Here's what Houston tech and startup news trended this year on InnovationMap in space tech. Image via Getty Images

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the Space City, there were dozens of space tech stories, from a space tech company reaching unicorn status to another completing its IPO. Here are five Houston space tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Local university gets green light to launch new building at Houston Spaceport

City of Houston has entered into an agreement with Texas Southern University to develop an aviation program at the Houston Spaceport. Photo via fly2houston.com

With a financial boost from the City of Houston, the aviation program at Texas Southern University will operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

The Houston Airport System — which runs Ellington Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hobby Airport, and Houston Spaceport — is chipping in as much as $5 billion to build the facility, which will train aeronautical professionals.

On May 3, the Houston City Council authorized a five-year agreement between the airport system and TSU to set up and operate the facility. Continue reading the full story from May.

Houston space tech startup closes deal to IPO

Intuitive Machines will be listed on Nasdaq beginning February 14. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It's official. This Houston company is live in the public market.

Intuitive Machines, a space tech company based in Southeast Houston, announced that it has completed the transaction to merge with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company traded on Nasdaq.

“We are excited to begin this new chapter as a publicly traded company,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a news release. “Intuitive Machines is in a leading position to replace footprints with a foothold in the development of lunar space. With our launch into the public sphere through Inflection Point, we have reached new heights financially and opened the doors for even greater exploration and innovation for the progress of humanity.”

The transaction, which was originally announced in September, was approved by Inflection Point’s shareholders in a general meeting on February 8. As a result of the deal, the company will receive around $55 million of committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders, the release states. Continue reading the full story from February.

Houston to host 6 Italian aerospace companies with new program

Six Italian companies are coming to the Space City to accelerate their businesses thanks to a new program. Photo via nasa.gov

It's an Italian invasion in Houston — and it's happening in the name of accelerating innovation within aerospace.

For the first time, Italy has announced an international aerospace-focused program in the United States. The Italian Trade Agency and Italian Space Agency will partner with Space Foundation to launch Space It Up, an initiative that will accelerate six companies in Houston.

“The launch of Space It Up marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing commitment to nurturing innovation and facilitating global partnerships," Fabrizio Giustarini, Italian Trade Commissioner of Houston, says in a news release. "This program serves as a testament to the collaborative spirit that defines the aerospace industry. It represents the convergence of Italian ingenuity and Houston's esteemed legacy in space exploration, setting the stage for unprecedented advancements." Continue reading the full story from August.

Houston space tech startup raises $350M series C, clinches unicorn status

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini (right) has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital, led by CEO Naif AlMesned. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade. Continue reading the full story from August.

Texas university to build $200M space institute in Houston

Texas A&M University will build a new facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of JSC

Texas A&M University's board of regents voted to approve the construction of a new institute in Houston that hopes to contribute to maintaining the state's leadership within the aerospace sector.

This week, the Texas A&M Space Institute got the greenlight for its $200 million plan. The announcement follows a $350 million investment from the Texas Legislature. The institute is planned to be constructed next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Texas A&M Space Institute will make sure the state expands its role as a leader in the new space economy,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, says in a news release. “No university is better equipped for aeronautics and space projects than Texas A&M.” Continue reading the full story from August.

A Houston expert weighs in on the importance of breaking down barriers for innovation. Photo via Getty Images

Why Houston needs to break down its industry barriers to advance innovation

guest column

Innovation has always been the driving force behind progress and development in every industry. It is the engine that propels growth, fosters competition, and improves people’s lives. The importance of innovation in every sector has grown exponentially in recent years with new ideas and technologies emerging faster than ever before. This explosion has led to innovation silos, where each industry is developing its own innovations and making progress in isolation from the others.

Houston has embraced the rise of innovation with gusto and is a prime city to break down industry specific silos. We proudly host the largest medical center and the energy capital of the world as well as the headquarters for the space race. The mayor’s office has shown a strong commitment to support rapid innovation growth, providing incentives and infrastructure for technology companies and talent to reside in Houston. Our city’s emerging innovation district has already shown huge promise with the Ion building and Greentown Labs providing a strong foundation to expand. Organizations uniting innovators across all industries like Pumps & Pipes could only exist in a city as diverse and accessible as Houston. Nonetheless, our community needs to band together to ensure innovation growth is inclusive of all industries to create an equitable approach to technology that will continue to benefit generations to come.

While innovation silos may have some benefits, such as competition and differentiation, they also have some significant drawbacks, including inefficiencies, redundancies, and missed opportunities. Industries can become so focused on their own innovations that they fail to see the potential for cross-industry collaboration. Many examples exist today where certain technologies or practices were once reserved for specific use cases and now have become mainstream. For instance, the use of the common GPS network for location and navigation services was originally pioneered by NASA, and hospital safety and quality checklists were derived from the airline industry. By soliciting more opportunities for innovation sharing, we can achieve faster growth, implement stronger and safer processes, and reduce repetitive and costly pilot testing in every industry from energy, health care, finance, social impact, and more.

I am putting out a call to action to the Houston community to open your doors to cross-industry partnerships.

Engage in more open dialogue and information sharing outside your industry.

Attend events that bring together professionals from all industries for knowledge sharing and idea exchange. Many conferences, workshops, and meet-ups already exist to unite and recognize cross-industry communities within specific interest groups. In addition, startup accelerators, incubator programs, and collaborative workspaces provide unique environments that encourage spontaneous conversations and positive idea exchange.

Incentivize businesses, start-ups, and individuals who are willing to collaborate and share their ideas with others.

Knowledge sharing should be rewarded through recognition programs, awards, special partnership opportunities, and more. Professional organizations and leadership networks are a great place to turn to for connecting with like-minded individuals and identifying recognition opportunities that can promote the great work of experience sharing.

