3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Matthew Costello, Kristina Haag, and Greg Wright are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

It's the penultimate Monday of 2019, which means it's also the penultimate roundup of Houston innovators to know this week.

Today's featured innovators include an entrepreneur revolutionizing the maritime shipping industry, a fashion designer striving for comfort in Houston's long summers, and a startup advocate shining a spotlight on cybersecurity.

Matthew Costello, co-founder and CEO of Voyager

Matthew Costello Voyager

Houston-based Voyager, co-founded by Matthew Costello, has created a software solution for inefficient communication practices of the maritime shipping industry. Photo courtesy of Voyager

While in business school, Matthew Costello could not kick the thought of all the inefficiencies within the maritime shipping industry. He asked a friend, Bret Smart, to help him look into some of the logistical communications issues within the industry. The two co-founders of Houston-based Voyager started asking some questions for all the different parties involved in shipping across seas.

"The data we got back was pretty alarming," Costello says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It basically showed that whoever you speak to in the maritime industry, people are spending about 40 percent of their day on what we would consider low-value, low-complexity tasks." Read more and stream the podcast here.

Kristina Haag, founder of Cotidíe

Kristina Haag worked a corporate job that required her to run around Houston. She thought of her new fashion line out of wanting stylish clothes conducive to Houston's climate. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Houston is a humid subtropical climate — the majority of the year brings hot and sticky weather. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag found herself struggling to find traditional clothing that is comfortable in the Texas heat, so she created it herself.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," says Haag, founder of the clothing line Cotidié. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers pieces specifically tailored for women who are up against Houston's hot and muggy climate. Read more here.

Greg Wright, founder of Hatch Pitch

Houston-based Hatch Pitch will host two competitions in spring of 2020 — one marks the return of the competition to the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Hatch Pitch

For eight years, Greg Wright has been organizing a SXSW pitch competition in Austin for startups from around the world that are using technology to improve life. In 2020, Wright is bringing Houston-based Hatch Pitch back into the Bayou City — a goal he's had for a while — for a new cybersecurity-focused event.

"Many people know us as being associated with Austin and SXSW, but not many people know us as being based in Houston," Wright tells InnovationMap. "There's been a big push to bring Hatch back to Houston, and what we've been struggling with is finding the right vehicle."

After Hatch Pitch Summit returns to Austin for its ninth year on March 16, Cyber Hatch will be hosted by the annual Houston Cyber Summit on April 28. Read more here.

Houston-based Hatch Pitch will host two competitions in spring of 2020 — one marks the return of the competition to the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Hatch Pitch

Pitch competition returns to Houston with cybersecurity-focused event

Back to Hou

For eight years, Greg Wright has been organizing a SXSW pitch competition in Austin for startups from around the world that are using technology to improve life. In 2020, Wright is bringing Houston-based Hatch Pitch back into the Bayou City — a goal he's had for a while — for a new cybersecurity-focused event.

"Many people know us as being associated with Austin and SXSW, but not many people know us as being based in Houston," Wright tells InnovationMap. "There's been a big push to bring Hatch back to Houston, and what we've been struggling with is finding the right vehicle."

After Hatch Pitch Summit returns to Austin for its ninth year on March 16, Cyber Hatch will be hosted by the annual Houston Cyber Summit on April 28. Applications for both competitions are open and available online.

"We are excited to bring Hatch Pitch to Houston for the first time since 2013," says Wright, founder of the competition, in a press release. "The gathering of all this expertise at Houston Cyber Summit is the perfect place to foster innovation. It's an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas between startups, investors, customers, partners, leaders and change-makers."

The Houston Cyber Summit, which is going into its fourth year, will introduce a new innovation track to the event, which attracts cybersecurity experts from across industries. The pitch competition will shine a spotlight on early-stage companies creating safety and security online.

"The Houston Cyber Summit annually brings together a highly qualified, trusted network of business, government and academic leaders from across the Greater Houston region and beyond," says Umesh Verma, founder of Houston Cyber Summit and CEO of BLUE LANCE. "Partnering with industry leader Hatch Pitch, adds a new and exciting dimension to the cybersecurity and privacy landscape of our region and creates a new set of high paying jobs."

For each of the two spring competitions, four finalists will be selecting from hundreds of applications from companies around the world. All eight finalists will have access to mentors before pitching at the live events where they will field questions from the panel of judges. Similar to years prior, the pitches will be live streamed.

Over the past near decade, Hatch Pitch finalists have gone on to raise over $360 million and seen 11 successful exits. Recently Houston-based Braincheck, which won the competition in 2016, raised an $8M series A round earlier this year.

Take a good look at these Houston entrepreneurs' faces, because you might be seeing them in downtown Austin next weekend for SXSW. Photos courtesy

5 Houston innovators headed to SXSW to know this week

Who's Who

Welcome to a special edition of InnovationMap's weekly innovators to know series. This week has more innovators featured than ever, and we're highlighting a particular group of people: The Houston founders headed for SXSW in Austin later this week. From startup founders, coworking space leaders, and pitch competition organizers, here's the Houston SXSW attendees you should know about.

