3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals, Jane Stricker of the Greater Houston Partnership, and Summer Reeves of Accenture's Houston Fjord Studio. Courtesy photos

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


Allie Danziger, co-founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals

The ongoing trend of businesses struggling to onboard new employees is likely going to continue through the new year. Allie Danziger shares what you need to know. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

The Great Resignation is among us, and companies need to respond accordingly, Allie Danziger, CEO and co-founder of Ampersand Professionals, writes in her guest column for InnovationMap.

"It has been particularly difficult to hire and retain Gen Z employees, the newest generation in the workforce, as we navigate the expectations of these employees, as compared to past generations," she writes. "Fortunately, businesses can bounce back from 'The Great Resignation' or protect themselves before they experience a similar mass exodus by taking the time to understand employees' preferences and motivations, and make a few small changes accordingly."

Danziger shares four tips with hiring and retaining talent in this challenging time. Click here to read more.

Jane Stricker, executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative at the GHP

The former BP executive will lead Houston's role in the energy transition as the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, a brand new position at the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo courtesy of GHP

Jane Stricker, a longtime Houston-based executive at oil and gas giant BP, has been tapped to be the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative and senior vice president of energy transition.

The Greater Houston Partnership unveiled HETI in June. As the partnership explained then, HETI "aims to drive sustainable and equitable economic growth in the Greater Houston region through a portfolio of technology, policy, and market initiatives that scale and export solutions for realizing a low-carbon energy world."

"This is an exciting time for Houston and our energy ecosystem as we focus our efforts on leading the global energy transition," Stricker says. "The challenge of our lifetime is addressing this dual challenge of meeting increased global energy demand while confronting global climate change. Houston is known for solving problems that matter. I believe through innovation, collaboration, and focus, our region can lead the way and deliver solutions that change the world." Click here to read more.

Summer Reeves, director of Accenture's Houston Fjord studio

Summer Reeves says Houston is changing for the better when it comes to attracting design talent. Photo courtesy of Accenture

The winds have changed in Houston when it comes to attracting design talent, Summer Reeves — the director of Accenture's Houston Fjord studio — says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Reeves is currently responsible for growing the team of Accenture's new Houston Fjord studio. She say she's excited for the way the design industry in Houston has developed. It's been second chair to Austin on the Texas landscape, but that's changing.

"There's a reason why Accenture is building a Fjord studio here in Houston — and now, versus in the past," Reeves says.

She describes Austin employers overly competitive for designers — making it hard to attract and retain design talent. This has caused a wave of designers coming to Houston. She's also seeing Houston employers — mostly in the energy industry — shift their thinking in hiring these types of positions. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

The former BP executive will lead Houston's role in the energy transition as the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, a brand new position at the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo courtesy of GHP

Greater Houston Partnership names former BP exec to lead energy transition

seeing green

Jane Stricker, a longtime Houston-based executive at oil and gas giant BP, has been tapped to lead the Greater Houston Partnership's new initiative designed to boost the Bayou City's profile in the shift toward low-carbon energy.

The partnership announced Stricker's hiring November 11. She'll join the organization effective January 1 as executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and senior vice president of energy transition.

The Greater Houston Partnership unveiled HETI in June. As the partnership explained then, HETI "aims to drive sustainable and equitable economic growth in the Greater Houston region through a portfolio of technology, policy, and market initiatives that scale and export solutions for realizing a low-carbon energy world."

A report from the University of Houston's Gutierrez Energy Management Institute, UH Energy, and the Center for Houston's Future suggests the region is poised to become the "low-carbon energy capital."

In a business-as-usual scenario, Houston's energy-based economy stands to lose anywhere from 270,000 to 650,000 jobs if it fails to act in response to the low-carbon transition, according to a partnership report published in June. But if Houston takes "decisive action" to lead the energy transition, the region could gain as many as 560,000 jobs.

Among other things, HETI says it will:

  • Jumpstart carbon-reduction efforts, such as carbon capture, hydrogen production, and battery technology.
  • Attract companies operating in spaces like wind energy, solar power, and biofuels.
  • Bolster companies involved in projects like development of electric vehicles, decarbonization of oil and natural gas, and production of geothermal energy.

