Four Houston companies ranked on Deloitte's annual list, but none were able to crack the top 100. Photo via Getty Images

Deloitte just unveiled the fastest-growing technology companies in North America — and four businesses from Houston made the cut.

For the 29th year, 2023 Technology Fast 500 ranked top tech, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy technology companies based on fiscal year revenue growth from 2019 to 2022. While no Houston business was able to break into the top 100, four did make the cut for this year's list.

“It is great to see Houston represented alongside established technology hubs on this year’s Fast 500 list,” Amy Chronis, vice chair, US Energy and Chemicals Leader and Houston managing partner at Deloitte, says in a statement. “Houston is planting seeds for future innovation, and the companies named to this year’s list confirm our city’s value proposition as an innovative community. We look forward to this growth continuing in the future and extend our congratulations to this year’s Houston winners.”

The four Houston companies that make the 2023 list are:

  • Direct Digital Holdings at No. 108 with 1,325 percent growth
  • Liongard at No. 208 with 680 percent growth
  • NatGasHub.com at No. 356 with 364 percent growth
  • P97 Networks at No. 506 with 225 percent growth

Thirty Texas companies made the list of the 541 ranked, making it the fourth most concentrated hub on the list behind the Bay Area, Tri-State Area, and New England. The companies on the list reported a revenue growth ranging from 201 percent to 222,189 percent over the three-year time frame from 2019 to 2022. The average growth rate was 1,934 percent and a median growth rate of 497 percent.

“Each year, we look forward to reviewing the progress and innovations of our Technology Fast 500 winners," Paul Silverglate, vice chair, Deloitte LLP and U.S. technology sector leader, says in the release. "This year is especially celebratory as we expand the number of winners to better represent just how many companies are developing new ideas to progress our society and the world, especially during a slow economy. While software and services and life sciences continue to dominate the top 10, we are encouraged to see other categories making their mark."

Software dominated the industry breakdown with 57 percent of the companies working in that field. However, the top company for 2023 was Vir Biotechnology Inc., a life science company that developed a COVID-19 treatment. Vir was also the top company in 2022.

Last year, only one Houston company made the list. At No. 372 Onit reported a revenue increase of 369 percent. The company also made the 2021 list, along with Graylog and Enercross.

The 11 executives now will move on to national Entrepreneur Of The Year program. National winners will be named in November. Photos courtesy

Houston innovators recognized at annual regional entrepreneur competition

Meet the winners

Eleven Houston-based executives have been crowned regional winners in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program, run by professional services firm EY.

The 11 executives now will move on to national Entrepreneur Of The Year program. National winners will be named in November.

“Every year, we are completely blown away by the accomplishments of our Entrepreneur Of The Year Regional Award winners, and 2023 is no different,” AJ Jordan, director of the Entrepreneur Of The Year program for EY Americas, says in a news release. “They are change-makers and champions of business and community, and we are so proud to be honoring them. We can’t wait to see how these leaders will continue to improve lives and disrupt industries.”

Here are the 11 local winners from the program’s Gulf South region.

Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013, is a publicly traded space exploration company. The company’s upcoming mission will send the first U.S. spacecraft to the moon since 1972 as well as the first-ever commercial lunar lander. Its Nova-C spacecraft will carry commercial and NASA payloads.

Earlier this year, a joint venture led by Intuitive Machines nabbed a contract valued at up to $719 million for work on NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System. The company, which went public in February 2023, forecasts revenue of $174 million to $268 million this year.

“Steve’s visionary mindset and ability to assemble and inspire a talented team have been instrumental in our collective success,” the company says in a statement about the Entrepreneur Of The Year award. “He consistently fosters a culture of excellence, empowering our diverse group of engineers, scientists, and visionaries to pioneer groundbreaking solutions and deliver outstanding results.”

Gaurab Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of Solugen, and Sean Hunt, co-founder and CTO

Solugen, founded in 2016, makes and distributes specialty chemicals derived from feedstock. The startup is reportedly valued at more than $2 billion. To date, Solugen has raised $642.2 million, according to Crunchbase.

In naming Solugen one of the most innovative companies of 2022, Fast Company noted that the carbon-negative process embraced by Solugen and the startup’s “ability to sell flexible amounts of chemicals to companies looking to lower their own footprint have helped the company make inroads in a traditionally slow-moving industry.”

