According to a recent report from the Greater Houston Partnership, exports from the Houston area reached a record-breaking $140.8 billion last year. Photo via Pexels

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston is demonstrating its might in the global economy.

In 2021, exports from the Houston area reached a record-breaking $140.8 billion, according to a report from the Greater Houston partnership. The previous record, set in 2019, was $128.7 billion. The Houston-Galveston Customs District, comprising eight ports, now handles more tonnage (over 351.5 million metric tons in 2021) than it did before the pandemic.

“COVID had a short-lived impact on Houston’s exports,” the report says.

The report suggests the region’s export activity supports more than 450,000 direct and indirect jobs here.

According to the report, the Houston metro area leads all U.S. metros for the value of exports. It ranks well above New York City ($103.9 billion), Los Angeles ($58.6 billion), Chicago ($54.5 billion), and Dallas-Fort Worth ($43.2 billion). Houston’s top exports include chemicals, plastics, crude oil, and oilfield equipment.

“As retailers work to rebuild their inventories, as factories struggle to resolve supply chain issues, as the global economy continues to grow, so will the demand for Houston’s exports, and so will Houston employment,” the report says.

The report cites four factors that will continue to drive Houston’s export activity, at least in the short term:

  1. U.S. companies are still rebuilding inventories and need to bring in more goods from overseas.
  2. Some container traffic has started to shift to Houston from congested areas like Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.
  3. The Houston area continues to grow as a distribution center. Developers have added more than 96 million square feet of warehouse space in the region over the past five years.
  4. Houston is once again among the most rapidly growing metros, “which will drive the need for more consumer goods, most of which will arrive in a container via the Port of Houston.”

Houston’s top 10 trade partners and the value of that trade in 2021 were:

  • China — $24.7 billion, up from $19.3 billion in 2020.
  • Mexico — $21.6 billion, up from $14.5 billion in 2020.
  • Brazil — $16.9 billion, up from $12.0 billion in 2020.
  • Korea — $16.2 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.
  • India — $13.9 billion, up from $8.0 billion in 2020.
  • Netherlands — $13.8 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.
  • Germany — $11.9 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.
  • Japan — $11.5 billion, up from $7.7 billion in 2020.
  • United Kingdom — $9.8 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2020.
  • Columbia — $7.1 billion, up from $5.3 billion in 2020.

“Houston’s ties to the globally economy have grown with the city. In many ways, those ties propelled Houston’s growth. The region’s fortune now rise and fall with those of the global economy,” the report says.

There's a lot of clean tech potential in hydrogen — and Houston might be the place to lead the way. Image via Getty Images

New report shows why now is the time for Houston to emerge as a hub for hydrogen innovation

clean energy

Houston, known for being the energy capital of the world, has potential to lead innovation within the hydrogen space, and a new report lays out how.

The report, which was released today by the Center for Houston’s Future, is titled "Houston as the epicenter of a global clean hydrogen hub." The information explains how Houston-based assets can be leveraged to lead a global clean hydrogen innovation.

“The Houston region has the talent, expertise and infrastructure needed to lead the global energy transition to a low-carbon world. Clean hydrogen, alongside carbon capture, use, and storage are among the key technology areas where Houston is set up to succeed and can be an example to other leading energy economies around the world,” says Bobby Tudor, chair of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, in a news release.

Together, GHP's HETI and over 100 experts representing 70 companies and organizations produced the report, along with McKinsey and Company, which donated significant research and economic analyses. Here are some highlights from the study, according to the release:

  • Clean hydrogen production could grow 5 times over current hydrogen production by 2050.
  • The establishment of a clean hydrogen industry could create 180,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) statewide, while adding $100 billion to Texas' GDP growth.
  • Globally, a Houston-led clean hydrogen hub could abate 220 million tons (MT) tons of carbon emissions by 2050.

