This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Bill Voss of Everest, Day Edwards of ChurchSpace, and Tim Neal of GoExpedi. 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 e-commerce to the '"AirBNB for churches" — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Bill Voss, founder and CEO of Everest

Bill Voss joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss upcoming upgrades to Everest. Photo via LinkedIn

Bill Voss wanted to create a digital marketplace that would be a one-stop shop for outdoor activity equipment, apparel, and sporting goods. He had the vision, and he launched Everest. But it's taken some time to develop the platform he dreamt of.

"Our biggest challenge to date was technology. For the past two years, we have been developing our own technology," Voss says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Before the end of this year, there will be a brand new website with a better user experience and an amazing marketplace app. It's going to be really exciting."

Voss says he has mountainous goals for Everest — and the potential for impact on the entire sports and outdoors industry is there. As the new website, app, and streaming service all deliver over the next year, Voss says the company will take a huge step toward being able to disrupt the industry. Click here to read more.

Day Edwards, co-founder and CEO of ChurchSpace

Day Edwards and her startup, ChurchSpace, are fresh off an Amazon accelerator. Photo courtesy of Church Space

Houston startup, ChurchSpace, recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders, which included a pre-seed fundraising campaign and a $125,000 equity injection from Amazon.

"Being a part of the inaugural AWS Impact Accelerator has changed the trajectory and tech build of ChurchSpace," says Day Edwards, CEO and co-founder of the company. "From the grant time to having the ability to build a platform using the latest technologies to ensure churches can share their space safely has truly been a blessing. I urge any female founder to definitely take time to apply. This is a life changing opportunity for all startups."

The AWS Impact Accelerator strengthened ChurchSpace’s efforts of turning underutilized church real estate into on-demand event, worship, and kitchen space. The program provides high-potential, pre-seed startups the tools and knowledge to reach key milestones such as raising funding or being accepted to a seed-stage accelerator program. Click here to read more.

Tim Neal, founder and CEO of GoExpedi

Houston-based GoExpedi placed on this year's Inc. 5000. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

In the latest edition of its roundup of fastest growing privately held companies, Inc. magazine has recognized dozens of Houston organizations.

Houston startup GoExpedi, an industrial supply chain and analytics company, is the highest ranking local tech company on the list. GoExpedi ranked No. 675 in the 2022 edition of Inc. 5000, with a 924 percent growth rate between 2018 and 2021.

"The team at GoExpedi is honored to rank number 675 among America's Fastest-Growing Private Companies on the Inc. 5000 Annual List," says Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi, in a news release. "GoExpedi has grown exponentially since launching in 2017 due to our forward-thinking and innovative supply chain solutions." Click here to read more.

Bill Voss of Everest joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the upgrades coming to shoppers and sellers alike. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston innovator hunts down better tech for online outdoor equipment marketplace

houston innovators podcast episode 147

Get ready, sports and wilderness lovers. A Houston company that's built an online marketplace for apparel and equipment is gearing up for some big updates to its user experience.

Bill Voss — founder and CEO of Everest, an online marketplace working to be a one-stop shop for all outdoors and sporting equipment — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss some major upgrades to the platform that are coming soon.

"Our biggest challenge to date was technology. For the past two years, we have been developing our own technology," Voss says on the show. "Before the end of this year, there will be a brand new website with a better user experience and an amazing marketplace app. It's going to be really exciting."

Another new addition to Everest is a Amazon Prime-like level of membership called Caliber. This option will provide consumers the same level of discounts, overnight shipping, etc. that they've come to expect from entities like Amazon. Caliber will also include a video streaming component that Voss says will launch next year.

While Everest is in many ways striving to compete with the likes of Amazon, Voss says the company wants to differ in one big way — how it collaborates with sellers.

"We really are seller friendly," Voss says. "We work with our sellers and communicate with them. We think we have some of the best customer service as it relates to seller interaction in the business. If our sellers are happy, it will translate to a better customer experience at the end of the day."

Voss says he has mountainous goals for Everest — and the potential for impact on the entire sports and outdoors industry is there. As the new website, app, and streaming service all deliver over the next year, Voss says the company will take a huge step toward being able to disrupt the industry.

"A true marketplace allows us to come together as one group, and we can conquer the space. We can be a true disruptor, we can be a household name, and we can do something very special here," he explains. "But we don't believe we have to do it alone. The seller community is coming together in one ecosystem called Everest."

Voss shares more about the future of Everest on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Everest will sell products from more than 1,000 U.S. manufacturers. Photo courtesy of Everest

Pioneering Houstonian launches innovative online marketplace for outdoor equipment

A MOUNTAINOUS ACHIEVEMENT

Houston businessman Bill Voss has forever found his zen through his lifelong passion for the great outdoors, but there’s one aspect that was making him positively furious: the shopping.

Burned out with driving to brick-and-mortar stores, standing in long lines, and dealing with dreaded returns, Voss turned his necessity into invention and launched Everest.com, a new shopping/lifestyle marketplace and community platform that links active-minded customers to more than 1,000 U.S.-based merchants and retailers.

