Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photos courtesy

'Tis the season for giving — and what if you could check off your holiday to-do list and simultaneously support some local startups? This year's Houston startup gift guide includes comfortable-yet-stylish heels, culinary treats, and more.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas and check out the 2020 and 2019 startup gift guides as well for even more options.

For the family fashionista: All-day comfort shoes

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Before starting her business, Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside. Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

Earlier this year, Tomson shared the Getaway Sticks origin story with InnovationMap. The heels are available online for around $200 per pair.

For the resident chef: Fresh fish delivered

Sugar Land-based Fish Fixe floated their seafood delivery service on Shark Tank last year. Photo via Shark Tank

Houstonians Melissa Harrington and Emily Castro saw how beneficial incorporating fish into your diet can be — so they decided to launch an easier way to do it. They launched Fish Fixe in 2017 to deliver seafood with easy-to-access instructions on storage and thawing — plus cooking recipes that take around 20 minutes.

The duo appeared on the 13th season of Shark Tank last year. In 2020, as InnovationMap reported, the company saw a 400-percent increase in sales. They pitched asking for $200,000 in investment. Lori Greiner, the "queen of QVC," took the bait — and 25 percent equity.

Shoppers can stock up on various boxes from $109 to $219, or opt for a gift card for their loved one.

For the health nut: Sustainably-sourced nutrients

A Houston-based fund has deployed capital into a local nutritional supplement business. Photo via Instagram

Houston--based iwi creates nutritional supplements for the brain and the heart — and they are doing it in a sustainable setting: algae farms. These football field-sized farms operate on desert land using just salt water and sand and produce algae sustainably — all while absorbing CO2. Miguel Calatayud, CEO of the company, tells InnovationMap that the farms even area able to reuse 98 percent of the water involved in the process. Earlier this year, iwi received an investment from a local group in an $8 million deal.

The company has almost a dozen options online for around $30 per canister of supplements.

For your aging loved ones: Afterlife planning and memory keeping

The Postage — a Houston-based company that's streamlining afterlife planning — has rolled out a new app. Photo courtesy of The Postage

There's a lot that goes into legacy and afterlife planning, and a Houston startup has emerged to make the process a whole lot easier. The Postage helps its users generate their wills and organize information to leave behind, the company's founder, Emily Cisek, shares with InnovationMap. The platform also every user to leave messages, photos, and memories in a digital vault that will stand the test of time.

Giving the gift of legacy planning can be an option for anyone in your family — from the grandparents to the newlyweds.

For someone seeking luscious locks: Hair growth tracking kit

This startup is making sure every follicle of hair on your head is counted. Photo via myhaircounts.com

While it might seem odd to gift someone a hair loss tracking kit, this product from a Houston company has helped many men and women suffering from hair density challenges. MyHairCounts created a hair density imaging kit and app based on proprietary and patent-pending software. The kit includes a variety of items such as scalp imaging guides, a comb, and gel to help individuals photograph their hair follicles at specified angles. Users then upload these photographs into the app for analyses which are delivered within 48 hours. These analyses inform the user whether or not their hair regrowth treatment is effective.

The kit itself is just $40 and available online. Users can work with the company on a longer hair growth plan, too.

Bonus: What to bring to the table

Support Houston startups by bringing these goodies to your next festive shindig. Photos courtesy

Sometimes your presence is the present, and if you're headed to some holiday dinner parties, here are some innovative ideas for the potluck.

  • Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., a vertical indoor farming company producing leafy greens and herbs and delivering them locally to grocery stores in Texas and nearby states. Pick up Dream Harvest products at a Whole Foods location, and read more about the company.
  • This year has been a big one for the growing Bread Man Baking Co., as the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston. Pick up some of the company's products at Whole Foods or HEB. Read more about the company.
  • A new, “hyperpure” oxygen-enriched water brand has rolled out in Houston in single-serve and subscription options. Dubbed HOW — Hyperpure Oxygenated Water — the award-winning super-filtered water (via a 14-level filtration process that removes impurities down to the nano-level .0001 microns) is now available at 35 specialty retailers around town. Read more about the company.

Sugar Land-based Fish Fixe floated their seafood delivery service on Shark Tank last year. Photo via Shark Tank

After catching a deal on Shark Tank, these Houston-area fish foodies swim toward more funding

reeling in cash

The benefits of working more fish into your diet are as endless as the vast ocean itself, but going about buying and cooking fish is an expensive and daunting process.

Houstonians Melissa Harrington and Emily Castro thought they could help and launched Fish Fixe in 2017 to tackle these challenges and bring high quality seafood direct to consumers. Fish Fixe delivers seafood with easy-to-access instructions on storage and thawing — plus cooking recipes that take around 20 minutes.

The duo launched the company in 2017 and appeared on the 13th season of Shark Tank last year. In 2020, with more people avoiding grocery stores and restaurants, they saw a 400-percent increase in sales. They pitched asking for $200,000 in investment. Lori Greiner, the "queen of QVC," took the bait — and 25 percent equity.

“COVID-19, which forced more people to eat at home and adopt direct-to-consumer services, and Shark Tank were both spring boards for our sales, and through these events we've been able to retain many customers,” says Harrington.

