4 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund, Denis Akhiyarov of AiKYNETIX, and Sean Harkins and Brien Beach of AMPD Labs. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from additive manufacturing to venture capital — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Aleece Hobson, venture partner for the HX Venture Fund

Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund shares what people can expect from Venture Houston on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of HXVF

Today is a big day for Aleece Hobson — venture partner for the HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds investing in venture capital firms across the country that have interest in investing in Houston companies. She joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to discuss Venture Houston, which takes place today, and why it is so important to HXVF to showcase Houston.

"Houston is a destination for innovation — we are not a flyover city," she says on the show. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Denis Akhiyarov, CEO and co-founder of AiKYNETIX

Houston-based AiKYNETIX is equipping runners with high-tech tracking tools. Image courtesy of AiKYNETIX

Houstonain Denis Akhiyarov wanted to design a way to easily improve running performance. He founded AiKYNETIX uses real-time technology to provide a new option for runners on treadmills.

“Runners spend a lot of time, energy and money to run better,” says Akhiyarov, CEO and co-founder of the company. “In my personal life with training for nine marathons, I’ve seen limitations with wearables, they don’t actually track running form while running. Overall, our technology tracks not only your basic parameters but it can also analyze the human running form while in motion.”

AiKYNETIX, which was founded in January 2021, is positioned to replace power meters and can make a treadmill smarter. It has ability to plug into interactive video platforms for sports and serves as a much cheaper and more widely available analysis tool outside of motion capture labs, he says. Click here to read more.

Sean Harkins and Brien Beach, co-founders of AMPD Labs

Sean Harkins and Brien Beach opened AmPd Labs' space in the Heights last month. Images via ampdlabs.llc

Last year, Sean Harkins introduced his friend Brien Beach to the world of additive manufacturing, and together the duo saw a business opportunity not only for themselves — but also for all of Houston.

Harkins had been working in 3D printing and additive manufacturing — the process of creating an object by building it one layer at a time — for the last decade and studied industrial design at the University of Houston. Working together, Harkins and Beach launched AmPd Labs, Houston’s next-generation additive manufacturing facility for industrial design and production.

“There is a hill to climb with market acceptance, but we want to be the champions of that and Houston is just a great place to start this because it's the largest industrial city in America and there's so much industry here and there's tons of engineers in this community,” says Beach. “Houston is such a business-forward place. A ‘how can I help you’ type of business place.” Click here to read more.

Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund shares what people can expect from Venture Houston on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of HXVF

Innovator introduces Houston's tech scene to leading VCs, entrepreneurs

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In less than a week, hundreds of innovators and investors — from Houston and beyond — will congregate for a day full of networking, thought leadership, and more. And the spotlight is on Houston.

Aleece Hobson — venture partner for the HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds investing in venture capital firms across the country that have interest in investing in Houston companies — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Venture Houston and why it is so important to HXVF to showcase Houston.

"Houston is a destination for innovation — we are not a flyover city," she says on the show.

The inaugural edition of Venture Houston took place virtually last year — and the turnout shocked HXVF and its team.

"We wanted to bring together prominent VCs alongside the corporates in Houston and include Houston-based founders and get those three communities talking and engaging. And to show all of Houston and outside of Houston what the city's tech ecosystem was all about," Hobson says of last year's event. "We weren't quite sure what to expect with that first event. We thought we'd get 300 or so participants."

The event actually attracted over 2,500 registrants from across the nation, and accomplished what the organization wanted to do, Hobson says.

Now, the event is able to return — this time in an in-person capacity — at the Ion on Sept. 13. Hobson says her team is expecting several hundred attendees and even has plans for overflow tickets.

The full day of programing will kick off with a conversation with Goop founder and Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow in conversation with Dana Settle, co-founder and managing partner of New York-based Greycroft. Goop is among Greycroft's portfolio companies, and HXVF invested in Greycroft in 2020.

Venture Houston is the ultimate showcase for HXVF, bringing together the three entities that make up the model — the limited partners and corporations that invest in HXVF, the venture capital firms that receive investment from HXVF, and the founders from Houston that then see new investments from HXVF's portfolio funds. The three types of players will all be a part of the day as speakers, panelists, and guests.

"We hope that all the attendees can understand how the innovation ecosystem comes together with these three groups," Hobson explains.