“This report gives additional weight to the already strong case that Houston is uniquely positioned to lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We can also deliver economic growth, create jobs and cut emissions across Houston and the Gulf Coast, including in underserved communities.”

The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, per the release, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines. These assets can be utilized to accelerate a transition to clean hydrogen, and the report lays out how.

"Using this roadmap as a guide and with Houston’s energy sector at the lead, we are ready to create a new clean hydrogen economy that will help fight climate change as it creates jobs and economic growth,” says Center for Houston’s Future CEO Brett Perlman. “We are more than ready, able and willing to take on these goals, as our record of overwhelming success in energy innovation and new market development shows.”

Here's what you missed at Houston House at SXSW. Photos courtesy

Podcast: Houston innovators discuss energy transition, diversity, and health tech at SXSW

Houston innovators podcast episode 125

SXSW has descended on Austin, and while the two-week conference and festival is still going strong, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston-focused activation has wrapped for 2022.

Houston House, which first originated last year in digital form in 2021, took place Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. The nine panels and two nights of networking covered topics from energy transition and med tech to diversity in venture capital and innovation in aerospace.

For SXSW badge holders, some of the Houston House discussions are available online. However if you’re not out and about at SX and you missed these incredible panels, I spoke to four Houstonians after their discussions to dig a little deeper into some key points from the panels.

Here are the Houston Innovators I spoke with at SXSW:

  • Denise Hamilton, CEO of WatchHerWork
  • Kevin Coker, president and CEO, Proxima
  • Grace Chan, investment associate at bp Ventures
  • Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs

Listen to these conversations below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes, which will return to interview-style conversations featuring Houston guests next Wednesday.

Here's everything you should attend at SXSW this year. Photo courtesy of SXSW

Houston innovators: Here's what not to miss at SXSW

Where to be

Headed to SXSW this year and hoping to make meaningful Houston tech and innovation connections and hear from thought leaders? Look no further than these key events and panels.

From meetups to fireside chats, here's everything you need to know about tapping into the Houston innovation ecosystem by way of the Austin festival.

Missing something? Shoot an email to natalie@innovationmap.com for event consideration.

Friday, March 11

ZenBusiness Startup Crawl

Capital Factory is bringing back its Startup Crawl. One hundred startups and partners set up tables to demo their products and talk to thousands of potential customers, investors, and employees who can be found walking from table to table with their beverage of choice. Grab a group of your friends, hit up the Public Lounge presented by Cisco, and find out what happens when the hottest startups come together at the same time and in the same place. The event begins at 5 pm. Click here to learn more.

Saturday, March 12

SXSW Pitch

The 14th annual SXSW Pitch will take place at the Hilton Austin Downtown on Saturday, March 12, and Sunday, March 13. A live audience, as well as a panel of expert judges, will discover advancements in various sectors of emerging technology. The best part – product demonstrations by the most ambitious talents in the world with the creative new ideas to change it. Catch a glimpse of the industry’s future, with a guided tour by our emcees and judges.

Houston-based Case CTRL will pitch within the Enterprise & Smart Data Technology category on Saturday at 11:30 am. For more information, click here.

Sunday, March 13

Houston House

The Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House begins Sunday at 10 am. The line-up of programming, which is available to badge holders at The Line Hotel, is as follows:

