Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

Saddle up, y'all. March might be the city of Houston's busiest month. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has kicked off, as has Houston Tech Rodeo. Plus, Houston innovators have CERAWeek to look forward to, as well as Houston-focused activations in Austin at SXSW. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar this month.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.


February 27-March 5 — Houston Tech Rodeo

Houston Exponential returns with its 3rd annual Houston Tech Rodeo, a week of events showcasing and connecting Houston's innovation and tech ecosystem. The majority of the programming is taking place downtown, and all events are free to attend. Click here to browse this year's events upon registration.

Click here for five can't-miss HTR events.

Click here to learn more about HTR.

March 2 — Building a Startup Ecosystem to Support Asian American Entrepreneurs

FilKor Capital's mission is to empower resilient Asian Americans to build enduring companies. We are focused on underserved communities to build deep and systemic impact, starting with Filipino American and Korean Americans. This event will launch a listening tour with a diverse mix of stakeholders (entrepreneurs, funders, government, chambers, corporates, universities, community, etc.) to understand needs, opportunities and ways to engage.

The event is Wednesday, March 2, from noon to 2 pm at Impact Hub Houston (1801 Main St.). Click here to register.

March 2 — Beyond the Pitch Deck

Pitching successfully is more than just creating a deck. Founders get a lot of advice on how to put slides together — but how do investors actually approach the process of determining what companies they want to invest in? In this moderated panel, founders can hear directly from investors to understand their perspectives.

The event is Wednesday, March 2, from 1 to 3 pm at Cannon West Houston (1334 Brittmoore Road). Click here to register.

March 3 — Ignite Healthcare Network’s 5th Annual Fire Pitch Competition 

The Fire Pitch Competition is the culmination of Ignite Healthcare Network's annual accelerator program created to encourage innovation in emerging women-led healthcare companies. The accelerator provides opportunities for women entrepreneurs to engage with advisors, potential customers, and investors to accelerate the growth of their companies.

The event is Thursday, March 3, from 5 to 8:30 pm at Texas Medical Center Innovation (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Click here to register.

March 4 — 3rd Annual Houston Business Matchmaker

Hosted by the SBA, this annual Business Matchmaking event serves as a powerful means to help small businesses grow by meeting with multiple buyers from large businesses, colleges & universities, local, state, and federal agencies. The optimal outcome is a contract, but at minimum the small business will establish a relationship with an important buyer for future business.

The event is Friday, March 4, from 8:45 am to 3:30 pm, and virtual. Click here to register.

March 7-10 — Agora at CERAWeek

The 40th annual CERAWeek, a week-long event that aims to connect and convene the energy industry, returns to in-person programming this year in downtown Houston. The conference's innovation track, called Agora, has four days of panels, presentations, and networking. Note: InnovationMap has a guide to tapping into Houston innovation at CERAWeek ahead of this year's conference. Click here to read it.

The Agora sessions begin Monday, March 7, and conclude Thursday, March 10. All programming will take place at Hilton Americas-Houston (1600 Lamar St.). Click here to register.

March 8 — Transition on Tap

Transition On Tap is Greentown Labs’ monthly networking event devoted to fostering conversations and connections among the climate and energy transition ecosystem in Houston and beyond, and this one is focused on female founders. Entrepreneurs, investors, students, and friends of climatetech are invited to attend, meet colleagues, discuss solutions, and engage with our growing community.

The event is Tuesday, March 8, at 5 pm at Greentown Houston (4200 San Jacinto St.). Click here to register.

March 10 — Rise to the Top

The Greater Houston Partnership’s Women’s Business Alliance invites you to be part of an energizing conversation featuring outstanding female executives and thought leaders that leave the audience inspired and uplifted at the 11th annual Rise to the Top celebrating International Women's Day. To honor this year's International Women's day theme, #BreakTheBias, a panel of esteemed female leaders will discuss how we can work together to foster diversity, equity and inclusivity in our professional and personal lives. We will also talk mentors and mantras that helped these women rise to the top in their careers.

The event is Thursday, March 10, from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm at Marriott Marquis (1777 Walker St.). Click here to register.

March 10 — MarMo Pitch Competition

The Cannon's MarMo Pitch Competition is a life sciences/biotech-based pitch competition. Five teams will pitch an original tech-centered business idea to a panel of business experts and an audience of entrepreneurs, small business owners, potential investors, students, business and community leaders.

The event is Thursday, March 10, from 4 to 7 pm at The Cannon @ MarMo (2121 Market St.). Click here to register.

March 11-20 — SXSW (in Austin)

After two years of virtual conferences, SXSW is gearing up for in-person programming in Austin this year. The conference traverses film, music, education, and more, including tech and innovation. Plenty of Houston innovators will make the trek west to participate in the activations and networking opportunities. InnovationMap has a guide to tapping into Houston innovation at SXSW ahead of this year's conference. Click here to read it.