Hobson shares more details about the event on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of September. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for September

Where to be

As temperatures begin to cool — hopefully, the city's business community is heating up with another month of networking and conference events. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for September when it comes to innovation-related events.

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

September 10 — Enventure BaseCamp - Special Edition Life Science Innovation Bootcamp

We invite all those interested in life science innovation to our monthly BaseCamp! Our community-driven series returns for a special edition Bootcamp! We are breaking down key concepts, start-up case studies, and more! Join us for a morning of learning, networking, and all things science and business.

The event is Saturday, Sept. 10, 10 am to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

September 12 — Venture Houston

Venture Houston is illuminating the power of venture capital by bringing together venture capitalists across the nation along with Houston’s most innovative corporates and high-growth startups.

The event is Monday, Sept. 12, 7:30 am to 6:30 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 14 — Access to Success Pitch Event

Underrepresented founders in climatetech face unique and growing challenges to accessing investors and fundraising in order to scale their companies and push forward the energy transition. How can startups bridge this gap, and where can investors who want to begin diversifying their portfolios find guidance?

The event is Wednesday, Sept. 14, 10 am to 2 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

September 15 —19th annual Energy Tech Venture Forum

In its 19th year, the Energy Tech Venture Forum, hosted by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, is the premier energy tech venture capital conference to connect energy innovators, investors, corporates, and the energy ecosystem. This year’s in-person forum will showcase promising energy tech companies that are boldly creating the future of energy, as well as a keynote and panel from industry leaders. You can also expect to see pitches from the inaugural class of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 15, 8 am to 5 pm, at Rice University, McNair Hall. Click here to register.

September 15 — Hispanic Business Summit

Join the U.S. Small Business Administration, Houston Baptist University, Baker Ripley, and Impact Hub for the annual Hispanic Business Summit. The event will include networking, information about the impact of Latino entrepreneurship in Houston, small business success stories, and a panel of lenders for tips on accessing business capital. Attendees will also have an opportunity to network with other business owners and local business resources.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 15, 9 am to noon, at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 15 — Meet Knightsgate Ventures

UH Technology bridge will be virtually hosting Durg Kumar, co-founder and partner at Knightsgate Ventures investment fund.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 15, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

September 16-18 — Houston Hackathon 2022

To celebrate the National Civic Day of Hacking, we invite all people who want to make a difference in our region to join us at the annual Houston Hackathon! This is a “civic” hackathon, focused on ideating, designing, and developing both policy-based and tech solutions to some of Houston’s greatest challenges. Project stakeholders will be there from the city, local organizations, and Houston's impact community.

The event is Friday, Sept. 16, to Sunday, Sept. 18, at Impact Hub Houston. Click here to register.

September 20 — State of the Texas Medical Center

Home to the largest medical complex in the world and the brightest minds in medicine, the Texas Medical Center is a leading life sciences destination taking on the greatest medical challenges of our generation. Learn more about the exciting developments planned for the TMC campus and discover how innovation and industry partnerships are helping us accelerate the pace of discovery, ensuring we will continue to be the global leader in patient care.

The event is Tuesday, Sept. 20, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, at the Hilton Americas. Click here to register.

September 20 — LatinTech Pitch 2022

LatinTech Pitch 2022 is presented in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month by the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest along with the Ion, Latinx Startup Alliance, and Texas Business Association.

The event is Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6 to 8 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 21 — Here For It Live in Houston

Palette, a female-focused coworking space and community created to support women in careers and life, will host its popular video series live on the road at partner spaces from coast to coast. Palette founder and Here for It LIVE host, Catherine Hover, will interview the founding partner of Curate Capital, Carrie Colbert, at Sesh Coworking.

The event is Wednesday, Sept. 21, 6 to 8 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

September 28 — Halliburton Labs Finalists Pitch Day

This hybrid event allows for attendees to attend in person at The Ion Houston or virtually online for a full program of innovative ideas, discussion, and inspiration — all centered on the startup finalists who are advancing the future of clean energy. The event will include a lively keynote discussion with Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, University of California, Irvine, hosted by Walter Isaacson, Halliburton Labs Advisory Board Member and Leonard Lauder Professor of American History and Values at Tulane.

The event is Wednesday, Sept. 28, 9 am to 12:30 pm, at the Ion or online. Click here to register.

September 29 — The Inaugural State of Infrastructure

Join the Greater Houston Partnership for the inaugural State of Infrastructure where a panel of experts from varying industries will discuss the investments needed to build equitable, resilient communities.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, at the Omni Houston. Click here to register.

