole in your fence, you're dog is going to get out," Purvis says."You can't have any holes in that fence. … Our design allows for that protection."

Following an acquisition of Magnolia, Texas-based Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries in January, Velentium has expanded to also work in oil and gas technology development. While completely different fields, Velentium says the entrance into this energy tech market has been smooth sailing.

"We really find that both sides of the company cross pollinate quite a bit, and I think that's something that's uniquely Houston," Purvis says.

He shares more about the expansion and how his company continues to grow on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

A new medical device created in Houston is revolutionizing opioid withdrawal treatment. Photo via sparkbiomedical.com

Houston med-tech companies partner on wearable device for opioid withdrawal

treating addiction

Houston-based Spark Biomedical has created a revolutionary wearable device that provides unprecedented levels of opioid withdrawal relief.

The device known as the Sparrow Therapy System is worn over the ear for five to seven days and sends mild electrical signals to trigger cranial nerves that sit near the skin's surface.

Once activated, the nerves release endorphins that the body has stopped producing on its own during opioid use. The endorphins satisfy the opioid receptors and in turn reduce or prevent the intense symptoms that often come along with opioid withdrawal. According to Spark BioMed CEO Daniel Powell, the technology also helps patients better control their "flight or fight mechanisms," allowing them to make clearer, more logical decisions as they come off of the drug.

"If you ask 100 people who've gone through opioid withdrawal, I would bet 99 of them will tell you they thought they were going to die," Powell says. "Giving them the ability to manage that is huge. It's the first step towards addiction recovery. It's not solving the addiction, but it is an absolute barrier to move forward."

The product was approved by the FDA in January of 2020, after clinical trials showed that the Sparrow could meaningfully reduce withdrawal symptoms in the first hour of use. According to Powell, roughly a third of patients in the trial were completely out of withdrawal and patients' Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scales scores reduced by more than 53 percent across the board.

Spark, which won Venture Houston's inaugural pitch competition earlier this year, partnered with Houston-based Velentium (which also happened to grow 93 percent last year after partnering with General Motors on Project V) to bring the product from concept to commercial physician prescribed product. "We needed a more sophisticated design house to help us finish it," Powell says.

The up-and-comers were connected through one of Spark's investors. Powell, in a previous career, had also sold a neurostimulator that Velentium CTO Randy Armstrong had invented.

"You're seeing more and more Houston centric medical innovation than we've ever seen before," says Velentium CEO Dan Purvis. "And the cool thing about that is there ends up being a camaraderie amongst entrepreneurs, medical researchers and scientists."

And though the release of Sparrow marks a huge milestone, neither Spark of Velentium are stopping there. Moving forward, Spark aims to conduct a massive study on how a similar technology, dubbed the Roo, can aid infants born to opioid-dependent mothers wean from the drug.

The company also aims to create a next generation Sparrow with the help of Velentium, and will look at long-term uses of the product. Powell says that Spark will look to determine if the product can prevent relapses and help to cure addiction when worn daily or regularly.

"Our big, crazy, ambitious goal is can we actually help people recover from addiction," Powell says. "We're really not addressing psychology, that's going to be in cognitive behavioral therapy. But if we can remove the neurological results of drug use, we think we can make at least start to stack the deck in the favor of the patient versus having the deck stacked completely against them all the time."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Niloufar Molavi of Central Houston Inc., Dan Purvis of Velentium, and Chris Staffel of Goose Capital. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators — each either new to their role or with a bit of acquistion news.

Niloufar Molavi, board chair at Central Houston Inc.

Niloufar Molavi will lead Central Houston Inc.'s board this year — and she's got fostering innovation on her to-do list. Photo courtesy of CHI

Last week, Nilofar Molavi assumed the role of board chair for Central Houston. She leads PwC's Global energy practice and has served on the CHI board since 2011 and chairs the organization's innovation committee. CHI was among the partners behind the Downtown Launchpad, a 17,000-square-foot innovation hub, which had its grand opening last fall.

"With the fall 2020 opening of Downtown Launchpad, we have deepened our investment in innovation, which we hope will garner long-term results and economic vitality for downtown as well as the Houston region at large," she continues. "We look forward to developing bridge programs with area universities and organizations and leveraging existing resources to bring more high-tech prospects to our central city." Read more.

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has made a strategic acquisition. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Houston-based Velentium, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of medical devices announced that it has acquired Texas company Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries.

"Despite the immense challenges facing the business community in 2020, last year was a monumental year of growth for our firm, and we're pleased to start 2021 building upon our world-class team of technical experts," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "Oasis Testing has been a trusted partner for the last five years and shares in our commitment to solving clients' most complex challenges to change lives for a better world. We're incredibly excited to welcome them to the Velentium family and expand our business more deeply into energy and manufacturing."

Purvis will lead the new combined company as CEO. Read more.

Chris Staffel, managing director at Goose Capital

Goose Capital recently named its new managing director. Photo courtesy of Chris Staffel

Houston-based investment group Goose Capital Inc. named Chris Staffel as managing director — along with Jeff Smisek as the firm's president and Jay Collins as chair of the board of directors.

A serial entrepreneur and investor in over 30 startups, Staffel joins Goose to lead day-to-day operations and drive new investment opportunities.

"It is an honor to join the team at Goose Capital and work alongside experienced industry leaders," Staffel says in the release. "I look forward to leveraging my entrepreneurial experience to help the start-ups in which we invest, while strategically identifying early stage investment opportunities." Read more.

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, will lead the new combined company. Photo courtesy of Veletium

Houston-area medical device engineering firm acquires Texas company

M&A

A engineering firm based in Katy has made a strategic acquisition of a Magnolia, Texas-based company to start of the new year.