SXSW begins Friday, March 11, and conclude Sunday, March 20. All programming will take place in downtown Austin. Click here to register.

March 24 — Future Focus - Sportstech

In partnership with InnovationMap, alliantgroup invites you to an exciting panel discussion on the sportstech industry, where technology is transforming the world of sports. Our conversation will focus on four areas, where multi-billion dollar businesses are emerging seemingly overnight:

  • E-sports
  • Gambling
  • Health/performance
  • Fan engagement

Across these categories, technology is enabling interconnectedness, social interaction, new communities, improved health, subscriber-based business models, software as a service, and new revenue streams.

The event is Thursday, March 24, from 6 to 8 pm at alliantgroup (3009 Post Oak Blvd. Suite 2000.). Click here to register.

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Houston ecommerce scale-up company acquires Amazon advertising partner

all aboard

A Houston tech company has tapped an Amazon partner in a strategic acquisition and is bringing the company's full team on board.

Cart.com acquired Ohio-based Amify, a company that provides optimization and advertising solutions. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Cart.com will on board Amify’s entire employee base, including its founder Ethan McAfee, CEO Chris Mehrabi, and COO Christine McCambridge.

As chief delivery officer, Mehrabi will take the helm of Cart.com’s professional services business and McCambridge will lead Cart.com’s marketplace services team as vice president of marketplace services operations.

“I’m happy to welcome the entire Amify team to Cart.com and have industry veterans Chris Mehrabi and Christine McCambridge join our leadership team,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “Amify has been widely recognized for their expertise and technology and we’re excited to leverage their experience to help our customers maximize their potential across channels.”

Cart.com's membership will have access to Amify's proprietary technology platform, including advertising, creative content, supply chain strategy, and analytics. The company, which was founded in 2011, currently supports over 50 global brands and manages approximately $1 billion in gross merchandise value. According to LinkedIn, Amify has over 50 employees.

“We could not be more excited to join Cart.com and leverage the company’s resources and scale to deliver value to both our customers and employees,” Mehrabi says. “I’m honored to step into the role of Chief Delivery Officer and contribute to Cart.com’s incredible growth story and innovative reputation.”

Founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com provides comprehensive physical and digital infrastructure for online merchants. The company raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

Earlier this year, Tariq sat down with the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about how the company is currently in scale-up mode.

Houston health tech innovator collaborates on promising medical device funded by DOD

team work

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect.

The team working on this new research seeks to minimize near-eventualities like blood clot formation, blood damage, and driveline complications such as infection and limitations in mobility. The four institutions will try to innovate with a device featuring new engineering designs, antithrombotic slippery hydrophilic coatings (SLIC), wireless power transfer systems, and magnetically levitated driving systems.

Wang and her team believe that the non-contact-bearing technology will help to decrease the risk of blood clotting and damage when implanting an LVAD. The IDEA Lab will test the efficacy and safety of the SLIC LVAD developed by the multi-institutional team with a lab-bench-based blood flow loop, but also in preclinical models.

“The Texas Heart Institute continues to be a leading center for innovation in mechanical circulatory support systems,” said Joseph G. Rogers, MD, the president and CEO of THI, in a press release.

“This award will further the development and testing of the SLIC LVAD, a device intended to provide an option for a vulnerable patient population and another tool in the armamentarium of the heart failure teams worldwide.”

If it works as hypothesized, the SLIC LVAD will improve upon current LVAD technology, which will boost quality of life for countless heart patients. But the innovation won’t stop there. Technologies that IDEA Lab is testing include wireless power transfer for medical devices and coatings to reduce blood clotting could find applications in many other technologies that could help patients live longer, healthier lives.

Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

Houston innovators podcast episode 230

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption."



An example of this type of company is Houston-based RepeatMD, which raised a $50 million series A round last November. Mercury's Fund V, which closed at an oversubscribed $160 million, contributed to RepeatMD's round.

"While looking at that investment, it really made me re-calibrate a lot of my thoughts in terms what product-market fit meant," Gilani says. "At RepeatMD, we had customers that were so eager for the service that they were literally buying into products while we were still making them."

Gilani says he's focused on finding more of these high-growth companies to add to Mercury's portfolio amidst what, admittedly, has been a tough time for venture capital. But 2024 has been looking better for those fundraising.

"We've some potential for improvement," Gilani says. "But overall, the environment is constrained, interest rates haven't budged, and we've seen some potential for IPO activity."

Gilani shares more insight into his investment thesis, what areas of tech he's been focused on recently, and how Houston has developed as an ecosystem on the podcast.