The latest Houston cohort for gBETA has been announced. Photo courtesy of gBETA

The sixth Houston cohort for global startup accelerator and investor gener8tor's gBETA program is underway, and five Houston early-stage companies have joined the program.

The no-equity program, which is based out of the Downtown Launchpad, kicked off in September and lasts seven weeks. In that time, the startups are connected to a national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

“This gener8tor Houston cohort is among our strongest yet,” says Robert Pieroni, director of Economic Development at Central Houston Inc., in the news release. “We are excited about the caliber of entrepreneurs the Downtown Launchpad is attracting and the entrepreneurial ecosystem being created.”

The program concludes at a public showcase event at 5 pm on November 17 at Amegy Bank Courtyard.

“I’m thrilled about this cohort,” says Muriel Foster, gBETA Houston director, in the release. “We’ve seen the incredible economic impact of the gBETA program in other parts of the country, and we’re excited to bring that same impact to Houston.”

Here are the members of gBETA Houston's latest cohort:

CultureLancer

CultureLancer's all-in-one career-focused platform connects students at HBCUs with opportunities to gain industry-specific education and experience. CultureLancer also provides companies with the ability to source qualified diverse talent to meet their needs. CultureLancer has onboarded 30 students with each completing certification in digital marketing, closing on two contracts, and currently onboarding companies for beta testing.

EYF

EYF gamifies financial literacy education and provides children with a fun alternative to educational programming. EYF aims to teach financial literacy and economics in a fun, interactive, and applicable way. EYF is set to go to market at the end of of the year.

Oodles

Oodles automates the sales process and 24/7 customer service for e-commerce retailers through a conversational AI chatbot. Leveraging AI and machine learning, Oodles chatbot results in significant cost savings for retailers and improves customer retention and loyalty. Oodles has currently raised a seed round of $280,000, launched the product, and onboarded 10 customers.

SafetyKay

SafetyKay LLC promotes safety awareness to young children. SafetyKay focuses on decreasing fatality and accident rates among children ages 5-12 years by teaching them critical health and safety skills. SafetyKay's current safety awareness material has been viewed 81,359 times and it is currently in the process of transitioning into a mobile app platform.

Stobridge Education Inc.

Stobridge Education Inc. connects students with mentors and postsecondary education college, career and life resources for better outcomes. Through its comprehensive and fully integrated web and mobile platform, Stobridge Education is a safer alternative to LinkedIn for high school students. Stobridge Education has engaged with over 1,000 participants through their nonprofit partner, Adeiur and has implemented its module curriculum in two universities and four student-serving organizations.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance, Trevor Best of Syzygy Plasmonics, and Muriel Foster of gBETA Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from cleantech to startup acceleration — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Kerri Smith, managing director of the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

As the managing director for the Rice Alliance for Entrepreneurship and Technology's Clean Energy Accelerator, Kerri Smith is focused not only on the program's cohorts but on supporting the Houston cleantech ecosystem as a whole. CEA works with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on a recent Houston Innovators Podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the growth of his cleantech startup. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

Trevor Best is gearing up to fundraise for and scale his cleantech startup, Syzygy Plasmonics. The company has also grown its team to 60 people and is preparing to move into a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pearland this summer.

"What we're seeing is the market's appetite for our kind of technology — deep tech for decarbonization in energy and chemicals — is really high. If we want to meet global demand for our product, we need to get ready to scale," Best says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Best is keeping a close eye what the market will be looking for, and the interest seems to be in hydrogen as a clean energy solution, which has positioned Syzygy in a great place. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class, and the new leader that will oversee the program. Muriel Foster is the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor. Click here to read more.

The latest cohort from gBETA Houston has been announced and is currently underway at the Downtown Launchpad. Photo courtesy

Early-stage startup accelerator names latest Houston cohort, new local leader

new to Hou

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class.

Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor has announced today the five participating startups in gBETA Houston. The program will be led by Muriel Foster, the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which originally launched in Houston in 2020 thanks to a grant from from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

The program, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more, is based in the Downtown Launchpad, and is free and does not take equity in the participating companies. The cohort kicked off on April 21 and concludes on June 10.

The new cohort includes:

  • Founded by CEO Steffie Thomson a year ago, Getaway Sticks has designed a shoe that gives women the painless support they need using athletic foam to create a shoe that gives women the painless support they need. Getaway Sticks provides the solutions to women’s #1 wardrobe complaint of high heel pain. Since launch, the company has earned over $35,000 in revenue from over 150 customers.
  • Through a combination of software and hardware technology, LocBox is rethinking the shopping experience for online and local purchases. If you shop, ship, or have food delivered to your house, LocBox will make your life easier. Led by CEO Sterling Sansing, LocBox has previously participated in the Texas A&M MBA Venture Challenge.
  • SpeakHaus is focused on equipping young professionals and entrepreneurs with public speaking skills through its on-demand training platform and group coaching program. Since launching in October 2021, SpeakHaus has facilitated 6 corporate trainings and coached 61 business leaders generating over $49,000 in revenue. The company is led by CEO Christa Clarke.
  • Led by CEO LaGina Harris, The Us Space is creating spaces intentionally for women of color, women-led businesses, and women-centric organizations. Since launching in June 2021, The Us Space has created partnerships with more than a dozen community organizations, sustainable businesses, and organizations creating positive economic impact in the City of Houston.
  • Founded in August 2021, Urban Eatz Delivery is a food delivery service app that caters to the overlooked and underrepresented restaurants, food trucks, and home-based food vendors. Urban Eatz Delivery has earned over $88,000 in revenue, delivered to over 2,000 users, and worked with 36 restaurant and food vendors on the app. The company is led by CEO D’Andre Good.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

it's Foster's first cohort at the helm of the program. A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor.