It now will be Stricker's responsibility to oversee the multifaceted initiative, bringing together industry, academic, and community partners to advance the Houston area's role in global energy transition.

"Jane is a thought leader in the energy industry who brings an extensive knowledge of the global energy ecosystem and the pathways to a low-carbon future," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, says in a news release. "She understands the importance of collaboration across the ecosystem to get results, and I am confident the work she will facilitate will position Houston as the global hub of the energy transition, driving our region's long-term economic success."

Stricker has spent more than 20 years at BP, most recently as a senior relationship manager working with an array of organizations on issues such as carbon capture and energy decarbonization. While at BP, she spearheaded the National Petroleum Council's 2019 study on carbon capture, use, and sequestration.

"This is an exciting time for Houston and our energy ecosystem as we focus our efforts on leading the global energy transition," Stricker says. "The challenge of our lifetime is addressing this dual challenge of meeting increased global energy demand while confronting global climate change. Houston is known for solving problems that matter. I believe through innovation, collaboration, and focus, our region can lead the way and deliver solutions that change the world."

Aside from her previous role at BP, Stricker is a contributing faculty member for the University of Houston's Sustainable Energy Development Program, an advisory board member of the Energy Industries Council Connect Energy USA, and a graduate of the Center for Houston's 2020 Future Leadership Forum.

Stricker takes the helm of the energy initiative at a critical time.

The International Energy Agency predicts energy-related carbon emissions will soar by more than 1.65 billion tons this year, or nearly 5 percent, driven in large part by coal-fueled generation of electricity. That would be the second largest rise in annual carbon missions in history.

In a report released earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund noted that additional public investments in infrastructure to support the move to net-zero emissions will need to equal roughly 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade. That would easily amount to billions of dollars in global spending.

Taken together — the jump in carbon emissions and the need for more spending to combat them — the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate conservatively estimated in 2018 that the low-carbon economy could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. Lux Research forecasts the global market solely for carbon capture and recycling could reach $70 billion by 2030.

Looking farther down the road, the United Nations Development Programme says a heightened commitment to green energy — propelled largely by low-carbon strategies — could boost global GDP by $98 trillion by 2050.

"The investments needed for low-carbon infrastructure are substantial but manageable, and economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to speed up the low-carbon transition," the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate observes.

Greentown Labs hosted its Climatetech Summit from both its Houston location and its Boston-area office. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Overheard: Energy transition experts weigh in at Houston climatetech conference

eavesdropping in houston

This week, world leaders are discussing climate change and the future of our planet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, but local leaders were also discussing much closer to home.

Greentown Labs hosted its Climatetech Summit on Thursday, November 4, at both its offices in Houston and Sommerville, Massachusetts. The hybrid event featured a full day of networking, panels, and thought leadership.

Missed the conversation? Here are five key moments from the event.

​"Houston cannot transition without transitioning its workforce, and we need to help with that and make sure that people understand that. Demystifying the jobs of the future is key."

— says Juliana Garaizar, Greentown Labs' head of Houston incubator and vice president of innovation, in her welcome address.

"The energy transition in Houston needs to happen in an equitable way," she says. "Houston is the most diverse city in the US. It is up to us now to make it the most inclusive."

"The world will continue to need a lot of hydrocarbons for quite a long period of time, and Houston can and should remain a leader there. But it will not be an engine for growth."

— says Bobby Tudor, former chair of the Greater Houston Partnership and chairman of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, in his keynote.

"If we are not going to have that business, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of all jobs in Greater Houston, be an engine of growth, we sure as heck better find businesses that are, or we will not have the same kind of prosperity that we've had in our region," Tudor says.

"The Energy Capital of the World will be the leader in the global energy transition."

— says Mayor Sylvester Turner in his address.

"As a lifelong Houston, I am proud of our history and proud of the innovation, growth, and prosperity the energy industry brings to our community," he continues. "But, as leaders of the energy industry, I believe it is our responsibility to continue this legacy and develop the innovative technologies and practices needed to decarbonize the entire energy sector worldwide."

"Texas has more potential to produce clean energy — wind, solar, storage — and efficiency than any other state."

says HARC President + CEO John Hall in his address.

"And we're fortunate that today — even though we continue to lead the country in producing oil and gas — 40 percent of the electricity being used in this state is zero emitting."

