The Houston Founder Institute graduated its 2024 cohort this month, celebrating the class on May 21. The organization also opened applications for its next round. Photo via Getty Images

The latest cohort of promising Houston startups has made it through the local program for the the world's largest pre-seed startup accelerator.

The Houston Founder Institute graduated its 2024 cohort this month, celebrating the class on May 21. The organization also opened applications for its next round.

"After meticulous selection process and intense four months of aggressive business-building sprints, constant evaluation, and feedback from investors and mentors, just 6 companies were able to make it through," the organization writes in a blog post. "Each of these Founders have demonstrated a high level of perseverance and creativity, and their businesses have been thoroughly vetted and supported by a panel of Houston's top startup experts and investors."

The newest alumni of the Houston program include:

  • Quickgredients, a company that's empowering diners with dietary needs and attract new customers for food businesses through targeted marketing and efficient management.
  • Truckersfinder, a platform connecting trucking companies to essential service providers to streamline their operations.
  • SEKCO, which is developing a technology to help laundry business operators offer a service to wash and press in five minutes or less by integrating wet vacuum cleaning and pressing in manual or automated stations.
  • Gym Rat, a hardware-software integration to improve and better track the fitness experience.
  • ReachAI is impowering small and medium-sized enterprises to elevate their digital footprint and online visibility through cutting-edge marketing strategies and comprehensive web presence optimization solutions.
  • STEMperts, a platform that's helping students learn better and improve grades by engaging them through a combination of interests and learning styles.

Houston Founder Institute is run by local directors James Phelan, Martín Martinez, Mery Ramirez, and Natasha Gorodetsky.

Following the completion of the program, the portfolio companies continue to have access to the Founder Institute's global network and post-graduate support programs to continue building their business.

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

Houston startup seeks to simplify sustainable fashion

design innovation

When the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, people found themselves at home with a surplus of free time. Puzzles covered dining room tables, remnants of new hobbies were strewn across dens, TikTok dances were rehearsed, and television was binged. Maria Burgos found herself watching Netflix’s “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which inspired her to clean out her closet. In practicing Kondo’s dogma of parting with items that don’t “spark joy,” Burgos uncovered a bigger issue to purge: America’s unsustainable fashion industry.

With piles of clothing ready for a new home, Burgos searched for reliable organizations to donate her possessions. Her research led her to learn more about the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment.

According to Slate, almost 24 billion pounds of clothes and shoes are thrown out each year — more than double what we tossed two decades ago. Americans consume more than 20 billion garments each year, and each garment can be expected to be worn around seven times, according to The Wall Street Journal. We’re buying more clothing than ever when clothing is at its lowest cost.

A $17.99 linen crop top from H&M may seem like a steal, but the low price tag poses a much greater cost for the environment. Low-quality garments have a bleak chance of finding a secondhand home, and 80 percent of donated clothing won’t ever be seen see a charity shop rack. While some used clothing gets recycled as insulation, others end up in containers that overwhelm charities abroad or sit in landfills.

After donating her items to a local church, Burgos sought to be more sustainable and decided to try secondhand shopping.

“The good news was that I had so many options, new with tags, great conditions…the bad news was that it was so much that I ended up being frustrated because I didn't find what I liked,” she says. “I had to spend hours of my time scrolling thousands of items, dozens of filters, multiple platforms."

She asked herself why there wasn’t a website where she could find items in one place. “That was the genesis of Trendy Seconds,” she shares.

Maria Burgos founded Trendy Seconds to streamline second-hand shopping. Photo courtesy

Burgos has always been drawn to entrepreneurial aspirations. The Venezuela native started her first company, a film magazine, while in college. She studied dentistry and graduated with an offer to become a professor at her university, which she turned down to explore her passion for marketing further. After moving to Spain to obtain an MBA, she gained experience working for large corporations like 3M and GlaxoSmithKline.

Living in countries around the world and dipping her toes into different industries, Burgos gained a unique resume. When she came to the United States, she was eager to get her work permit. She obtained a real estate license and even began working at a startup before having her second child.

“I don't ever have the profile that is right to do what I'm doing at the moment, professionally. That has been something that I considered years ago as a disadvantage, [but] that has been my advantage because I come with a fresh pair of eyes,” she explains. “I solve problems differently, and I throw ideas out there that maybe other people don't,” she continues.

When she thought of Trendy Seconds, Burgos was trying to solve the issues she faced while striving to be a conscious consumer.

“I know that there are many other women like myself that are trying to make better choices, but right now, it's too hard,” she says.

She applied and graduated from the Founders Institute and won a Frost Bank grant to join Impact Hub Houston’s accelerator program.

“The accelerator opened up a lot of doors for me, and I went through all of them,” she shares.

Burgos launched Trendy Seconds, as an online marketplace where women can find pre-owned clothing or shop for new clothing from sustainable brands. The company shares items from more than 50 brands that can be searched by category, style, size, price, condition, and positive impact. To ensure the clothing is high quality, shoppers will find only gently-used or new items featured on Trendy Seconds.