September 29 — Fort Bend County Innovation Council Launch

Houston Exponential is excited to be expanding into Greater Houston innovator communities and invite you to join us for the official launch of the Fort Bend Innovation Council. In partnership with the Fort Bend EDC, The Cannon, Born Global, and Code Launch, we'd love to invite all ingenious innovators, enterprising educators, collaborative corporates, inquisitive investors, exhausted entrepreneurs, and all friends and family to help kick things off.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 5 to 7 pm, at the HCSS Development Building. Click here to register.

September 29 — Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator Final Showcase

Join Greentown Labs Houston to celebrate the culmination of the Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator—the 2022 program in the Greentown Go Energize track—a-first-of-its-kind startup-corporate partnerships accelerator focused on advancing innovations that are key to enabling a low-carbon hydrogen economy in partnership with EPRI, Shell, the City of Houston, and the Urban Future Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 5 to 8 pm, online. Click here to register.

September 29 — Sesh Coworking Ribbon Cutting

Sesh Coworking began as an organization in 2017 and introduced a brick and mortar space in 2019. In 2022, the organization expanded and moved to its new location!. Join the event to check out the space and celebrate Sesh Coworking.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 6 to 8 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

Goop Founder Gwyneth Paltrow and venture capitalists Dana Settle and Mitchell Green will headline Venture Houston next month. Images via venturehouston.com

Gwyneth Paltrow, VCs to headline exciting upcoming Houston summit

coming soon

A Houston-based fund of funds is bringing back its venture-focused event — and this year, you might recognize the keynote speaker.

Venture Houston hosted by the HX Venture Fund will take place on Monday, September 12, at The Ion. The day will kick off with a conversation with Goop founder and Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow in conversation with Dana Settle, co-founder and managing partner of New York-based Greycroft. Goop is among Greycroft's portfolio companies, and HXVF, which deploys capital in to out-of-town VCs they have an interest and intention in investing into Houston startups, invested in Greycroft in 2020.

Some of the event's other speakers — from outside Texas as well as home grown —include LeadEdge Capital's Mitchell Green, Cart.com's Omair Tariq, Solugen's Gaurab Chakrabati, and many more. The full event agenda and list of speakers are both available online.

The program of the event is centered around key topics directly affecting Houston's innovation ecosystem, such as energy transition, sustainability, startup scaling, the future of health care, entrepreneurship, talent acquisition, and more.

“Venture Houston will bring together some of the most proven venture capitalists from the nation to the Houston stage, alongside Houston’s corporate leaders and most innovative entrepreneurs," says Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund. "We are delighted to bring conversations around lessons learned and best practices to The Ion so that we can continue to nurture the incredible growth we are experiencing in the innovation ecosystem in Houston.”

Venture Houston is supported and sponsored by organizations including Insperity, Rice University, Greater Houston Partnership, Silicon Valley Bank, and Halliburton Labs.

"Houston's innovation ecosystem is experiencing a compelling transformation," says Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the GHP. "Venture Houston 2022 is the premier event for corporate leaders, venture capital investors, and entrepreneurs to plug into what is happening in the city. We are proud to sponsor and share the stage with leaders helping to illuminate the power of venture capital for Houston’s innovation ecosystem."

Registration is open online for the September 12 event.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kimon Angelides of FemTec Health, Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund, and Jill Chapman of Insperity. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from venture capital to femtech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Kimon Angelides, CEO of FemTech Health

Dr. Kimon Angelides, a serial entrepreneur in Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he plans to disrupt women's health and beauty. Photo courtesy

Founded in 2020 by Kimon Angelides, FemTec Health is creating a holistic approach to women's health in both a B2B and a direct-to-consumers capacity. He explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that most treatment for women is centered around age, rather than the type of health care they are looking for and need.

"Women don't really have a program that's designed for them," Angelides says on the show. "We embarked in terms of building a platform and a company that would be a single destination for women — one that's not age specific but built around journeys." Click here to continue reading.

Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund explains how they're working with out-of-town VCs to fund Houston companies in a recent Q&A. Photo courtesy

Last week, the HX Venture Fund — a fund of funds that makes investments as a limited partner in venture capital funds across the country — hosted Washington D.C.-based Revolution Ventures in Houston to introduce the firm to local entrepreneurs. Tige Savage, co-founder and managing partner of Revolution Ventures, and Sandy Guitar, managing partner of HX Venture Fund, join InnovationMap for a Q&A about how the two organizations are working together to put funding in the hands of Houston tech entrepreneurs.

