The 22nd annual Rice Business Plan Competition named its winners across life science, clean energy, software, and more. Photo via Rice University/Twitter

Rice University brought back its international student startup competition to its in-person format in a big way, giving out nearly $2 million in investment plus thousands more in-kind prizes to over a dozen winning teams.

The 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition took place April 7-9 on campus, ending in a banquet and awards presentation at the Marriott Marquis on Saturday. Earlier this year, Rice announced the 42 student teams competing for the awards. The student competitors represent 31 universities — including three from European universities. The 42 teams were narrowed down from over 400 applicants and divided into five categories: energy, cleantech and sustainability; life sciences and health care solutions; consumer products and services; hard tech; and digital enterprise.

Over 250 judges, mentors, and investors were involved in the competition, naming seven finalists — each receiving thousands of dollars in investment funding.

Here were this year's finalists — and what they walked away with:

  • LIDROTEC from RWTH Aachen University, a cutting-edge machine that can better cut microchips for the semiconductor industry, is the big winner this year, taking home the $350,000 GOOSE Capital Investment Grand Prize. The team also won: the Softeq Venture Studio Prize ($50,000 cash, $75,000 in-kind), the TiE Houston Angels Investment Prize ($100,000), RBPC Alumnus, Thomas Healy, Investment Prize ($50,000), the Eagle Investors Prise ($5,000), Best Elevator Pitch - Hard Tech ($500), and RG Advisors CFO Consulting In-Kind Prize. The company also received a $6,700 in-kind prize from BakerBotts and an in-kind $25,000 from RG Advisory. The company's prize totaled over $682,200 in investment and in-kind awards.
  • The second place winner was Hoth Intelligence of University of Pittsburgh, an artificial intelligence platform for health care providers, securing a $100,000 investment prize. The company also won the Owl Investment Prize ($155,000), the HAN Investment Prize ($100,000), and the Pearland EDC Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize ($25,000). The company also received a a $6,700 in-kind prize from BakerBotts. The company's prize totaled $386,700 in investment awards.
  • Invitris from the Technical University of Munich — a synthetic biology startup targeting antibiotic-resistant bacteria — won third place, which came with a $50,000 award. The team also won the nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Investment Prize ($40,000), the Best Elevator Pitch - Life Science award ($500), and a $6,700 in-kind prize from BakerBotts. bringing its total earnings to $97,200.
  • Winning fourth place and a $5,000 prize was LymphaSense of Johns Hopkins, a medical device startup that's created a wearable lymphedema detection device for at-risk patients. The company also won the TMC Innovation Healthcare Investment Prize ($250,000 and entry into the TMC accelerator) and the Nixon Institute Prize ($3,000). The company's total winnings was $258,000.
  • INIA Biosciences from Boston University — a health tech startup that's created a bioelectric wearable device for kidney donor recipients — won fifth place and $5,000 in prize money.
  • The sixth place winner was Bold Move Beverages, a canned coffee cocktail company from the University of Texas at Austin, which won $5,000 for placing sixth and $10,000 from the RBPC Alumnus, Thomas Healy, Investment Prize. The company won a total of $15,000.
  • Lastly for the finalists, Anise Health of Harvard University, a digital health startups with an inclusive, data-driven platform for culturally-adapted mental health treatment, won seventh place and the $5,000 prize. The company also won first place in the wildcard round, which came with a $2,000 Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize. Anise walked away with $7,000 total.
Several companies won monetary prizes outside of the seven finalists. Here's what other student-founded companies in the competition won:
  • Mallard Bay Outdoors from Louisiana State University, an online marketplace for securely booking outdoor activities, won $216,500 in cash and in-kind prizes. The company won the Owl Investment Prize ($65,000), the Softeq Venture Studio Prize ($50,000 cash, $75,000 in-kind), the RBPC Alumnus, Thomas Healy, Investment Prize ($25,000), the Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize ($1,000), and the Best Elevator Pitch - Consumer ($500).
  • TransCrypts from the University of Toronto and Harvard University, a secure blockchain platform for sharing employee documents, won two awards — the Owl Investment Prize ($50,000) and the Best Elevator Pitch - Digital ($500) — for a total of $50,500 in prizes.
  • Advanced Optronics of Carnegie Mellon University, a health tech company that develops smart sensors to improve patient outcomes, won two awards — the Pediatric Device Prize ($25,000) and the OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy In-Kind Prize — for a total of more than $25,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.
  • EpiSLS — a novel medical device startup that's automating in-vivo allergy testing — of the University of Michigan won the $25,000 Pediatric Device Prize.
  • Farm-to-closet women's apparel brand Pareto of Stanford University won the $10,000 nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Investment Prize.
  • EpiFresh of Rice University, which developed a protective produce coating material that reduces food waste, won three awards for a total of $27,000. The company won the Energy, Cleantech & Sustainability Prize ($25,000), the Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize ($1,000), and the Overall Best Elevator Pitch ($1,000).
  • Mantel of MIT, which is developing a high temperature liquid phase carbon capture material, won two awards for a total of $28,000 in prizes. The company won the New Climate Ventures Investment Prize ($25,000) and the DK Innovation Prize ($3,000).
  • Invictus BCI — a health tech startup building a noninvasive brain computer interface tools — from MIT won the the RBPC Alumni Network NABACO Prize for a total of $10,000 in winnings.
  • Health care fintech solution Woobie of Brigham Young University won the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Investment Prize.
  • KLAW Industries of Binghamton University, which has designed a way to recycle glass into concrete, won the Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize ($1,000) and the Best Elevator Pitch - Energy ($500) prizes for a total of $1,500 in awards.
  • Acorn Genetics of Northwestern University, which is better optimizing genetic data for patients, won second place for the wildcard round, which came with the Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize ($1,750).
  • AI-powered stroke prevention platform PLAKK from McGill University won third place for the wildcard round, which came with the Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize ($1,500).
These startups join the ranks of 269 successful RBPC alumni companies — with 50 exits, five IPOs, and over $4.6 billion raised. RBPC was established in 2001.
Here are 11 Houston startups that together have raised over $140 million in venture capital investment so far this year. Photo via Getty Images

