This week's Houston innovators to know roundup includes Josh Pherigo of the Greater Houston Partnership, Brittany Barreto of FemTech Focus, and Ted Gutierrez of SecurityGate.io. Photos courtesy

Editor'snote: Another Monday, another round of innovators to know in Houston as you start your week. This week's edition features a researcher who has crunched the numbers on Houston's tech specialties, a founder who's shining a spotlight on femtech, and an entrepreneur who's snagged a deal with Chevron.

Josh Pherigo, research director of data analytics at the Greater Houston Partnership

Josh Pherigo at GHP used data to look into what tech specialties are thriving in Houston — and what niches have shown promising growth. Photo via LinkedIn

When Josh Pherigo decided to look where venture capital money was going in Houston, he did so to investigate what potential industries had growth opportunities. He found that Houston has an opportunity to be a leader in clean tech — but it has some in-state competition.

Pherigo's study for the Greater Houston Partnership found that there was a cleantech war emerging between Austin and Houston. While Houston's ecosystem has a greater presence of cleantech startups, Austin cleantech is still bringing in more VC investments. However, in Houston, between new corporate incubators and Greentown Labs entering Houston, the city is creating a lot of infrastructure for this industry.

"It's going to be interesting over the next few years to see how Houston can position itself as the leader in Texas for this, because they are going to have a lot of competition from Austin," Pherigo says. Read more.

Brittany Barreto, founder of FemTech Focus

Brittany Barreto launched FemTech Focus to help call attention to women's health and wellness, as well as to help accelerate companies with tech solutions within the field. Photo courtesy of FemTech Focus

Brittany Barreto has conducted dozens of interviews with femtech entrepreneurs, and it's become abundantly clear that general accelerators aren't giving femtech companies the full picture.

"Femtech startups actually need a little bit of different advice — that's why I'm very bullish on creating a femtech accelerator," Barreto says. "In femtech, we have some unique barriers. If you just go to a general accelerator, they might not cover these issues, and you'll be blindsighted."

Barreto is now working on specified program with The Guild that's launching this month. Then, in 2021, she hopes to go live with a full program under her company, FemTech Focus. Read more.

Ted Gutierrez, founder and CEO of SecurityGate.io

Chevron has tapped SecurityGate.io's risk management cybersecurity platform. Photo courtesy of Security Gate

Last week, Ted Gutierrez announced that his company, SecurityGate.io scored a partnership with Chevron. The deal means that the energy giant will adopt SecurityGate's risk management platform for scaling operational technology cybersecurity.

"We're very excited to be working with Chevron as they replace manual, spreadsheet cybersecurity practices with scalable, digitized processes," says Ted Gutierrez, CEO at SecurityGate.io, in a press release. "Their risk management team has done amazing work and it's exciting to see where they're headed." Read more.

Brittany Barreto launched FemTech Focus to help call attention to women's health and wellness, as well as to help accelerate companies with tech solutions within the field. Photo courtesy of FemTech Focus

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneur launches femtech nonprofit and accelerator partnership

femtech focus

It's about time women's health and wellness took center stage, in Brittany Barreto's opinion, so she's launched a nonprofit to make that happen.

Houston entrepreneur Barreto recently left her position at Capital Factory to focus on FemTech Focus, an organization dedicated to increasing attention on femtech and providing resources and support for founders in the space. The nonprofit launched its podcast in April and has garnered over 5,000 subscribers across 40 countries.

"What we're focusing on for 2020 is awareness," Barreto says, adding that the podcast is key to that mission.

Barreto says next year, however, it's the her plan to create a 12-week virtual accelerator program and venture fund. The first iteration of the program is going to focus on health care — digital health, medical device, and therapeutics — for companies between seed to series A stage.

"Femtech startups actually need a little bit of different advice — that's why I'm very bullish on creating a femtech accelerator," Barreto says. "In femtech, we have some unique barriers. If you just go to a general accelerator, they might not cover these issues, and you'll be blindsighted."

