In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, Houston has been deemed an affordable city for tech careers, HighRadius has a new product, and more. Photo via Getty Images

It's been a busy summer for the Houston innovation ecosystem, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a software company has a new game-changing product, Houston was named an affordable city for a tech career, a health tech startup has a new C-suite leader, and more.

Houston ranks as affordable tech city

Houston is an affordable city to start off your career in tech, per this new report. Image courtesy of CodingDojo

While the coasts have some of the most booming tech hubs, Coding Dojo set off to identify the hubs with affordability for young professionals just starting off. The coding bootcamp started off by identifying the fastest growing cities in America using data from the Census, and factored in Apartment List's housing price data and the number of engineering jobs available in each city.

"The purpose of the report is to highlight cities that may be overlooked but have affordable living costs, plenty of open developer jobs in the vicinity and thus, are viable options to start or continue a career in tech," reads the report.

Houston ranks as No. 6 on the list, following Dallas at No. 1 and Austin suburb Leander as No. 2.

"With major campuses or headquarters in town for companies like FlightAware, Microsoft, Halliburton, and many others, you won't have a problem with Houston as your tech career destination," the report writes.

Houston data in the report:

  • Median Rent: $1,141
  • Entry-Level Developer Jobs: 81
  • Mid-Level Developer Jobs: 278

HighRadius announces new product

HighRadius has a new game-changing software update. Photo via highradius.com

Houston unicorn fintech SaaS company HighRadius has a new product that hit a milestone. The RadiusOne AR achieved "Built for NetSuite" status, according to a news release from the company.

"With RadiusOne AR, we can help NetSuite customers automate their AR processes, manage their operational costs, and increase efficiency," says Sayid Shabeer, chief product officer at HighRadius, in the release. "The RadiusOne AR SuiteApp will allow our joint customers to have stronger cash-flow using AI-based technology to automate their electronic invoicing, collections, cash reconciliation, and credit risk."

The product is aimed at streamlining invoicing and collections, cash reconciliation and credit risk services. The software is affordable and easy to deploy, potentially delivering value in as little as four weeks, per the release.

"Businesses continue to look for ways to bring automation and intelligence to their AR processes to better manage their working capital," says Guido Haarmans of Oracle NetSuite in the release. "This new SuiteApp extends our robust solution for receivables management and helps NetSuite customers further optimize their cash flow management."

Ignite Healthcare's pitch application deadline looms

Now's the time to apply for Ignite's annual accelerator. Photo courtesy of Ignite

Ignite Healthcare Network has opened applications for its annual mini accelerator programs for women-led digital health and med tech companies. The deadline to apply online is July 19.

The program "provides women-led healthcare startups the unique opportunity to engage with potential customers and investors who will assess and advise on the strengths and weaknesses of their companies," according to the website.

Following the mentorship and acceleration, Ignite's Pitch Competition Event allows finalists a chance to compete for several hundred thousand dollars in cash and investment prizes from health care executives and investors. This year, the audience will include parties interested in social impact investing, in search of companies that have solutions to the needs of underserved populations, reads the website.

Pulmotect names new CFO

Bill Noss joined Houston-based Pulmotect's C-suite in June. Photo courtesy of Pulmotect

Houston-based Pulmotect Inc., a clinical-stage biotechnology company, announced a new CFO late last month. William J. Noss III joined the company's team.

"I am delighted to welcome Bill to Pulmotect at such an important time for the company," says Dr. Colin Broom, CEO of Pulmotect, in the news release. "His expertise and experience will help build our infrastructure as we continue the clinical development of PUL-042. It is an exciting time to join Pulmotect, with two Phase 2 clinical trials for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 that have been supported with funding from the Department of Defense and our planned clinical trials for the prevention of respiratory complications in cancer patients."

Noss has over 15 years of experience in the life science industry, formerly at Harmony Biosciences, where he helped lead the company through their commercial launch and subsequently through their initial public offering of $148 million, per the release.