These 11 Houston startups closed funding rounds so far this year

following the money

Venture capital investment is moving and grooving in Houston this year so far, which really is a continuation of the leap in VC investment from 2021.

According to a recent report from Houston Exponential, Houston’s average early-stage deal size of $18 million represents a 68 percent growth rate since 2019. Compared with the national growth rate of 23 percent, “this demonstrates the broader expansion and maturities within the Houston ecosystem,” the analysis says.

Last year, local startups collected $2.02 billion in VC funding, according to PitchBook data. That’s up 175 percent from the $734.2 million raised in 2020.

“That VC-backed companies were able to generate such enormous value in 2021 during a time characterized by great uncertainty and extraordinary circumstances highlights the continued importance of VC-backed companies to the resilience of Houston’s economy,” says Serafina Lalany, executive director of Houston Exponential.

In continuance with last year, 2022 has started with a flurry of VC activity. In case you missed some of these first quarter deals, InnovationMap has rounded up all its coverage of funding rounds closed between January and March based on previous reporting. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors.

P97 Networks has raised $40M of venture debt financing

P97 Networks, a Houston-based mobile payments company, has fresh funds to scale its operations. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company that has created a mobile commerce platform for the convenience retail, fuels marketing, and automotive industries has fresh funding to support its growth.

P97 Networks has raised $40 million of venture debt financing from an affiliate of Peak Rock Capital, a leading middle-market private investment firm, according to a news release from the company.

“We will use this new capital to fund P97’s high growth initiatives, which include accelerating user adoption across our Consumer Engagement platform, Energy Transition programs for our clients, and our Mobility Services platform,” said Donald Frieden, president and CEO of P97, in the release. Click here to continue reading.

Zeta Energy close $23M series A

Houston-based Zeta Energy has raised fresh funding to grow its Houston operations and further commercialize the company's innovative batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this month that it has closed a $23 million series A round led by New York VC firm Moore Strategic Ventures.

The funding will be used to expand Zeta's lab facility in the Houston area and further commercialize the company's innovative batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage.

"We are delighted to have Moore Strategic Ventures join Zeta Energy. Moore's focus on transportation, advanced materials, energy, and clean tech aligns perfectly with Zeta's strategic objectives," Charles Maslin, founder and CEO of Zeta Energy, said in a statement. "We are so excited to work together to help the world transition to clean energy and build a more sustainable future." Click here to continue reading.

