Houston entrepreneur, Allie Danziger, wanted to create a program for young professionals looking to gain experience in unprecedented times. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

Last March, school districts abruptly closed as the threat of the coronavirus grew. In-person classes were cancelled, graduation ceremonies were held virtually, and the future career plans of new graduates were suspended in uncertainty. Through the incertitude, a Houston-based company formed to offer a path forward for young professionals impacted by a newly changed world.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, Allie Danziger sat down with her husband and tried to imagine what she would tell her children to do if they were graduating college. The University of Texas graduate relished her college experience before founding Integrate, an award-winning marketing firm in Houston.

"I wouldn't want them to go to virtual college and not have the same type of experience we were all fortunate to have," she explains.

Simultaneously, Danziger's email began to overflow with young people looking for advice on how to move forward or questioning a gap year. "I've always loved coaching and mentoring young professionals right out of college," she says.

In her 11 years at Integrate, she had mentored more than 100 interns and first-year employees. After researching gap year programs, Danziger launched a new career training program, Ampersand.

Danziger and her co-founder Scott Greenberg created Ampersand with a mission to democratize access to career-building opportunities by providing mentorship and three one-month internships to young professionals. (Disclaimer: InnovationMap is a part of the Spring 2021 Ampersand program.) The curriculum includes personality assessments, career mapping, one-on-one training, and basic career skills to know as an entry-level employee.

The flexible program includes five hours of curriculum-focused learning and 15 hours of interning, allowing participants with outside engagements and college classes to also participate.

"When I speak to universities all over the country, I always tell them that while I valued my college undergraduate experience, I got so much more out of my internships," she says.

The beta launched in August with a group of ten professionals and ten businesses. Each month, the participants rotate to a position at a different business, allowing them to be exposed to new industries and departments. The program is a flexible 20-hour commitment — five hours of curriculum-based learning and 15 hours of interning — done remotely. While Danziger created the program to serve as a way to be productive during a "gap year" or "gap semester," Ampersand can be balanced with outside activities or college classes.

During Brené Brown's 2020 commencement speech for the University of Texas graduation, she predicted that interviewers would soon tell them, "I see you're a 2020 graduate. That was tough. How did you handle it?"

The quote struck Danziger and "was probably the overall inspiration for this business," she reflects. She feels Ampersand is "a way to put that anxiety into a productive place and actually use the downtime, or use the time that you're considering your options, really mindfully."

"I really believe that it scales way beyond this pandemic," says Danziger. In her research, she saw a lack of career-focused gap curriculums and resources available. "There are no programs that help you determine what the right path for you is—to really do that self-exploration and then apply it to your career path," she explains.

Textbooks and classroom learning are important, but to Danziger, "real-world experience is invaluable." In her research and through first-hand experience, she notes there are "big issues with the higher education industry as a whole not really preparing their students for careers."

At Integrate, Danziger noticed newly-hired graduates would sometimes struggle with "basic things to know for day one," like how to ask for time-off or schedule a calendar invitation. "It ends up frustrating managers while also frustrating the entry-level employees because they're not able to succeed at the pace that they expected to," she says. "These students are graduating with tons of student debt, great skills focused in the major that they chose, but very few of the soft skills that they need in order to be successful professionally," she continues.

Student loan debt in the United States reached $1.7 trillion last year with more than 44 million borrowers; the crisis has exceeded the nation's credit card debt by more than $900 billion. A 2015 study from the University of South Carolina linked student loan debt to poor psychological functioning and stress.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in 10 students have changed their major more than once—a figure that can be correlated to the increasing student loan crisis.

"People are taking fifth and sixth years because they had to change their major, or they move careers after a year of their first job, which then costs them and the company significant dollars in lost wages," says Danziger.

Danziger feels Ampersand also answers the prominent issue of diversity in the workplace.

"If businesses get a more diverse workforce at that very entry-level space, who are prepared and ready to take on the jobs just like anyone else, these interns will grow through the ranks and have significantly more opportunities in management and in the boardrooms," she says.

Young professionals aren't the only beneficiaries of Ampersand. Businesses, too, have reaped the perks of interns hungry for new experiences and a resume boost. From competitive analyses to marketing plans, interns are contributing tasks companies "didn't have time to make it a priority, especially amid the pandemic," says Danziger.

Through weekly one-on-one virtual sessions, the Ampersand team works with the professionals to go over their to-do lists and act as their project managers.

"We do all the mentorship and coaching, so that the business just has to receive the end product," she explains.

"This definitely beats the option of a career day and sets them up to make more informed career choices," Liz Cordell, co-founder and COO at Mak Studio. Cordell, who participated in the first cohort, assigned interns to social media marketing projects her company didn't have the capacity to work on. Knowing the Gen Z and millennial-aged professionals excel social media, she has enjoyed working with interns who've "become a part of the team," despite a remote work environment.

