The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards celebrated Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

That's a wrap on the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards — and boy did the event deliver on networking, award wins, and plenty of celebrating Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community.

With a crowd of around 600 attendees, the Houston Innovation Awards, which took place on November 8 at Silver Street Studios in partnership with Houston Exponential, celebrated over 50 finalists and a dozen winners across categories. Click here to see who won an award.

Learn more about this year's honorees in InnovationMap's the editorial series:

See below for photos from the event.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards took place on Nov. 8.

Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Wogbe Ofori of WRX Companies, Amy Chronis of Deloitte, Steve Altemus of Intuitive Machines, and the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners. 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 hardtech to digital solutions — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Wogbe Ofori, founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies

Wogbe Ofori, founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss hardtech and Houston as an innovative city. Photo via LinkedIn

To Wogbe Ofori, the definition of entrepreneurship is simple: "To be more opportunity centric than risk averse." And Houston, as he says, has be entrepreneurial for a very long time — despite it being considered the specialty of a certain coastal region.

"Silicon Valley has hijacked the concept of innovation and entrepreneurship, and this city has been filled with entrepreneurs long before the concept of 'tech entrepreneurs,'" Ofori says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Ofori, the founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, has developed a keen eye for entrepreneurship and innovation activity in Houston and shares his observations on the show. An adviser to Nauticus Robotics and strategist to Intuitive Machines and Jacobs, he's also served as a mentor across the local innovation community. Read more or listen below.

Amy Chronis, vice chair, US Energy and Chemicals Leader and Houston managing partner at Deloitte

Amy Chonis shares Houston listmakers from Deloitte's annual report. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Deloitte just unveiled the fastest-growing technology companies in North America — and four businesses from Houston made the cut.

For the 29th year, 2023 Technology Fast 500 ranked top tech, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy technology companies based on fiscal year revenue growth from 2019 to 2022. While no Houston business was able to break into the top 100, four did make the cut for this year's list.

“It is great to see Houston represented alongside established technology hubs on this year’s Fast 500 list,” Amy Chronis, vice chair, US Energy and Chemicals Leader and Houston managing partner at Deloitte, says in a statement. “Houston is planting seeds for future innovation, and the companies named to this year’s list confirm our city’s value proposition as an innovative community. We look forward to this growth continuing in the future and extend our congratulations to this year’s Houston winners.” Read more.

Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines has some big news. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Intuitive Machines has landed a nearly $9.5 million Air Force contract to develop technology for NASA’s Gateway project, the first space station that will orbit the moon. Specifically, the technology will support a high-powered nuclear fission system that will supply electricity for satellites, bypassing the need for power from solar, battery, or fuel-cell sources.

“As space exploration ventures become more ambitious and diverse, the need for efficient and reliable power sources in space is paramount,” Pete McGrath, vice president of business development at Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Developing the ability to expand power sources beyond solar, which requires heavy battery storage, could remove the burden of constantly worrying about a spacecraft’s arrays relative to the sun, and potentially deliver long-term stability for satellites that would otherwise lose power over time.”

Second, Intuitive Machines has set January window for the launch of its IM-1 lunar mission in conjunction with private aerospace company SpaceX. The liftoff is targeted for a multiday window that opens January 12, 2024. Read more.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 13 categories. Photos courtesy

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you. The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger. Read more.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 13 categories. Photos courtesy

Houston Innovation Awards winners revealed at 2023 event

drum roll, please...

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you.

The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger.

The 2023 judges — who represent various industries and verticals in Houston — scored over 200 submissions. The event, hosted November 8 in partnership with Houston Exponential and emceed by Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, revealed the winners.

The event's sponsors included Halliburton Labs, Microsoft, The Ion, Houston Community College, Houston Energy Transition Initiative, NOV, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky, 8th Wonder Brewery, and 8th Wonder Cannabis.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Owned Business: Milkify

The winner of the BIPOC-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.