"I am very excited to join this outstanding team as the company grows," says Noss in the release. "PUL-042 has the potential to protect patients from a broad range of viral and other pulmonary infections by activating the innate immune system. I look forward to playing a key role in the drug development program by working hard for the future benefit of patients and creating long-term value for the company and our stakeholders."

Hess makes $9M donation to STEM initiatives in the community

Houston-based Hess Corp. has contributed to a citywide initiative. Photo via trammellcrow.com

Last month, Hess Corp. announced a $9 million donation over the next three years. The gift is a part of its Learning for Life Partnership to fund educational programs and support services for Mayor Sylvester Turner's Complete Communities Initiative.

About 22 schools and over 13,000 children from pre-K through high school will benefit from the funds in the Third Ward, Magnolia Park-Manchester, and Second Ward Complete Communities neighborhoods.

Among other initiatives, the Hess Learning for Life Partnership will fund STEM equipment and curricula, teacher training, computer equipment, mentorship programs, accreditation initiatives, career life guidance counseling, and other support, according to a news release.

"Our company has a proud history of social investment programs that make a positive and lasting impact on the communities where we operate," says CEO John B. Hess in the news release. "In partnership with Mayor Turner's initiative, we are delighted to expand our commitment to provide children in the neighborhoods adjacent to Hess Tower in downtown Houston with the academic and social resources they need to reach their full potential."

Second Servings of Houston has amped up its cause to feed unemployed hospitality workers. Courtesy of Second Servings

2 big companies team up with Houston nonprofit to feed unemployed hospitality workers

food for thought

Two companies have stepped up in a big way to help a local nonprofit distribute thousands of meals to unemployed hospitality workers who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown.

By partnering with energy company Hess Corporation and food distribution giant Sysco, Second Servings of Houston will distribute 10,000 meals each week to unemployed hospitality workers through its newly established the "Dinner's On Us" program.

Hess' staff prepares the meals, which are available both fresh and frozen, utilized ingredients supplied by Sysco. Designed to provide approximately eight servings, the meals consist of hearty, classic fare such as chicken 'n biscuits, red beans and rice, and penne pasta with sausage.

Meals are distributed every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 am to noon in the LAM parking lot at 702 Avenida De Las Americas. A drive-thru setup allows for contact-free distribution, and Second Servings volunteers wear masks and gloves. To receive a meal, people should demonstrate eligibility with a recent paystub from a restaurant, caterer, hotel, sports stadium, or other hospitality-related business.

Typically, Second Servings works with restaurants, hotels, caterers, and others to rescue surplus food that would otherwise go to waste; it is also the beneficiary of the 2020 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. Now, the organization is aiding the people who usually assist its mission.

"We saw the impact first-hand last month, when we rescued valuable perishable food from hotels, event venues, business cafeterias, schools and restaurant kitchens that were forced to close," Second Servings founder Barbara Bronstein says in a statement. "We created this program because we wanted to help the people who serve the community and donate surplus food to us all year long."

Second Servings will continue the program for as long as it has the funding to do so. In addition to Hess an Sysco, sponsors include real estate firm BHW Capital, ACME Party & Tent Rental, and Mucasey & Associates Architects. Those interested in making a contribution to continue the program may do so via the Second Servings website.

The meal options include chicken and biscuits. Courtesy of Second Servings

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston expert: Can Houston replicate and surpass the success of Silicon Valley?

guest column

Anyone who knows me knows, as a Houston Startup Founder, I often muse about the still developing potential for startups in Houston, especially considering the amount of industry here, subject matter expertise, capital, and size.

For example, Houston is No. 2 in the country for Fortune 500 Companies — with 26 Bayou City companies on the list — behind only NYC, which has 47 ranked corporations, according to Fortune.

Considering layoffs, fund closings, and down rounds, things aren’t all that peachy in San Francisco for the first time in a long time, and despite being a Berkeley native, I’m rooting for Houston now that I’m a transplant.

Let’s start by looking at some stats.