"The training the interns receive with Ampersand prior to joining your team gives them access to fundamental skills, concepts, and tools used in business today. This levels up your interns to be able to meaningfully contribute to your company from day one," says Cordell. As a business owner, she feels the program provides "a unique opportunity to have an intern with professional support."

One Louisiana State University student used Ampersand to discover his creative strengths and land a job offer from one of his internships. At the beginning of the program, he confided in Danziger that he "wasn't feeling motivated to pursue this career accounting," and didn't find enjoyment in his classes.

The student's Ampersand personality assessment identified his inclination to creativity; he participated in a series of internships that included an architecture firm, furniture company, and a finance startup. "He's able to really see how he can keep his accounting degree and apply it to these other career paths. It's just amazing to see how he's blossomed from this," says Danziger.

While the nation prepares for a shift in power, the incoming president has outlined support for workforce training programs that aligns with Ampersand's mission. President-elect Joe Biden plans to make a $50 billion investment into workforce training programs when he takes office. The proposal announces that money will fund partnerships between community colleges, businesses, unions, state, local, and tribal governments, universities, and high schools to identify in-demand skills in and modernize training programs.

Ampersand kicked off its second cohort with 30 professionals and 30 participating businesses from around the country on Jan. 5, and is currently accepting applications for its summer program. She anticipates the growing startup will begin raising a seed round during the first quarter. While Danziger emanates with excitement about the launch and balances her role as President of Integrate, she has big plans for the future of Ampersand.

Danziger dreams of scaling Ampersand to serve as many young professionals and businesses who are interested in participating.

"With that, I really want to be able to bring this to the low-income community so we can fulfill the mission of democratizing access to internships and professional development to everyone," she says.


Ampersand // Professional Development & Internship Program www.youtube.com

Mobile vet business, virtual reality for space, plant-based biotech, and more — all this innovation and more is coming out of Houston startups. Courtesy photos

Editor's Picks: Top 10 Houston startup feature stories of the year

2020 in review

Editor's note: As 2020 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. This past year, InnovationMap featured profiles on dozens of these Houston startups — from blockchain and software companies to startups with solutions in health care and oil and gas. Here are excerpts of 10 that stood out throughout 2020 — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston health tech startup moves into new office amid major growth

BrainCheck has moved to a new office as it grows its team and expands its product. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Following a series A round of fundraising, a Houston digital health startup is on a bit of a hiring spree, leading to new office space the company has room to grow into.

BrainCheck, which was founded in 2015 by neuroscientist David Eagleman, is a cognitive assessment startup that has developed a software tool for primary care doctors to use to assess their patients' cognitive health so that they can more quickly diagnose and treat them for maladies like dementia.

The 19-person company headquartered in Houston — with a secondary office in Austin focused on product development — has relocated its operations from coworking space in the Texas Medical Center to an office in the Rice Village area. The move was made possible by an $8 million series A financing round that closed in October.

"It's pretty exciting to have reached this milestone where we need more space," Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, tells InnovationMap. "We were pretty much bursting at the seams in our old office." Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup raises $30M, plans to be 'next iconic chemical company' with plant-based alternatives

Solugen, which uses plant-centered biotechnology to produce environmentally friendly chemicals, has raised an additional $30 million and is speculated to soon reach unicorn status. Photo via solugentech.com

While Forbes recently anointed Houston-based Solugen Inc. as one of the next billion-dollar "unicorns" in the startup world, Dr. Gaurab Chakrabarti shrugs off the unicorn buzz.

Chakrabarti, a physician and scientist who's co-founder and CEO of the startup, concedes he doesn't know whether Solugen will be worth $1 billion or not. But he does know that the startup aspires to be a key competitor in the emerging "climate tech" sector, whose players strive to combat climate change. Chakrabarti estimates the climate-tech chemical space alone represents a global market opportunity valued at $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year.

Solugen's overarching goal in the climate-tech market: Replace petroleum-based chemicals with plant-based substitutes.

"I'd love it if we were the poster child that drives climate tech to be the next big, sexy trend," Chakrabarti says.

Chakrabarti acknowledges Solugen's investors, executives, and employees hope the startup succeeds financially. But success, he believes, goes beyond making money and plotting an exit strategy. Instead, Chakrabarti emphasizes "a shift in thinking" on climate tech that he says promises to transform the fledgling sector into a "true niche" that'll be "good for everyone." Click here to continue reading.

Houston mobile vet company plans to roll out services statewide

A Houston vet has seen growth in business for her mobile vet company due to the pandemic. Now, she's planning major growth. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

It's safe to say that the real winners of work-from-home trends that sparked due to the pandemic are our pets. Dogs and cats that were used to not seeing their owners for eight hours every work day now have 24-hour access to attention, treats, and ear scratches.

This increased attention pets are getting from their owners has also meant an increased awareness of pet health, says Katie Eick, founder of Houston-based Rollin' Vets, a startup that has mobilized veterinary services.

