Here's who's making the call for this year's Houston Innovation Awards. Photos courtesy

Ten Houstonians are in the hot seat for deciding the best companies and individuals in Houston's innovation ecosystem.

InnovationMap has announced its 2023 Houston Innovation Awards judging panel, which includes startup founders, nonprofit leaders, investors, corporate innovators, and more.

The 10 selected judges will evaluate applications from the nearly 400 nominations that were submitted this year. The judges will be using their expertise to evaluate the nominees' applications, which are due to InnovationMap by midnight on October 4.

Read about this year's judges below, and don't forget to secure your tickets to the November 8 event to see who the panel selects as the winners for the annual celebration of Houston innovation.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential was founded to amplify and support the city's innovation ecosystem, and Natara Branch has been leading this initiative since appointed as CEO last year. For the second year, HX is partnering with InnovationMap on the Houston Innovation Awards.

Born in Germany and raised all around Texas, Branch — a University of Houston alumna — previously was the first African American woman to hold a vice president position at the NFL. Based in New York, she oversaw operations in various leadership roles at the NFL for over 18 years.

Barbara J. Burger, former Trailblazer Award recipient

Barbara J. Burger, former vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was the inaugural recipient of the Trailblazer Award at the 2021 Houston Innovation Awards, which was previously called the InnovationMap Awards.

A self-proclaimed “graduate” from Chevron, she is senior adviser to Lazard, a member of the Greentown Labs Board of Directors, adviser to Syzygy Plasmonics, Epicore Biosystems, and Sparkz Inc., and several other energy transition and philanthropic roles. Burger holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Rochester, a doctoral degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, and an academic honor MBA in finance from the University of California, Berkeley.

Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at TMC Innovation

As head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory, Devin Dunn works hands on with startups — specifically to help them refine their business models and plan to scale — every day.

Prior to joining TMCi, Dunn was an early employee at a London-based digital health startup. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Basis of Behavior and Healthcare Management from the University of Pennsylvania and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Noah Fons, senior coordinator of regional economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership

Working within regional economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, Noah Fons has the pulse on companies expanding to Houston. Previously, he worked at Houston Exponential, so he also understands Houston's evolving innovation ecosystem. He studied economics at Rice University.

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury Fund

As managing director at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, Aziz Gilani focuses on investments in enterprise SaaS, Cloud, and data science startups. He's worked at the firm for over 15 years.

A Kauffman Fellows Program graduate, he received his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Gilani also serves in advisory roles for the Mayor of Houston’s Tech and Innovation Council, Seed Accelerator Rankings, and SXSW Interactive and is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business where he teaches a course on venture capital.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

For the third year, Natalie Harms will represent InnovationMap on the annual awards judging panel as the founding editor of InnovationMap the host of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Recently named the editor of EnergyCapitalHTX, a newly launched sister site to InnovationMap focused on Houston's role within the energy transition, she reports on innovation, technology, energy transition — and their impact on the city of Houston. A Houston native, she's worked as a business journalist for almost a decade and has a degree in journalism from the University of Houston and a certificate in publishing from New York University.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi and his co-founder and sister, Tara Karimi, were honored at last year's Houston Innovation Awards as the winners of the Green Impact Business award. Cemvita Factory, their fast-growing startup, uses biotech to sustainably create materials to lower its customers carbon footprints.

Prior to launching Cemvita in 2018, Karimi held leadership roles at Weatherford and Biota Technology. He serves as a board member for CleanTX and adviser to Houston-based ComboCurve Inc.

Margarita Kelrikh, associate at Latham & Watkins

As associate in the Emerging Companies group at Latham & Watkins in Houston, Margarita Kelrikh has supported the firm's growing startup clients since her appointment last year. Prior to joining the firm, she held in-house counsel positions at a few companies, including WeWork.

She received her bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago and her law degree at Columbia School of Law.