  • 10 am: Funding the Next Generation of Diverse Founders — speakers include:
    • Felix Chevalier, Co-Founder, Urban Capital Network
    • Denise Hamilton, Work Futurist and CEO, WatchHerWork
    • Jesse Martinez, Investment Partner/Venture Partner, Resolved Ventures/VamosVentures
  • 11:30 am: Game Changers - The Rise of Sports Tech — speakers include:
    • David Gow, CEO, Gow Media & SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp.
    • Chris Buckner, CEO, Mainline
    • Lori Burgess, Chief Operating Officer, Beasley Esports
    • Ashley Dewalt, Managing Director, DivInc
  • 1 pm: The commercial Space Age is Here — speakers include:
    • Dr. Douglas Terrier, Associate Director for Vision and Strategy, NASA’s Johnson Space Center
    • R. Matthew Ondler, CTO, Axiom Space
    • Timothy Crain, Chief Technology Officer, Intuitive Machines
    • Arturo Machuca, Director, Ellington Airport and Houston Spaceport
  • 2:30 pm: Accelerating Solutions in Medtech — speakers include:
    • Joanna Nathan, Manager, New Ventures, Johnsons & Johnson Center for Device Innovation
    • James Andrew Reinstein, President & CEO, Saranas Inc.
    • Kevin Coker, President & CEO, Proxima
  • 4 pm: Paradigm Shift - Breakthroughs in Cell Technology
    • Jason Bock, VP, Biologics Development, MD Anderson
    • Michael A Curran, Associate Professor / Founder, The UT MD Anderson Cancer Center / ImmunoGenesis, Inc.
    • Larry Hope, New Ventures and Business Development, MD Anderson
  • 5:30 pm: Networking reception
For more information on Houston House, click here.

Founded in Texas

Project W, Artemis Fund, HearstLab, and Beam have teamed up at SXSW to present the second Founded in Texas, a showcase of female founders of seed stage B2B and B2B2C technology companies located in Texas. Founded in Texas will feature 12 founders selected by application and will be an opportunity for investors from across the country to get a glimpse of the innovation and creativity at work in the growing Texas startup ecosystem.

The event begins at 9 am at Relay Coworking (Springdale General) with investor feedback. A brunch follows at 11:30 am. For more information, click here.

SXSW Official 3D Printing Hangout

Houston-based re:3D invites you to celebrate the Texas 3D Printing community with some bomb brews and primo prints at the Draught House Pub & Brewery during SXSW. Connect with fellow 3D printing enthusiasts and innovators, and bring your 3D printers and 3D prints and share what you've been up to.

The event begins at noon and runs until 3 pm. Click here for more information.

Monday, March 14

Houston House

Monday is day two of the GHP's Houston House, and the programming also begins at 10 am for badge holders at The Line Hotel.

  • 10 am: Funding the Global Energy Transition — speakers include:
    • Hossam Elbadawy, Managing Director and Technology Partner, SCF Partners
    • Shawn Cumberland, Managing Partner, EnCap Investments L.P.
    • Grace Chan, Investment Associate, bp Ventures
    • Vidisha Prasad, Managing Partner, Adya Partners
  • 11:30 am: Dream Team - Corporates and Startups in Climatetech — speakers include:
    • Andrea Course, Venture Principal, Shell Ventures
    • Dale Winger, Managing Director, Halliburton Labs
    • Michael Wheeler, Senior Investment Manager, Equinor Ventures
    • Dawn James, Director, Global Industry Strategy- Energy & Sustainability, Microsoft Corp
  • 1 pm: Tech Powering the Global Energy Transition — speakers include:
    • Trevor Best, CEO, Syzygy Plasmonics
    • Moji Karimi, CEO, Cemvita Factory Inc.
    • Federico Marques, Founder & CEO, Moonflower Technologies
    • Jane Stricker, SVP, Energy Transition, Executive Director Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI), Greater Houston Partnership
  • 2:30 pm: Roadmap to an Equitable Energy Transition
    • John Hall, President and CEO, Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC)
    • Dana Harmon, Executive Advisor, Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute(TEPRI)
    • Jane Stricker, SVP, Energy Transition, Executive Director Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI), Greater Houston Partnership
  • 4 pm: Transition on Tap, hosted by Lara Cottingham, Chief of Staff, Greentown Labs
  • 5:30 pm: Networking reception

Shell House at SXSW 2022

Shell House at SXSW activation in Antone’s in downtown Austin will share how business, government and society can collaborate to achieve net zero. Guests can sit in on talks, ask experts energy questions, relax in the Recharge & Refuel Lounge and participate in an interactive experience that highlights how decisions about home and travel can impact the US reaching net zero by 2050.