"People are home and observing their animals more. They're seeing and recognizing things they might not have if they were at work all day," Eick says.

That's, of course, not the only way the pandemic has affected business for Eick. She founded her company in 2016 and was seeing steady growth as delivery and on-demand services like Uber, DoorDash, etc. increased in use and awareness. Click here to continue reading.

With fresh funds, this Houston entrepreneur plans to scale his industrial e-commerce startup

Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, shares how his company plans to scale following its recent series C closing. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

Consumers are getting more and more used to picking up their laptops or phones and ordering everyday items in just a few clicks or taps — and seeing those items delivered in just a few days. To Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, ordering parts and tools for industrial businesses should be just as easy.

GoExpedi, which just closed a $25 million series C round, has seen rising demand for its e-commerce platform focused on industrial orders, and Neal credits this demand on a change in mindset within the industrial sector. Additionally, he says he's seen clients more and more focused on cutting costs.

Neal shared his company's plans for growth and scale, as well as how fundraising during a pandemic went, in an interview with InnovationMap. Click here to continue reading.

Family-owned composting startup redesigns how Houston disposes of waste

A Houston-area family has made it their business to help Houstonians reduce waste in a convenient, sustainable way. Photo courtesy of Happy Earth Compost

Jesse Stowers has always strived to do his part for the environment. From recycling and making eco-conscious choices, the Stowers were doing everything right, but was it enough?

The family of five was throwing away two trash bags of waste a day that would later end up in landfills until Stowers stumbled on composting as a solution. In May, he launched Happy Earth Compost, a company set on making Houston more sustainable.

If you're unfamiliar with composting, get ready for a crash course. Composting is a sustainable method of decomposing organic solid wastes and turning that waste into compost, a substance that helps plants grow. Food scraps and household items like rice, pasta, meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, spoiled food, and tea bags are just a few of the many things that can be composted rather than thrown away.

"Your food waste and compostable waste is anywhere from 25 to 50 percent depending on the family," explains Stowers. According to Happy Earth Compost, one human creates an estimated 1,642 pounds of trash each year. Click here to continue reading.

Houston virtual reality company collaborates with space health organization

Houston-based Z3VR has been granted $500,000 to work or virtual reality applications in space. Photo courtesy of Z3VR

Houston-based startup Z3VR received a $500,000 grant from Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, last month to continue exploring how the wide world of virtual reality can boost mental and physical health for astronauts on a mission to Mars.

Founded in 2017 by a group of emerging tech enthusiasts, Z3VR discovered its niche in what CEO Josh Ruben calls the "intersection of biosensors and VR" and began consulting with TRISH in 2018. Last year, the company received its first funding from the institution to create virtual reality platforms that promote exercise and provide additional sensory experiences for isolated Mars-bound astronauts.

This new grant, however, takes Z3VR's mission one step farther. The year-long grant will allow Z3VR, in partnership with NASA labs in California and Houston, to further develop their VR platform to use eye movement tracking to identify cognitive, psychiatric, or ophthalmological issues before they arise.

Getting out ahead of issues is more important than ever on the Mission to Mars. Because of the duration and distance of the mission, these astronauts will be uniquely isolated and will face a communication lag of up to 45 minutes between space shuttle and command center.

"What that means from a health care perspective is that pretty much everything you need to treat and diagnose these astronauts needs to be self contained on the spacecraft itself," Ruben says. "The system that we are building is sensitive enough to pick up on these cognitive, ophthalmological, and psychiatric conditions well before they become clinically relevant. It'll be long before the astronaut knows there's a problem. That's the hope." Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup — buoyed by Halliburton — plans to scale

Houston-based Nanotech was the first company to be selected for Halliburton Labs, a recently announced startup incubator. Photo via halliburtonlabs.com

A Houston-based material science startup that uses nanotechnology for thermal insulation and fireproofing has been chosen as the first participant of Halliburton Labs, an innovation incubator, announced late last month by the oil and gas giant.

Halliburton Company chose Nanotech Inc., among a round of contenders to be the first participant of their 12-month program located at their Houston headquarters. Halliburton will provide Nanotech with its own office space, access to Halliburton facilities, technical expertise, and an extensive network to accelerate their product to market.

"With Nanotech's shield material we can have fireproofing infrastructure, saving lives and helping save the planet," says Mike Francis, CEO of Nanotech. "But it's tremendously difficult to scale our small lab to take our product globally, so when we heard about this opportunity with Halliburton Labs, we jumped immediately on it."

Nanotech Inc., started with a singular technology and a simple mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption globally. The base nano shield, flex shield, and forged shield products contain nanoparticles ranging from 1 micrometer to 1 nanometer in a water-based solution with other inorganic compounds. The coating is heat resistant, non-flammable, and the nontoxic properties ensure it is sustainable for the environment. Click here to continue reading.Click here to continue reading.