Commit investments in cross-industry research and development.

We need to create more incentives for researchers to work across different industries and apply their expertise to various fields. Examples like the Ion Prototyping Lab, a one-of-a-kind makerspace for all, and events at the upcoming Ion Activation Festival, including “Back to the Future of Innovation”, unite researchers with industry to encourage collaborative collisions.

In the end, breaking down innovation barriers is essential if we want to continue on this upward, fast-growth trend to improve our community and to make an impact in people’s lives across the world. We need to take action now to promote a more seamless cross-industry approach to knowledge sharing, collaboration, and research and development to create a better future for all.

___

Arielle Rogg is the principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises LLC, a Houston-based company providing digital marketing for health care innovators.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Richard Seline of the Resilience Innovation Hub, Joy Jones of Code Wiz, and Joseph Powell of the University of Houston. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Richard Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub

Richard Seline joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain what all Houston has accomplished within resilience innovation — as well as what's next for the city. Photo courtesy of Richard Seline

For Richard Seline, a major advocate for resilience innovation across Houston and beyond, 2022 was a year of recognizing new technologies and processes — as well as threats — to resiliency.

However, 2023 is the year to implement, he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"What really happened in 2022 is the recognition that there are enough technologies, equipment, and data science tools that if you were to deploy all of that more efficiently and effectively, you're going to get a one-to-six better cost benefit. It's kind of a no-brainer," says Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, a national organization headquartered in Houston. Read more.

Joy Jones, owner of Code Wiz Oak Forest

Joy Jones is opening her Oak Forest location of Code Wiz later this month. Screenshot via Code Wiz

A Houstonian has switched up her career to focus on inspiring and equipping children STEM-focused skills.

Joy Jones, who has worked for a decade in the corporate world, is starting the new year with a new career — this one focused on her passion of providing more STEM programming access to students. In 2021, she came across Code Wiz, a coding school franchise based in Massachusetts with 19 locations across the country, and met with Ruth Agbaji, CEO and "nerd-in-chief" of the company.

“Talking with Ruth and hearing the story of her mission to touch 1 million kids through Code Wiz, I found exactly what I’ve been looking for, a mission that aligned with mine,” says Jones, in a news release. Read more.

Joseph Powell, director of the University of Houston Energy Transition Institute

Former Shell Chief Scientist Joseph Powell has joined UH to lead its new Energy Transition Institute. Photo via uh.edu

The University of Houston has announced the first leader of its Shell-backed Energy Transition Institute.

Joseph Powell has been named the founding director of the institute, which was founded following a $10 million donation from Shell in spring of last year. Powell is the former chief scientist for Shell and member of the National Academy of Engineering, according to a news release from UH.

“What excites me about my new role is the opportunity to work with students, faculty and industry to make a difference on problems that truly matter," Powell says in the release. "Who could pass that up? Imagine the difficulties that arise when you don’t have access to energy. Read more.

Check out these seven innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

7 can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for January

Where to be

It's a new year, and it's time to look at what's on the agenda this month for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events not to miss this January — like workshops, summits, meetups, and more.

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


January 9 — How to Leverage Media

In this session at The Ion, attendees will learn how businesses should and can leverage media opportunities. Leveraging media opportunities, including podcasts, interviews, and articles, is an excellent way to highlight how your product or service can provide a solution. As an entrepreneur, founder, or small business owner, you should attend this workshop to learn how to use media and the platforms to your advantage.

The event is Monday, January 9, at 10 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 10-12 — Ten Across Summit: The Future is Here

Today more than ever, society has access to the future in ways unparalleled in history. The question is, what will people do with this knowledge? Attend the Ten Across Summit: the Future is Here to hear from and engage with esteemed thought leaders and experts. They'll share insights and discuss solutions for the future in topics related to water, heat, energy, infrastructure, equity, risk, and affordable housing. Come and add your voice to the discussions, network, and discover new resources.

The event is Tuesday, January 10, to Thursday, January 11, at Hotel Zaza Museum District and Asia Society Texas Center. Click here to register.

January 20 — HOU Innovation Career Gigs & Tech Expo

The Ion is excited to bring back Startup Gigs in person and a new and expanded format. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to meet Houston’s most innovative companies. HOU Innovation Career Gigs & Tech Expo is a platform to connect you with the HOU tech ecosystem. Explore entry-level job and internship opportunities and discover the HOU tech opportunities.

The event is Friday, January 20, at 2 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 24 — Engage VC: Activate Capital

Join HX Venture Fund at the Ion on January 24 to hear Raj Atluru, Managing Partner of Activate Capital discuss his perspective on how to scale a startup successfully, how Houston can become the leader in the energy transition movement, how to build great companies, and what investors are looking for among other topics.

The event is Tuesday, January 24, at 8:30 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 24 — 2022 Nobel Prize: From Einstein's Disbelief to Quantum Technology

The worldview presented by quantum physics contradicts seemingly self-evident truths, for example, that objects have a well-defined position. Such preposterous implications were directly demonstrated by the experiments that were awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in physics. This session will cover these experiments, the radically different picture they give of our world, and how physicists now use these quantum effects to create technology such as quantum computers.

The event is Tuesday, January 24, at 5 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 30 — Creating Space for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Join The Ion to hear from Tracie Jae, Founder of The Quiet Rebel, will share a paradigm shift designed to disrupt the current DEI model.

The event is Monday, January 30, at 10 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

January 31 — Bots & Brews

This is the top winter meetup of the Energy Drone / Robotics / Data crowd, with over 100 industrial robotics and UAV leaders, investors and startups attending. Enjoy beer, bites and bots! Energy companies and tech/service providers will be sharing their 2023 plans, projects and solutions.


The event is on Tuesday, January 31, from 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm at The Ion. Click here to register.

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Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.

Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.