By utilizing what it describes as “state of the art” artificial intelligence, the company aims to create the largest marketplace on earth for the outdoor recreation community, covering activities such as hiking, camping, biking, rock climbing, winter sports, water sports, team sports, fishing, hunting, kayaking, rafting, and road and trail running.

Voss’ timing is sound: Current industry estimates suggest consumers spend $700 billion in outdoor recreation, with less than 20 percent of those sales transacted online. Towards that end, Voss plans to increase his sellers to 10,000 by 2023.

Everest members can also enjoy perks through a program dubbed Caliber, which provides its members with several exclusive benefits including free shipping, advance sales, travel benefits, big discounts on gear, and — a plus these days — discounts on fuel. Voss notes that the site’s core values are pushing U.S.-made products and giving back; Everest will have nonprofit and conservation partners.

CultureMap caught up with the active Voss on the heels of his Everest launch.

CultureMap: Congratulations on the launch. Essentially, have you created an Amazon for the outdoors crowd — but with a sense of community, too?

Bill Voss: We started Everest.com to create the first online marketplace with the sole focus of offering outdoor enthusiasts retail goods for purchase from merchants across the country who offer domestically made goods.

In our experience, people who love the outdoors also appreciate the concept of community. At Everest, we want to bolster that community by giving local businesses a wider sales reach, contributing to local and national charitable organizations, and asking everyone in our community to share the story of their “Everest.”

We’re taking a fairly segmented market and bringing it together into one community-focused ecosystem. We call that ecosystem Everest.


CM: What Houston spots have most inspired you? And have you visited Everest yet?

BV: I’m a fisherman at heart. I have been fishing the Gulf of Mexico since I could hold a fishing rod. There is nothing I’d rather do than spend a whole day on the water casting, trolling, or remembering many epic fights reeling in a big one.

So naturally, I love Galveston, Kemah, etc. and being so close to the Gulf is a huge reason why I love Houston. The city itself may be a major metropolitan area, but it is full of so many parks and recreation areas that are great to walk through when you need to escape the sounds of the city for a bit— which Houston really doesn’t get enough credit or exposure for.

Houston has an amazing outdoor community with so many choices to support it — it’s hard to pick just one activity that ranks number one.

I do have plans to visit Everest actually! I am arranging a trip with two brothers that have made it to the top more than anyone else and they assure me it will be an amazing trip.

CM: Clearly, you’re an avid outdoorsman. Is it correct to say that Everest was inspired by frustration and hassle of bouncing to other sites and stores?

BV: Exactly! I found myself doing just that and it’s infuriating. I’d be visiting multiple stores, going through multiple checkouts, and waiting on multiple boxes to arrive — and sometimes dealing with multiple return scenarios. So, I set out to fix it — for all of us.

I grew up fishing, spending hours on the water with my dad. To me that’s one of the best parts of any outdoor activity, the quality time spent with the people you love. I don’t think you get the same experience if you’re sitting around a tv screen together, and you certainly don’t get it if you’re spending hours on your computer trying to track down the perfect beginner fishing rod for your daughter. Time is precious, and the endless toil of gear compilation eats into those few available hours we have to spend together.

By aggregating thousands of outdoor brands and gear retailers and centralizing them into one marketplace, we’re allowing our users to hop on, find everything they need, and check out easily. We’re just getting started but, within the next two years, we hope to add even more sellers and products along with more community offerings.

Being out on the water showing my kids how to bait a hook or how to find a school of fish, those are the memories I hope they take with them. With Everest, it has been important to me to help make those kinds of experiences easily attainable for everyone and the people they love.

CM: Speaking of other stores, do you plan to go head-to-head with the REIs and Sun and Skis of the world? Or Amazon?

BV: I get this question all the time and I love it. As to the first two, definitely not. We’re a marketplace, we’re here to help companies like REI and Sun and Ski, who can participate as sellers and reach new customers.

The difference is that our members can pick up everything they need, from multiple retailers, in one cart, with one easy checkout option. Many of the big names already spotlight and sell products on Amazon — they can do the same with Everest. We are a community of like-minded outdoor loving enthusiasts that have been looking for a niche marketplace to serve all of us.

Think of what Chewy did in the pet industry — we are doing the same thing for those that love the outdoors. Amazon has to be everything to everybody. We don’t, and we don’t want to.

CM: Do you see Everest ever creating brick-and-mortar stores?

BV: Wonderful question. The beauty of Everest is we are still a young company with options to consider. But remember, one of the main tenets of Everest is supporting our sellers. We are not looking to get into a situation where we are competing directly with them.

However, we’d love to one day open a shop selling Everest sweatshirts and swag in downtown Houston. It would be so fulfilling to see the outdoor community wearing Everest branded clothing and putting Everest stickers on their gear in the future.

The bottom line is, we are sprinting as hard as we can in hopes of waking up one day as a true disruptor, household name, and eternal brand.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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.