Daryl Dudum and Matthew Hadda, founders and co-CEOs of Specialty1 Partners

Specialty1 Partners, which launched in 2019, supplies business services to dental surgery practices. These services include HR, recruiting, payroll, accounting, operations, marketing, business development, compliance, IT, and legal.

In 2022, Specialty1 Partners appeared at No. 72 on the Inc. 5000 list with two-year revenue growth of 2,921 percent.

“Supporting our partners and helping them grow while continuing to build partnerships with industry-leading, innovative surgical specialists is what we focus on every day,” Dudum says in a 2022 news release. “It’s not just about growing our network — we are committed to helping our partner practices grow and succeed on their terms.”

Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services

MasterWord Services offers translation and interpretation in more than 400 languages for customers such as energy, health care, and tech companies. The woman-owned business was founded in 1993.

“I’m grateful to our exceptional team and to each of our translators and interpreters who every day live our mission of connecting people across language and culture,” Golovine says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year honor.

Roger Jenkins, president and CEO of Murphy Oil

Murphy Oil is involved in oil and natural gas exploration and production primarily onshore in the U.S. and Canada, and offshore along the Gulf of Mexico. The publicly traded Fortune 1000 company, founded in 1944, racked up revenue of nearly $4 billion in 2022.

“Over the years, the company has grown and evolved to become a leading independent energy company, with strategic assets around the world,” Murphy says on its website. “All the while, we have remained true to our mission — to challenge the norm, tap into our strong legacy, and use our foresight and financial discipline to deliver inspired energy solutions.

Mohammad Millwala, founder and CEO of DM Clinical Research

DM Clinical Research, founded in 2006, runs 13 sites for clinical trials. Its areas of specialty include vaccines, internal medicine, pediatrics, gastrointestinal, psychiatry, and women’s health.

“DM Clinical Research is in a period of rapid growth with multiple new study sites added over the last two years in addition to the quadrupling of our staff to over 500 employees,” Millwala says in a January 2023 news release. “We expect this transformational growth trajectory to continue for the foreseeable future, on the road to becoming the leading independent clinical research network in the nation.”

Mark Walker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Direct Digital Holdings, and Keith Smith, co-founder and president

Publicly traded Direct Digital Holdings owns three operating companies that offer online platforms for advertising. Three years after its founding in 2018, the company became the ninth Black-owned business to go public in the U.S.

The company posted revenue of $88 million in 2022, up 131 percent from the previous year.

“Direct Digital Holdings’ success is rooted in the hard work and commitment we have long seen in taking advantage of advertising opportunities targeting underserved communities and [that] markets often overlook,” Smith says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year award.

Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

While technically headquartered in Austin, Houston-funded Cart.com's co-founder and CEO, Omair Tariq, also was a Gulf South winner in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program.

The e-commerce company moved its headquarters from Houston to Austin in 2021. However, Tariq remains in Houston. In May 2023, Tariq delivered the commencement address to MBA recipients from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, where he earned his MBA.

Cart.com, founded in 2020, offers software and services to thousands of online merchants. To date, the pre-IPO company has raised $421 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

“We want to be the commerce-enablement infrastructure for the largest brands in the world,” Tariq told the Insider news website in 2022.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Mark Walker of Direct Digital Holdings, Will Womble of Umbrage, and Steve Altemus of Intuitive Machines. 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 adtech to aerospace — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Mark Walker, CEO, co-founder and chairman of Direct Digital Holdings

This month, Mark Walker is celebrating his company's one year anniversary of going public — only the ninth Black-founded business to accomplish this feat on a U.S. stock exchange. Photo courtesy

Houston-based Direct Digital Holdings, an adtech platform, is celebrating one year after its IPO. Co-Founder Mark Walker shares on the Houston Innovators Platform how he took this experience in tech, advertising, and media to create his company's platform.

He also shared the story of how Direct Digital went public. Walker says the decision to IPO made the most sense for his company — though it wasn't an easy process. Direct Digital is only the ninth company founded by a Black entrepreneur to go public on a US stock exchange.