"This is our second event this year already, and we've done about half a dozen of these so far of what we call VC engage days," Guitar says. "The idea of the VC engage day is to really connect all of our communities together." Click here to read more.

Jill Chapman, senior performance consultant with Insperity

Gen Z is predicted to represent more than 25 percent of the workforce by 2025 — here's how you can prepare your workplace for their imminent arrival. Photo courtesy of Insperity

Gen Z workers — they are coming. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Jill Chapman, senior performance consultant with Insperity, shares tips on preparing your workplace for the future.

"As business leaders prepare for an influx of Zoomers in the workplace by promoting mission/values, employee well-being, DEI and technology, they are also making significant strides toward improving the work environment, which leads to increased employee engagement, retention and performance for sustained business success." Click here to read more.

Tige Savage of Revolution Ventures and Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund explain how they're working together to fund Houston companies in a recent Q&A. Photos courtesy

This VC visiting Houston has eyes on investing locally in disruptive tech startups

Q&A

The HX Venture Fund is a fund of funds that makes investments as a limited partner in venture capital funds across the country — VC funds that want to add Houston companies to their portfolios. HXVF is is paving the way for those investments by setting up immersive days for venture capitals visiting Houston.

One of these HXVF Engage VC days is taking place this week on Wednesday, April 27. Houston entrepreneurs can hear from partners at Revolution — a Washington, D.C.-based firm with three investment funds and strategies — at a fireside chat kicking off the visit at 8:30 am at The Ion.

Tige Savage, co-founder and managing partner of Revolution Ventures, and Sandy Guitar, managing partner of HX Venture Fund, join InnovationMap for a Q&A about how the two organizations are working together to put funding in the hands of Houston tech entrepreneurs.

InnovationMap: Tige, tell me briefly about Revolution and its family of funds. What types of companies are you looking for?

Tige Savage: We started Revolution about 17 years ago. I co-founded it with Steve Case, the founder of AOL and later the chairman of AOL Time Warner. I ran the venture capital group for that media company — that's how he and I got to know each other. AOL was based in Washington DC, so when Steve and I partnered up to launch our firm, we based it in Washington. We knew that to do the investing of the importance and scale that we had in mind, that it was an idea that was bigger than just Washington DC. So, we hopped on airplanes, and we went to where we thought the most interesting best ideas were. And as we spent our time in the market, we realized that there were a lot of opportunities in a lot of places other than New York City and Silicon Valley — we obviously have nothing against New York City or Silicon Valley, and we make investments in those places. But we realized that there was a lot going on in the country. It really gave us an opportunity to start building ecosystems and investing across the country. We looked back and realized we were generating returns in places like Florida, Washington, DC, and Portland, Oregon, et cetera — and there were great opportunities and great entrepreneurs in those places. And the barriers to building companies in those kinds of places had gotten much smaller than they'd been historically — the internet enabled talent to be in more places we've seen that amplified in a major way through the pandemic.

We started investing, and we raised capital from the outside world — and we did that in three efforts. One is something called the Rise of the Rest seed fund that is a very ecosystem focused investment vehicle. They make hundreds of investments out of their $150 million fund — small investments really to be involved in those communities. Imagine that's a very large top of funnel approach for our organization that allows us to project ourselves in a major way. David Hall is managing director of the fund and will be at this event tomorrow. He's been involved in revolution from the very early days. In fact, he was the very first person I hired.

Revolution Ventures is the fund I'm involved in. We are mostly series A investment effort with a much more concentrated portfolio. We're very focused on this same strategy of investing across the entire country. Then we have a growth fund called Revolution Growth that's sort of a later stage fund — call it series C plus, maybe series D, investor. They take larger stakes, but it's also a concentrated portfolio.

We have a few things that we think are unique about Revolution. One is what we call "place" — it's this geographic approach that we've taken from the start we're real believers that there's opportunity everywhere. We've spent a lot of time, money, capital, et cetera, working on those ecosystems and being in them. That's why places lake Houston are so exciting for us. Secondly, is policy. We're in Washington, it's in the DNA of what we do. It used to be very out of favor for tech companies to say they cared about policy, where we've always known that that's very important. If you go to some of the biggest tech companies today they'll tell you that the most important thing to them and the biggest risk they have is policy and regulatory.