Barreto says, based on the interviews she's done for the podcast, that some of these unique challenges include working with the Food and Drug Administration, creating referral programs that are extremely successful among women, and approaching "taboo" topics, which a lot of femtech companies have to deal with.

While Barreto continues working her plans for the program, she says she came across an opportunity to work with The Guild, a a woman's professional networking platform that has its own accelerator, to create a femtech-focused virtual program this fall. This partnership, Barreto says, will allow her to get her feet wet in the virtual acceleration field while also getting to help femtech entrepreneurs sooner.

Applications for Guild Academy - Femtech Edition, powered by Femtech Focus, are open online and will close September 18. The 8-week program will then wrap up mid November ahead of Thanksgiving. The program is not limited to female founders, and the cohort is looking for around 25 companies.

If you're interested, apply online and check out Barreto's Ask Me Anything event today, Thursday, September 10 at 1 pm.

Four Houston entrepreneurs have teamed up to create a program based on each of their expertise that provides a launch pad for aspiring startup founders. Getty Images

Group of Houston entrepreneurs creates masterclass for aspiring founders

founders for founders

For some aspiring startup founders, the biggest thing holding them back is not knowing where to start. A group of former founders and mentors are teaming up to create that first step.

"A few months ago it struck me that maybe there was a gap in the market between the aspiring entrepreneur," says Steve Jennis, "and the accelerator or incubator program."

Jennis, who's a founder, consultant, and mentor in Houston, tapped a few of his fellow founder-mentors to create Founder's Compass, an online masterclass for people who have a business idea but don't know what to do next. Along with Jennis, founder of JCG and PrismTech, the program was created by Brittany Barreto, founder of Pheramor and Femtech Focus; Leela Madan, founder of Madan Law; and Catherine Brown, founder of ExtraBold Sales.

"We thought that the four of us could put together a masterclass comprising of four modules — each module relates to the skill set that we are individually bringing," Jennis tells InnovationMap. "All together, we're representing a framework for new entrepreneurs to get a kickstart to their business and help them with the next step of their journey — whatever that may be."

The four modules will be presented in virtual, interactive classes lasting three hours each and offered in two different ways each month. Students can register for a two-day option — six hours on a Friday followed by another six hours on a Saturday — or a four-week option — three hours on a weeknight once a week for four weeks.

The four modules will cover the following:

  • Validating your business concept and MVP product-market fit (led by Jennis)
  • Customer development, feedback, and target market definition (led Brown)
  • Protecting your intellectual property and managing your business risk (led by Madan)
  • Engaging with the innovation ecosystem and preparing to fundraise (led by Barreto)
Jennis says the program is not intended to be competitive with accelerators, rather Founder's Compass can act as a feeder into these programs. This is why, Jennis says, the masterclass is set up to be relatively cheap at $100 an hour — or $1,200 for the full program.
"We wanted something that was much more convenient, readily available, and easily affordable, so that's why we settled on the two-day or four-evening format to give people something that they didn't have to think about for months," Jennis says. "We saw an opportunity here — not just to be another accelerator — but to be something for people in the game."

Registration for Founder's Compass is open now for September and October, and participants who sign up before August 1 will receive half off — making the course just $600.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for May

Where to be online

While some things in Houston are starting to open back up, society hasn't yet established a timeline for when groups of more than 10 people will be allowed to safely gather. But, the programming must go on.

With that in mind, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

May 4: Post-COVID Fund: Venture Investing in the Post-COVID World

Join Alumni Ventures Group for a webinar that explores how changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will create profound change—as well as unique opportunities for new ventures that tackle these challenges.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 4. Learn more.

May 5 — Sell Your Science: Developing a Non-Confidential Pitch for in Person and Virtual Presentations

Learn tricks in preparing a non-confidential pitch deck along with tips that are aimed to help you sell your science at in person meetings or virtually.

Details: The event is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5. Learn more.