This Houston tech startup is helping businesses find the funds during COVID-19 crisis and beyond

Houston startup Grant Source, which helps its clients find the right grants to apply for, has seen a surge in business amid the coronavirus shutdown. Getty Images

Since 2015, Grant Source has perfected the art of helping businesses, foundations, and organizations find and secure grant funding — and now their expertise has become vital to COVID-19 response initiatives.

With the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus, America's medical organizations have been scrambling to obtain the funds required to purchase the testing kits, masks, PPE, and other life-saving products needed to help curb the effects of the global pandemic and now, thanks to the mobile and web platform, they're getting the assistance they need to accomplish that goal.

"COVID-19 response is actually our claim to fame right now," says Allen Thornton, founder and CEO of Grant Source. "We have probably done more business in the last few months than we have since we started. Simply because we are helping people find grants with the CARES Act. There's over $500 billion out there, which has created overnight a $40 billion market opportunity for us."

Grant Source has worked extensively with city, county, state, and government agencies to secure grant funding, which is why they have become a game changer for those that need emergency capital to combat COVID-19's challenges. Click here to continue reading.

Houston energy tech startup raises $11M to grow its team locally

Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc. has raised millions in its latest round — led partially by a local VC firm — to grow its local presence. Photo via Datagration Solutions/Facebook

An $11 million round of funding will fuel national and international growth at Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc., whose cloud-based software aggregates data to improve workflows and analytics at upstream oil and gas operators.

Houston-based venture capital firm Quantum Energy Partners LLC and New York City-based venture capital firm Global Reserve Group LLC led the round. Datagration represents the sixth investment in energy tech involving the duo of Quantum Energy Partners and Global Reserve Group.

Braxton Huggins, chief marketing officer at Datagration, says the new capital will enable the company to build a technology team in Houston; add to its operations, sales, and marketing team in Houston; and supplement its development team in Austria. These new hires will help Datagration expand its national and international market presence, he says.

Huggins says Datagration aims to more than double in size by the end of 2021. The startup currently employs more than 30 people. Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup uses artificial intelligence to bring its clients better business forecasting calculations

Houston-based Complete Intelligence was just recognized by Capital Factory as the "Newcomer of the Year." Photo via completeintel.com

The business applications of artificial intelligence are boundless. Tony Nash realized AI's potential in an underserved niche.

His startup, Complete Intelligence, uses AI to focus on decision support, which looks at the data and behavior of costs and prices within a global ecosystem in a global environment to help top-tier companies make better business decisions.

"The problem that were solving is companies don't predict their costs and revenues very well," says Nash, the CEO and founder of Complete Intelligence. "There are really high error rates in company costs and revenue forecasts and so what we've done is built a globally integrated artificial intelligence platform that can help people predict their costs and their revenues with a very low error rate."

Founded in 2015, Complete Intelligence is an AI platform that forecasts assets and allows evaluation of currencies, commodities, equity indices and economics. The Woodlands-based company also does advanced procurement and revenue for corporate clients.

"We've spent a couple years building this," says Nash. "We have a platform that is helping clients with planning, finance, procurement and sales and a host of other things. We are forecasting equity markets; we are forecasting commodity prices, currencies, economics and trades. We built a model of the global economy and transactions across the global economy, so it's a very large, very detailed artificial intelligence platform."

That platform, CI Futures, has streamlined comprehensive price forecasting and data analysis, allowing for sound, data-based decisions.

"Our products are pretty simple," says Nash. "We have our basic off the shelf forecast which is called CI Futures, which is currencies, commodities, equities and economics and trade. Its basic raw data forecasts. We distribute that raw data on our website and other data distribution websites. We also have a product called Cost Flow, which is our procurement forecasting engine, where we build a material level forecasting for clients." Click here to continue reading.

Here's what Houston startups raised the most money this year, according to InnovationMap. Photo via Getty Images

Here are the top 5 Houston startup venture capital deals in 2020

2020 in review

Editor's note: As 2020 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. When it came to the money raised in Houston, these five startups raised the most, according to reporting done by InnovationMap.


Preventice Solutions' $137M series B

Preventice Solutions reportedly raised $137 million to grow its medical device business. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Preventice Solutions, a medical device company, raised a $137 million series B in July. The round was led by Palo Alto-based Vivo Capital along with support from existing investors, including Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Boston Scientific, and the Samsung Catalyst Fund.

The funds were raised in order "to accelerate investment in salesforce expansion, technology and product innovation and further development of clinical evidence supporting its flagship solution," according to the news release.

"We are pleased to have Vivo Capital and Novo Holdings as new investors, and with this funding we are poised to further accelerate our growth," says Jon P. Otterstatter, CEO of Preventice Solutions, in a press release. "We are setting a new standard for monitoring of cardiac arrythmia patients. Our robust and growing success with physicians and payers accentuates the compelling value proposition of using novel technology to improve diagnosis, while also increasing the efficiency of healthcare delivery."