Some notable Houstonians involved in this activation include:

  • Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY Energy is moderating the "Wake Up Call: Women in Tech & Innovation" panel at 9:30 am on Monday.
  • Sidd Gupta, CEO of Nesh, and Tim Marx, president of Topl and Venture Partner at Baird Capital, will join the panel "What I Wish I Had Known: The Start-Up’s Tale of Working with Big Companies" at 4 pm on Monday.

Baker Botts: How Innovation is Confronting Global Challenges

Join Baker Botts and several thought leaders for an afternoon discussing today’s emerging & disruptive technologies and the current investment landscape at our third annual SXSW event. The fireside chat begins at 3 pm, with a panel discussion at 4 pm. The event wraps up with a networking reception at 5 pm. A badge is not required to attend.

The event will be at Hotel Van Zandt (605 Davis St.) For more information, click here.

Tuesday, March 15

Shell House at SXSW 2022

Shell House continues at Antone's Tuesday. Some must-see Houston innovators include:

  • Lara Cottingham, chief of staff at Greentown Labs, and Siddhartha Sachdeva, founder & CEO of Innowatts will be on the "Net-Zero Heroes: How Entrepreneurs Will Lead the Way in Decarbonization" panel.

Meet Houston's Top Tech Founders

Want to know how Houston is setting itself up to be the next hub for tech innovation? This networking event will shine a spotlight on the amazing innovation coming out of Houston by bringing in a number of founders from Houston's fastest-growing startups together with several great VCs around the nation to participate in a joint conversation about founding tech startups.

The event will take place at 11:30 am to 12:30 pm at Hilton Austin Downtown, Room 408. The meetup is hosted by Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund, and Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics. Click here for more information.

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

GHP introduces in-person Houston House for SXSW 2022

Q&A

Texas is just about two weeks away from SXSW's return to in-person activations and events since pre-pandemic times. The two-week conference includes conversations and activities within music, film, education, tech, and more. And this year, the Greater Houston Partnership is shining a spotlight on the Bayou City at the festival.

"With the return of the conference in person for the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to build on that momentum and host Houston House — a two-day activation featuring programming and networking opportunities for guests attending the conference," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the GHP.

Houston House, which first originated last year in digital form, will be held in Austin on Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Davenport shares more details on the activation in a Q&A with InnovationMap.

InnovationMap: Why did the Greater Houston Partnership decide to have a presence at SXSW this year?

Susan Davenport: As one of the premier tech conferences in the U.S., SXSW provides an incredible platform to promote Houston’s position as the most prominent emerging innovation hub in the country.

Houston was a featured partner at last year’s SXSW Online Conference, where the Partnership rallied innovative leaders from across the region for a series of virtual programming. With the return of the conference in person for the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to build on that momentum and host Houston House – a two-day activation featuring programming and networking opportunities for guests attending the conference.

With an expected attendance of 45,000 bright minds from around the globe, it’s the perfect venue to showcase Houston’s tech leadership and cultivate relationships that support the growth of our ecosystem.

IM: What can attendees expect from Houston House?

SD: This year’s activation will be held at the Line Hotel, an established SXSW venue in the heart of the action. Consistent with what attendees have come to expect from South by, Houston House will offer thought leadership programming featuring industry leaders and startup founders in a series of panel discussions on today’s most prominent topics in tech.

In addition to main stage programming, Houston House will also offer a lounge space that will serve as a landing pad for stakeholders and attendees to cultivate relationships. Each day of programming will conclude with a networking reception.

IM: The programming is geared around a few topics — what are some of these themes and how do they pertain to Houston innovation?

SD: On Sunday, March 13, our programming will be focus on topics like commercial aerospace, medical device innovation, cell therapy, and investment for diverse entrepreneurs. These panel sessions will showcase Houston’s leadership through the incredible work taking place at the Ion, Houston Spaceport, Johnson Space Center, and the Texas Medical Center.