DECISIO raises $18.5M, appoints new leadership

DECISIO has fresh funding and a new board member. Photo via decisiohealth.com

A Houston-based digital health startup has officially closed its latest funding round and has a new member to its leadership to support the company's next phase.

DECISIO has appointed Major General Elder Granger to the company's board of directors. Dr. Granger is currently president and CEO of The 5Ps LLC, a healthcare, education, and leadership consulting organization.

"Dr. Granger joining our board provides enormous value and validation for our company moving forward," says Dr. John Holcomb, co-CEO and co-founder of DECISIO, says in a news release. "His expertise and leadership in the healthcare industry is a welcome addition to our esteemed group of Board of Directors." Click here to continue reading.

Vivante Health raises $16M series A round

Vivante Health closed a fresh round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based digital health startup that's targeting solutions for digestive diseases has closed its latest round of funding.

Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round led by Chicago-based 7wireVentures with contribution from new investors, including Human Capital, Intermountain Ventures, SemperVirens, Elements Health Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer. Additionally, the round saw participation from returning investors FCA Venture Partners, NFP Ventures, Lifeforce Capital, and Big Pi Ventures.

The fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health." Click here to continue reading.

SiteAware closes $15M in funding round

Houston-based SiteAware has raised $15 million in its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of SiteAware

A Houston startup that provides artificial intelligence-enabled verification software to the construction industry has closed its series B round.

SiteAware raised $15 million in the round, which was led by Singapore-based Vertex Ventures Israel. Existing investors Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, Axon Ventures, Oryzn Capital, The Flying Object, and lool Ventures also contributed to the round.

The company's digital construction verification, or DCV, platform uses AI and digital twin technology to provide real-time verification of construction fieldwork. According to a press release from SiteAware, the construction industry represents a $1.3 trillion market share of the United States economy. Click here to continue reading.

Codenotary raises $12.5M series B

Codenotary's software enables tools for notarization and verification of the software development life cycle. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

Codenotary, formerly known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks. Click here to continue reading.

Rugged Robotics raises $9.4M series A

The tech solution provides construction customers with an automated layout-as-a-service tool. Image via rugged-robotics.com

A Houston robotics startup working in the commercial construction field has closed its latest round of funding.

Rugged Robotics Inc. announced last week that it's raised $9.4 million in its series A round led by BOLD Capital Partners and Brick & Mortar Ventures. Riot Ventures, Morpheus, and Embark — all investors in the company's 2019 seed round — also contributed, as did Consigli Construction Company and Suffolk Technologies. To date, Rugged Robotics has raised $12 million.

“We are thrilled to be part of the Rugged team,” says Maxx Bricklin, partner at BOLD Capital, in a news release. “We looked at a number of companies in the space and became convinced that the Rugged team, technology and partner ecosystem would allow Rugged to dominate and capitalize on this significant and disruptive market opportunity.” Click here to continue reading.

Koda Health raises $3.5 million in seed funding to expand nationally

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, closed recent funding for the digital health startup. Image via LinkedIn

Houston-based Koda Health announced this month that it raised $3.5 million in its latest seed round.

The round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital, which focuses on emergent and early-stage investments. Sigmas Capital, Headwater Ventures, CRCM, and a number of angel investors also participated in the round.

The funding will be used to help the digital advanced care planning company double the size of its team in the next six months.

"Koda Health helps vulnerable people navigate and communicate difficult decisions about their health care journey. So, when hiring, we look for empathetic people who are phenomenal communicators," Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, says in a statement. Click here to continue reading.

INOVUES raises $2.75M to make buildings more energy efficient

Window-retrofitting climatetech company has raised its first round of funding. Photo via inovues.com

A Houston startup that retrofits windows with smart glass innovations to reduce energy use has raised its first round of funding.

INOVUES closed its seed round at $2.75 million last month. The oversubscribed round was led by Dallas-based Paulos Holdings with participation from new and existing investors, including Houston-based VC Fuel, Saint-Gobain NOVA, Fund4SE, Momentum Glass, Lateral Capital, E8 Angels, and the Central Texas Angel Network.