The program is housed at the Downtown Launchpad. The five startups will have access to the space to meet with mentors, attend events, and run their companies.

"Creating (the hub) was a little like a moonshot, but it’s paying off and contributing enormous impact to the city’s economy. The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Spring cohort will continue that legacy,” says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. “As these entrepreneurs chase their dreams and create something epic, they will know Downtown Houston is standing behind them. I am so proud of what Downtown Launchpad is already, and what it will become.”

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

Kate Evinger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from gBETA Houston. Photo courtesy of gBETA

New Houston accelerator leader dives into first cohort

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 83

Everything's bigger in Texas, but Kate Evinger is focused on zeroing in on a small group of startups to help them in a Texas-sized way.

As director of gBETA Houston, Evinger says the program, which expanded to Houston in 2019, is geared toward supporting companies as they navigate the initial challenges of starting a company.

"We look at early-stage companies, so those that are pre-seed or seed-stage that are looking for mentorship or support," Evinger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "and we help get to that next step whether that's to raise an upcoming round or if they are looking to get into an equity-based accelerator program."

The program runs two 7-week cohorts a year — and only five companies join each round. This tight-knit group is to the cohort's advantage, Evinger says.

"It's a very small group that we bring in, and we do this very purposefully, because we like to use a concierge approach, meaning that we tailor the experience to each of the five company's personal goals," she explains.

This week, gBETA Houston announced the latest cohort's member companies, which includes five Houston-based companies: Veza, Upbrainery, FareUpThere, Custodian Corp., and Clyr.

The program, which is a part of Wisconsin-based gener8tor, began May 6 and concludes July 7 with a pitch day. The local operation is housed out of the Downtown Launchpad alongside Impact Hub Houston and MassChallenge Texas.

"The Downtown Launchpad is a phenomenal space," Evinger says. "It's a really amazing collaborative ecosystem for our companies to be able to leverage."

Evinger shares more about the new cohort growth and gener8tor's other opportunities on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


This week's Houston innovators to know includes Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund, Leland Putterman of Trivie, and Eleonore Cluzel of gBETA Houston. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of who's who in Houston innovation include the HX Venture Fund's newest team member, a startup founder whose app is gamifying corporate training, and a Houston accelerator leader who's pivoted to digital.

Aleece Hobson, venture partner at the HX Venture Fund

Aleece Hobson joined the HX Venture Fund as venture partner. Photo courtesy of HXVF

The HX Venture Fund has expanded its portfolio of venture capital finds its invested in, and with that came a new team member for the fund of funds. Managing director Sandy Guitar — who runs the fund with Guillermo Borda — brought on Houston native Aleece Hobson as venture partner.

"Aleece joining is a phenomenal step for us — a dedicated resource and venture partner on activation," says Guitar on the hire. "I think it speaks to the seriousness of purpose we have to make this not just an investment platform, but one that moves the needle on Houston." Read more.

Leland Putterman, co-founder of Trivie Inc.

Trivie, which gamifies corporate training, has launched a new way for employees to connect with remote learning amid the pandemic. Photo via Trivie.com

Texas-based corporate training tool Trivie already had many clients with needs for safety training, COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry. Currently, Trivie has made the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Additionally, with most of America's workforce working from home, Putterman expressed that it's common for employees to feel disconnected.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," he says. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue." Read more.

Eléonore Cluzel, director of gBETA Houston

Eléonore Cluzel, director of gBETA Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how the cohort has been going — and to introduce each member of the inaugural cohort. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Things aren't going according to plan for Eléonor Cluzel, who is running the inaugural gBETA Houston cohort virtually. While it isn't ideal, Cluzel shares on the Houston Innovator's Podcast how she's adapted the program for digital — as well as introduces the five Houston companies in the program.

"Going virtual was a really good pivot on our end. I think that the cohort has adjusted very well," Cluzel says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It is tough. They put tremendous effort into it and I'm proud to be working with them." Read more.

Eléonore Cluzel, director of gBETA Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how the cohort has been going — and to introduce each member of the inaugural cohort. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Houston accelerator leader shares how the cohort has seen success through virtual programming

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 34

In January, when Eléonore Cluzel was named the director of gBETA Houston, she had no clue Houston's first cohort of the international, early-stage accelerator would be conducted virtually. Now, five weeks in, the program and its five startups have adapted to provide programming and mentorship online only.

"Going virtual was a really good pivot on our end. I think that the cohort has adjusted very well," Cluzel says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It is tough. They put tremendous effort into it and I'm proud to be working with them."

Last week, gBETA Houston announced the five companies currently in the program. And, Cluzel is already excited about the second cohort, which opens applications after the first cohort's virtual pitch night on June 18. Cluzel says in light of how many applications she got for the first time around, she knows there's a lot of impact gBETA can make in Houston,

"I was really quite surprised — in a good way — how the first application round was really competitive," Cluzel says, "which shows that there is a lot of room to grow for accelerators in town."

Cluzel shares some of the challenges and opportunities gBETA Houston has seen throughout this time, and introduces each of the companies in the cohort, which represents sports tech, consumer tech, and more. Listen to the full interview with Cluzel below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.