We have a history of investing in billion dollar categories where technology is ripe to make the the business model, the consumer value proposition, the supply chain, the margin structure — something like that — better. That's why we called the firm Revolution, targeting places where technology can revolutionize existing categories, largely for the benefit of consumers.

IM: Sandy, what is it about Revolution that makes it a good fund for Houston companies?

Sandy Guitar: We've met with and built relationships with over 400 venture funds, but have to date have only invested in 14. So ours is a super selective process and we are just honored to be limited partners of Revolution. The reasons that make Revolution such a fit are manyfold. One is we seek investment strategies that we think will find deals in Houston. Revolution's strategy of using both the Rise of the Rest at the seed level, but a concentrated portfolio at the series A level is exactly the kind of strategy that we think works. Their generalist approach, but with specific expertise within various technologies means that they can be nimble from a technology point of view, as they look for deal flow in Houston, and they can allow for a force rank that doesn't force them in one tech bucket. We think that's a great advantage to seasoned venture capitalists.

Second of all, we're looking for investment strategies that create high growth companies, which can be innovative to our investors, such as the HEB, Shell, Chevron, Insperity, Lyondellbasell, et cetera. Those investors at HX Venture Fund rely on us to introduce them to opportunities for co-investment at the company or fund level and for opportunities to be customers to the portfolio companies of our VCs. We believe Revolution is producing the kinds companies that are going to be and are of interest to our limited partners as they try to innovate from within. And then third of all, we're looking for really strong track records that show expertise in selecting, growing and exiting companies. We want Houston entrepreneurs to benefit from that kind of acumen. That takes a lot of track record and lot of time in VC to show proof points of all three of those parts of the company formation process, and Revolution has that in spades.

IM: Tige, do you have Houston startups already in your portfolio and how is HXVF helping you grow your presence in Houston?

TS: Across our funds, between the Rise of the Rest fund and Revolution Ventures, I think there are 19 Texas investments, one in Houston. We also have a company called Big Commerce, which is in the growth fund that's a Texas and Australia-based company. Goodfair is an investment of the Rise of the Rest fund. They made an early investment — love the strategy of really trying to make fashion more affordable and more environmentally conscious and more economically achievable.

We are equally fortunate to have HX involved. Not only are they a great investor, but they're also a great facilitator of intersections for firms like ours that are actively interested in deploying capital in interesting places. We're only a handful of folks, so it takes a lot of leverage. Our Rise of the Rest strategy is an institutional effort, but having partners in the market really matters. This is why we're so excited to be partnered with Sandy and the gang there, because we really view that strategy as a unique and interesting one.

IM: Sandy, tell me about these events you’ve been putting on for your portfolio funds at HXVF.

SG: This is our second event this year already, and we've done about half a dozen of these so far of what we call VC engage days. The idea of the VC engage day is to really connect all of our communities together. In the mornings, we like to make sure that the venture capitalist coming in has an opportunity to speak with our ecosystem and that anybody for free can come and listen to these very experienced and successful venture capitalists. From there, we curate one-on-one meetings between select entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that are part of the day. We also do one-on-ones with our limited partners and the venture capitalists. And then, at the end of the day, we have a private dinner to provide more bespoke conversations either with our limited partners or with the Founder's Circle — 20-plus serial entrepreneurs here in Houston that provide a voice to us at HXVF.

TS: What was just described — that's is not a typical thing. LPs don't do that. We're obviously excited about it. It's a thing unique to Houston. HXVF is doing a lot of work to make these things happen.

IM: Tige, as someone looking in from DC into the Houston market, what do you see happening in the Houston market? What are you most excited about getting to tap into on your visit?

TS: Houston is known for a number of industries and is smart to leverage its engineering talent and try to focus that on ways to amplify it in technology. We think that the opportunities around sort of innovative manufacturing or around logistics around climate are particularly interesting to our funds, because when we talk about revolutionizing large categories in ways that make things better for consumers, those are all major elements that can have that kind of impact.

Houston's an extremely multicultural place. The engineering talent is extremely robust. The ability for large corporations to invest in and take advantage of what's going on in tech is extremely exciting. Finding a way for catalytic activity to happen within within these large businesses is sometimes a challenge. What we're most interested in is seeing where that's happening.

