Three female-founded health tech startups won awards at this year's Ignite Healthcare's Fire Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy of Ignite

For the fourth year, a Houston-based, female-focused health tech organization has spotlighted the industry's emerging technology entrepreneurs.

Earlier this month, Ignite Healthcare Network’s Accelerator Program hosted its seven women-led digital health startup finalists, narrowed down from over 330 startups, at its annual Fire Pitch Competition. The nonprofit is led by a group of women executives committed to shaping the future of health care.

“The fourth year of Ignite Health’s Accelerator Program has proved to attract more and more women founders of digital tech and med device startups from around the world,” says Ayse McCracken, Ignite's founder, in a news release.

According to McCracken, 22 applicants made it into the program, which launched earlier this year. A group of judges narrowed down that group to seven finalists, before announcing the top three companies for the competition.

Joanna Nathan, CEO of Houston-based Prana Thoracic, won the top award for her company. Stephanie Gravenor, founder of Denver-based Medecipher, and Liane Clamen, founder of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts-based Adaptilens, won second and third, respectively.

The event doled out over $500,000 in total. Jay Goss, general partner of Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, announced $100,000 investments into four finalists' companies. The finalists receiving this award are:

  • Pamela Bonnett, CEO of Denver-based Ultrasound AI
  • Christine Lum Lung, co-founder and CEO of Fort Collins, Colorado-based Origin Healthcare
  • Pamela Singh, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based CaseCTRL
  • Stephanie Gravenor, founder and CEO of Denver-based Medecipher

The partner organizations participating in this year's accelerator and event included Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Pediatrics, The Menninger Clinic, HCA, Kindred Healthcare, Aetna, Texas Health Resources, Cook Children’s Hospital, TMC, Golden Seeds, Wavemaker 360 Health, Portfolia, Prosalus, 7Wire, Texas Halo Fund, Unity Point Ventures, and others.

“We are grateful for the support and generosity of our sponsors for helping to make this event possible,” says Cheryl Stavins, Ignite board member and co-chair of the event, in the news release. “Their support and involvement continue to ignite our mission and passion to ensure the success and recognition of women entrepreneurs in healthcare.”

Earlier in the day, Ignite Health hosted a new event called “Women Shaping the Future of Healthcare Luncheon." Eighty female executives, investors, founders, and community leaders gathered to hear from three of Ignite Health’s alumni founders: Somer Baburek, CEO of Hera Biotech, Dr. Liz Clayborne, CEO of Nasaclip, and Amanda Gorman, chief clinical officer of Nest Collaborative.

Mara McFadden (left), CEO of Endolumik, took home the top prize at the Ignite Fire Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy of Ignite

Houston organization doles out over $775,000 in prizes to women-led health tech startups

and the winner is

After virtual and postponed events, Ignite Healthcare Network finally got to honor its 2021 cohort and name the annual winners.

The Fifth Annual Fire Pitch Competition was slated to take place last November, but was postponed to January. Affected by the Delta and then Omicron variants of COVID-19, the event finally got to return to in-person networking and pitches on Thursday, March 3.

"The opportunity to bring people together is a really different level of engagement and energy," Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite, says ahead of the awards event. "We love seeing the energy that's being generated in Houston around innovation — and particularly health care innovation."

Seven companies pitched and three were awarded monetary prizes. Morgantown, West Virginia-based Endolumik, which has developed a patent-pending fluorescence-guided device to improve visualization and safety of robotic and laparoscopic bariatric operations, took home the top prize, which included a total of $500,000 in investment prizes from the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health.

Second place was awarded to Rx Bandz of Locust Valley, New York. The company created the MiniJect, the world’s smallest military-grade auto-injector designed to deliver a wide range of injectable medication, and was awarded $250,000 from the Texas Halo Fund and $25,000 from The Southwest National Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium.