Brad Rossacci, creative director at Accenture

Brad Rossacci is creative director at Accenture, where he's worked since 2018. He also co-founded and co-hosts the Curiosity Podcast. A Texas A&M University alumnus and self-proclaimed "rebellious optimist," Rossacci is passionate about Houston and innovation.

Maggie Segrich, co-founder of Sesh Coworking

As co-founder and CFO of inclusive coworking company, Sesh Coworking, Maggie Segrich is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. Last year, Sesh Coworking won the Female-Founded Business category for the Houston Innovation Awards.

She serves as board member for Midtown Management District, where Sesh is located, and board chair for nonprofit, Magpies & Peacocks.

TMC's bootcamp companies have been announced. The 12 startups get to interact with Houston's health tech ecosystem and potentially join TMCi for its next accelerator cohort. Photo via TMC

TMC Innovation hosts 12 life science startups for semiannual accelerator bootcamp

new to hou

The Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory has brought in 12 life science startups to immerse them in the Houston innovation ecosystem, learn more about their businesses, and select its next cohort for its semiannual accelerator.

Twice a year, the TMC Innovation Factory hosts its HealthTech Accelerator Bootcamp. It a time to see if both sides of the table — TMC and the startups — are a fit for further acceleration. The 12 startups hail from three continents, represent a wide spectrum of specialties, and were widdle down from over 100 applicants.

“These startups are tackling significant challenges facing our health care ecosystem not only locally, but also globally. We are delighted to bring together solutions in the areas of maternal health, enabling care at home, nursing support and education, oncology and neurology, to name a few,” says Devin Dunn, head of the HealthTech Accelerator, in a news release.

Newly appointed entrepreneur in residence, Zaffer Syed, will help in supporting and guiding the cohort. Zaffer has experience as a medtech entrepreneur and has brought health care innovations to market.

“Participation in the Accelerator can certainly fast-track growth for early stage startups,” says Syed in the release. “I am eager to work with the caliber of companies entering bootcamp and to watch what they will achieve with the dedicated support of the TMCi team.”

The 12 companies that were invited to TMCi's bootcamp are as follows, according to TMC.

  • Avia Vascular, from Salt Lake City, Utah, creates Ally, a needle-free blood collection device intended to reduce the need for venipuncture when obtaining blood samples in patients with an established peripheral IV catheter.
  • Queenstown, Singapore-based Biorithm aims to reverse the poor maternal outcomes curve with its remote monitoring system to bring data-driven, accessible, and personalized care to every mother and baby.
  • CranioSense, founded in Bedford, Massachusetts, unlocks the hidden parameters of brain health across the neurological care spectrum with its development of a non-invasive way of assessing and monitoring intracranial pressure.
  • Milwaukee-based Debtle focuses on the patient portion of billing and uses its centralized communications and payment hub to save Revenue Cycle time, improve patient retention, and enable clients to easily resolve their overdue balances.
  • EmpNia Inc., from Minneapolis, enables precision imaging and radiation therapy for all cancer patients by providing an accurate, universal, easy-to-use, and cost-effective respiratory motion management solution.
  • Austin-based Highnote is a generative AI-powered mentor in the nurse’s pocket that build skills and confidence through just-in-time bits of information to make nurses feel supported and better equipped, to provide better patient care, and to improve retention rates.
  • LeQuest, from Rotterdam, Netherlands, aids health care professionals’ skills and knowledge advancement through online stimulation training with its comprehensive remote education solution, resulting in reduced cost of education, increased utilization and better patient outcomes.
  • Lucid Lane, founded in Los Altos, California, provides data-driven digital health solutions to empower both chronic and surgery pain patients, to prevent dependence on prescribed addictive medications and reduces persistent opioid use.
  • RizLab Health Inc., a Princeton, New Jersey company, brings blood cell analysis to patients’ fingertips with its Cytotracker portable device that measures white blood cell counts with a drop of blood to minimize infections from venipuncture in cancer patients.
  • Rose Health, based in Centennial, Colorado, connects occupational therapists and home remodeling service companies to households in need of accessible home modifications to enable homes to age with dignity.
  • Los Angeles-based Spark Neuro offers objective and accessible AI technology for the diagnosis and monitoring of brain health conditions.
  • Vitala, from Stockholm, Sweden, is a digital platform, enables health care providers to prescribe, monitor, and manage diagnoses-specific medical exercises for patients with chronic health conditions.