On Monday, March 14, our programming will kick off the start of the SXSW Climate Change track and focus primarily on how Houston is leveraging its energy leadership to accelerate solutions for a low-carbon future. Topics will include VC investment in climate tech, corporate and startup partnerships, emerging low-carbon energy technologies, and ensuring an equitable energy transition.

Our full lineup of Houston House programming and speakers can be found online, along with an overview of the 2022 SXSW Conference.

IM: Who should stop by Houston House at SXSW?

SD: Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders. We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives.

For fellow Houstonians attending the conference, Houston House will serve as a home base to kick off your SXSW experience. For those who are not currently involved in our tech ecosystem, this will be the perfect opportunity to dive in and learn more about the amazing things taking place in our great region.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Behold ExxonMobil's new Houston HQ. Image via ExxonMobil.com

Petrochemical juggernaut ExxonMobil gasses up for big HQ move to Houston

on the move

One of the biggest petrochemical giants on the planet is moving its operations to the Houston area. ExxonMobil announced that it is moving its corporate headquarters from Dallas-Fort Worth/Irving to its campus in Greater Houston.

The company expects the transfer, which will combine its chemical and refining divisions, to be completed by 2023. ExxonMobil’s HQ will no longer be the tree-lined “God Pod” complex in Irving, but rather the shimmering, glass-lined compound in Spring, which former CEO Rex Tillerson opened in 2014. Some 250 people currently work at the Irving location, including the CEO and management committee, an ExxonMobil rep tells CultureMap.

Bloomberg reports the move is mostly aimed at cutting costs; the company estimates $6 billion in savings by moving to Greater Houston and combining divisions. ExxonMobil will also reorganize along three business lines: upstream, product solutions, and low-carbon division, per a statement.

In a statement provided to CultureMap, the company adds that the move “will enhance collaboration and provide more opportunities to share expertise across the entire corporation as part of our strategy to better leverage corporate advantages to grow shareholder value.”

With its big relocation, ExxonMobil becomes Houston’s 25th Fortune 500 headquarters, the third highest concentration in the country, after New York and Chicago, per the Greater Houston Partnership. It will be the largest Fortune 500 company to be headquartered in the Houston region, ranking No. 10 in the 2021 listing based on $181.5 billion revenues in 2020.

“We are thrilled with today’s news,” the Greater Houston Partnership noted in a statement. “ExxonMobil’s move further solidifies Houston’s position as the Energy Capital of the World. ExxonMobil is a key participant in our Houston Energy Transition Initiative, and we look forward to working with the company as we continue to position Houston to lead the energy transition to a low-carbon future.

“In addition, ExxonMobil’s announcement represents the third Fortune 500 headquarters announcement in greater Houston in 13 months, solidifying our position as the No. 3 Fortune 500 headquarters city in the nation.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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VC roundup: Here's what Houston startups raised funds last quarter

following the money

Houston startups are keeping pace when it comes to venture capital raised this year. In this roundup of funding closed in the second quarter, Houston businesses across sectors and industries close significant rounds from seed to series C.

Eleven startups raised over $222 million last quarter, according to InnovationMap reporting, which is more than in the first and second quarters. In chronological order, here's what companies snagged fresh funding recently.


Houston EV charging tech company raises $6M series A

Revterra Corp. closed a $6 million series A round led by Equinor Ventures. Photo courtesy of Revterra

Houston-based tech company Revterra Corp. has picked up $6 million in a series A funding round to propel development of its battery for electric vehicle charging stations.

Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

Revterra says its kinetic flywheel battery enables quick, simple, cost-effective installation of high-powered DC chargers for electric vehicles. The technology eases the burden placed on electrical grids, the company says. Continue reading.