San Antonio-based Hera Biotech took third place and was awarded a pilot program prize with Banner Health. Hera has developed the first non-surgical, tissue-based test capable of diagnosing endometriosis.

Ignite taps into Houston health care institutions to provide opportunities for its cohort of companies. According to a news release, this year’s partner organizations included Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Pediatrics, The Menninger Clinic, Banner Health, Kindred Healthcare, Aetna, Commonwealth Care Alliance, BLUE KC, Hospital for Special Surgery, Summit Health, TMC Ventures, Texas Heart Institute, Golden Seeds, Portfolia, The Artemis Fund, Wavemaker 360 Health, Prosalus Capital Partners, 7Wire Ventures, Texas Halo Fund, Unity Point Ventures and others.

The judges who evaluated the competition’s panel of companies included:

  • Jay Goss, MBA General Partner, Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health
  • Amanda Hammel, Chief Information Officer, Memorial Hermann Health System
  • Karen Hill, MD, MBA, SVP and Chief Medical Officer, Texas Children’s Health Plan
  • Tom Luby, PhD, Director, Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute
  • Fiona Mack, PhD, Head of JLABS @TMC
  • Roberta Schwartz, PhD, EVP and Chief Innovation Officer, Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Andrew Truscott, Global Health Technology Lead, Accenture
Log on to one of these informative online events happening throughout the rest of the month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for November​

Where to be online

November is usually the last busy month for business events before the end of the year and ahead of the holidays, and this year — even though events have pivoted to virtual gatherings — is no different.

From panels and ask-me-anything meetings to summits and startup competitions, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. This month in particular there's the return of The Houston Innovation Summit and the brand new awards program called, The Listies (nominate now for those). Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

November 5 — Dell Technologies Ask Me Anything

Dell Technologies is hosting an "Ask Me Anything" session for the Ion community. During this time, attendees can ask experts anything in regards to IT pain points during these times. Entrepreneurs may also use this time to brainstorm the back end IT Infrastructure of their business.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 5, at 10 am. Register here.

November 5-6 — Greentown Labs Climatetech Summit

Join Greentown Labs for its first Climatetech Summit for a deep dive into scaling climate action. Across the two days, attendees will engage with Greentown's pillars of climate action — technology, finance, policy, and justice — discover groundbreaking startups and their climatetech solutions, learn from industry experts, and forge meaningful connections with entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders, policymakers, startup support organizations, and other climate champions.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 5, and Friday, November 6. Register here.

November 10 — Igniting Leadership: The State of COVID Vaccines

Join Ignite Healthcare Network for a special night of discussion hosted by IGNITE Steering Committee member Susan Feigin Harris about the status of COVID19 vaccine development with Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, Co-director of Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 10, at 6 pm. Register here.

November 10-12 — Texas Life Sciences Forum

The Texas Life Science Forum is the premier life science event in Texas that brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic, and investors. The 2020 event will be virtual and will still be the "must attend" event for anyone in the life science industry in Texas or affiliated with innovation at the life science academic institutions. This event represents an opportunity to meet investors, learn about promising life science companies, to learn about opportunities for entrepreneurs, investment professionals, big pharma, academics and business executives serving the life science industry.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 10, to Thursday, November 12. Register here.

November 12 — Plaza Tec: Funding Fundamentals

Though Latinx-owned businesses and startups make up at least 38 percent of businesses in the Houston area, there is still a lack of access to capital blocking growth and progress for Latinx founders.

In this discussion presented by The Ion, representatives from baMa and NextSeed will join together to discuss angel investing and crowdfunding options for Latinx founders and what challenges one might face when seeking capital.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 12, at 5:30 pm. Register here.

November 12 — Women in Tech and Biz

If you're interested in hearing from some badass women in tech and business, come to the virtual Women in Tech + Biz event created by the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The event will be split into two sections — one focused on entrepreneurship and the other focusing more on software and engineering — followed by networking.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 12, at 6 pm. Register here.