The ecosystem is really blooming. This is sort of the bread and butter of what we do. Collaboration, capital, and network density are what we've always thought are the three key things that are differentiators for a market. And those things are all coming together.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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VC roundup: Here's what Houston startups raised funds last quarter

following the money

Houston startups are keeping pace when it comes to venture capital raised this year. In this roundup of funding closed in the second quarter, Houston businesses across sectors and industries close significant rounds from seed to series C.

Eleven startups raised over $222 million last quarter, according to InnovationMap reporting, which is more than in the first and second quarters. In chronological order, here's what companies snagged fresh funding recently.


Houston EV charging tech company raises $6M series A

Revterra Corp. closed a $6 million series A round led by Equinor Ventures. Photo courtesy of Revterra

Houston-based tech company Revterra Corp. has picked up $6 million in a series A funding round to propel development of its battery for electric vehicle charging stations.

Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

Revterra says its kinetic flywheel battery enables quick, simple, cost-effective installation of high-powered DC chargers for electric vehicles. The technology eases the burden placed on electrical grids, the company says. Continue reading.

Houston-founded blockchain startup raises $15M series A to increase international impact

Topl's latest fundraising round includes participation from a Houston investor as well as international partners. Image via Getty Images

A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.

Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.

“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch." Continue reading.

Houston-based gig economy startup raises $1.2M, launches beta platform

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch to democratize side gig success on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Clutch

Two Houstonians on a mission to enable safe and equitable entrepreneurship on college campuses have launched a new beta platform and closed pre-seed funding.

Clutch, a digital marketplace startup founded by Simone May and Madison Long, closed its pre-seed round of funding at $1.2 million – led by Precursor Ventures and other partners such as Capital Factory and HearstLab. The investment from this round will support Clutch’s national open beta launch of its platform for brands and student creators nationwide and its continued investment in customer and product strategy.

“We are at this inflection point where marketing is changing,” May says in a press release. “We know that the next generation can clearly see that and I think a lot of marketing agencies are starting to catch on. We need to be prioritizing the next generation’s opinion because they are driving who is interested in what they buy. This upcoming generation does not want to be sold to and they don’t like inorganic, inauthentic advertisements. That’s why user generated content is so big, it feels authentic.” Continue reading.

Houston hydrogen startup closes $25M series B

This hydrogen company has fresh funding. Photo via utility.global

Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, has closed its series B round of funding to the tune of $25 million, Axios reports.

Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners led the round. Other participating investors included: Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco.

Utility Global, founded in 2018, has developed a clean hydrogen solution. The proprietary tech — called the eXERO Technology Platform — includes a zero electricity process that converts sustainable waste streams into high-purity hydrogen. Additionally, the company developed its H2Gen Product Line that delivers customers reliable, low carbon, and high purity hydrogen, which offers unparalleled feedstock flexibility and highly competitive economics. Continue reading.

Industrial blockchain tech company headquartered in Houston closes $4M series C round

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that its latest round or funding. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, a Houston-based tech startup, has picked up $4 million in a series C round from the venture capital arms of foreign energy companies Saudi Aramco and Equinor.

The funding for Data Gumbo came from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, the VC subsidiary of government-owned oil and natural gas giant Saudi Aramco, and Equinor Technology Ventures, the VC subsidiary of Norwegian energy operator Equinor. The U.S. headquarters for both Saudi Aramco and Equinor are in Houston. Continue reading.

Houston company raises $138M for next-generation geothermal energy

The future of geothermal energy is here — and just got a big payday. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based startup Fervo Energy has picked up $138 million in funding to propel its creation and operation of carbon-free power plants fueled by geothermal energy.

Fervos says the series C round will help it complete power plants in Nevada and Utah and evaluate new projects in California, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as in other countries.

California-based investment firm DCVC led the round, with participation from six new investors. Continue reading.

Houston 'sneakerheads' raise $8.9M to further develop digital marketplace

Tradeblock's three co-founders have known each other since childhood. Photo via tradeblock.us

A Houston-based company is kicking it with some fresh funding with plans to expand development of its marketplace platform.

Unique sneaker trading platform, Tradeblock, has raised $8.9 million in funding from investment partners Courtside VC, Trinity Ventures, and Concrete Rose Capital. Per the news release, the company expects additional funding of around $4.5 million to its seed round.

Tradeblock — founded in 2020 by self-proclaimed "sneakerheads" and childhood friends Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, Tony Malveaux, and Darren Smith — will use the fresh funding to expand and improve its digital marketplace for shoes. Continue reading.