Houston-founded blockchain startup raises $15M series A to increase international impact

Topl's latest fundraising round includes participation from a Houston investor as well as international partners. Image via Getty Images

A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.

Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.

“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch." Continue reading.

Houston-based gig economy startup raises $1.2M, launches beta platform

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch to democratize side gig success on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Clutch

Two Houstonians on a mission to enable safe and equitable entrepreneurship on college campuses have launched a new beta platform and closed pre-seed funding.

Clutch, a digital marketplace startup founded by Simone May and Madison Long, closed its pre-seed round of funding at $1.2 million – led by Precursor Ventures and other partners such as Capital Factory and HearstLab. The investment from this round will support Clutch’s national open beta launch of its platform for brands and student creators nationwide and its continued investment in customer and product strategy.

“We are at this inflection point where marketing is changing,” May says in a press release. “We know that the next generation can clearly see that and I think a lot of marketing agencies are starting to catch on. We need to be prioritizing the next generation’s opinion because they are driving who is interested in what they buy. This upcoming generation does not want to be sold to and they don’t like inorganic, inauthentic advertisements. That’s why user generated content is so big, it feels authentic.” Continue reading.

Houston hydrogen startup closes $25M series B

This hydrogen company has fresh funding. Photo via utility.global

Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, has closed its series B round of funding to the tune of $25 million, Axios reports.

Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners led the round. Other participating investors included: Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco.

Utility Global, founded in 2018, has developed a clean hydrogen solution. The proprietary tech — called the eXERO Technology Platform — includes a zero electricity process that converts sustainable waste streams into high-purity hydrogen. Additionally, the company developed its H2Gen Product Line that delivers customers reliable, low carbon, and high purity hydrogen, which offers unparalleled feedstock flexibility and highly competitive economics. Continue reading.

Industrial blockchain tech company headquartered in Houston closes $4M series C round

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that its latest round or funding. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, a Houston-based tech startup, has picked up $4 million in a series C round from the venture capital arms of foreign energy companies Saudi Aramco and Equinor.

The funding for Data Gumbo came from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, the VC subsidiary of government-owned oil and natural gas giant Saudi Aramco, and Equinor Technology Ventures, the VC subsidiary of Norwegian energy operator Equinor. The U.S. headquarters for both Saudi Aramco and Equinor are in Houston. Continue reading.

Houston company raises $138M for next-generation geothermal energy

The future of geothermal energy is here — and just got a big payday. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based startup Fervo Energy has picked up $138 million in funding to propel its creation and operation of carbon-free power plants fueled by geothermal energy.

Fervos says the series C round will help it complete power plants in Nevada and Utah and evaluate new projects in California, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as in other countries.

California-based investment firm DCVC led the round, with participation from six new investors. Continue reading.

Houston 'sneakerheads' raise $8.9M to further develop digital marketplace

Tradeblock's three co-founders have known each other since childhood. Photo via tradeblock.us

A Houston-based company is kicking it with some fresh funding with plans to expand development of its marketplace platform.

Unique sneaker trading platform, Tradeblock, has raised $8.9 million in funding from investment partners Courtside VC, Trinity Ventures, and Concrete Rose Capital. Per the news release, the company expects additional funding of around $4.5 million to its seed round.

Tradeblock — founded in 2020 by self-proclaimed "sneakerheads" and childhood friends Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, Tony Malveaux, and Darren Smith — will use the fresh funding to expand and improve its digital marketplace for shoes. Continue reading.

Health tech startup with Houston HQ raises $14M series A

Optellum, which has its United States operations based in the TMC Innovation Institute, has raised fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Oxford-based health tech startup that has its United States headquarters in Houston has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Optellum, which has created a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a series A funding round. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Mercia, with additional investors California-based Intuitive Ventures and New York-based Black Opal Ventures. Existing investors, including St John's College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in the round, per a news release.