Scott Parazynski, CEO of Fluidity Technologies

Courtesy of Fluidity

Houston-based Fluidity Technologies and its drone controller, FT Aviator, will be presenting at the 11th annual SXSW Pitch event on Saturday, March 9, at 5 p.m. The company has been named a finalist in the Hyper-Connected Communities category. Fluidity is lead by CEO Scott Parazynski, a former NASA astronaut, pilot, and physician. The FT Aviator has the potential to revolutionize drone technology. The joystick-like controller is based off movement in space, Parazynski says, and is less prone to user error by someone not as well trained in drone operation.

Fluidity will find out if it wins in its category on Sunday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the SXSW Pitch awards program.

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon

Courtesy of The Cannon

There's no better setting to talk Texas entrepreneurialism than a stage at SXSW, and that's what Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, is going to be doing on the "Austinpreneur: The Texas Startup Manifesto" panel presented by Capital Factory on Saturday, March 9, at 11 am.

Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, has been juggling a lot since the launch of Cannon Ventures last year and the anticipation of The Cannon's new West Houston 120,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to deliver in May.

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston

Courtesy of Station Houston

Gabriella Rowe, the fearless leader of startup acceleration hub, Station Houston, is headed for the state capital to talk, well, capital. Rowe will be a panelist on the "Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions" panel on Saturday, March 9, at 12:30 pm.

Rowe has served as CEO of Station Houston since August. The nonprofit has a lot going on ahead of The Ion's launch, of which the Station is the programming partner. Read more about that — and why Rowe says wild horses couldn't drag her out of Houston —in her Featured Innovator piece.

Katharine Forth, founder and CEO of Zibrio

Courtesy of Zibrio

Another Houston company selected as a finalist of the 11th annual SXSW Pitch event is Zibrio SmartScale, which is in the Health and Wearable category and is presenting on Sunday, March 10, at 5 pm. The company is all about balance. Its product, a smart scale that tracks balance, aims to reduce dangers that come with poor balance — injuries, deaths, and costs from falls. Katharine Forth leads the company as CEO and founder. The company was a member of TMCx's 2015 medical devices cohort.

Right after pitching, Forth will find out if her company wins in its category on Sunday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the SXSW Pitch awards program.

Greg Wright, founder of HATCH Pitch

Courtesy of HATCH

For the eighth year, Houston-based HATCH Pitch is headed to Austin for SXSW to host its pitch competition focused on startups making the world a better place. Greg Wright, founder of the pitch program, will be there leading the event, which takes place on Monday, March 11, from 10 am to noon. The competition will be between four finalists. While only invited guests guests can attend, the pitches will be streamed online in an interactive way, so viewers can post comments or questions to the mentors, pitchers, and judges.

Houston-based HATCH Pitch has revealed its four finalists. The startups will take the stage during SXSW in March. Courtesy of HATCH Pitch

Houston-based pitch contest announces 2019 finalists ahead of SXSW competition

Get cracking

For the eighth year, Houston-based HATCH Pitch is headed to Austin for SXSW to host its pitch competition focused on startups making the world a better place.

This year's competition, which takes place on March 11, will be between four finalists. While the competition is invite only to guests, the pitches will be streamed online in an interactive way, so viewers can post comments or questions to the mentors, pitchers, and judges.

  • Sydney-based Edwel Energy is an app that allows users to compare the carbon footprint of millions of different products and services to enhance their eco-friendly decision-making process.
  • eHealthNow, based in Philadelphia, is the first HIPAA compliant platform that optimizes treatment plans for cancer patients in China by using oncologists overseas.
  • Dallas-based Mambo, an innovative webapp, allows for communities to customize member experiences, increase the sense of belonging, and grow revenue.
  • Neuroflow, another Philadelphia-based startup, is a health tech and analytics company that has a tool that promotes behavioral health access and engagement in order to improve outcomes, overall wellness, and cost of care.

"We chose these four startups because they are solving difficult problems that have real impact on real people," Greg Wright, founder of HATCH, says. "Their focus is on health, wellness, and environmental sustainability. Their success will make life better for overlooked groups and communities."

HATCH, a nonprofit organization that began in 2012, has dozens of alumni that have gone on to raise over $340 million and had 10 exits. The contest's 2019 mentors and judges have yet to be announced, but some of the past judges include Werner Vogels of Amazon, Kerry Rupp of True Wealth Ventures, Juliana Garaizar of TMCx, and more.

"The goal of HATCH Pitch is to provide coaching and connections to tech startups making life better," Wright says. "I'm proud that we have remained focused on this objective by evolving our summit event to provide maximum benefit to the selected finalists by surrounding them with the experience of our accomplished alumni, mentors, investors, and potential customers."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

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.”

------

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.