In order to sustain this growth and provide more opportunities to scale, Harrington and Castro put the Shark Tank investment into their distribution line and moved everything into a centralized distribution center which replenishes distribution centers in other parts of the country.

“By late Q2, we will have four distribution centers that can hit 99 percent of the US in less than two days,” says Harrington.

Up next, Harrington and Castro have their sights set on the customer experience and the content space, which they hope to support with some outside funding.

“We are going to go raise some money because we truly feel that with the right resources we can scale and serve more people and spread the message,” says Harrington. “The hard work, we kind of feel like, has already been done in the setup and now it’s time to go have fun and go market, which is really fun.”

Prior to Fish Fixe, Harrington and Castro both worked in food and beverage. Harrington worked in the live lobster business and sold lobsters to high-end Houston restaurants and HEB. Castro worked in wine and spirits and managed a team of 50 sales professionals. Leveraging that depth of experience, they were able to bring Fish Fixe from concept to market in 90 days.

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Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

2 Houston high schools rank among America's top 100 in 2024, says U.S. News

best in class

Two Houston high schools are dominating U.S. News and World Report's prestigious annual list of the country's best public high schools.

The 2024 rankings from U.S. News, released April 23, put Houston ISD’s Carnegie Vanguard High School at No. 31 nationally (up from No. 35 last year and No. 40 in 2022) among the country’s best high schools. The school also ranks No. 248 nationally among the best STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) high schools and No. 12 among the best magnet high schools.

Meanwhile, DeBakey High School for Health Professions ranks No. 70 nationally among the best high schools (down from No. 66 last year and No. 50 in 2022) and No. 19 among best magnet high schools. DeBakey ranked No. 426 nationally among best STEM high schools.

Topping the national list for 2024 is the BASIS Peoria Charter School in Peoria, Arizona.

Each year, U.S. News evaluates about 18,000 high schools on six factors: college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth, and graduation rates.

“The 2024 Best High Schools rankings offer a starting point for parents to understand a school’s academic performance, whether it’s a prospective school or one that their child is already attending,” said LaMont Jones, Ed.D., the managing editor of education at U.S. News, in a release. “Accessible data on our high schools can empower families across the country as they navigate today’s educational environment and plan for the future.”

Elsewhere in Texas
Around the state, these Texas high schools also made it into the top 100 nationally:

  • Dallas ISD's The School for the Talented and Gifted, No. 6 (unchanged from last year). No. 21 nationally among the best STEM high schools, and No. 3 among the best magnet high schools.
  • Dallas ISD's Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School, No. 23 (down from No. 18 last year) and No. 10 nationally among the best magnet high schools.
  • Dallas ISD's Science and Engineering Magnet School, No. 29 nationally among the best high schools (down from No. 23 last year), No. 37 nationally among the best STEM high schools, and No. 11 nationally among the best magnet high schools.
  • Grand Prairie ISD's Collegiate Institute, No. 30 (up from No. 188 last year). No. 6 nationally among best charter high schools.
  • Austin ISD’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy, No. 38 (down from No. 32 last year and No. 34 in 2022). No. 34 nationally among the best STEM high schools.
  • BASIS San Antonio - Shavano Campus, No. 64 (up from No. 81 last year and No. 77 in 2022). No. 76 nationally among the best STEM high schools and No. 13 nationally among the best charter high schools.
  • Brownsville ISD's Early College High School, No. 71 (up from No. 229 last year).
  • Dallas ISD’s Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet, No. 85 (up from No. 93 last year and No. 48 in 2022) . No. 21 nationally among the best magnet high schools.

When broken down just to Texas schools, Houston's Carnegie Vanguard High School (No. 5) and DeBakey High School for Health Professions (No. 8) are both in the top 10 best-rated public high schools in Texas this year, U.S. News says.

Other Houston-area schools that rank among Texas' 100 best are:

  • No. 24 – Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Arts, Houston ISD
  • No. 25 – Challenge Early College High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 29 – Young Women's College Prep Academy, Houston ISD
  • No. 32 – Eastwood Academy, Houston ISD
  • No. 37 – Harmony School of Innovation - Katy, Katy
  • No. 40 – Kerr High School, Alief ISD, Houston
  • No. 43 – Houston Academy for International Studies, Houston ISD
  • No. 47 – East Early College High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 59 – Clear Horizons Early College High School, Clear Creek ISD, Houston
  • No. 61 – Seven Lakes High School, Katy ISD
  • No. 63 – Early College Academy at Southridge, Spring ISD, Houston
  • No. 68 – KIPP Houston High School, Houston
  • No. 70 – North Houston Early College High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 71 – Victory Early College High School, Aldine ISD, Houston
  • No. 75 – Tompkins High School, Katy ISD
  • No. 76 – Clements High School, Fort Bend ISD, Sugar Land
  • No. 82 – Sharpstown International School, Houston ISD
  • No. 85 – Tomball Star Academy, Tomball ISD
  • No. 89 – Westchester Academy for International Studies, Spring Branch ISD, Houston
  • No. 95 – Harmony School of Innovation - Sugar Land, Sugar Land
  • No. 97 – Harmony School of Discovery - Houston, Houston
  • No. 98 – Energy Institute High School, Houston ISD

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.