Female-Owned Business: The Postage

The winner of the Female-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Hardtech Business: Syzygy Plasmonics

The winner of the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology, is Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels.

Digital Solutions Business: RepeatMD

The winner of the Digital Solutions Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to a problem in an industry, is RepeatMD, software platform for customer loyalty, eCommerce, and fintech solutions to enhance the patient experience and provide a new source of revenue for the aesthetics and wellness space.

Social Impact Business: ALLY Energy

The winner of the Social Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution that would enhance humanity or society in a significant way, is ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.

Sustainability Business: Fervo Energy

The winner of the Sustainability Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, circular economy, and beyond, is Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Life Science Business: CellChorus

The winner of the Life Science Business category, honoring an innovative company within the health and medical industries designing a treatment or technology, is CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.

Corporate of the Year: Houston Methodist

The winner of the Corporate of the Year category, honoring a corporation that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community, Houston Methodist, a hospital system and health care innovation leader.

DEI Champion: Calicia Johnson

The winner of the DEI Champion, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is Calicia Johnson, chair of Blacks at Microsoft Houston.

Ecosystem Builder: Joey Sanchez

The winner of the Ecosystem Builder category, honoring an individual who has acted as a leader in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem, is Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion.

Mentor of the Year: Wade Pinder

The winner of the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston.

People's Choice: 

The winner of the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during the event, is Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

Fifteen of Houston Innovation Awards finalists share the best advice they've given or received. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Houston Innovation Awards finalists share top advice for fellow founders

Take note

The startup journey is a long and winding road, and there's many ways to navigate it. Fifteen of this year's finalists have shared what their most valuable startup advice for their fellow Houston founders.

From the importance of mentorship to tips for female and BIPOC founders, these pearls of wisdom come directly from a selection of finalists across a handful of categories, including DEI Champion, BIPOC-Owned Business, Female-Owned Business, and Mentor of the Year.

Read these excerpts of advice from Houston's innovation community's top startup founders and supporters.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we'll name the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners.

"Be comfortable with asking for and accepting help. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint, but helping yourself with supportive people around is critical." — Cameron Carter of Rosarium Health, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Underrepresented founders often have trouble asking for what they want or deserve. ... Don't be scared to ask for what you want, or what you believe you deserve." — Pedro Silva of Milkify, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"It's not 'fake it' until you make it. It's 'take it' until you make it. Be proud to be you." — Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"When starting a company, remember it’s a game of attrition. The best way to last longer than your nearest neighbor is to find your tribe." — Aaron Fitzgerald of Mars Materials, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Know your worth and add tax. Choose your partners wisely — at home and work. Invest in the best stock you own: YOU." — Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Whatever battle you're fighting now that no one knows about — go ahead and WIN the war." — Shoshi Kaganovsky of Feelit Technologies, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"My advice would be to find truly effective mentors who are willing to open up their network for you. It doesn't matter if the mentors are men or women — what matters is that they genuinely care about your professional success and who you are as a person." — Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Healthcare, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Remember...There are a BILLION ways to apply sunscreen, but no matter how you apply it, it ALL protects you from the sun. Like sunscreen, there are infinite ways to succeed in the startup world. Trust your gut, stick to your vision, and keep trying until you find what works for you. ... Your purpose and vision should be your North Star, guiding decisions in team-building, coaching, and creating a company culture. Stick to that purpose—it's what will drive you through the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship." — Emily Cisek of The Postage, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"First and foremost, embrace your uniqueness. As a woman of color, you bring a distinctive perspective to the table. Your background is not just a part of who you are; it's a strength that sets you apart in a male-dominated industry. ... Resilience is your greatest ally. Challenges will arise, and it's okay to acknowledge them. What matters most is how you respond. Each obstacle is an opportunity for growth and learning. ... Lastly, trust yourself. You are not just running a business; you are shaping a narrative of empowerment and change." — Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery Technologies, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Figure out, learn, and understand your mission inside and out and use it to make all your major business (and sometimes personal) decisions." — LaGina R Harris, founder and CEO of The Us Space and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Know your value and continue advocating for inclusion." — Janice Tran of Kanin Energy, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Be your true, authentic self. There are going to be some people that like what you are doing, and there's going to be some people that don't, but the biggest thing is being true to who you are, and that's always going to flourish more than being who someone else wants you to be." — Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Until you hire someone, you are the one wearing the product manager hat. You've got to love the problem more than the solution." — Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Be the person your younger self needed. Representation really does matter. Be a listening ear, share your lessons, and allow people to blossom under your leadership." — Michelle Ngome, founder and president of the African American Marketing Association and DEI Champion finalist