"Our mission is to help cities achieve their energy efficiency and emissions-reduction targets by increasing the rate of window upgrades in existing buildings," says INOVUES founder and CEO, Anas Al Kassas, in a news release. "To achieve that, we have developed a low-carbon, high-ROI retrofit solution that makes upgrading building windows a financially attractive energy conservation measure instead of a massive capital upgrade associated with business disruptions and prohibitive payback periods." Click here to continue reading.

Roboze closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding

Roboze has closed its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of Roboze

Roboze — an Italian high-performance 3D printing company with its U.S. headquarters in Houston — closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding this month with investments from an international group of leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Investors include Nova Capital, Lagfin, Andrea Guerra, Luigi De Vecchi, Roberto Ferraresi, Luca Giacometti, Denis Faccioli and others, according to a statement.

“We are honored to have a group of investors of this caliber, who strongly believe in the vision of Roboze and in the change of production paradigm that our technology is enabling by replacing metals and producing parts without wasting raw materials," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, said in a statement. Click here to continue reading.

Tekmetric closes recent fundraising round

A Houston software company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding. Photo via tekmetric.com

Tekmetric, a cloud-based shop management system for automotive repair shops, announced the close of its growth investment from California-based Susquehanna Growth Equity. The details of the round were not disclosed, but, according to a news release, the fresh funds will go toward growing Tekmetric's engineering and technical teams and expansion across the United States.

Launched three years ago by Prasanth Chilukuri and Sunil Patel, co-founders and co-CEOs, Tekmetric's SaaS solution provides shop owners with digital inspections, integrated payments, and more of their business needs. Click here to continue reading.

A recent report finds that the rate of new Houston startups has popped up significantly. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Report: Houston sees huge jump in new businesses amid the pandemic

by the numbers

By one measure, Houston could be considered the startup capital of Texas.

A new study by personal finance website LendingTree shows the Houston metro area experienced a 37.4 percent jump in new-business applications from 2019 to 2020. That was the highest growth rate among Texas’ six biggest metro areas and the 20th highest growth rate among the 100 U.S. metro areas with the most new-business applications in 2020.

In 2019, the Houston area racked up 85,998 new-business applications, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by LendingTree. A year later, the number of applications in the region soared to 118,183. The data measures applications for nine-digit employer identification numbers (EINs), which the IRS uses to track businesses for tax purposes. An EIN is similar to a person’s Social Security number.

“The pandemic has created so much financial chaos for so many people, and that uncertainty surely spurred many Americans to take the plunge,” says Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

“Some folks did it out of necessity because of income or job losses,” he adds. “Some folks did it to feel more secure, as the idea of relying on one source of income just didn’t make sense anymore for a lot of people. Others likely did it because they’d wanted to for years but never felt the time was right.”

Across the U.S., the retail sector witnessed the heftiest increase (59.7 percent) in new-business applications from 2019 to 2020.

“So many companies have made it so easy to sell online that people feel good about taking the plunge,” Schulz says. “Setting up an online store is generally simpler, quicker and less expensive than ever, so the barriers to entry that once scared potential entrepreneurs away from opening a new store aren’t the obstacles that they once were.”

Memphis, Tennessee, topped the LendingTree list. The metro area saw a 77.9 rise in new-business applications from 2019 to 2020.

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • Dallas ranked 37th nationally and second in Texas, with a 29 percent increase in new-business applications.
  • San Antonio ranked 62nd nationally and third in Texas, with an 18 percent increase in new-business applications.
  • McAllen ranked 77th nationally and fourth in Texas, with a 13.3 percent increase in new-business applications.
  • Austin ranked 78th nationally and fifth in Texas, with a 13.2 percent increase in new-business applications.
  • El Paso ranked 79th nationally and sixth in Texas, with an 11.9 percent increase in new-business applications.
Game-changing fintech, fresh approach to dating, hiring tech — all this innovation and more is coming out of Houston startups. Courtesy photos

Top 5 Houston startup feature stories of the year

2021 in review

Editor's note: As 2021 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 dating apps and software companies to startups with solutions in fintech and more. Here are five Houston startup features that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston entrepreneur is flipping the switch on online dating with new app

Houston-based DanceKard is focused on getting singles off the endless swiping in order to make lasting connections and relationships. Photo courtesy of DanceKard

Like most people who are single and looking for a relationship, Erica Sinner is familiar with the dating apps. She's swiped and messaged with men in her area, but has little to show for it other than comically lazy responses from not-so potential soulmates.

