Chevron has doubled down on its commitment to The Cannon in West Houston, a new study finds Houston a top city for STEM, a Houston startup takes home a win from a digital pitch competition, and more. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags a win at a pitch competition, Chevron announces a new makerspace, a software company makes an acquisition, and more.

Houston named a best city for STEM

Image via SmartAsset

For the fifth year, personal finance website, SmartAsset, analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. The study looked at the racial diversity index as well as the gender diversity index. The data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau's 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

Houston ranked No. 7 on the list, and according to the report, the total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Around 70 percent of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30 percent are women. Additionally, Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study with more than 19 percent of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20 percent are Asian, and more than 8 percent are Black.

Texas makes up about a third of the top 10 list with Dallas and Fort Worth coming in at No. 9 and No.10, respectively.

Chevron announces digital makerspace in The Cannon

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon and its surrounding Founders District in West Houston has announced the addition of Chevron's digital makerspace, which will be dedicated to startup partnerships and community organizations.

"Chevron's support for The Founders District and The Cannon expands our commitment to Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, Chevron vice president, Innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in a news release. "We look forward to utilizing this new space to collaborate with other Chevron organizations, such as our Wells group, as we work to deliver more reliable, affordable, ever-cleaner energy."

While Chevron has been a key partner for The Cannon since 2018 and even had branded office space within the hub, this new space represents a new lease agreement for a significantly larger footprint.

"We are thrilled to partner with Chevron Technology Ventures in developing this exciting makerspace at The Founders District," says Mark Toon, CEO of Puma Development, the company developing The Founders District and founder of Work America Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houston-based businesses. "CTV is the paradigm for meaningful innovation in Houston. By investing in emerging technologies in energy, they are paving the way for innovation to remain at the heart of Houston's most prominent industry."

Lazarus 3D wins The Ion's pitch competition

Photo via Laz3d.com

After months of pitching events, The Ion's Startup Demo Day for 2020 concluded on November 18 with four final pitches from Lazarus 3D, Skylark Wireless, HelloWoofy, and Swoovy.

After each of the four founders presented at the virtual event, which was powered by Dell Technologies, Lazarus 3D, a startup that produces 3D-printed organs and tissues for surgical practice, took home the win and the cash prize.

"I'm so grateful to Ion Houston — I've met so many people and made so many connections," says Smriti Zaneveld, co-founder and president. "All of the companies that present at these events are doing something so meaningful."

Applications are now open for the next series. Apply online by clicking here.

Houston tech co. acquires New Zealand business

Photo via Onit.com

Houston-based Onit Inc., a legal software provider, announced that the company has acquired McCarthyFinch and its artificial intelligence platform.

"Our vision is to build AI into our workflow platform and every product across the Onit and SimpleLegal product portfolios," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "AI will have an active role in everything from enterprise legal management to legal spend management and contract lifecycle management, resulting in continuous efficiencies and cost savings for corporate legal departments.

"Historically, legal departments have been thought of as black boxes where requests go in and information, decisions or contracts come out with no real transparency," Elfman continues. "AI has the potential to enhance transparency and contribute to stronger enterprise-wide business collaboration in a way that conserves a lawyer's valuable time."

The newly acquired software has the capacity to accelerate contract processing by up to 70 percent and increase productivity by over 50 percent. With the acquisition, Onit is enhancing its new artificial intelligence platform Precedent and the company's first release on the platform will be ReviewAI.

New sustainability-focused app launches at Climathon

Photo courtesy of Footprint

Houston-based Footprint App Inc. launched its latest carbon footprint education and action software during the Houston Climathon that was hosted earlier this month by Impact Hub Houston.

By tracking the user's sustainable habits, the student-focused tool allows users to compete to reduce their environmental impact. Footprint has launched in over 50 classrooms across the nation and is also being used by several corporations.

"With the state of Texas recently receiving an 'F' in climate education from the National Science Foundation, we see Footprint as the perfect tool for K-12 and beyond to help Texas students engage with climate science in a fun, competitive way," says Dakota Stormer, Footprint App, Inc. CEO and co-founder, in a news release.