"Embrace your unique perspective as a source of strength and innovation. ... In Houston's dynamic startup scene, your presence and contributions as a traditionally marginalized founder or investor are essential for driving innovation and diversity. By staying resilient, seeking support, and advocating for inclusivity, you can navigate the entrepreneurial journey and make a lasting impact on both your business and the broader community." — Jessica Adebiyi, diversity and professional development director at Womble Bond Dickinson and DEI Champion finalist

The six finalists for the sustainability category for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards weigh in on their challenges overcome. Photos courtesy

Top Houston-based sustainability startups share their 4 biggest challenges

houston innovation awards

Six Houston-area sustainability startups have been named finalists in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, but they didn't achieve this recognition — as well as see success for their businesses — without any obstacles.

The finalists were asked what their biggest challenges have been. From funding to market adoption, the sustainability companies have had to overcome major obstacles to continue to develop their businesses.

The awards program — hosted by InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community. Eighteen energy startups were named as finalists across all categories, but the following responses come from the finalists in the sustainability category specifically.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

    1. Securing a commercial pilot

    "As an early-stage clean energy developer, we struggled to convince key suppliers to work on our commercial pilot project. Suppliers were skeptical of our unproven technology and, given limited inventory from COVID, preferred to prioritize larger clients. We overcame this challenge by bringing on our top suppliers as strategic investors. With a long-term equity stake in Fervo, leading oilfield services companies were willing to provide Fervo with needed drilling rigs, frack crews, pumps, and other equipment." — Tim Latimer, founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

    2. Finding funding

    "Securing funding in Houston as a solo cleantech startup founder and an immigrant with no network. Overcome that by adopting a milestone-based fundraising approach and establishing credibility through accelerator/incubator programs." — Anas Al Kassas, CEO and founder of INOVUES

    "The biggest challenge has been finding funding. Most investors are looking towards software development companies as the capital costs are low in case of a risk. Geothermal costs are high, but it is physical technology that needs to be implemented to safety transition the energy grid to reliable, green power." — Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

    3. Market adoption

    "Market adoption by convincing partners and government about WHP as a solution, which is resource-intensive. Making strides by finding the correct contacts to educate." — Janice Tran, CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy

    "We are creating a brand new financial instrument at the intersection of carbon markets and power markets, both of which are complicated and esoteric. Our biggest challenge has been the cold-start problem associated with launching a new product that has effectively no adoption. We tackled this problem by leading the Energy Storage Solutions Consortium (a group of corporates and battery developers looking for sustainability solutions in the power space), which has opened up access to customers on both sides of our marketplace. We have also leveraged our deep networks within corporate power procurement and energy storage development to talk to key decision-makers at innovative companies with aggressive climate goals to become early adopters of our products and services." — Emma Konet, CTO and co-founder of Tierra Climate

    4. Long scale timelines

    "Scaling and commercializing industrial technologies takes time. We realized this early on and designed the eXERO technology to be scalable from the onset. We developed the technology at the nexus of traditional electrolysis and conventional gas processing, taking the best of both worlds while avoiding their main pitfalls." — Claus Nussgruber, CEO of Utility Global

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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    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.

    3 female Houston innovators to know this week

    who's who

    Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

    Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

    Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

    If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

    "To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

    Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

    Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

    A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

    Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

    “The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

    Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

    With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

    After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

    Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    “The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.