Velentium, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of medical devices announced that it has acquired Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries.

"Despite the immense challenges facing the business community in 2020, last year was a monumental year of growth for our firm, and we're pleased to start 2021 building upon our world-class team of technical experts," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "Oasis Testing has been a trusted partner for the last five years and shares in our commitment to solving clients' most complex challenges to change lives for a better world. We're incredibly excited to welcome them to the Velentium family and expand our business more deeply into energy and manufacturing."

The companies will operate under the Velentium name, and Demetri White, co-founder at Oasis Testing, will assume the role of senior program manager to focus on "growing the testing business, serving the oil and gas industry's need for high-pressure high-temperature test, as well as testing in the medical device sector," according to the release.

"We admire and share Velentium's approach to client service, company culture, and results-focused business strategy, and quickly recognized this would be an excellent fit for our team," says White in the. "From our years of partnership, we know that Oasis' expertise in servicing the energy and manufacturing sectors goes hand-in-hand with their ability to provide innovative and world class solutions. Together, we will leverage knowledge across industries to bring mechanical, electrical and software-based solutions that benefit our client base."

The new company will have expanded abilities and will be increasing its production space and headcount as it continues to place an emphasis on its testing and manufacturing capabilities. The added resources for automation and the combined team will lead to dramatic reductions in product test times and increased test system utilization.

Earlier this year, Velentium played a key role in mobilizing thousands of ventilators in the United States at a time when the pandemic and the uncertainty around it was surmounting around the country.

The company's long-time clients Ventec Life Systems, a manufacturer of ventilators based in Washington, said they could increase production of their much-needed ventilators five-fold if they only had the right resources and partners. Velentium first aimed to help the small factory double or triple their production, and later General Motors jumped in to help grow the initiative.

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Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.

Houston energy giant expands implementation of Canadian startup's tech

big, big energy

CruxOCM, a startup with a significant Houston presence that specializes in robotic industrial process automation for energy companies, has secured even more business from energy giant Phillips 66.

The value of the deal wasn’t disclosed.

Houston-based Phillips 66 has agreed to expand it use of CruxOCM’s pipeBOT technology to cover even more pipelines. The pipeBOT technology is designed to improve the safety and efficiency of control room operations for pipelines and reduce control room costs.

CruxOCM and Phillips 66 launched a test of pipeBOT in 2020.

CruxOCM, based in Calgary, Canada, says pipeBOT is engineered to decrease manual controls through intelligent automation. With this technology in place, the fatigue of control room operators declines, because as many as 85 percent fewer manual commands must be entered, according to CruxOCM. Therefore, control room operators can focus on higher-level tasks.

“At CruxOCM, we empower control room operators with modern software that enables the autonomous control rooms of tomorrow, within the safety constraints of today. We look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationship with Phillips 66 for many years to come,” Adam Marsden, chief revenue officer at CruxOCM, says in a news release.

Founded in 2017, Crux OCM (Crux Operations Control Management) established its Houston presence last year. Also in 2021, the startup raised $6 million in venture capital in a “seed extension” funding round. Bullpen Capital led the round, with participation from Angular Ventures, Root Ventures, Golden Ventures, Cendana Capital, and Industry Ventures.

In 2019, Angular Ventures and Root Ventures co-led a $2.6 million funding round.

Robotic device created at the University of Houston helps stroke patients to rehabilitate

next-gen recovery

Almost 800,000 people in the United States suffer from a stroke annually — and the affliction affects each patient differently. One University of Houston researcher has created a device that greatly improves the lives of patients whose stroke affected motor skills.

UH engineering professor Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal developed a next-generation robotic arm that can be controlled by the user's brainwaves. The portable device uses a brain-computer interface (BCI) developed by Contreras-Vidal. Stroke patient Oswald Reedus, 66, is the first person to use a device of this kind.

Reedus lost the use of his left arm following a stroke that also caused aphasia, or difficulty speaking. While he's been able to recover his ability to speak clearly, the new exoskeleton will help rehabilitate his arm.

When strapped into the noninvasive device, the user's brain activity is translated into motor commands to power upper-limb robotics. As patients like Reedus use the device, more data is collected to improve the experience.

“If I can pass along anything to help a stroke person’s life, I will do it. For me it’s my purpose in life now,” says Reedus in a news release from UH. His mother and younger brother both died of strokes, and Reedus is set on helping the device that can help other stroke patients recover.

Contreras-Vidal, a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen distinguished professor, has led his device from ideation to in-home use, like with Reedus, as well as clinical trials at TIRR Memorial Hermann. The project is funded in part from an $813,999 grant from the National Science Foundation’s newly created Division of Translational Impacts.

"Our project addresses a pressing need for accessible, safe, and effective stroke rehabilitation devices for in-clinic and at-home use for sustainable long-term therapy, a global market size expected to currently be $31 billion," Contreras-Vidal says in the release. "Unfortunately, current devices fail to engage the patients, are hard to match to their needs and capabilities, are costly to use and maintain, or are limited to clinical settings."

Dr. Gerard E. Francisco, chief medical officer and director of the Neuro Recovery Research Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann, is leading the clinical trials for the device. He's also chair and professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. He explains that TIRR's partnership with engineering schools such as the Cullen College of Engineering at UH and others around the nation is strategic.

“This is truly exciting because what we know now is there are so many ways we can induce neuroplasticity or how we can boost recovery,” says Francisco in the release. “That collaboration is going to give birth to many of these groundbreaking technologies and innovations we can offer our patients.”

Both parts of the device — a part that attaches to the patient's head and a part affixed to their arm — are noninvasive. Photo courtesy of UH