After the bootcamp, TMCi will decide which of the companies will move on to the six-month accelerator that's slated to start later this year. TMCi recently announced a new accelerator with Denmark, previously announced its spring cohorts.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Luis Silva of AT&T, Devin Dunn of TMC Innovation, and Eric Anderson of SynMax. 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 health tech to data analytics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Luis Silva, vice president and general manager at AT&T

Not everyone is as holly jolly amid the holidays. Image courtesy

In a guest column, Luis Silva, Houston-based vice president and general manager at AT&T, cautions that the holiday season is prime time for hackers and cyber security threats.

"The good news is you can protect yourself from scams and fraud," he writes. "Just remember that cybercriminals don’t discriminate, they can prey on anyone."

In his article, Silva shares the top five ways to guard against cyberthreats.Read more.

Devin Dunn, head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator

Devin Dunn leads TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, which is getting ready to welcome its next cohort in January. Photo via TMC.edu

Earlier this year, Devin Dunn joined TMC Innovation as head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, a career move that represented Dunn's move to a different side of the startup world. As an early employee at London-based Huma, Dunn was instrumental in growing the health tech company from its early stages to international market expansion.

"I really like working with the dreamers and helping them work backwards to (figure out) what are the milestones we can work toward to make the grand vision come true in the future," Dunn says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The opportunity to work with different founders on that same journey that we had been through was really appealing." Read more.

Eric Anderson, CTO of SynMax

Houston-based SynMax has closed its first round of funding. Photo courtesy

A Houston-based satellite data analytics company is celebrating an oversubscribed round of recent funding. SynMax announced this week that it closed its seed round at $6 million with an oversubscription of $2 million. The startup is providing geospatial intelligence software as a service to customers within the energy and maritime industries. The technology combines earth observation imagery and key data sources for predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.

Founded in 2021, SynMax is led by CTO Eric Anderson, who previously worked as an analyst at Skylar Capital, according to LinkedIn. Headquartered in Houston, SynMax is hiring employees from all over. Read more.

Devin Dunn leads TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, which is getting ready to welcome its next cohort in January. Photo via TMC.edu

Innovative health tech startups en route to Houston, says new accelerator leader

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

For almost a decade the Texas Medical Center has been cultivating health tech innovation by accelerating life science startups. As it has evolved to meet the needs of both its early-stage companies and its member institutions, TMC Innovation has re-evaluated existing programming, introduced new initiatives, and on boarded leaders to represent the organization's mission — the latest of whom, is Devin Dunn.

Earlier this year, Dunn joined TMC Innovation as head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, a career move that represented Dunn's move to a different side of the startup world. As an early employee at London-based Huma, Dunn was instrumental in growing the health tech company from its early stages to international market expansion.

"I really like working with the dreamers and helping them work backwards to (figure out) what are the milestones we can work toward to make the grand vision come true in the future," Dunn says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The opportunity to work with different founders on that same journey that we had been through was really appealing."

Dunn oversees the accelerator, which has evolved from TMCx. The program offers health tech acceleration to two cohorts a year. Each group of startups is selected from around the world and invited to join the program — first at a bootcamp, a week long itinerary of meeting leadership from within TMC Innovation as well as its member institutions, before a smaller group of companies in invited to return to the TMC for six months of hands-on acceleration from the TMC.

Earlier this month, TMC Innovation hosted nine health tech companies at its fall bootcamp. Now, as Dunn explains, the team is extending invites to a select number of those companies and working on a set of objectives for each company to work on when they return to the TMC in January.