Health tech startup with Houston HQ raises $14M series A

Optellum, which has its United States operations based in the TMC Innovation Institute, has raised fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Oxford-based health tech startup that has its United States headquarters in Houston has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Optellum, which has created a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a series A funding round. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Mercia, with additional investors California-based Intuitive Ventures and New York-based Black Opal Ventures. Existing investors, including St John's College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in the round, per a news release.

"Lung cancer is an urgent public health crisis and Optellum's groundbreaking approach utilizing AI to accelerate early detection and intervention may fundamentally alter the healthcare community's approach to combating this disease," says Dr. Oliver Keown, managing director of Intuitive Ventures, in the release. "Optellum is uniquely positioned to align and provide considerable value to patients, providers, and payers alike. Intuitive Ventures is thrilled to provide our full arsenal of financial and strategic support to Optellum as we work towards a world of better outcomes for cancer patients." Continue reading.

Houston-based biomaterials company raises $1.1M to grow team, build new HQ

BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.” Continue reading.

Houston-based Codenotary has expanded its series B fundraising round

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

A Houston software startup that raised $12.5 million earlier this year has announced additional funding of $6 million. Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, closed its series B round in January. The fresh funding brings the company's total investment raised to $24 million — thanks to investors Bluwat and Elaia.leaders and following a series A round that was announced in 2020.

Codenotary, formerly known as vChain, was founded in 2018 by CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. The additional capital, which will go towards scaling up sales in the U.S. and Europe as well as entering the Asian market, was raised as an extension of the series B round. Continue reading.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

VR training startup, HTX Labs, has raised funding from an outside investor for the first time. Courtesy of HTX Labs

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. Continue reading.

Houston robotics company secures multi-million-dollar government contract

more collaboration

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics Inc., a newly minted public company, continues to make waves with government contracts.

Nauticus says it has been awarded a second multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit, part of the U.S. Defense Department, for development of a self-piloted amphibious robot system powered by the company’s ToolKITT command-and-control software.

In February, Nauticus said it had been given a ToolKITT contract by the Defense Innovation Unit. Under that contract, ToolKITT is being used aboard a remotely controlled undersea vehicle operated by the Navy.

Similar contracts with the Defense Innovation Unit could be on the horizon, Nauticus says.

Nauticus develops oceangoing robots under the brand names Aquanaut and Hydronaut, along with the ToolKITT autonomy software and related services. It’s forecasting 2023 revenue of $90 million.

Driven by machine learning, ToolKITT helps identify, categorize, and perform activities that can “remove, detect, identify, inspect, and neutralize hazards underwater,” according to a Nauticus news release.

ToolKITT is used for various self-piloted robotics products, including Nauticus’ Aquanaut.

“We are humbled and honored to be doing our part to advance the usage of robotics and autonomous systems to remove servicemembers from harm’s way,” says Ed Tovar, director of business development for defense systems at Nauticus.

Nauticus’ stock began trading September 13 on the Nasdaq market. The milestone came four days after Nauticus merged with publicly traded CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” shell company formed to acquire or merge with a business. At one point, the merger was valued at $560 million.

The new combo, operating under the Nauticus name, is led by Nauticus founder and CEO Nicolaus Radford.

“The closing of this business combination represents a pivotal milestone in our company’s history as we take public our pursuit of transforming the ocean robotics industry with autonomous systems,” Radford says in a news release. “Not only is the ocean a tremendous economic engine, but it is also the epicenter for building a sustainable future.”

Houstonian designs new experiences to encourage innovation in students

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 154

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

Part of being an educator is to prepare students for tomorrow, Essama explains, but with rapid technology development and adaption, no one knows what the future will hold for the job market or the world in general. The best way to prepare the future generation of the workforce is to teach them how to innovate, think differently, and adapt to new ways of doing things.

"That's what people are looking for right now — people who can provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems," Essama says on the show.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase.

Strategically, Essama tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem with the intent of showcasing the community.

"Innovation to me is being able to create something that has never been seen or done before — and that has a very important purpose," she says. "Exposing ourselves to innovation and people who think this way — and learning from them —is key to be able to be competitive tomorrow."

Essama says this program is still in the development phase. She's been testing out the concept with fourth graders and now ninth graders. She hopes the full program will be up and running by next fall.

She shares more details about the grant and the future of The Dream Lab on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.