November 13 — Climathon 2020: Hacking Solutions to Houston’s Climate Challenges

On Earth Day this year, the City of Houston published its first Climate Action Plan. The plan is the culmination of thousands of volunteer time from industry professionals, policy stakeholders, and community advocates. Together the working groups have laid out a concise plan to address the climate challenges that Houston faces along with maintaining a leadership role in the energy transition. This year's Climathon will look to realize some of the goals of the plan through design sprints led by local subject matter experts in the areas of transportation, energy innovation, building optimization, and materials management.

The event will take place online on Friday, November 13, at 1 pm. Register here.

November 16-20 — The Houston Innovation Summit

The Houston Innovation Summit — THIS — celebrates Houston's innovation ecosystem during Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). THIS responds to 2020 with a special focus on the intersection of Impact and Innovation, spotlighting Houstonians at the forefront of education, ecosystems, inclusion, and policy. Join Impact Hub Houston and Houston's startup and small business community for a week of exciting programs and connect with the thinkers, doers, makers and innovators driving Houston forward.

The event will take place online on Monday, November 16, to Friday, November 20. Register here.

November 17 — Struggles and Bubbles: Pivoting during a Pandemic

Join General Assembly Houston to listen to a panel of startup founders who will share their journey and entrepreneurial struggles, and what it really takes to launch a startup during global pandemic, and scale a startup.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 17 at 5 pm. Register here.

November 17-19 — Capital Factory's Texas Startup Roadshow

For the first time, Capital Factory is taking its roadshow online. For three days, the organization will be introducing investors to the various innovative cities across the Lone Star State.

Houston will be the city of focus on Wednesday, November 18.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 17, to Thursday, November 19. Register here.

November 20 — The Listies

Let's toast to the entrepreneurial spirit of Houston in a time when celebrating victories is more important than ever. Introducing the Listies, brought to you Houston Exponential and InnovationMap, commemorating the launch of HTX TechList, Houston's innovation discovery platform.

The event will take place online on Friday, November 20, at 3 pm. Register here.

Unlike past awards programs hosted by Ignite Healthcare Network, the Ignite Madness winners accepted their awards via video call. Photo courtesy of Ignite

Houston female-focused health tech pitch competition names big winners

winner, winner

From the comfort of their own homes, several female entrepreneurs accepted investment and pitch prizes at the finals of an inaugural awards program created by a Houston-based, woman-focused health organization.

Ahead of the Ignite Madness finals on Thursday, October 29, Houston-based Ignite Healthcare Network named nine finalists that then pitched for three investment prizes. The finalists included:

  • Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Abilitech Medical — medical device company that creates assistive devices to aid those with upper-limb neuromuscular conditions or injuries.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana-based Chosen Diagnostics — a biotech company focusing on custom treatment. First, Chosen is focused on creating two novel biomarker diagnostic kits — one for gastrointestinal disease in premature infants.
  • San Francisco, California-based Ejenta — which uses NASA tech and artificial intelligence to enhance connected care.
  • Highland, Maryland-based Emergency Medical Innovation — a company focused on emergency medicine like Bleed Freeze, a novel device for more efficiently treating nosebleeds.
  • Columbia, Missouri-based Healium — an app to quickly reduce burnout, self-manage anxiety, and stress.
  • Farmington, Connecticut-based Nest Collaborative — digital lactation solutions and support.
  • Palo Alto, California-based Nyquist Data — a smart search engine to enable medical device companies to get FDA approvals faster.
  • New Orleans-Louisiana based Obatala Sciences — a biotech startup working with research institutions across the globe to advance tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
  • Perth, Australia-based OncoRes — a company that's developing a technology to provide surgeons with real-time assessment of tissue microstructure.
The inaugural event that mixed health care and basketball — two vastly different industries with strong connections to women — attracted support from partners and sponsors, such as Intel, Accenture, Morgan Lewis, Houston Methodist, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and more, according to Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite.

