A Houston software company has announced the five early-stage startups it will be supporting through its new venture studio. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based technology consultancy with a portfolio of Fortune 500 clients has announced the five companies it will be supporting in its new startup studio.

Softeq Development Corporation announced its inaugural cohort for the Softeq Venture Studio. The program, which will be offered quarterly for four to six startups each cohort, is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses.

"Historically, most tech startups had a founder with development skills. However, we're now seeing more and more business people, doctors, and other professionals start companies, and they need a strong engineering partner to develop their products," says Christopher A. Howard, Softeq founder and CEO, in a news release. "We take it several steps further with the Venture Studio providing technology business consulting, development services, and much-needed cash. We're a vested partner, so we also help secure follow-on funding for continued growth."

Christopher A. Howard is the founder and CEO of Softeq. Photo courtesy of Softeq

The group of startups are from the Bay Area, New York, Boston, and Houston and represents several industries, including sports tech, med-tech, and lifestyle tech. The founders of all five of the early-stage startups will work in Houston from October through December in their provided office space at FUSE in CITYCENTRE near the Softeq corporate headquarters in the Energy Corridor. Participating companies each receive $100,000 in cash and development services in exchange for a small piece of equity in their company, per the release. Serial entrepreneur Billy Grandy will lead the program.

"Most early-stage accelerators focus on the business aspects of a startup," says Grandy. "Adding the enterprise-focused development resources of Softeq helps startups de-risk the effort and puts future investors at ease. Furthermore, Houston's rapidly growing innovation ecosystem and access to an active investment community and tech-forward business leaders make this city a perfect venue for startups."

The companies selected for the fall cohort are:

  • Atlas Coaching is a marketplace to connect female sports celebrities, pros, and coaches with fans looking to improve their game and receive digital training.
  • FitLift improves strength training techniques and reduces injuries through a mobile app and wearable device that tracks precise motion and provides feedback.
  • GetScouted aims to provide a verifiable source of athletes' performance and statistics to coaches and scouts using biometric analysis and analytics.
  • Home Outside is democratizing landscape design by making it simple, affordable, automated, easy to visualize, and integrated through AI and 1-click ordering.
  • Orcana is a medical technology startup utilizing augmented reality and AI to provide 24/7 remote support for operating rooms to reps, surgeons, and surgical teams.

The applications are already open for the winter cohort, which will be held mid-January through March of 2022. Companies can apply until December 11, 2021, at www.softeq.com/venture-studio.

Softeq also announced its Innovation Lab last year. The lab is in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Integrated Design and Management program and Massachusetts-based Boundless Technology and is directed at helping enterprise companies collaborate on the technologies of tomorrow.

Howard recently discussed with InnovationMap his passion for cultivating technology innovation in Houston on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to it below.


Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? These ones are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Here's which of the InnovationMap Awards finalists are hiring

growing biz

After scouring Houston for the best of the Houston innovation ecosystem and evaluating dozens of companies, InnovationMap has announced the finalists in its inaugural awards. But which of these companies are growing their teams?

Turns out, almost all of them have open positions — some planning to double their teams over the next year. In fact, the 28 companies that make up our cohort of finalists are looking for over 250 new employees — some have these positions open now and others are seeking these new team members over the next 12 months.

Let's look at how many new hires these top startups are looking for.

Biggest gains

The InnovationMap Awards finalist with the loftiest hiring goal is Liongard, which is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category. Liongard — a platform that helps IT companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems — is looking to fill 70 positions over the next year. The company, founded in 2015, has just over 100 employees now.

The startup finalist with the second highest hiring goals is Nanotech, a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech is looking to hire over 40 new employees in the next 12 months, which would almost triple its current staff of 15. Founded in 2019 by Mike Francis, the company is a finalist in both the Energy Transition and People's Choice categories.

Another People's Choice finalist, GoCo, and its all-in-one employee management platform, is currently looking to grow its team by adding 20 new employees to its staff of 53. The company was founded in 2015 and has since raised over $12 million in VC funding.