"Lung cancer is an urgent public health crisis and Optellum's groundbreaking approach utilizing AI to accelerate early detection and intervention may fundamentally alter the healthcare community's approach to combating this disease," says Dr. Oliver Keown, managing director of Intuitive Ventures, in the release. "Optellum is uniquely positioned to align and provide considerable value to patients, providers, and payers alike. Intuitive Ventures is thrilled to provide our full arsenal of financial and strategic support to Optellum as we work towards a world of better outcomes for cancer patients." Continue reading.

Houston-based biomaterials company raises $1.1M to grow team, build new HQ

BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.” Continue reading.

Houston-based Codenotary has expanded its series B fundraising round

Codenotary's software enables tools for notarization and verification of the software development life cycle. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston software startup that raised $12.5 million earlier this year has announced additional funding of $6 million. Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, closed its series B round in January. The fresh funding brings the company's total investment raised to $24 million — thanks to investors Bluwat and Elaia.leaders and following a series A round that was announced in 2020.

Codenotary, formerly known as vChain, was founded in 2018 by CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. The additional capital, which will go towards scaling up sales in the U.S. and Europe as well as entering the Asian market, was raised as an extension of the series B round. Continue reading.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

VR training startup, HTX Labs, has raised funding from an outside investor for the first time. Courtesy of HTX Labs

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. Continue reading.

Houston robotics company secures multi-million-dollar government contract

more collaboration

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics Inc., a newly minted public company, continues to make waves with government contracts.

Nauticus says it has been awarded a second multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit, part of the U.S. Defense Department, for development of a self-piloted amphibious robot system powered by the company’s ToolKITT command-and-control software.

In February, Nauticus said it had been given a ToolKITT contract by the Defense Innovation Unit. Under that contract, ToolKITT is being used aboard a remotely controlled undersea vehicle operated by the Navy.

Similar contracts with the Defense Innovation Unit could be on the horizon, Nauticus says.

Nauticus develops oceangoing robots under the brand names Aquanaut and Hydronaut, along with the ToolKITT autonomy software and related services. It’s forecasting 2023 revenue of $90 million.

Driven by machine learning, ToolKITT helps identify, categorize, and perform activities that can “remove, detect, identify, inspect, and neutralize hazards underwater,” according to a Nauticus news release.

ToolKITT is used for various self-piloted robotics products, including Nauticus’ Aquanaut.

“We are humbled and honored to be doing our part to advance the usage of robotics and autonomous systems to remove servicemembers from harm’s way,” says Ed Tovar, director of business development for defense systems at Nauticus.

Nauticus’ stock began trading September 13 on the Nasdaq market. The milestone came four days after Nauticus merged with publicly traded CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” shell company formed to acquire or merge with a business. At one point, the merger was valued at $560 million.

The new combo, operating under the Nauticus name, is led by Nauticus founder and CEO Nicolaus Radford.

“The closing of this business combination represents a pivotal milestone in our company’s history as we take public our pursuit of transforming the ocean robotics industry with autonomous systems,” Radford says in a news release. “Not only is the ocean a tremendous economic engine, but it is also the epicenter for building a sustainable future.”

Houstonian designs new experiences to encourage innovation in students

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 154

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

Part of being an educator is to prepare students for tomorrow, Essama explains, but with rapid technology development and adaption, no one knows what the future will hold for the job market or the world in general. The best way to prepare the future generation of the workforce is to teach them how to innovate, think differently, and adapt to new ways of doing things.

"That's what people are looking for right now — people who can provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems," Essama says on the show.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase.

Strategically, Essama tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem with the intent of showcasing the community.

"Innovation to me is being able to create something that has never been seen or done before — and that has a very important purpose," she says. "Exposing ourselves to innovation and people who think this way — and learning from them —is key to be able to be competitive tomorrow."

Essama says this program is still in the development phase. She's been testing out the concept with fourth graders and now ninth graders. She hopes the full program will be up and running by next fall.

She shares more details about the grant and the future of The Dream Lab on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.