"Our partners and sponsors are an integral part of our organization" says McCracken. "Without each and every one of them, the networks, resources, and commitment to advancing women leaders, we would not have grown so rapidly in just four years and our IGNITE Madness event would not enjoy this vibrant ecosystem that now surrounds female entrepreneurs."

First up in selecting their winner for their investment was Texas Halo Fund. Chosen Diagnostics took home the $50,000 investment.

"While we were impressed by everyone who pitched tonight, one company stood out to us," says Kyra Doolan, managing partner. "[Chosen Diagnostics] exemplifies what we are looking for: an innovative solution, a strong CEO, and a real addressable market."

The second monetary award was presented by Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation. The award was an $100,000 investment from the TMC Venture Fund, as well as admission to TMCx. The recipient of the investment was OncoRes.

"We are absolutely blown away," says Katharine Giles, founder of Onco. "We've already got a great link to Texas and looking forward to more."

The largest monetary award that was on the table was presented by Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, a leading Southern-California based, early stage venture capital firm, for $150,000. However, at the time of the announcement, Managing Partner Jay Goss decided to award four startups an undisclosed amount of investment. Goss says he and his team will meet with each company to establish an investment.
The companies that were recognized by Wavemaker were: Healium, Ejenta, Emergency Medical Innovation, and Nest Collaborative.
Lastly, Ignite itself had $27,500 cash awards to give out to the pitch competition winners. The funds will be distributed between the winners. OncoRes took first place, Abilitech came in second place, and Obatala Sciences took third place.
This week's innovators to know in Houston includes Ayse McCracken of Ignite Healthcare Network, Philipp Sitter of VIPinsiders, and Diane Yoo of Medingenii. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three innovators — from health care investing to marketing technology — all making headlines in Houston this week.

Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite Healthcare Network

Ayse McCracken joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss women in health care and Ignite Madness. Photo courtesy of Ignite

When the pandemic hit and shut down businesses across the world, Ayse McCracken knew immediately what group of people were likely going to be the most affected: Women in health care. It just so happens that her nonprofit organization, Ignite Healthcare Network, exists to serve this same group of people, so she got to work on creating online events that were intentional and meaningful.

"With COVID, it has only escalated the importance of our work, so we've elevated our voices through our webinar series," McCracken says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

This week, Ignite's virtual startup competition concludes with the finals. She shares more about the program and Ignite's mission on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Philipp Sitter, founder of VIPinsiders

Restaurateur Philipp Sitter launched VIPinsiders last year. Photo courtesy of VIPinsiders

Restaurants have undoubtedly suffered due to loss of business during the shutdown, but they face an uphill battle back to normalcy, and restaurateur Philipp Sitter knew his tech tool could help. He created VIPinsiders as a marketing tool to reach customers in a data-driven way.

"The restaurant gets to know me [the customer], it understands how often I visit, it also gets to reward my visitation," explains Sitter. "Most importantly, it reminds me to come back when I haven't visited in a while."

Data recorded by VIPinsiders shows that 48 percent of users visit restaurants with the platform "more often" in the first 90 days. Click here to read more.

Diane Yoo, managing partner at Medingenii

Diane Yoo, who was hospitalized due to COVID-19 earlier this year, created a VC fund that's investing in health tech solutions for the disease. Photo courtesy of Medingenii

Just a few weeks after being hospitalized from COVID-19, Diane Yoo was investing in a medical device startup that could have made a world of difference to her recovery. After closing its initial fund, Medingenii invested in several Houston health startups including Vitls, a wearable device that can track and send vitals remotely.

"The pandemic has really validated some of the business models we're invested in," she tells InnovationMap.

Now, fueled by her first round of success and eager to advance other life-changing technologies, Yoo is looking toward a second fund. Click here to read more.