"If you think the process is hard — it actually is," Walker says on the journey to IPO. "We were a privately held company, and we knew we had a good growth trajectory and we looked a couple different options. We decided to go public in a very traditional way." Read more.

Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines listed on Nasdaq on February 14. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Intuitive Machines, a space tech company based in Southeast Houston, announced that it has completed the transaction to merge with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company traded on Nasdaq.

“We are excited to begin this new chapter as a publicly traded company,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a news release. “Intuitive Machines is in a leading position to replace footprints with a foothold in the development of lunar space. With our launch into the public sphere through Inflection Point, we have reached new heights financially and opened the doors for even greater exploration and innovation for the progress of humanity.”

The transaction, which was originally announced in September, was approved by Inflection Point’s shareholders in a general meeting on February 8. As a result of the deal, the company will receive around $55 million of committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders, the release states. Read more.

Will Womble, founder and CEO of Umbrage

Umbrage, a Houston-based developer of enterprise software, has been acquired. Photo via umbrage.com

Umbrage, founded in 2019, is proving once again that Space City is a software hub. Earlier this month, Founder Will Womble announced that Umbrage has been acquired by Bain & Company.

Umbrage creates custom software for companies by partnering with an internal technology team that makes the products. It’s a “teach a man to fish” method that has brought the company great success in creating software such as Shell’s TapUp app.

Bain & Company works with clients in 64 cities across 39 countries, meaning the global consultancy is positioned to bring Umbrage worldwide.

"Alongside Bain, we can deliver enhanced end-to-end solutions that will position our clients for success and to adapt during waves of disruptive emerging technologies," says CEO Womble in the release. Read more.

This month, Mark Walker is celebrating his company's one year anniversary of going public — only the ninth Black-founded business to accomplish this feat on a U.S. stock exchange. Photo courtesy

Houston founder shares how he's using tech to make digital media more effective and equitable

houston innovators podcast episode 173

After working in both sides of the advertising world, Mark Walker thought he could reimagine a platform that would be more efficient and equitable.

Walker co-founded his company, Direct Digital Holdings, an adtech platform, after serving in several roles — from an early hire at Houston digital media startup Questia to business development director at NRG Energy and COO of EBONY Media. He shares on the Houston Innovators Platform how he took this experience in tech, advertising, and media to create his company's platform.

"NRG Energy gave me a top-down view of the value chain, and Ebony gave me a bottoms-up view of the value chain of how media is purchased," Walker says on the show. "At Direct Digital Holdings, we help companies buy and sell media — and we leverage technology to do it. It's really the culmination of both of those experiences."

With over 30,000 publishers on its platform, Direct Digital makes it easier for its core customers — middle market companies looking to buy into the digital media ecosystem — to tap into these opportunities without the tech know-how they might otherwise need. Walker explains that at EBONY, he saw how small to midsize publications — especially the multicultural ones — were being left out on the ad selling side of the equation. The Direct Digital platform bridges the gap on each end.

Founded in 2018 in partnership with Keith Smith, who went through similar professional experiences, Direct Digital went public exactly one year ago after growing the company through strategic M&A activity. Walker says the decision to IPO made the most sense for his company — though it wasn't an easy process. Direct Digital is only the ninth company founded by a Black entrepreneur to go public on a US stock exchange.

"If you think the process is hard — it actually is," Walker says on the journey to IPO. "We were a privately held company, and we knew we had a good growth trajectory and we looked a couple different options. We decided to go public in a very traditional way."

Walker explains there were some risks involved, but the co-founders ultimately decided to shy away from adding in investors who might not have the same ideas for the company's future.

Direct Digital has been a Houston company from the star — despite the city not being home to a booming adtech ecosystem. Instead, Houston — with its collection of Fortune 500 companies and rich diversity — has allowed the business to stand out.

"If you look at and reflect on how our company has been built — from our board of directors to our leadership and management team — we're a majority minority organization all the way across the board," Walker says. "Diversity is very important to us. It's the lifeblood of our business — especially because we're serving publishers in those communities in big way. And moreso, we think you get the best product, thoughts, and ideas from a diverse workforce, and Houston fits right into that mold for us."

Walker shares more about his company's future, advice on IPO, and what all he's watching in adtech — from AI to streaming — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.