"We've had a week to learn about the companies, and they've had a week to learn about us and about Houston, and we'll come back to the table to see if it's a match," Dunn says. "Part of that process is developing a prescription, which is three to four key objectives we co-develop with the founders."

The selected companies will work with TMC Innovation as well as the greater TMC community on these objectives until May, when the whole process starts over with another set of companies in bootcamp. Across the board, Dunn says TMC Innovation is focused on providing support for startups looking for clinical validation — something all companies are challenged with at some point.

"One of the things our program focuses on a lot is opportunities for that clinical validation. How can you work with clinical champions, health systems, and various providers to get the clinical and efficacy data you need to show that your solution really does add value," Dunn says. "That's one of the hallmarks of our program."

Over the past few years, TMC Innovation has expanded its global presence by attracting international cohorts and forming relationships with other countries through what TMC calls their Biobridges. Dunn shares on the show about TMC's latest international initiative with InnovateUK on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Texas Medical Center Innovation announced the seven health tech startups that joined the 2022 accelerator bootcamp. Photo courtesy of TMC

7 health tech startups flock to Houston for TMC bootcamp

ready to accelerate

The Texas Medical Center's innovation arm welcomed seven companies to its 2022 health tech accelerator program bootcamp.

TMC Innovation Accelerator for HealthTech is aimed at supporting early-stage life science startups through fundraising, connecting with mentors and potential customers, and more.

“Healthtech startups who connect with our network will emerge more prepared to access their customers and grow into their markets," says Emily Reiser, associate director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. "Our advisors, members, and partners unlock insights for these entrepreneurs about how to more effectively build a strategic plan for improved market access and adoption. Bootcamp ignites these connections, providing immediate value to entrepreneurs and enabling our team to define a long term plan for continued collaboration."

If selected following the bootcamp, founders will spend six months at TMCi with strategic mentorship, clinical validation, and other customized milestone development from the organization.

“Bootcamp is an intensive period of discovery and mutual selection," says Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for HealthTech, in the release. "Founders get a chance better understand everything that TMCi brings to bear and our team has the opportunity to select those growing companies that will add significant value to our community.”

The bootcamp focused on several innovation areas — including surgical devices, access to care, robotics, and hospital efficiency. The participating companies include:

  • CardMedic, headquartered in Oxford, United Kingdom, aims to improve communication between staff and patients across any barrier-language, deafness, cognitive impairment or disability-with an A to Z library of pre-written scripts replicating common clinical conversations.
  • Chicago-baseed CareAdvisors is connecting health plans, hospitals, and community-based organizations to streamline high risk case management and quickly close the loop on care.
  • Endolumik, founded in Morgantown, West Virginia, has developed a fluorescence-guided device that uses near-infrared light to enhance visualization for safer, faster, and more consistent bariatric surgery.
  • Orcha, based in Daresbury, United Kingdom, rigorously reviews apps to help systems, clinicians, patients, or consumers find their way to the best health-related apps.
  • Austin-based Roboligent has created a rehabilitation robot, the Optimo Regen, that provides evidence-based therapeutic interventions for upper and lower limbs.
  • Boston-founded ScienceIO's platform transforms unstructured text into structured records in real-time. The company's core product is a HIPAA-compliant API for real-time text processing and analytics.
  • Semantic Health, founded in Toronto, Canada, uses artificial intelligence to complete secondary reviews of all coded and claims data to optimize revenue cycle management.
The application for future cohorts and more information about the program are available online. The 2022 cohort will join the ranks of TMCi's community of 305 life science startups and 221 TMC Innovation Accelerator companies and will receive access to the center's dozens of member organizations.

"Having a product that the market truly needs is critical but not enough," says Bongsu Kim, founder and CEO of Roboligent, in the release. "Especially for the medical device market, I realize that introducing a new product is a thorough and collaborative effort from a variety of stakeholders and experts. Without knowing the mechanism and the right connection, it seems almost impossible to get into the market. The TMC Innovation Accelerator is the perfect place to make it happen."

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.