From a free workspace competition at The Cannon to a tech company's big acquisition, here are some Houston innovation short stories. Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston tech co. makes acquisition, free coworking space contest launches, and more innovation news

Short stories

It's easy to miss some of Houston's innovation news — there's quite a lot coming out across town. From contests launching out of The Cannon to a Houston tech company making a major acquisition, here are some quick news stories you need to know.

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Onit Inc.makes acquisition

Houston-based contract management software company, Onit Inc., announced the acquisition of SimpleLegal, another legal services software company. The terms of the deal were not made public.

"Onit and SimpleLegal share both a passion for both disrupting the legal technology space and valuing product innovation," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a release. "Our shared commitment to elevate legal operations technology is an asset for all of our customers – from rapidly growing startups with their first in-house counsel all the way to the largest, most complex organizations. Together, our goal is to help all legal operations professionals achieve operational excellence on their legal technology journey."

According to the release, all product, support and services will go on without any interruption for customers of both companies. Elfman will serve as the CEO of the merged organization, and Nathan Wenzel, who was the CEO and co-founder of SimpleLegal, has been named the general manager of SimpleLegal.

"Today, corporations spend more than $160 billion on their in-house legal teams. The combination of Onit and SimpleLegal is a game-changer for the legal market and the future of legal operations," says Wenzel in the release. "Our teams are uniquely equipped to help shape the technology that is powering legal departments worldwide. Together, we're looking forward to combining efforts and talent to build and bring to market the next generation of legal operations technology."

The Cannon and Insperity launch startup competition

The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot space is on track to open this summer. Courtesy of The Cannon

The Insperity Innovation Scholarship is back — this time the prize of 6 months of free office space inside The Cannon means the new, 120,000-square-foot space that's set to open in West Houston very soon.

"We are so excited that Insperity has chosen to bring back this year's Innovation Scholarship and will be rewarding another lucky Houston area startup with space in our brand new building," says The Cannon's founder and CEO, Lawson Gow, in a release. "As one of our original partners, we are looking forward to another year of working with Insperity to fulfill a mission that we share — providing Houston area startups with all the resources they need to succeed and establish Houston as an exceptional place to start your business." (Gow is the son of InnovationMap's CEO.)

The applications are open from now until June 5. The finalists will be notified on June 7. All of the finalists will pitch their company to a panel of judges on June 13. Companies based in the Houston area with 3 to 8 employees are eligible. Startups can apply here.

New-to-Houston coworking concept in CITYCENTRE breaks ground

FUSE Dynamic Workspace just announced its new 26,000-square-foot project coming to CITYCENTRE. Photo via workfuse.com

The construction process has officially started this month for Texas-based FUSE Dynamic Workspace's second location in CITYCENTRE. The complex will consist of 26,000 square feet of coworking space in two buildings connected by a bridge, and include an additional 5,000 square feet across four outdoor terraces. The space will have 95 private offices, a coworking café and lounge, dedicated desks, and conference space for up to 100 people.

FUSE strives to provide business professional amenities while also giving back to its community. The first location was in Prosper, Texas.

re:3D wins over $700,000 grant

After just opening a new factory and community space, re:3D was awarded a large grant. Courtesy of re:3D

Houston-based re:3D, which just opened its new 7,000-square-foot community space and factory, recently won a six-figure grant from the National Science Foundation.

The SBIR Phase II grant is for $749,111 to further commercialize the company's Gigabot and increase maker manufacturing through 3D printing with reclaimed plastic and direct drive pellet extrusion, according to an email sent to re:3D's community.

Griddy grows with new partnership

Griddy Energy enables customer pricing transparency. Photo via gogriddy.com

Griddy Energy has signed a strategic partnership with EDF Trading Ltd — a subsidiary of low-carbon energy group EDF Group. Through this partnership, EDF will provide support to Griddy as it expands its services.