Shoppers can have a much more cultivated experience on Trendy Seconds. Image courtesy

“We work with a fashion stylist to curate the product assortment because one thing that happens is analysis paralysis. When you have too many choices, you don't take action,” says Burgos.

Trendy Seconds creates wardrobe capsules that include an assortment of versatile styles that can be mixed and matched together. Visitors can search for various styles like beachwear, spring/summer, maternity, and special occasion attire.

Burgos has aligned with online secondhand marketplaces as well as sustainable clothing websites, where shoppers are redirected once they find items to purchase. She uses the United Nations’ sustainability goals to vet vendors and determine which brands to include on the website. Some featured eco-conscious brands include Christy Dawn, Eileen Fisher, Soul Flower, and Allbirds.

“Our ultimate goal is to make responsible consumption super easy,” Burgos explains.

Trendy Seconds is currently fundraising and Burgos is looking to bring in investors as she expands the company.

In the future, Burgos wants Trendy Seconds to evolve past the online marketplace and become a resource for circular fashion.

“How we envision this is that we will give the opportunity to consumers to come to the site and not just buy clothes, but actually purchase products and services that can help them increase the life of the clothes that they already have,” she shares.

“I believe that the best way to create a really good, like, motivated consumer audience is by letting them know how can they how can they help,” says Burgos.

Palo Alto-based Founder Institute is launching its Houston program at Station Houston. Image courtesy Founder Institute

Exclusive: Global early stage accelerator program launches second Texas location in Houston

New to town

Silicon Valley-based Founder Institute has announced its second Texas program in Houston, which will operate out of Station Houston. Founder Institute Houston applications for the inaugural cohort close May 19.

The early stage accelerator focuses on advancing startup companies in the pre-funding phase.

"It's quite different from any other program in Houston currently," says Neal Murthy, director of Founder Institute Houston. "It's an accelerator, but it's an idea-stage accelerator."

Before Founder Institute, Houston's only early stage opportunities were tied to universities — like the University of Houston's Red Labs or Rice University's Owl Spark — and those are typically focused on the university's community and on education, Murthy says.

In anticipation of launch, Founder Institute Houston will host a series of free entrepreneurial events, with the first one being March 19.

The Houston chapter will be ran by three directors: Murthy, a UH lecturer and angel investor, James Phelan, innovation expert with a real estate background, and Tabbie Saenz, Alice community leader and Baker Ripley mentor. Martin Martinez, managing director of Founder Institute Texas, who launched the Austin program, will also join the team.

"What's nice about our team is because we were already colleagues and friends prior to coming together on this project, we already have rapor, we can communicate, and we know each other's working styles, strengths, and weaknesses," says Phelan.

Founded in 2009 by Adeo Ressi and Jonathan Greechan, Founder Institute has chapters in 180 cities in 65 countries. They've contributed to 3,500 companies that have now raised over $800 million.

"Houston's supportive startup community and its affordable living costs have inspired a lot of entrepreneurial enthusiasm in the city. Every year, more co-working spaces and incubators move to Houston and it's now easier to launch a startup here than ever before. We aim to help that trend," Ressi says in a release. "I believe that our structured accelerator program will give potential founders the guidance they need to launch successful technology companies in Houston."

Every chapter focuses on the same idea-stage type of company and selects around 30 companies to participate in a 14-week course of education, mentorship, and business development. The cohort spends around three hours a week in educational programming, but then is expected to spend 20 to 25 hours a week working assignments and business development. It's designed to be tough. Usually, only around 10 founders of the 30 will cross the finish line.

"If they can't handle this course, then there's no way they're going to be a successful founder because this course is a breeze compared to running a company," says Phalen.

The Founder Institute alumni network is huge, and is one of the program's biggest perks. Not only do participants get access to a network successful founders, but they also usually have a foot in the door at the next stage of competitive accelerator programs.

"That's an enormously valuable thing from a fundraising aspect if you have the support from another successful founder standing next to you, vouching for you," Phelan says.

Another thing that makes Founder Institute different is, rather than operating off an equity approach, Founder Institute and its local directors receive warrants from each participating company. And, fellow founders and even program mentors receive a cut too.

"The sharing of that [means] everyone has economic incentives and it encourages collaboration among the cohort itself," Murthy says.

Founder Institute's expansion plan for Texas doesn't end at Austin and Houston. Two other locations in Dallas and San Antonio are also in route to the Lone Star State. However, Houston's a bit different of a city to be in, with it's diversity and large size.

"We are going to be targeting a very diverse community as well. We want to have everyone who hasn't had a chance to access resources like this," Saenz says.

Murthy, who has been a mentor for the Founder Institute in Austin, says it's so remarkable to see how much these founders accomplish in the 14 weeks, and he can't wait to see that affect the Houston ecosystem.