HighRadius's $125M series B

Houston-based HighRadius has reported reaching unicorn status following a $125 million raise. Photo via highradius.com

High Radius started out 2020 strong, reportedly reaching unicorn status with the closing of a $125 million series B round.

The Houston startup, an artificial intelligence-powered fintech software company, announced the round was led by ICONIQ Capital, with participation from existing investors Susquehanna Growth Equity and Citi Ventures, according to a news release from the company.

"Today marks an important milestone for HighRadius and we're thrilled to have ICONIQ join us in our vision to modernize the Order to Cash space," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "ICONIQ combines patient capital with a long-term vision of investing in category-defining businesses, and the firm has worked with some of the world's most successful tech entrepreneurs. We are building HighRadius into a self-sustaining, long-term category leader, and ICONIQ is a great partner for us in this journey."

The company, which offices in West Houston, was founded in 2006 founded in 2006 and employs more than 1,000 people in North America, Europe, and Asia. In November, HighRadius opened an office in Amsterdam. According to the news release, the company will use the funds to further expand its global footprint.

GoExpedi's $25M series C

Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, shares how his company plans to scale following its recent series C closing. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

In September, GoExpedi announced it had raised $25 million in series C funding led by San Francisco-based Top Tier Capital Partners with participation from San Jose Pension Fund, Houston-based CSL Ventures, San Francisco-based Crosslink Capital and Hack VC, New York-based Bowery Capital, and more. Last year, GoExpedi raised $25 million in a series B round — also led by Top Tier Capital — and $8 million in a series A just a few months before.

"This new injection of capital will help us advance our digital platform for MRO and supply chain systems and accelerate the rollout of our new robotics operations, as well as deepen our technology team to help us meet new, insatiable demand," says Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi, in a news release. "Leveraging our intuitive, customer-focused, and interactive intelligence platform is a no-brainer for companies seeking to modernize their respective supply chains.

Founded in 2017, the e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company, is using the funds to expand beyond energy into adjacent markets and further develop its machine learning software, robotics, and advanced analytics technologies. According to the release, the company also plans to hire.

Liongard's $17M series B

Houston-based SaaS company, Liongard, has closed its recent fundraising round led by one of HX Venture Fund's portfolio funds. Getty Images

Houston-based, fast-growing software-as-a-service company, Liongard, closed its $17 million round in May round in May. It was led by Updata Partners with contribution by TDF Ventures, Integr8d Capital, and private investors. With customers in 20 countries, Liongard saw triple-digit customer growth and doubled its staff over the past 18 months, according to a news release.

Liongard's CEO, Joe Alapat, who co-founded the company with COO Vincent Tran in 2015, says that the new funds will continue to support its Roar platform — a software product that creates a single dashboard for all data systems and allows automation of managed service providers, or MSPs, for auditing and security within a company's IT.

"Since the launch of Liongard, the platform's adoption and popularity with MSPs has grown rapidly, transforming Liongard into a highly recognized brand in the MSP ecosystem," Alapat says in the release. "This new investment and the continued confidence of our investors will fuel our growth by giving us the means to further advance our solution's capabilities and serve our customers at an even better level."

Liongard's total funding now sits at over $20 million. Last year, the company raised a $4.5 million series A round following a $1.3 million seed round in 2018. TDF Ventures and Integr8d Capital have previously invested in the company.

Lead investor, Updata Partners, is based in Washington D.C. and invests in SaaS, tech-enabled service providers, and digital media and e-commerce. The HX Venture Fund, a fund-of-funds under Houston Exponential, has invested in Updata Partner's recent fund.

Ambyint's $15M series B

Ambyint, which has offices in Calgary and Houston, has secured funding from Houston venture capital firms. Photo courtesy of Ambyint

In February, Ambyint, which has an office in Houston, closed its $15 million series B funding round with support from local investors. Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners led the round, and Houston-based Mercury Fund also contributed — as did Ambyint's management team, according to a news release. The money will be used to grow both its Houston and Calgary, Alberta, offices and expand its suite of software solutions for wells and artificial lift systems.

"This funding round is an important milestone for Ambyint, and we're pleased to benefit from unwavering support among our investors to boost Ambyint to its next phase of growth," says Alex Robart, CEO of Ambyint, in the news release. "It is also a proof point for our approach of combining advanced physics and artificial intelligence, deployed on a scalable software infrastructure, to deliver 10 to 20 percent margin gains in a market where meaningful improvements have been hard to achieve."

Ambyint's technology pairs artificial intelligence with advanced physics and subject matter expertise to automate processes on across all well types and artificial lift systems.

Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photos courtesy

5 innovative gift ideas from Houston startups

shop local

The holidays are fully upon us, and in the spirit of giving, why not give a little business to local startups as you shop for friends and family this year?

Browse this year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas below, and then click here to check out last year's gift ideas too for eight more options for you.