"We're thrilled to announce this deal because our focus has always been saving Texans money by connecting them directly to the grid for wholesale electricity rates. This partnership means we can bring the power of wholesale to far more people," Greg Craig, CEO of Griddy, says in a release, "In 2018, Texans paid a combined $20 billion to REPs. Had Texans paid wholesale last year, they would have paid just $14 billion. That means Texans overpaid by a staggering $6 billion last year. Our goal is to get as much of that money back into the hands of Texans in the form of savings — and this partnership with EDF will allow us to do just that."

Griddy, which has a huge presence in Texas, provides customers wholesale electricity prices and promises to be open, honest, and transparent. Rather than charging inflated rates, the company only makes a profit from the $9.99 monthly membership fees. Everything else is at cost — no margins, hidden fees, or break fees. Read more about Griddy here.

LetsLaunch and The Cannon team up ahead of a live fundraising event

LetsLaunch, a Houston-based fundraising platform, has teamed up with The Cannon. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Fundraising for your company could be stressful, but exciting. Now, imaging that process taking place at an event in a face-to-face capacity. LetsLaunch and The Cannon have teamed up to put on a live fundraising event — think of it like a online fundraising platform meets a cocktail party.

The event is set for June 15, and LetsLaunch is taking applications for potential participating startups until May 24. Apply here.

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Photos: Here's a sneak peek at The Ion Houston's construction progress

eye on the ion

The Ion Houston is expected to open its doors this year, and the building's exterior is close to completion. Now, the construction team is focusing on interiors and then tenant build outs.

The 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub owned and managed by Rice Management Co. is slated to be a convening building for startups, corporations, academic partners, investors, and more. The building is organized as follows:

  • The underground Lower Level will act as academic flex space with a few classrooms and open-concept desks for The Ion's accelerators, including: The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, DivInc, the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator, and the Aerospace Innovation Hub and Accelerator. There will also be an event space and The Ion's own programming.
  • On the first, street-level floor, The Ion's restaurant tenants will reside with access from both the greenspace as well as into the building. The Ion's first three restaurant tenants include: Late August, Common Bond, and STUFF'd Wings.
  • Additionally, the first floor will be home to a venture studio and the prototyping lab. There is additional space available for other tenants.
  • On the second floor, there will be 58,000 square feet of coworking space managed by Common Desk. Note: For floors 2 and up of the Ion, tenants will have access cards that allow them entrance. The first and lower floors will not require access cards.
  • The third floor of the building will house eight to 10 tenants each with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of space. Chevron was announced as the first tenant and will reside on this floor.
  • On the fourth and fifth floors, The Ion will house one to two larger tenants on each level. These levels of the building were added on to the existing structure. The fourth floor features two balconies that tenants will have access to. Microsoft is signed on to have its space on half of the fifth floor.
The Ion is still planning on an open date in late spring or summer. For leasing information, click here. Scroll through the slideshow of construction images and renderings to see the progress of the building.

Exterior nears completion

Photo by Natalie Harms

The building's exterior is almost complete and kept much of the original building's facade. The new materials brought in match the existing color scheme.

Texas winery taps Houston tech company for innovative AR experience

cheers

The Lone Star State is home to a vibrant and innovative wine scene, but, just like most hospitality businesses, winemakers missed the opportunity to engage with their patrons amid the pandemic. With a new idea of how to engage its customers, Messina Hof, an award-winning Texas winery, rolled out a new tech-optimized, at-home experience.

The winery partnered with VISION, a Houston-based production group, to create an augmented reality app. Combining the efforts of Messina Hof's in-house label design team and the animation capabilities of VISION, the app took four months to design.

"It was a labor of love for both parties to be able to experiment with this; it was uncharted territory," says Karen Bonarrigo, owner and chief administrative officer of Messina Hof.

The three wines released — Emblaze (Sweet Red), Vitality (Dry White), and Abounding (Dry Red) — each tells a story through the AR experience.

"We wanted to try not only and push the technology as far as we can push it, but also try to really incorporate some heavy storytelling," says Dan Pratt, VISION Creative Director.

