This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes John Higgins of illumiPure, Natara Branch of HX, and Daniel Murray of Covenant Underwriters. 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 insurtech to entrepreneurship — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

John Higgins, CEO of illumiPure

CleanWhite can quickly and continuously sanitize high-touch areas through its light-based technology. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based illumiPure recently announced that it has received a worldwide patent for its LED white light disinfectant earlier this year, known as CleanWhite. The product can quickly and continuously sanitize high-touch areas while a room remains occupied and has shown an elimination of 99 percent of surface bacteria, spores, mold, biofilms, and viruses including SARS-CoV-2 through light-based technology. It's intended to be used in areas like kitchens, restrooms, and locker rooms and is safe for humans and pets.

CleanWhite uses spikes of light wavelengths at 405 and 470 nanometers to kill surface pathogens. Unlike other products on the market, CleanWhite can emit these levels without also emitting a visible purple-violet light while also suppressing blue light wavelengths.

"CleanWhite features technology that makes it the first of its kind, achieving a sought-after solution to produce 405+470 nm blue light as white light," John Higgins, CEO of illumiPure, says in a statement. "As a result of this revolutionary finding, we anticipate the patent’s success across a myriad of industries, including education, healthcare, hospitality, and retail.” Click here to read more.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential

Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

Ever since she accepted the new position as CEO of Houston Exponential, Natara Branch has been on a listening tour of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Branch explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that she has a passion for the city of Houston, and she's got open ears to anyone in the ecosystem who wants to contribute to the advancement of the city's tech ecosystem.

As she explains, she is getting her fair share of feedback — but she has an ask for anyone who she's met.

"I am challenging people. You're not just going to give me feedback and sit back and watch. You're going to participate," Branch says. "I have not met one person who doesn't want Houston to win — they wouldn't be here if they didn't." Click here to read more and listen to the podcast.

Daniel Murray, co-founder and chief underwriter of Covenant Underwriters

The emerging insurtech industry has a plethora of opportunities for job seekers and more. Photo courtesy

More than 100,000 Houstonians work in insurance, according to Daniel Murray, co-founder and chief underwriter of Covenant Underwriters, a Houston-based insurtech start-up, building e-commerce insurance products for underserved niches. But the 400-year-old industry is hungry for tech talent.

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Murray explains the need for tech and innovation within insurance — and the opportunity the industry has.

"The adage goes that everyone in the insurance industry was either born into it or tricked into it," he writes. "This may have applied to the last generation, but today’s insurance industry offers vast opportunities (including remote) for every discipline, especially for tech job seekers." Click here to read more.

The emerging insurtech industry has a plethora of opportunities for job seekers and more. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: The insurance biz is ripe for innovation — here's how to tap into it

guest column

The insurance industry is hungry for tech talent. This 400-year-old industry lays claim to many innovations from financial engineering to weather modeling and was among the first to widely adopt mainframe computing. However, while many sectors took up digital processes in the Internet Age, the $1.4 trillion insurance industry lost out on a generation of innovators to retail, social media, entertainment, and other financial services. Only recently have investors become wise to the massive opportunity of modernizing insurance.

More than 100,000 Houstonians work in insurance, mostly in sales and servicing of policies or claims. Many insurance agencies now employ IT professionals and graphic designers to support online experiences for customers and employees. Larger insurance companies are hiring data analysts, software developers, and cloud engineers to improve risk selection, mitigate losses, and drive efficiency. Such efforts to leverage technology in each function in the insurance value chain are broadly described by the term insurtech (or insuretech; it’s so novel that consensus has not been reached on its spelling).

The largest gathering of insurtech investors, entrepreneurs, and industry incumbents occurs at the InsureTech Connect conference. Last month saw nearly 10,000 insurtech leaders and hopefuls descend on Las Vegas for the 6th annual convention. Sound business models and partnerships with incumbents replaced the easy money and talk of disruption from prior years. Many speakers and panels highlighted the following opportunities for aspiring insurtech professionals:

​Embedded Insurance

Insurance has long been sold alongside other products, and omnipresent API ecosystems make the transaction that much more seamless. For a small premium, some insurtechs use embedded products that take the risk out of large purchases like event tickets, rentals, gadgets, and vacations. These companies need savvy designers and creative marketing pros to integrate their products with the right partners.

​Parametric Insurance

The fundamental principle of insurance is to make the policyholder whole after a loss, but agreeing on the amount of loss can take years and legal battles. Parametric insurance policies pay losses automatically based on pre-specified trigger events, such as a threshold based on wind speed or hail size. Cutting-edge products provide stability by tying coverage to indexes like oil price or crop yields and require experts in the underlying index to set the correct parameters.

​Internet of Things

Theoretically, more information will lead to more accurate prediction of insured loss. Cell phone geolocation, smart homes, and sensors on everything gives insurance companies a mountain of data. Translating all of this into actionable insights will require armies of data scientists. Machine learning algorithms, paired with good data, promise to uncover new ways to anticipate and avoid losses.

​Insurance Gigs

Many jobs in the burgeoning gig economy are related to insurance. For all the big data available, insurance companies still need ‘boots on the ground’ when inspecting a new policyholder’s property, assessing damage to a house or car, installing sensors, or responding to catastrophe. They especially need contract workers with drone licenses for inspecting roofs.

Insurtech is not disrupting insurance companies but transforming them to meet modern customer needs They can no longer succeed with just snappy TV ads and countless storefronts. Insurance quotes and claim payments need to be fast and fair. In an industry this large, a great idea that captures 1 percent of market share or improves efficiency by 1 percent can be lucrative. Today’s rate environment has cooled off insurtech valuations but not before 25 US and UK insurtech start-ups rose to billion-dollar unicorn status in the past decade.

The adage goes that everyone in the insurance industry was either born into it or tricked into it. This may have applied to the last generation, but today’s insurance industry offers vast opportunities (including remote) for every discipline, especially for tech job seekers.

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Daniel Murray is co-founder and chief underwriter of Covenant Underwriters, a Houston-based insurtech start-up, building e-commerce insurance products for underserved niches.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

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A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.