"You don't get change by wishing and hoping. You need to plan and to act."

says Quantum New Energy CEO Patricia Vega on the panel about transitioning the workforce.

"We live in a world where we can track steps, calories, and likes on social media, but if I ask each one of you what is your carbon footprint or carbon efficiency, many of us don't know how to answer those questions and don't have the tools," she adds.

Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, gave the keynote address at this year's State of Space event. Screenshot via houston.org

Overheard: Experts share how Houston can lead commercial space exploration

Eavesdropping in houston

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in September

Where to be

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of in-person and online innovation events, including the inaugural InnovationMap Awards, and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like demo days, workshops, conventions, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

September 8 — The InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave

Celebrate Houston innovation's movers and shakers at this inaugural event. Find out who of the 28 finalists — listed here — will take home a win and vote IN REAL TIME on this year's people's choice winner.

The event is on Wednesday, September 8, at 5:30 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 9 — Illuminate Houston: An Innovation Conversation

Illuminate Houston, presented by the Greater Houston Partnership, is an event series highlighting business leaders who challenge the way we think about the future. Illuminate Houston features dynamic formats where speakers and attendees discuss trends, technologies and issues that define how we do business. Following the keynote presentation by Caleb Deerinwater, Vice President – Fiber Sales & Distribution at AT&T, the audience will participate in an interactive fishbowl discussion. A fishbowl is a format fosters group participation in conversation and lets the content emerge from the group's comments and questions.

The event is on Thursday, September 9, at noon. It's free to members ($25 for non-members) and happening online. Click here to register.

September 11 — BioVentures Pitch Day

BioVentures is Enventure's 10-week accelerator program that supports budding entrepreneurs as they turn their ideas into a life science startup. This year, the group has four startups who will pitch their technology. Each team will be giving a 10-minute pitch followed by 20 minutes of Q&A. This event will be virtual through Zoom.

The event is on Saturday, September 11, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 15 — Building Better Teams by Fostering Equity in the Workplace

As an early-stage entrepreneur, you want to attract the most exceptional talent who will help your company grow. Developing and implementing an effective DEI strategy can be essential to your efforts to secure the very best people to help maintain your competitive advantage. Join this panel from JLABS featuring Fiona Mack, regional head of JLABS @ TMC.

The event is on Wednesday, September 15, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 16 — The State of Space

The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting its second annual State of Space event with featured speaker Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, and panelists Steve Altemus, President and CEO, Intuitive Machines LLC and Tim Kopra, Vice President of Robotics and Space, MDA Ltd.

The event is on Thursday, September 16, at 10:30 am at Marriott Marquis (1777 Walker St.). It's $75 for members and $150 for non-members. Click here to register.

September 16 — Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator Demo Day

The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is hosting its inaugural demo day celebrating its inaugural class. Register to hear from 12 startups and participate in audience Q&A. Prior to pitches, stroll through our virtual showcase to learn more about the startups and network or chat with your fellow attendees.

The event is on Thursday, September 16, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 16 — Rice Data Science Career Mixer

The Rice Data Science Career Mixer is an excellent opportunity for companies to network with the brightest students at Rice University and discuss potential career opportunities in computational and data science fields.

The event is on Thursday, September 16, at 5 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 18 — Houston Hackathon 2021

To celebrate the National Civic Day of Hacking, Impact Hub Houston invites all people who want to make a difference in our region to join them at the annual Houston Hackathon. This is a "civic" hackathon, focused on ideating, designing, and developing both policy-based and tech solutions to some of Houston's greatest challenges. Project stakeholders will be there from the city, local organizations, and Houston's impact community.

The event is on Saturday, September 18, at 11 am to 3 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 21 — Email Marketing: A How To

Join The Cannon's HubSpot for Startups partner for a fast-paced session covering the key elements of email marketing. In this workshop, we'll go over HubSpot's playbook for:

  • Creating a winning email marketing strategy
  • Generating traffic to your website and converting traffic into leads
  • Leveraging automation to nurture leads
  • Email marketing best practices and common mistakes to avoid

The event is on Tuesday, September 21, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 22 — Are You Ready to Fundraise?