Also looking to grow their team by 20 new hires is Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company, co-founded by Carolyn Rodz, is up for an award in the BIPOC-Founded, Female-Founded, and People's Choice categories.

GoExpedi, whose founder and CEO Timothy Neal is a finalist in the Top Founder Under 40 category, currently has 17 positions open at the moment and is looking to add those new hires into its team of over 150 employees. The e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).

While Female-Founded Business finalist RingOn — a wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking — is only currently looking for six new hires, the company is expecting to hiring another 15 new employees next year. Right now, the company's employee count is at three.

Steady growth

A few of the awards finalists are sporting hiring goals in the seven to 12 new staffers range. Space Tech finalist NANCO Aero, which is developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles, is hiring a dozen new employees — a big goal considering the company currently has just four employees.

Enercross LLC, automation software for the energy industry, is a finalist in the Energy Transition category and is looking to add 11 new people to its team of 42. Meanwhile Sports Tech finalist sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events — is looking to about double its team of 10 over the few months.

Health Tech finalist Medical Informatics Corp. is the creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions. The company has seven open positions to grow its team of 36.

Seeking selectively

The following InnovationMap Awards finalists are looking to grow their teams with between two and six new hires:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Find out which of these employers take home the win at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

And the finalists for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards are... Graphic via Gow Media

InnovationMap names 28 Houston startup finalists for inaugural awards

who will take home the win?

Who are Houston's rising stars across energy transition, sports tech, health, and more? InnovationMap set out on a quest to discover that for its inaugural awards. Ahead of the September 8 event, we're revealing the finalists across all categories.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: JulianaGaraizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs; Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon; Rajasekhar Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO of Techwave; Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap; Serafina Lalany, interim president at Houston Exponential; Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge; Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center; and Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

The winners will be announced and celebrated — along with this year's previously announced Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger of Chevron Technology Ventures — at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business Award category, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.

Female-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business Award category presented by Veritex Community Bank, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by women, include:

  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • RingOn — wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Health Care Business Finalists

The finalists for the Health Care Business Award category presented by Gray Reed, which honors health care businesses with an innovative solution within life sciences, include:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.

Energy Transition Business Finalists

The finalists for the Energy Transition Business category, which honors energy business with innovative solutions within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, and beyond, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • Enercross LLC — automation software for the energy industry.
  • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Renewell Energy — converting idle oil and gas wells into flexible energy storage.

Sports Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Sports Tech Business category, which is honoring a sports tech business with an innovative solution within sports are:

  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • Mainline — an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.
  • sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events.

Space Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Space Tech Business category, which is honoring an aerospace business with an innovative solution within space exploration. are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • NANCO Aero — developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles.

Top Founder Under 40 Finalists

The finalists for the Top Founder Under 40 category, which honors an innovative founder younger than 40 by Sept. 8, 2021, are:

  • Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Timothy Neal of GoExpedi — an e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company that is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).
  • Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds.
  • Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Emily Cisek of The Postage — a legacy planning platform using tech to make afterlife decision making easier.

People’s Choice: Startup of the Year Finalists

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, which will each present a 60-second live elevator pitch at the event on September 8, are:

    • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
    • GoCo — all-in-one employee management platform.
    • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
    • Liongard — a platform that helps Information Technology companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems.
    • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
    • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
    • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.

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    Houston immuno-oncology company reaches next FDA milestone, heads to phase 2 trial

    green light

    A Houston immuno-oncology company has recently made major headway with the FDA, including both a fast track and an orphan drug designation. It will soon start a phase 2 trial of its promising cancer fighting innovation.

    Diakonos Oncology was born in 2016, the brainchild of Baylor researchers already hard at work in the realm of dendritic cell vaccines. Drs. Will Decker, Matt Halpert, and Vanaja Konduri partnered with Dan Faust, a Houston businessman and pharmacist, to bring their treatment to the public, says COO Jay Hartenbach.