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Report: Houstonians lose days-worth of time each year due to rush hour

not in the fast lane

Traffic is a part of life in Houston. But a new study quantifies just how much time the average Bayou City dweller spends sitting in rush hour gridlock every year—and the results are eye opening.

According to a study released this month by CoPilot, Houstonians lose nearly four days of time each year due to rush hour commuting.

The report found that rush hour extends Houstonians' commute by an extra 22 minutes per day. Annually, that totaled an additional 91.6 hours commuting due to rush hour.

This earned the Houston area (including the Woodlands and Sugar Land) a No. 8 spot on CoPilot's list of cities where commuters lose the most time to rush hour.

Evening commutes saw the highest increase in time in Houston, with the average commuter spending 14 additional minutes on roadways due to rush hour. Morning rush hour in Houston added about eight minutes to commuters' daily drives.

Houston was the only Texas city to make CoPilot's list of the top 15 cities that lost the most time to rush hour traffic. New York drivers lost the most time to rush hour, which adds about 32 minutes to daily commutes and 132 hours a year, according to the report. Los Angeles drivers lost the second-most time, followed by urban Honolulu, Miami, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The report found that drivers in Houston spend about eight more minutes commuting during rush hour than the average driver in the county. That totals to about 30 more hours per year than the average U.S. driver.

Commute times have been dropping nationally, reaching a low of 25.6 minutes in 2021 compared to 27.6 minutes in 2019, as more workers have transitioned to hybrid schedules or working from home, according to CoPilot

In 2020, Houston drivers even witnessed a 33 percent drop in traffic compared to in 2019, according to a study from Rice.

Still, Houston roadways are consistently ranked among the most congested in the country. Last year, a similar study found that the typical Houston driver wasted 46 hours due to traffic congestion.

Portions of the 610 West Loop are notorious for being ranked as the state's most congested roadways, and other stretches of roads are known as some of the worst bottlenecks in Texas.

Houston-based creator economy platform goes live nationally

so clutch

An app that originally launched on Houston college campuses has announced it's now live nationwide.

Clutch founders Madison Long and Simone May set out to make it easier for the younger generation to earn money with their skill sets. After launching a beta at local universities last fall, Clutch's digital marketplace is now live for others to join in.

The platform connects brands to its network of creators for reliable and authentic work — everything from social media management, video creation, video editing, content creation, graphic design projects, and more. With weekly payments to creators and an inclusive platform for users on both sides of the equation, Clutch aims to make digital collaboration easier and more reliable for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to bring our product to market to make sustainable, authentic lifestyles available to everyone through the creator economy," says May, CTO and co-founder of Clutch. "We’re honored to be part of the thriving innovation community here in Houston and get to bring more on-your-own-terms work opportunities to all creators and businesses through our platform.”

In its beta, Clutch facilitated collaborations for over 200 student creators and 50 brands — such as DIGITS and nama. The company is founded with a mission of "democratizing access to information and technology and elevating the next generation for all people," according to a news release from Clutch. In the beta, 75 percent of the creators were people of color and around half of the businesses were owned by women and people of color.

“As a Clutch Creator, I set my own pricing, schedule and services when collaborating on projects for brands,” says Cathy Syfert, a creator through Clutch. “Clutch Creators embrace the benefits of being a brand ambassador as we create content about the products we love, but do it on behalf of the brands to help the brands grow authentically."

The newly launched product has the following features:

  • Creator profile, where users can share their services, pricing, and skills and review inquiries from brands.
  • Curated matching from the Clutch admin team.
  • Collab initiation, where users can accept or reject incoming collab requests with brands.
  • Collab management — communication, timing, review cycles — all within the platform.
  • In-app payments with a weekly amount selected by the creators themselves.
  • Seamless cancellation for both brands and creators.
Clutch raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Capital Factory, HearstLab, and more. Clutch was originally founded as Campus Concierge in 2021 and has gone through the DivInc Houston program at the Ion.

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch. Photo courtesy of Clutch