Low-carb treats from ChipMonk Baking

Give the gift of healthy desserts with ChipMonk Baking. Photo via chipmonkbaking.com

Houstonians David Downing and Jose Hernandez were tired of having such limited options when it came to finding healthy dessert alternatives. So, they founded ChipMonk Baking, a local, mail-order bakery that creates treats using monk fruit and allulose, a low-calorie (0.4 calories per gram) rare sugar that's found naturally in foods such as raisins, dried figs, and kiwi. Hernandez began developing ChipMonk's recipes to satisfy his taste for cookies after being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.

An online business, ChipMonk offers every snacks from cookies and bites to mixes and sweeteners. There are also a few bundles to choose from as well as a free, downloadable holiday cookbook

Skin-healthy athletic wear from Élastique

Emeline Kuhner-Stout, founder of Élastique Athletics, wanted to create a product that was easy to wear and benefitted lymphatic health. Photo courtesy of Élastique Athletics

Moms know how to make the most of their time, and that's exactly how Emeline Kuhner-Stout came across the idea for Élastique Athletics, a clothing line that promotes skin health and reduces cellulite.

"We did some research, and found that the best way to improve the appearance of your skin and move those fluids — because the cause [of cellulite] is really about those fluids that get trapped under your skin and cause a lot more negative effects other than skin appearance," Kuhner-Stout previously told InnovationMap.

She learned that exercise is the best move for improving lymphatic drainage, and another option is to do it manually through massaging and with compression. After around five years of research and development, Kuhner-Stout was able to release her first product for Élastique Athletics — a pair of leggings that have MicroPerle™ micro-massage beads in the compression leggings to massage the skin when worn.

Now, Élastique has three "wellnesswear" products available online.

Support local with Sesh Coworking

Sesh's gift sets are available for pick-up or delivery. Photo via girlsesh.com

Sesh Coworking is a space founded for women, by women, and that focus extends to the company's in-store and online market. Located in Montrose, Sesh opened its doors in February and was founded by Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler to fill a need in the coworking sector.

"We as women show up in our work lives as a whole person. We don't compartmentalize and forget about all the other things happening in our lives," Wheeler previously told InnovationMap. "We wanted a space that reflected that and embraced it."

While the market supports local female-owned business year round, Sesh has some special items for the holidays. The company has produced a 2020 Holiday Haute List to help users find the perfect gift as well as some gift bundles for the working women of the world. These sets and more are available on Sesh's online store.

Stylish sanitizers from Cobalt

Cobalt's gift set comes with a bottle of each of the company's three FDA-approved cleaning products. Photo via cobaltclean.com

This year's pandemic inspired new products and companies aplenty, and one of them here in Houston is Cobalt founded by Houstonians Molly Voorhees and Christina Milligan. Their hand sanitizing and surface cleaning products blend the importance of cleanliness and safety with the added value of accessibility and a refined appearance.

As working parents of young children, the two women wanted to create a line of sanitizing products that boosted their confidence in the safety of their environments amid a pandemic and that they'd be proud to pull out of their purse on short notice.

"Cleaning products are in your bathroom or are in an ugly looking bottle or the back of our restaurant in massive chemical containers. There is really nothing for the on-the-go market," Voorhees says.

The company sells six FDA-approved sanitizers, sprays, keychains, and to-go kits that eliminate 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses in easy to access, personal-sized, contemporary bottles, ranging from $14 to $30. The products are designed to be free of harsh, alcoholic odors and come in scents like peppermint and bubble gum.

The gift set, which is available online for $50, includes a bottle of hand sanitizer, surface spray, and mask refresher.

Humidity-conscious women's workwear from Cotidie

Cotidié's fabrics are lightweight and moisture wicking — similar to exercise clothing — making the pieces conducive to the Houston heat and humidity. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Other than during Houston's brief winter, rocking a professional wardrobe is tough in humidity that is so iconic to Houston. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag founded Cotidié to design clothes with this struggle in mind.

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

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers dresses, jackets, pants, skirts, and tops, ranging between $60 and $200 in price. The fabrics, sourced from Italy and Taiwan, provide breathable comfort, along with an elastic, structured fit for a more tailored look. All items are moisture wicking and machine washable.

"Everything we use on the line is athletic technical fabric that you would typically find in workout attire, but I've repurposed these fabrics to use in a contemporary womenswear line," Haag tells InnovationMap. "I wanted to create a more foundational capsule clothing collection that women can draw their own inspiration from."

The full collection is available online, as are gift cards.

Bonus: 8 more gift ideas from Houston startups

From after-alcohol relief to a smart pillbox, these Houston-founded companies have innovative holiday gifts to offer. Images via Instagram

Here are eight more ideas for gifts made by Houston startups. Click here,

Josh Pherigo at GHP used data to look into what tech specialties are thriving in Houston — and what niches have shown promising growth. Photo via LinkedIn

Greater Houston Partnership researcher identifies the city's top tech specialties

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 48

When you look at Houston's venture capital investment patterns, what do they tell you? To Josh Pherigo, research director of data analytics at the Greater Houston Partnership, it paints a picture of what tech and startup niches are thriving.