"We think that Houston needs a number of new elements to fill out its ecosystem, and this is one of them — an idea-stage accelerator," Murthy says. "We've seen the success it's had in Austin and globally, and we're hoping to bring that to Houston."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

How this Houston innovator is using his personal connection to ALS fuel his fight for a cure

guest column

We can never predict how our lives will turn out, but then maybe some of us can. Genetic testing showed that I, like my grandfather, aunt, uncle and father before me, would most likely die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, and/or frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) in my 40s.

Being 36, it’s possible that fear could have overtaken my life, but instead I chose to fight for every chance to change not only my life, but the lives of millions who are suffering or may one day suffer from neurodegenerative disease.

ALS is a rare disease that robs one of their ability to control their muscles, leading them to lose their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe. Eighty percent of cases are sporadic (of unknown origin) and 20 percent have known genetic causes.

When I learned that I carried the C9ORF72 genetic variant, a causative genetic variant for ALS/FTD) my first instincts were to help others understand their status and where they could turn for help. I saw a vacuum for resources and understanding in the genetic ALS space and I knew that thousands were suffering in darkness.

Through the efforts of many, we created the first ever nonprofit – Genetic ALS & FTD: End the Legacy – focused on fighting for the genetic ALS and FTD communities. After making great strides to fight for our rights and access to care, I was asked if I could help my current CEO, Howard Berman, commercialize Dr. Stanley Appel’s regulatory T Cell (Treg) therapy for ALS.

I joined Coya Therapeutics in 2021 as the first employee, working to build a company that would one day bring life changing therapies to patients. Coya’s therapies are based on Dr. Appel’s discovery that neurodegenerative diseases drive an inflammatory response. As inflammation rises, it damages regulatory T cells, and when Tregs are damaged, inflammation becomes a persistent condition driving degeneration and eventually death.

It was at that point that my life changed from the advocacy world to the therapeutic world. Now over three years later, we are closer than ever to making a paradigm change for how patients with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases are treated.

At Coya, we believe that combination biologics are the future of treating neurodegenerative diseases. COYA 302 is our lead asset, which has shown promising results in a proof-of-concept study released in March of 2023. We are currently working towards a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial for COYA 302 in ALS set to kick off later this year.

I never wanted to live a life so damned by disease, but when put between a rock and a hard place, the only choice is to fight. I don’t know how my life will end, but I hope that my children will know that I faced a great challenge head on with pride and resilience.

In the end, it is the combination of both the worlds I work in that lead to better outcomes for patients, raising awareness and lifesaving research. This ALS Awareness Month, please join us and our partners like the ALS Association, End the Legacy, and I AM ALS in raising awareness about these conditions, their risks, and treatment options.

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Daniel Barvin is the vice president of operations and patient advocacy at Coya Therapeutics.

Early-stage cancer-fighting startup raises pre-seed, launches under Houston life science leader

ready to grow

Fannin Partners has done it again. The Houston-based life science development group behind medtech companies Procyrion and Allterum Therapeutics announced yesterday that it has launched Radiomer Therapeutics. With an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding, Radiomer joins the $242 million-strong Fannin portfolio.

Radiomer uses Fannin’s proprietary Raptamer platform to target vectors and ligands for theranostic application. The cancer-fighting technology is a targeting agent that can address serious maladies including breast, lung, colorectal, prostate, and head and neck cancers.

And with Radiomer’s launch, Fannin is moving with its trademark aggressiveness. Lead programs expected to complete Phase 0 imaging/dosimetry trial(s) in cancer patients in the first quarter of next year. Those will be closely followed by therapeutic programs.

“Raptamers combine antibody level affinities with desirable physical and pharmacokinetic properties, and a rapid path to clinic,” Dr. Atul Varadhachary, CEO of Radiomer Therapeutics and Fannin managing partner, says in a press release. “We are deploying this unique platform to develop novel therapies against attractive first-in-class oncology targets.”

Varadhachary has operated Radiomer in stealth mode since its 2023 inception. However, Raptamer has been in the company’s portfolio since 2019. The new company has been using the platform to generate data with the rights to radiopharmaceutical applications for the past year.

“Our lead programs include Radiomers targeting both well-established and first-in-class cancer targets,” adds Dr. Phil Breitfeld, Radiomer’s chief medical officer. “Our imaging/dosimetry trials are designed to provide clinical evidence of tumor targeting and biodistribution information, positioning us to rapidly initiate a therapeutic program(s) if successful.”

For over a decade, Fannin has developed and supported promising life science innovations by garnering grant funding and using its team of expert product developers to build out the technology or treatment. The life science innovation timeline is very different from a software startup's, which can get to an early prototype in less than a year.

"In biotech, to get to that minimally viable product, it can take a decade and tens of millions of dollars," Varadhachary said on the Houston Innovators Podcast earlier this year.