While we’re not No. 1 in all areas, I believe we have the building blocks to be a major player in startups, and in tech (and not just energy and space tech). How? If the best predictor of future success is history, why not use the template of the GOAT of all startup cities: San Francisco and YCombinator. Sorry fellow founders – you’ve heard me talk about this repeatedly.

YCombinator is considered the GOAT of Startup Accelerators/Incubators based on:

  1. The Startup success rate: I’ve heard it’s as high as 75 percent (vs. the national average of 5 to 10 percent) Arc Search says 50 percent of YC Co’s fail within 12 years – not shabby.
  2. Their startup-to-unicorn ratio: 5 to 7 percent of YC startups become unicorns depending on the source — according to an Arc Search search (if you haven’t tried Arc Search do – super cool).
  3. Their network.

YC also parlayed that success into a "YC Startup School" offering:

  1. Free weekly lessons by YC partners — sometimes featuring unicorn alumni
  2. A document and video Library (YC SAFE, etc)
  3. Startup perks for students (AWS cloud credits, etc.)
  4. YC co-founder matching to help founders meet co-founders

Finally, there’s the over $80 billion in returns, according to Arc search, they’ve generated since their 2005 inception with a total of 4,000 companies in their portfolio at over $600 billion in value. So GOAT? Well just for perspective there were a jaw-dropping 18,000 startups in startup school the year I participated – so GOAT indeed.

So how do they do it? Based on anecdotal evidence, their winning formula is said to be the following well-oiled process:

  1. Bring over 282 startups (the number in last cohort) to San Francisco for 90 days to prototype, refine the product, and land on the go-to-market strategy. This includes a pre-seed YC SAFE investment of a phased $500,000 commitment for a fixed min 7 percent of equity, plus more equity at the next round’s valuation, according to YC.
  2. Over 50 percent of the latest cohort were idea stage and heavily AI focused.
  3. Traction day: inter-portfolio traction the company. YC has over 4,000 portfolio companies who can and do sign up for each other’s companies products because “they’re told to."
  4. Get beta testers and test from YC portfolio companies and YC network.
  5. If they see the traction scales to a massively scalable business, they lead the seed round and get this: schedule and attend the VC meetings with the founders.
  6. They create a "fear of missing out" mentality on Sand Hill Road as they casually mention who they’re meeting with next.
  7. They block competitors in the sector by getting the top VC’s to co-invest with then in the seed so competitors are locked out of the A list VC funding market, who then are up against the most well-funded and buzzed about players in the space.

If what I've seen is true, within a six-month period a startup idea is prototyped, tested, pivoted, launched, tractioned, seeded, and juiced for scale with people who can ‘make’ the company all in their corner, if not already on their board.

So how on earth can Houston best this?

  1. We have a massive amount of businesses — around 200,000 — and people — an estimated 7.3 million and growing.
  2. We have capital in search of an identity beyond oil.
  3. Our Fortune 500 companies that are hiring consultants for things that startups here that can do for free, quicker, and for a fraction of the extended cost.
  4. We have a growing base of tech talent for potential machine learning and artificial intelligence talent
  5. A sudden shot at the increasingly laid off big tech engineers.
  6. We have more accelerators and incubators.

What do we need to pull it off?

  1. An organized well-oiled YC-like process
  2. An inter-Houston traction process
  3. An "Adopt a Startup" program where local companies are willing to beta test and iterate with emerging startup products
  4. We have more accelerators but the cohorts are small — average five to 10 per cohort.
  5. Strategic pre-seed funding, possibly with corporate partners (who can make the company by being a client) and who de-risk the investment.
  6. Companies here to use Houston startup’s products first when they’re launched.
  7. A forum to match companies’ projects or labs groups etc., to startups who can solve them.
  8. A process in place to pull all these pieces together in an organized, structured sequence.

There is one thing missing in the list: there has to be an entity or a person who wants to make this happen. Someone who sees all the pieces, and has the desire, energy and clout to make it happen; and we all know this is the hardest part. And so for now, our hopes of besting YC may be up in the air as well.

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Jo Clark is the founder of Circle.ooo, a Houston-based tech startup that's streamlining events management.

New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.