The idea to incorporate technology felt like a natural one to Bonariggo.

"The earth, water, and sunshine all go into developing what the profile is for each wine," explains Bonarrigo.

Each of the three wines have scannable labels that bring up a VR experience for app users. Photo courtesy of Messina Hof

VISION, who worked alongside Messina Hof to develop the project, blended the winery's rich family ties with the Old World history of winemaking.

When customers download the app and hold their camera over the label, a trailing vine emerges onto the screen and wraps around the bottle. As vines grow around each bottle, the three each visually signify a different natural element of winemaking — earth, water and the sun. As a rustic sign emerges, it prompts users to then click for recipe pairing recommendations.

Rather than a single-use experience, Messina Hof and VISION wanted to create an app that users could both engage with and learn from. The AR app allows users to view recipes and browse wines in one place.

"We knew we wanted the app to be functional for people to be able to interact with both when they're doing the AR experience, but then also to be able to continue to come back to it later," shares Bonarrigo. While AR wine labels have emerged in some California vineyards, she says, "it's definitely uncharted territory for the Texas industry."

Overseeing the food and wine pairing at Messina Hof is one of Bonarrigo's passions, so it was a natural choice to include recipes in the app. Messina Hof offers a concept called Vineyard Cuisine, coined from the Bonarrigo family cookbook, and incorporates wine in every meal at the vineyard.

"The idea of tying [the wine] to a recipe gave us the opportunity to be able to share new ways [our customers] could use wines in their everyday cooking," she explains.

She hopes the app's recipe feature will help families connect together.

"So often we get used to sitting down at the table, eating really quickly, and then moving on to the next thing, but there's so much connection that can happen with each other when we can slow down a little bit and have a conversation," she continues.

To Pratt, AR was the perfect way to emphasize and expand on the shared experience of wine.

"We wanted this to be an extension of that experience for people. You know, based on the love of wine and laughter with friends," he says.

For those who can't currently gather in a room together, Bonarrigo has hopes that Messina Hof can bring people together from afar.

"I think now more than ever the ability for our regular customers, even within Texas, to then share those wines with family members or friends that are outside the state seems more intuitive," she explains.

"We are so used to being creatures of habit in sharing our wine face-to-face with people that when we had the unexpected opportunity to not do that, we realized that we still have ways to be able to connect with customers through technology," says Bonarrigo.

She finds the "ease of access of being able to connect with them through the online web store" has kept Messina Hof in touch with customers throughout the pandemic, as well as digital happy hours and tasting events.

Messina Hof Harvest Green Winery & Kitchen, the newest location, opened in February, becoming the Greater Houston-area's largest winery. The space features an expansive tasting room and 83-foot wine bar, full-service restaurant, covered patio, two private tasting rooms, a wine production, barrel room, and wine warehouse.

"We knew that when we launched that location that we wanted to be able to have a series of wines at that location that was special, but also out of the box," says Bonarrigo.

Bonarrigo and her husband Paul have ushered in the expansion of Messina Hof over the last nine years. The family business began in 1977 when Paul's parents, Paul Vincent and Merrill, started an experimental vineyard. Messina Hof has locations in Bryan, Grapevine, Fredericksburg, and Richmond.

"This is our largest winery expansion endeavor that we've done," she says. "We wanted the wines to be extra special."

Similar to Messina Hof, companies across industries are seeking to explore interactive technologies to reach their customer base. "A number of our clients, and also new clients that we may not have been able to reach before, have certainly reached out to us to figure out new ways to reach an audience," shares Pratt.

Winemaking may be an Old World skill, but Messina Hof is excited to bring Texas wine into the future.

"So much of winemaking is science, and so much of it is art. There's always this push and pull as to which is more of a majority in the end product," explains Bonarrigo, who notes that Messina Hof has been using technology to innovate and optimize the growing process. The new AR app is a push toward bringing the experience her family loves into the homes of customers.

"This definitely gives a new talking point to wine," she says.