Then Sinner had an idea. What if there was a platform that encouraged meetups and group dates and limited in-app conversations? An anti-dating app platform that took users off their phones, paused endless swiping, and also gave local businesses — bars, restaurants, etc. — a chance to host events or generate new business?

Then she thought, why not create it herself? Sinner started DanceKard to fill this need within the dating app landscape. After a soft launch a couple months ago, the app has over 170 users on the platform and recently joined gBETA's early-stage accelerator program.

"I think people forgot how great an in-person meeting is whenever you're getting to know someone," Sinner tells InnovationMap. "I love the fact that dating apps have made it easier to meet people, but at the end of the day, after you spend three days or a week talking to someone and then you meet them in person, and there's just something you don't like." Click here to read the full article.

Houston-based startup shoots for affordability and convenience with new photo biz

Studio Pod — founded by Joseph West and Chris Bailey — is helping professionals and small businesses easily and affordably capture headshots. Photo courtesy Melissa Fitzgerald/Studio Pod

Houston-based photographers Chris Bailey and Joseph West have brought automated technology and innovative efficiencies to the often cumbersome task of taking professional headshots.

Bailey and West first met as wedding and corporate photographers and bonded over the pain points of their jobs. Over the years they zeroed in on the particular challenges of scheduling photo sessions and achieving a consistent look for a corporate gigs, which can span months or years (depending on when new hires are brought on) and where settings can change based on the time of day, lighting in the room, and a variety of other factors. Still, there was a demand for their professional-grade work.

"In today's age and in the COVID era, people need LinkedIn photos, now a Zoom photo, a Facebook photo. You need all these different types of photos. And so we said, 'How can we solve that?'," Bailey says.

In 2020 the duo launched Studio Pod in an attempt to streamline and improve the process for photographers, businesses, and the individuals themselves. Through the use of their roomy, modern booth, users can snap high-quality, professionally lit headshots with the help of an automated platform. Too, users can see their photos in real time and make adjustments to their appearance, the lighting, and more throughout their reserved 15- to 30-minute window from the privacy of the pod. Click here to read the full article.

New Houston career training program is helping young professionals and businesses amid pandemic

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. Click here to read the full article.

Houston startup shakes up antiquated hiring process for the next generation

SeekerPitch exists to update the job hiring process in a way that benefits both the job seekers and recruiters. Photo via Getty Images

Companies across the country have been requiring resumes and cover letters from their new hire hopefuls since the World War II era, and it's about time that changed. A startup founded in Houston has risen to the occasion.

Houstonian Samantha Hepler had the idea for SeekerPitch when she was looking for her next move. She felt like she had developed a formidable career in digital transformation and had worked with big name clients from Chevron to Gucci. However, she couldn't even get an interview for a role she felt she would be a shoe-in for.

"I knew if I could just get through the door, a company would see the value in me," Hepler tells InnovationMap. "I wasn't being seen, and I wasn't being heard. I didn't know a way to do that."

And she wasn't alone in this frustration. Hepler says she discovered she was one of the 76 percent of job candidates who get filtered out based on former job titles and keywords. At the same time, Hepler says she discovered that 80 percent of companies reported difficulty finding talent. Click here to read the full article.

Houston-based software startup aims to connect workers with wages in real time

This Houston startup has an app for helping employees get a portion of their paychecks before payday. Photo via Pexels

Could you incur an unexpected $400 expense if it hit your bank account today? According to Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Houston-based Pronto Pay, many hourly workers could not. He's set out to change that.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says.

A recent graduate from Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, Price founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books. Currently the company has seven staff members, is actively hiring and is looking to expand outside of Houston soon.

Pronto Pay partners with the employers to seamlessly build out connections with their time and attendance system and payroll processor. After the company signs up, ProntoPay automatically creates an account for each employee, which allows them to view their accrued wages and withdraw their earnings instantly from the app or next-day for automated clearing house payments — all via the Pronto Pay App. When an employee wishes to withdraw funds prior to their normal pay cycle, Pronto Pay applies a small fixed fee — $2.99 — for completing the transaction. Click here to read the full article.

