NanoTech Materials celebrated its move into a new facility — a 43,000-square-foot space in Katy, Texas, this week. Photo via NanoTech Materials

A Houston startup has moved into a new space that's more than four times larger than its previous setup — a move that's setting the company up to scale its business.

NanoTech Materials celebrated its move into a new facility — a 43,000-square-foot space in Katy, Texas, this week. The materials science company currently distributes a roof coating that features its novel heat-control technology across the company. Originally founded in a garage, the company has now moved from its 10,000-square-foot space at Halliburton Labs into the larger location to support its growth.

“The new facility allows us to not just focus on the roofing, and that’s growing at a pretty rapid pace, but also stand up different production lines for our next iteration of technologies coming-out," Mike Francis, co-founder and CEO of NanoTech tells InnovationMap.

The space allows for a 340 percent increase in the manufacturing and operational capabilities, including producing 55 million square feet a year of roof coating. Francis says the new products he's focused on launching and scaling include a wildfire protectant coating and liquid applied insulation for trucks and containers to control heat for driver and worker safety.

Francis adds that he will be expanding the company's team to support this growth.

“We’re constantly hiring now,” he says. “We have about 25 employees right now. Next year, we’ll probably be double that. We’re kind of in a hypergrowth phase."

Francis likes to credit Houston in part for NanoTech's ability to grow at this pace and to be successful.

Mike Francis is the CEO and co-founder of NanoTech Materials. Photo via LinkedIn

“Houston has a shot at being one of the top startup cities of the world — I think it’s going to take a lot of time and capital, but what makes Houston different is its ability to scale existing technologies,” Francis says.

“I really think that Houston is already the spot to take an existing technology and build a team around it to turn it into a company because you have all of the players — whether it’s the end customer or the incubators and 'scalerators' — and you have all of these pieces coming into place," he continues. "Maybe it’s not the best place to start a company, but it’s definitely the best place to scale a company because of the ecosystem is really willing to participate and raise up startups like ours."

As the first company selected for Halliburton's incubator, Halliburton Labs, when it launched in 2020, NanoTech has worked closely with the company that housed and supported them for years.

“Once you’re in the Halliburton Labs fold, they are always just a phone call away from making something happen," he says. “We’re transferring all that knowledge into a bigger facility — growing up and graduating from what they gave us.”

Last year, NanoTech raised an oversubscribed funding round that brought on a handful of new investors. The details of the round were not disclosed, but NanoTech did release that the round included participation from three institutional investors, two corporate-strategic investors, and seven family offices. The company originally raised its seed round in 2020.

The NanoTech team, including Francis and Carrie Horazeck, chief commercial officer, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last year to discuss how they've rolled out their first line of business.


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

Houston coworking company acquires digital community platform

M&A moves

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 combined commitment to support innovation communities—large and small—is evident,” Andrew Ramirez, who served as CEO for Village Insights ahead of the acquisition, says in a news release. “Village Insights and The Cannon merged to align efforts and cultivate local, regional and global innovation communities. Combining our value propositions represents a significant leap forward for the populations that we serve.”

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

“The Cannon’s hub network stretches from The Woodlands to Galveston and across the 13-county region, with a membership base of more than 900 companies and 3,000 employees,” Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, adds. “The digital extension of our physical footprint brings comprehensive innovation and business development support to communities that need it the most. Cannon Connect’s virtual- connection capabilities stand to remarkably expand our universe of ecosystem opportunities.”

Village Insights was founded in 2020. According to the release, the acquisition began in December, and members of the Village Insights core leadership team have rolled onto new roles at The Cannon.

“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.”

Co-founded by CEO Jessica Traver, IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. Photo courtesy of IntuiTap

Houston health tech startup revolutionizing spinal taps receives FDA clearance

tap in

Houston startup IntuiTap Medical has gained clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its VerTouch medical device.

The company says VerTouch is designed to make spinal punctures more accurate and consistent. The handheld imaging tool helps health care providers perform spinal punctures at a patient’s bedside.

IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. The company is mulling global partnerships to help launch VerTouch.