Based on PitchBook data, Pherigo put together an analysis of what industries within Houston are attracting the most investments. The study came out of the fact that Houston's hold on oil and gas is going to shift as the industry goes through the energy transition. Since O&G is such a crucial part of Houston's economy, the city will have to see a rise in new industries to remain competitive with its economy.

"The idea was to look at the innovation ecosystem and see what the technologies are that are doing well here at at attracting VC funding," Pherigo says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And by seeing how well certain technologies are doing, we'll be able to see if these are some areas that have some natural competitive advantages in Houston's economy that we can then use to spur growth in the next few decades — and even just out of the recession we're in right now."

The report found that life science and oil and gas currently attract the most VC investments in Houston, but Pherigo found potential in a few other industries like B2B payments technology — Houston-based fintech startup, HighRadius recently raised $125 million.

The study, which also compared Houston to Austin and Dallas, found that there was a cleantech war emerging between Austin and Houston. While Houston's ecosystem has a greater presence of cleantech startups, Austin cleantech is still bringing in more VC investments. However, in Houston, between new corporate incubators and Greentown Labs entering Houston, the city is creating a lot of infrastructure for this industry.

"It's going to be interesting over the next few years to see how Houston can position itself as the leader in Texas for this, because they are going to have a lot of competition from Austin," Pherigo says.

Pherigo goes into more detail about what he found interesting in the report, and even dives into what the data shows for the future of Houston's tech specialties in the episode of the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

The HTX TechList — launching August 13 — will help connect the dots in Houston's sprawled and burgeoning innovation ecosystem. Getty Images

Exclusive: New digital platform goes live to help connect the Houston innovation ecosystem

Introducing HTX TechList

With a city as diverse and sprawling as Houston, the local innovation ecosystem could stand to benefit from a platform that connects all the dots virtually. So, that's exactly what Houston Exponential created.

HX — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting innovation in Houston — is launching HTX TechList August 13, and the platform will consist of profiles for startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporations and will act as both a database as well as a forum for innovators to interact.

"The problem we've been solving for such a long time has been [not having] dependable data that you can rely on," says Serafina Lalany, chief of staff at HX. "We're taking responsibility for the curation for it and the quality assurance of it."

The fact of the matter is there's no one source for data and information on startups in Houston. While platforms like Crunchbase and Pitch Book exist — and the HTX TechList will factor in their data — they can have costly memberships and be far from complete, since they only represent venture capital-backed startups.

"For the first time ever, you're pulling up a startup page and you're seeing all their fundraising history, the SDOs they're a part of, a blurb of what they're working on, and, the thing I'm most excited about is, their tags," Lalany says, adding that there's over 2,000 tags. "It makes the whole thing super searchable."

Lalany emphasizes that accuracy is HX's goal, and the organization has a data team to help to ensure validity. After launch, the emphasis will be on calling Houston innovators to create accounts for themselves and their companies. HX's next hire will likely be for a marketing person, Lalany mentions.

The technology has been white labeled from Israel's Startup Nation Central, which launched Israel Startup Finder in 2017.

"Israel, a couple years ago, was also an emerging ecosystem," says Lalany, explaining that the country wanted to work toward global attention. Meanwhile, she continues, "Houston has access to global markets, but there's been an misconception that innovation wasn't happening here."

The HX team has been working with Startup Nation Central for a while and been training on the platform since January, which has included a buildout of 300 profiles for the site. The TechList will launch on August 13 with a free virtual event featuring Mayor Sylvester Turner, Israel's Startup Finder team, and several. Houston innovators. (Note: InnovationMap is a media partner for the event.)

"When we were thinking about the launch event and just the sheer number of virtual events that happen now, we wanted to be sure that whatever we produce is of absolute value to our audience — the founders," Lalany says.

The event, which has registration open online, will feature breakout rooms focused on topics that are important to Houston founders:

  • Early stage investment
  • Building your team
  • How to pitch to the press
  • Landing an enterprise customer
  • Opportunity in Houston
  • Resources for founders of color

While the idea for the platform has been considered for years at HX — even in its early days, the need for the HTX TechList has been enhanced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lalany says.

"The world changed in March, and our mission has become realized even more profoundly than before. Our mission has always been to help connect the dots in Houston — it's such a large city, and outsiders are always overwhelmed," she says. "Once we went digital, we were able to do 10 times as much of the curation function that we did pre-pandemic. It's increased a lot of our efficiency."

One-stop shop

Screenshot courtesy of HX

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Fitness tech platform expands to Houston and plans to hire

new to hou

When a global technology company focused on fitness and wellness was looking for a city to open their fourth office in the United States, the team wanted a community that was active and full of young professionals. They landed on Houston.