May 6 — Impacting Public Health: How Can My Idea Be A Part of the Solution?


When a pandemic hits, as a start-up company you may find that your technology can be aligned to help. However, now your timeline is expedited with a global health emergency and you need to get your technology into the market. How do you start to connect with the right players to get your technology into the U.S. market to make an impact on public health safety and security?

Details: The event is at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Virtual Event with Cindy Eckert - Expert Entrepreneur with Over $1B Exits

Cindy Eckert is an expert entrepreneur with over $1B in Exits, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceutical, and Founder of The Pink Ceiling. Attend the virtual fireside chat between Cindy Eckert and Femtech Focus founder Dr. Brittany Barreto.

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Curious About Starting a Career in Tech?

One thing we know is that web developers come from different backgrounds. From teaching to consulting, design to accounting, and they're here to tell you about making that transition. Hear from professional developers in the field about how their careers lead them what they're working on now, how they got there, and how their past experiences apply to the work they do currently. Join General Assembly if you are curious about starting a career in tech, but not sure exactly where to begin.

Details: The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 7 — Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day

Originally scheduled to be hosted at OTC, Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day will now be a virtual event to allow startups to connect with investors and energy companies. The event will showcase about 40 promising energy technology companies. These companies have initial funding and are seeking their A, B, C, or later rounds with technology validation, field trial experience, and/or initial company revenue. The event offers a great opportunity for viewers to learn more about innovative technologies and provides companies with access to potential partners and investment opportunities.

Details: The event is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 7. Learn more.

May 8 — Lunch & Learn: Startup Funding Rounds

Seemingly every company wants to raise venture capital, but few founders are equipped to navigate the tangled mess of rounds, investment types, and investor expectations. At the end of this presentation, you will have a better handle on whether venture capital is right for your business and what it'll take to navigate from angels to exit.

Details: The event is at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 8. Learn more.

May 12 — Lunch and Learn with Asian Pacific American Entrepreneurs

According to New American Economy, Asian Pacific American entrepreneurs account for nearly a million of our nation's businesses. Whether it's apps, restaurants, social services, or consumer products, it's obvious that the entrepreneurial spirit is high in our nation. Let's hear it from our AAPI small business owners who will walk us through the triumphs and challenges they've faced while running their business and how they're making it work during a shaky period.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, May 12. Learn more.

May 13-14 — 2020 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition

TNVC 2020 will be entirely virtual this year. This event is the culmination of a yearlong effort to identify and provide support to Texas-best technology ventures. There will be several private semi-finals judging rounds on May 13, with an Entrepreneurial Perspectives panel and Q&A with past winners and successful entrepreneurs. The finals will be on the 14th, followed by elevator pitches and an awards ceremony, all of which are open to the entire audience.

Details: The event is on Wednesday, May 14, and Thursday, May15. Learn more.

May 15 — How to Land a Job at a Tech Startup

Join General Assembly for this online event where a panel of tech startup talent acquisition professionals will take you through what types of opportunities exist in today's talent market, how the experience at a startup will make you more marketable in the long run, what talent acquisition professionals are actually thinking while reading resumes, advice for remote interviewing, and more.

Details: The event is at noon on Friday, May 15. Learn more.

May 29 — Mothers in Tech Breakfast

In celebration of Mother's Day, join General Assembly for a virtual breakfast featuring hard-working mothers that are also succeeding in their respective industries. A few incredible mothers will share their insights on how they reached their level of success, advice on navigating the workplace as a working mom, and how we can help the next generation of mothers in tech. Get ready for an honest, vulnerable, and insightful conversation.

    Details: The event is at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 29. Learn more.

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    Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

    brainiac

    Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

    Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

    “For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

    "More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

    Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

    Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

    The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

    “We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

    For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

    Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

    on the rise

    Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

    Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

    Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

    Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

    “Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

    Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

    “Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

    In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

    “Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

    Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

    RESULTS ARE IN

    Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

    Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

    Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

    “This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

    “At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

    At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

    “The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

    In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

    Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.