IntuiTap’s proprietary spinal-mapping technology enables VerTouch to generate a 2D image of lumbar spinal anatomy, helping health care providers visualize a patient’s spine and guide them toward more precise needle placement.

Each year, 12.7 million Americans undergo an epidural, spinal block, or lumbar puncture, says IntuiTap.

“Having spent more than two decades pioneering the use of ultrasound to improve emergency lumbar punctures, I know the challenge of these procedures and that difficult training and image interpretation prevent ultrasound from being a complete solution,” Dr. Michael Blaivas, co-founder past president of the Society of Ultrasound in Medical Education, says in a news release.

IntuiTap says the FDA clearance “validates the safety and effectiveness” of VerTouch. The device has undergone testing at several institutions in the U.S., including Houston’s Texas Medical Center and Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Jessica Traver, co-founder and CEO of IntuiTap, says the FDA clearance “marks a crucial milestone in our team’s journey to making epidurals, spinals, and lumbar punctures more accurate and efficient.”

Investors in IntuiTap include:

  • Dr. Paul Klotman, president of the Baylor College of Medicine
  • Venture capitalist Tim Draper
  • William Hawkins III, retired CEO of medical device giant Medtronic
  • Dr. Vip Patel, Founder of the Global Robotics Institute
  • Dr. Mary Klotman, dean of the Duke University’s medical school
  • Carrie Colbert, founder of Houston-based Curate Capital, a female-focused VC firm

“Our investment in IntuiTap was just as much about our faith in the technology, our faith in Jessica as the founder, and our conviction that innovation was sorely needed in this area,” Colbert says.

“The fact that the company is receiving FDA clearance is a huge leap forward, and as a venture capital fund who focuses on female-founded companies that benefit women, it’s extremely rewarding to know this device will impact so many women’s lives.”

In 2021, IntuiTap announced it had closed a $5.5 million series A funding round led by Curate Capital and The Pink Ceiling, a woman-centered investment firm. The startup was founded in 2016.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

Houston startup secures IBM partnership for AI-backed consumer tech

out of the boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise's headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

WellnessWits, founded by Kike Oduba to enhance patient-physician interaction, has integrated AI with the help of IBM. Photo via WellnessWits.com

Houston health tech startup taps into IBM tech for AI integration

teaming up

A Houston startup aimed at transforming healthcare with solutions for chronic disease and its prevention has teamed up with IBM technology.

WellnessWits has embedded IBM watsonx Assistant into its app for both iOS and Android. By making generative AI part of the app, WellnessWits now boasts an AI-based chat functionality.

That cutting-edge aspect of the platform allows patients to get information on chronic disease more quickly than ever, even before meeting with their physician. But it helps with that, too, aiding in scheduling appointments more easily with doctors who specialize in a host of chronic maladies.

“I founded WellnessWits as a platform for shared medical appointments where doctors with large patient loads can see them in groups and offer collective shared medical experiences to people suffering from chronic conditions. The goal is to bridge this divide, leveraging the strength of digital communities to enhance the overall well-being and healthcare experiences of individuals everywhere,” WellnessWits Founder and CEO Dr. Kike Oduba, a physician and informatician, writes in a blog post.

Oduba founded the company in 2018. In its early years, she participated in IBM’s First AI Cohort for Underrrepresented Founders Program. She believes that by using watsonx Assistant in her technology arsenal, WellnessWits will be a means to “digitize, standardize and automate care plans for patients dealing with chronic diseases.”

Diabetes management is a cornerstone of the company, but Oduba says that WellnessWits is similarly committed to impacting health issues including cancer, chronic pain, mental health, and obesity.

“By partnering with IBM, and academic leaders in institutions like The University of Texas, we aim to extend our reach and impact,” Oduba says.

In addition to the IBM program, Oduba and WellnessWits was selected for MassChallenge's recent cohort.

MassChallenge Startup Stories: WellnessWits Founder's Journey from Struggles to SuccessIn this inspiring 6-minute testimonial, we take you through the remarkable experience of Dr. Oduba, founder and CEO of ...

Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, has expanded his company's platform. Photo courtesy of Molecule Software

Houston energy tech startup expands platform with new data tools

growing gains

Houston startup Molecule Software hopes to get a big bang out of its new platform for the energy and commodities markets.

The data-as-a-lake platform, Bigbang, is available as an add-on for current Molecule customers. It enables energy trading and risk management (ETRM) and commodities trading and risk management (CTRM) customers to automatically import trade data from Molecule, and then merge it with various sources to conduct queries and analysis.

Molecule sells Bigbang at a monthly rate through either a yearly or multiyear contract.

“We’re seeing a growing need in the energy and commodities trading space for a turnkey data lake, as indicated by our own customers. They need real-time and automated data streaming from key systems, the ability to query the data quickly and easily, and access to the data using the analytics tools they know well,” says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule.

Founded in 2012, Molecule specializes in cloud-based trading and risk management software for the energy and commodities sectors. Among the business segments that use Molecule’s software are electricity, natural gas, crude and refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, metals, and cryptocurrency.

“Energy and commodities markets have been undergoing a seismic shift, driven by two key factors: increasing price volatility across all commodities and a global energy transition stemming from the challenges of climate change,” Molecule says in a news release. “Given these market trends, near real-time data access and advanced trading analytics are essential for effective portfolio risk management.”

In 2021, Molecule closed a $12 million series A funding round led by Houston-based VC firm Mercury Fund. Seven years earlier, Molecule received a $1.1 million seed round from Mercury and the Houston Angel Network.

In a 2021 interview with the Houston Innovators Podcast, Soleja described how Molecule helps its customers assemble scattered data.

“The way to think about the product is if you have a brokerage account — like Robinhood, or something like that — you see how much stock you have and how much you’ve made or lost,” Soleja said.

“For companies that are trading electricity, crude oil, natural gas, and other commodities and agricultural products, they also want to see how much of each thing they have and how much they’ve made or lost. But they don’t just get to log into their brokerage account and figure it out. That’s in a lot of different places.”

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Texas lands in top 10 most-expensive cities for running a new business

pay up

Everything is bigger in Texas — or at least somewhat bigger — and that appears to include the cost of running a new business.

A new ranking from business consulting firm Venture Smarterputs Texas at No. 9 among the states with the highest expenses for starting and operating a business.

New York appears at No. 1 on the list, followed by Washington and Massachusetts.

The cheapest state? Mississippi. It was preceded in the ranking by Kentucky and North Dakota.

To come up with its list, Venture Smarter looked at eight metrics, including corporate tax rate, average LLC filing fees, average real estate costs, and minimum wage.

Texas scored 59.74 out of 100 for startup expenses, with a higher score being worse.

The Lone Star State tied with Tennessee for the highest initial LLC filing fees ($300). But unlike many other states, Texas doesn’t require business owners to pay LLC filing fees each year to keep a business incorporated.

Texas fared well on several counts, though, such as no corporate tax, a low state-mandated minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), and relatively low real estate costs.

“This research aims to provide valuable insights into the business climate across various states, offering new entrepreneurs the information they need to make well-informed decisions on their entrepreneurial journey,” Venture Smarter says in a statement. “By understanding the unique characteristics and challenges of each state, aspiring business owners can navigate the complexities of different markets and optimize their chances of success.”

How to evaluate an IPO, according to Houston researchers

houston voices

Many investors assume they can judge the strength of an IPO based on the reputation of the underwriter supporting it.

However, a recent study by Rice Business professors Anthea Zhang and Haiyang Li, along with Jin Chen (Nottingham University) and Jing Jin (University of International Business and Economics), proves this is only sometimes true — depending on how mature the stock exchange is.

Getting your company listed on the stock market is a big step. It opens new opportunities to raise money and grow the business. But it also means facing increased regulations, reporting requirements and public scrutiny.

To successfully launch an initial public offering (IPO), most companies hire “underwriters” — financial services firms — to guide them through the complex process. Because underwriters have expertise in valuations, filing paperwork and promoting to investors, they play a crucial role in ushering companies onto the market.