Raising money for your new venture doesn't have to be a mystery. When it comes to fundraising, there are specific things to keep in mind. Catch The Cannon's next webinar with Founder's Compass.

  • Understand the timing of the process
  • Understand your target audience (investors) and the value proposition that will appeal to them
  • Understand the obligations, risks, and consequences (on both sides)
The event is on Wednesday, September 22, at 10 am. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

September 29 — Equity in Green Jobs

The projected growth of the climatetech industry and its ability to train and employ people means that there is abundant potential to create wealth and jobs, especially for low-income communities and communities of color. Greentown Labs invites you to hear from experts who will share how we can build toward a resilient, low-carbon future while simultaneously and rapidly expanding opportunities for women and people of color to economically benefit from and help drive the climatetech revolution.

The conversation will cover:

  • The current state of Houston's quickly evolving energy landscape
  • Skills applicable to the energy transition
  • Examples of comprehensive climatetech workforce development programs
  • Incorporating equity into green jobs

The event is on Wednesday, September 29, at 4 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

"Houston is a thriving hub of digital tech talent." Photo via Getty Images

Report: Venture capital funding, tech jobs up in Houston

by the numbers

In just a five-year span, Houston's annual haul of venture capital has skyrocketed by nearly 200 percent.

Startups in the region raised $283.8 million in 2016, according to Pitchbook data cited in the Greater Houston Partnership's newly released 2021 Houston Facts report. Last year, the figure climbed to a record-breaking $823.9 million. That represents a five-year jump of 190.3 percent.

Health care attracted by far the most venture capital of any sector last year — $323.9 million — with the IT sector in second place ($203.7 million), the report says.

Over the five-year span, the health care sector also reigns as the area's VC leader, with a total of more than $1.1 billion in venture capital, making up 41 percent of the region's venture capital. IT ranks second, collecting $722.7 million in venture capital, or 27 percent of the entire VC pie.

In all, the Houston area is home to over 700 VC-backed startups, with at least 10 of them valued at more than $100 million, the report says.

The Houston Facts report also sheds light on other facets of the regional economy. Here are six of them.

Tech workforce

Economically speaking, Houston may be best known for energy and health care. But the Greater Houston Partnership report shows the tech sector deserves to be part of the conversation.

With more than 243,900 tech workers, the Houston area boasts the 11th largest tech workforce in the U.S. In 2019, Houston's tech industry contributed $29.2 billion to the region's gross domestic product (GDP), a key measure of economic activity.

To put the size of the region's tech workforce into perspective, the number of tech workers in the Houston area is roughly double the population of Pearland.

"Houston is a thriving hub of digital tech talent," the report says.

Economic power

Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the report notes the Houston area's GDP stood at an estimated $512.2 billion in 2019. That makes Houston the seventh largest economy of U.S. metro areas.

If the Houston area were a state, its GDP would rank 15th, behind Michigan ($536.9 billion) and ahead of Maryland ($426.7 billion) and Colorado ($393 billion).

If the region were an independent nation, it would rank as the world's 27th largest economy, behind Belgium ($529.7 billion) and ahead of Nigeria ($448.1 billion) and Austria ($446.3 billion).

Expanding corporate hub

The Houston area ranks third in the U.S. for the Fortune 500 headquarters and fifth for Fortune 1000 headquarters. The 20 companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list that are based in the Houston area have combined revenue of $413.6 billion.

International reach

The Houston areas maintains trading relationships with more than 200 countries.

The Houston/Galveston Customs District handled 266.6 million metric tons of exports valued at $129.5 billion in 2020, according to WISERTrade data cited in the report. These exports accounted for 65.8 percent of the total value that passed through the region last year, up from 44.5 percent in 2011.

Top port

In 2019, the Port of Houston ranked first in total tonnage (foreign and domestic) — after 27 consecutive years in second place — and first in foreign tonnage (imports and exports) for the 24th consecutive year, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Globally, the Port of Houston ranked as the world's 16th largest port based on total tonnage.

Business presence

The Houston area was home to more than 160,000 business establishments in 2020, according to Texas Workforce Commission data cited in the report. The three industries with the most establishments were professional, scientific, and technical services; health care and social assistance; and retail. These three industries made up 38 percent of the region's business establishments.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

money moves

Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

“Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

"We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

"The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

"Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.