    The name Diakonos means “deacon or servant in Greek,” he explains. “A lot of companies end up focusing on treating a specific disease or cancer and what you end up having is a significant amount of potential but with a lot of tradeoffs and downsides. And so our goal is we need to eliminate the cancer but we can't harm or dramatically malign the patient in doing so.”

    How do they do that? Because the therapy catalyzes a natural immune response, it’s the patient’s own body that’s fighting the cancer. Hartenbach credits Decker with the idea of educating dendritic cells to attack cancer, in this case, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), one of the most aggressive cancers with which doctors and patients are forced to tangle.

    “Our bodies are already very good at responding very quickly and aggressively to what it perceives as virally infected cells. And so what Dr. Decker did was basically trick the immune system by infecting these dendritic cells with the cancer specific protein and mRNA,” details Hartenbach.

    Jay Hartenbach is the COO of Diakonos Oncology. Photo courtesy of Diakonos Oncology

    But GBM isn’t the only cancer on which Diakonos Oncology has its sights set. Other notably stubborn-to-treat cancers that they’re working on include pancreatic cancer and angiosarcoma. The scientists are focused on meeting unmet medical needs, but also realize that treating such cancers would allow for the fastest determination of whether or not the treatment was effective.

    The fast track designation, originally received last fall, means that the drug approval time for DOC1021, Diakonos’ glioblastoma vaccine, will be only six months. But Hartenbach highlights an additional boon, the fact that the special designation also allows for more frequent communications with the FDA.

    “That’s very helpful for us, right as we're contemplating how to design the upcoming trials. From a business standpoint, it also is incredibly helpful because it provides a third party validation of what we're doing and the results that we're seeing,” he says.

    What they’re seeing includes the survival of 13 out of 16 patients from the initial October 2021 enrollment. The three patients who passed away received the lowest dose of DOC1021. Hartenbach says that the remaining patients are thriving, with no serious adverse effects. With a median survival rate of 15 to 21 months, it’s hard to understate the significance of these patients’ success.

    Diakonos Oncology is headquartered in Houston, with a staff of 10 in Space City and an additional eight distributed employees. Hartenbach says that the company’s hometown has been instrumental in its success. He mentions that the robust innovation of the Texas Medical Center meant that as the company has grown, there has never been a motivation to leave Houston.

    “You're having a lot of both investment and companies actually moving to Houston,” Hartenbach says. “So we’ve been fortunate to have started there. There are bigger traditional biotech hubs, San Diego, Boston, and San Francisco, but Houston really is now putting itself on the map and it's getting a lot of attention.”

    One of the companies responsible for that improved reputation? Diakonos Oncology and its promising approach to aggressive cancers.

    Houston professor earns competitive NSF award, nearly $700,000 grant

    science supported

    An assistant professor at Rice University has won one of the highly competitive National Science Foundation's CAREER Awards.

    The award grants $670,406 over five years to Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched, according to a statement from Rice. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

    “My goal is to create a new paradigm for designing elastomers,” Marciel said in a statement. “The research has four aims: to determine the role of comb polymer topology in forming elastomers, understanding the effects of that topology on elastomer mechanics, characterizing its effects on elastomer structure and increasing the intellectual diversity in soft matter research.”

    Marciel, who joined the faculty at Rice in 2019, is one of about 500 researchers to receive the NSF's CAREER Award each year. The award recognizes early-career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF.

    In addition to supporting Marciel's research, the funds will also go toward creating opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists. It will establish a new annual symposium called the Texas Soft Matter Meeting, where community college teachers can participate in a soft matter laboratory module and students in the Research Experiences for Undergrads program at Rice will present their summer research.

    Recently, Rice also launched the new Rice Synthetic Biology Institute, which aims to strengthen the synthetic biology community across disciplines at the university. It is part of an $82 million investment the university put toward synthetic biology, neuroengineering and physical biology in 2018.

    A fellow team or Rice researcher is also working on wearable haptic accessories. A member of the team was recently named to the 2024 cohort of Rice Innovation Fellows. Click here to learn more.