In well-established markets like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), an underwriter’s reputation carries immense weight with investors. Top-tier banks like Goldman Sachs have built their reputations by rigorously vetting and partnering with only the most promising companies. When Goldman Sachs takes on the role of underwriter, it sends a strong signal to potential investors that the IPO has met stringent standards. After all, a firm of Goldman’s caliber would not risk tarnishing its hard-earned reputation by associating with subpar companies.

Conversely, IPO firms recognize the value of having a prestigious underwriter. Such an association lends credibility and prestige, enhancing the company’s appeal. In a mature market environment, the underwriter’s reputation correlates to the IPO’s potential, benefiting both the investors who seek opportunities and the companies wanting to make a strong public debut.

However, assumptions about an underwriter’s reputation only hold true if the stock exchange is mature. In emerging or less developed markets, the reputation of an underwriter has no bearing on the quality or potential of the IPO it pairs with.

In an emerging market, the study finds, investors should pay attention to how much the underwriter charges a given IPO for their services. The higher the fee, the riskier it would be to invest in the IPO firm.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers leveraged a unique opportunity in China’s ChiNext Exchange. When ChiNext opened in 2009, regulations were low. Banks faced little consequence for underwriting a substandard IPO. Numerous IPOs on ChiNext were discovered to have engaged in accounting malpractice and inaccurate reporting, resulting in financial losses for investors and eroding confidence in the capital markets. So, for 18 months during 2012-2013, ChiNext closed. When it reopened, exchange reforms were stricter. And suddenly, underwriter reputation became a more reliable marker of IPO quality.

“Our research shows how priorities evolve as markets mature,” Zhang says. “In a new or developing exchange without established regulations, underwriter fees paid by IPO firms dictate the underwriter-company partnership. But as markets reform and mature, reputation and quality become the driving factors.”

The study makes a critical intervention in the understanding of market mechanisms. The findings matter for companies, investors and regulators across societies, highlighting how incentives shift, markets evolve and economic systems work.

The research opens the door to other areas of inquiry. For example, future studies could track relationships between underwriters and companies to reveal the long-term impacts of reputation, fees and rule changes. Research along these lines could help identify best practices benefiting all market participants.

“In the future, researchers could explore how cultural norms, regulations and investor behaviors influence IPO success,” says Li. “Long-term studies on specific underwriter-firm pairs could reveal insights into investor confidence and market stability. Understanding these dynamics can benefit companies, investors and policymakers alike.”

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Yan “Anthea” Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Rice Business, and Haiyang Li, the H. Joe Nelson III Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Rice Business.

Accenture, Goodwill-backed cleantech job accelerator celebrates Houston launch

up and running

A major nonprofit and a worldwide corporate leader have teamed up to advance cleantech jobs — and the program has officially celebrated its launch in Houston.

Goodwill Houston, in collaboration with Accenture, BlocPower, and Goodwill Industries International hosted a celebration for the Clean Tech Accelerator, an industry-focused full-time free jobs training program that was originally announced last year. The first cohort graduated earlier this year, and the second is ongoing.

"Through the CTA, we want to shape the future of sustainable energy in Houston by recruiting underrepresented jobseekers and equipping them with technical proficiency, safety and clean tech certifications, and facilitating placement with local employers," a representative from Accenture states in an email. "Following a quiet initial launch, this event was the official kickoff."

The event also demonstrated the opportunities within the CTA program for job seekers to prepare for the most in-demand clean energy careers in Houston. The accelerator is targeting a specific set of advanced energy jobs — the 40 percent that don't require college degrees and and pay more than the median salary in the United States.

According to Accenture and Goodwill, the plan is to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers. The program, which was co-designed by Accenture, will be run by Goodwill. Participants identified as under and unemployed individuals and accepted into the program will be compensated as they undergo the training and career placement services.

"As our labor market transitions, we see important opportunities for people to move into more promising roles with better pay. It is essential that we provide the training and other support needed to ensure people capture these opportunities," Steve Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, says in a news release announcing the program. "The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will open doors for people in an expanding industry and provide support to employers who are helping us transition to a more sustainable world."

Speakers included leaders from the participating organizations. Photo courtesy of Accenture