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

5 innovative gift ideas from Houston startups for the 2021 holidays

shop local

Editor's note: We are in the thick of the holidays, and I'm willing to bet a good chunk of you are still doing your gift shopping, right? Why not give a little business to local startups as you shop for friends and family this year.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas and check out the 2019 startup gift guide as well for even more options.

For your cousins in college: Cheers

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based Cheers has a collection of products that prioritize your health — especially after overindulging in some holiday cheersing. In 2021, the Houston startup introduced a few new products including a canned beverage that's perfect for anyone looking to properly hydrate before, during, or after drinking — or any time for that matter. Give the gift of Cheers.

For your business-minded father: Lead From The Core by Jay Steinfeld

Blinds.com founder Jay Steinfeld has released his new book this week. Photos courtesy of Jay Steinfeld

Houston innovator and founder of Blinds.com Jay Steinfeld can now add bestselling author to his resume, and you can add his book to someone's stocking. Steinfeld told InnovationMap that he originally set out to write about his entrepreneurial journey and it became a much broader guide to business decision making. Give the gift of Lead From The Core.

For your dog-loving aunt: Fido

A Houston startup is bringing all the dogs to the yard. Photo courtesy of Fido

Gifting to the family pet? Treat them with some Chill Chews and Clear Ears from Fido, a new e-commerce pet wellness brand based in Houston. The company is founded by Houstonians Brad Madrid and Bobby Dwyer and is available in Houston and beyond. Give the gift of Fido.

For your sneakerhead nephew: Tradeblock

Tradeblock — launched in Houston by three childhood friends — coordinates sales of sneakers for collectors across the country. Image via tradeblock.us

Here's a gift shopping idea from a Houston startup that's changing the sneaker game — one step at a time. A group of self-proclaimed sneakerheads founded Tradeblock in 2020, and the app is a new sneaker trading platform that provides collectors with a secure way to collect and trade shoes. After a successful beta, the Houston-based startup has recently launched a new mobile app available for iOS and Android users. Give the gift of shoes from Tradeblock.

For your digital nomadic sister: Splay

The idea for Splay, a unique device perfect for a mobile workforce, was born on the Rice University campus. Images courtesy

Due to the pandemic and the gig economy, more and more of the workforce is working remotely — and away from their 2-screen setup at the office. Splay, created by Houston-based Arovia, solves the challenges with its collapsible screen and projector. The product is currently in its manufacturing stage but maybe this one's worth waiting for. Give the gift of Splay.

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Houston company names lifetime achievement, finalists for annual energy industry awards

they've got grit

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and three energy executives have been named first-time winners of lifetime achievement awards as part of ALLY Energy’s sixth annual GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces program.

ALLY Energy says the honorees have demonstrated “a distinguished career championing change in energy and climate in the private or public sector in the areas of technology, policy, and workforce.”

As mayor of Houston, Turner has led efforts to use renewable energy throughout the city.

The other winners of lifetime achievement awards are:

  • Elizabeth Gerbel, founder and CEO of Houston-based EAG Services and EAG 1Source, which provide consulting services for the energy industry.
  • Lorenzo Simonelli, CEO of Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes.
  • Kevin Sagara, executive vice president and group president of San Diego-based utility company Sempra. He is chairman of Sempra-owned San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co.

The lifetime achievement honorees will be recognized October 26 during an event at The Bell Tower in Houston. So will the winners in the GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces program. The keynote speaker will be U.S. Department of Energy official Shalanda Baker.

“This year’s GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces finalists are a diverse cohort of game-changing entrepreneurs, gritty leaders, collaborative teams, and companies committed to combating climate change. The energy workforce is doing great things to transform our energy ecosystem, and we’re excited to spotlight exceptional talent and culture,” says Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Houston-based ALLY Energy, which provides a workforce development platform for the energy industry.

Among the dozens of award finalists are energy-related organizations or their representatives. These organizations include Baker Hughes, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Rice University, Saudi Aramco, Shell, the University of Houston, Syzygy Plasmonics, and Wood Mackenzie.

A complete list of the finalists is available on the ALLY Energy website.

Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”