Membership-based fitness and wellness company ClassPass is opening a local office in Houston and is planning on hiring over 20 professionals across departments — from analytics, customer experience, design, and engineering, to marketing, partnerships and product.

Rachel Moncton, vice president of global marketing for ClassPass, has already relocated to Houston to lead the new office.

"Houston is a friendly, community-focused city with a rich talent pool. We are thrilled to contribute to the Houston economy by creating new opportunities for professionals with varying skill sets, and hope to build a local team with a broad range of experiences and backgrounds," says Moncton says in a news release.

Headquartered in New York City, ClassPass's membership and mobile application connects members to fitness and wellness appointments at over 30,000 studios and 11,500 wellness venues. In Houston, ClassPass has over 900 partners.

Currently, the company has 400 employees worldwide with offices in Missoula, Montana, and San Francisco. ClassPass's new hires will work remotely at first, and the organization is hoping to open a physical office later this year.

"It's great to see another Bay Area company expanding to Houston like Nuro, Bill.com, and Homebase," says Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential. "ClassPass is already using the HTX Talent jobs board to build its Houston team and we hope to work more with them as they build their presence here."

The app has 900 fitness and wellness partners in Houston already. Image courtesy of ClassPass

Harris County rolls out new COVID-19 vaccination waitlist

WORTH THE SHOT

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a new COVID-19 vaccine waitlist on January 25, in an effort to ensure those who are high priority don't get overlooked and make for a smoother process.

Hidalgo explained the basics of how the waitlist will work. She was joined by Dr. Sherri Onyiego, the interim local health authority for Harris County Public Health.

The waitlist, which can be found at ReadyHarris, is said to be weighted and randomized, meaning the website won't necessarily favor whoever has the quickest internet connection. Once the portal opens Tuesday, January 26, everyone will be able to register.

If you fall under the 1A, 1B or seniors groups, then your registration will be weighted for priority, and it will then be randomized within the priority list.

The launch of this new portal and waitlist expands the previous process by allowing eligible residents to sign up for vaccines on their own directly, according to a press release from the county.

Eligible residents without internet access can also call 832 927-8787 once the portal is live to be placed on the waitlist.

If you do not fall under those three groups, you will still be able to register, but it means you'll be on a waitlist for when the vaccine opens to the general public.

In addition to the new portal, the public health department will also be launching a COVID-19 vaccine data hub. The hub will show vaccine availability, distribution, and other demographic data.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap. For more on this story, including updates, visit our news partner ABC13.

Looking for VC funding? This Houstonian says to connect with venture fellows

guest column

Every venture capitalist is searching for the next greatest startup that can change the world — as well as provide a sizable return on their investment. Everyone knows this. And because everyone knows this, most entrepreneurs are sending their pitch decks and executive summaries to venture associates and deal leads. But, I'd like to propose that every entrepreneur who's interested in raising capital begin to pitch their startups to venture fellows, college-aged students who work with investment firms.

I am a venture fellow at New Stack Ventures where my main objective is to source investment opportunities. During my tenure as a venture fellow, I have been sifting through online resources — from Crunchbase and AngelList to LinkedIn — with the hopes of finding a really neat startup that would earn an investment from New Stack Ventures.

A few weeks ago, Crunchbase had run dry of Houston startups that I hadn't reviewed. Because of this deal drought, I posted in the Houston Startups Facebook Group, asking if anyone had any startups that might fit our pre-filter criteria, and I was introduced to 15 startup founders in a matter of minutes. I posted again in the Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth Startups Facebook Groups with similar results.

These experiences showed me that there are several hidden startups that need funding. And there are several venture fellows that need to meet deal quotas and strongly desire to source a startup that earns an investment from their firm. So, perhaps, we could marry these two groups and help them both succeed.

Here are three tips for connecting with venture fellows.

1. Find your firm fit.

VC-RANK.com allows you to compile a list of best-fit venture capital firms for your startup. You can begin with your curated list. You likely won't find venture fellows on the firm's "Team" or "About Us" pages, so you might have to do some digging by looking at the firm's LinkedIn page and their employees.

If your curated list of VC firms doesn't happen to have venture fellows, you can always try reaching out to venture fellows from these firms: Open Scout, Ripple Ventures, .406 Ventures, Crescent Ventures, Alley Corp, and Fin Venture Capital.

2. Share your startup with several venture fellows.

Through a quick LinkedIn message, you can share your startup by including your company website, your contact email address, and your basic raise information (i.e. How much have you previously raised? How much are you raising right now?).

3. Await further communication.

I can't speak for all venture fellows, but most of us are just college kids who have been given the opportunity to learn a whole lot at VC firms. Contacting venture fellows can be a great (and low-risk) way to get your company's name immediately on the list of potential investment opportunities for your ideal firm. And, you would be helping any venture fellow out by making the effort.

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Christa Westheimer is a Rice University student and the managing director at Rice Ventures. She is a current venture fellow at Chicago-based New Stack Ventures.