Eight Houston entrepreneurs are among 16 recipients of EOY’s Gulf South Award, which recognizes leaders of high-growth companies in Central Texas, South Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Photo via Getty Images

Eight Houston-area entrepreneurs have been named regional winners in Ernst & Young’s 2024 Entrepreneur Of The Year program.

The eight entrepreneurs are among 16 recipients of EOY’s Gulf South Award, which recognizes leaders of high-growth companies in Central Texas, South Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

A panel of judges chose the winners based on factors such as:

  • Creation of long-term value through entrepreneurship.
  • Commitment to the purpose of their business.
  • Demonstration of growth and “substantial impact.”

“The 2024 Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf South Award winners are exceptional business leaders fueling innovation within their industries and growth within their companies,” says Anna Horndahl, an EY partner who is co-director of EOY’s Gulf South program.

The Houston area’s Gulf South winners for 2024 are:

  • Hal Brumfield of Tachus Fiber Internet, a provider of fiber-to-the-home internet service based in The Woodlands.
  • Stuart Hinchen and Peter Jenkins of QuVa Pharma, a Sugar Land-based provider of ready-to-administer injectables.
  • Andrew Levy of Avelo Airlines, a low-cost airline based in Houston.
  • Derek Maetzold of Castle Biosciences, a Friendswood-based provider of diagnostic tests.
  • Shannon Payne of Allied Fire Protection, a Pearland-based provider of fire prevention products and services.
  • John Poindexter of JB Poindexter & Co., a Houston-based provider of automotive and manufacturing goods and services.
  • Ting Qiao of Wan Bridge, a Houston-based developer and operator of build-to-rent communities.

“These entrepreneurs are shining examples of how to lead a scaling business and also care for their employees, customers and communities,” says Travis Garms, an EY partner who is co-director of EOY’s Gulf South program.

The regional winners now qualify for consideration in the EOY national awards program. The national awards are scheduled to be presented in November.

Jessica Traver Ingram, CEO and co-founder of IntuiTap, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share her company's latest milestone. Photo courtesy of IntuiTap

With FDA approval, Houston health tech company prepares nationwide deployment

Houston innovators podcast episode 232

Jessica Traver Ingram has been captivated by the intersection of physics and health care for most of her life, and that passion led her to contributing to the establishment of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Fellowship. After helping make the program a reality, Traver Ingram then participated in it as a fellow.

The program selects fellows and then lets them explore the TMC's member institutions to find ways to innovate within unmet clinical needs, and the inefficiency and challenges with placing epidurals and lumbar punctures caught Traver Ingram and her cohort's eye. The process relies completely on the health care practitioner's ability to feel the spine with their fingers to make the injection.

"We kept watching the inefficiencies of these procedures, and everyone was like, 'you're right, we don't really know why we do it this way,'" Traver Ingram says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's really cool to be outsiders watching and observing, because you just see things other people don't see — and that's in any industry."

With that, IntuiTap was born. Traver Ingram describes its tool, the VerTouch, as a "stud finder for the spine." After years of growing the company, she can also now call it FDA-approved.


"FDA clearance allows us to market the device in the United States, so we are entering the commercial launch stage of the company, which is really exciting," Traver Ingram says. "We plan to have these devices available in hospitals across the country within the year."

First up is what Traver Ingram calls a soft launch. The company is picking five institutions that want to be centers of excellence for the device and doing trial launches there before entering into a greater, nationwide rollout.

"It's just crazy that what started as just an idea on paper is now FDA approved and commercially ready and something that patients can see in hospitals this year," Traver Ingram says.

And the timing is important, she explains, adding that where the health care industry seems to be at as a whole is primed for innovation like IntuiTap.

"There's a lot of really exciting developments happening in health care right now," Traver Ingram says. "I feel like we're really at a tipping point for innovation and we're going to see some really big leaps in the next couple of years.

"One of the exciting trends I think that we're seeing is a shift away from blind procedures or procedures that are seen as an art requiring a significant amount of skills toward more science-based, safer, consistent, and repeatable procedures," she continues. "We fit really well into that category, so I'm glad that we're seeing that shift."

Houston energy leader Barbara Burger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the energy transition's biggest challenges and her key takeaways from CERAWeek. Photo courtesy

Houston energy innovation leader calls for collaboration to tackle the industry's biggest hurdles

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 231

When Barbara Burger moved to Houston a little over a decade ago to lead Chevron Technology Ventures, she wondered why the corporate venture group didn't have much representation from the so-called energy capital of the world.

“I had no companies in my portfolio in CTV from Houston, and I wondered why,” Burger says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Much has changed in the ecosystem since then, she says, including growth and development to what the community looks like now.

“There are a few things I’m proud of in the ecosystem here, and one of theme is that it’s a very inclusive ecosystem,” she explains, adding that she means the types of founders — from universities or corporate roles — and the incumbent energy companies. “The worst way to get people to not join a party is to not invite them.”

“No one company or organization is going to solve this. We have to get along,” she continues. “We have to stop thinking that the mode is to compete with each other because the pie is so big and the opportunity is so big to work together — and by and large I do see that happening.”



Burger, who has since graduated from Chevron to act as an adviser, mentor, and philanthropist across her passions, also shares her insider perspective on CERAWeek by S&P Global — from the key topics discussed to who was there this year and, notably, who wasn't. One thing that stood out to here was the practicality problems that were on the agenda.

“We need an energy system that focuses on climate, the economy, security — a lot of this is just the block and tackling of engineering, policy, economics, and community engagement. I think it was a practical discussion,” she says.

Another huge topic was the amount of energy needed in the near future.

“Everybody has woken up and realized that our load growth — our demand — is growing, and because of all kinds of things pointing toward electrification. I think that the big one in the room was AI and the power demands for it,” she says.

In addition to finding the funding to grow these new technologies, scale is extremely important when it comes to making an impact on the energy transition.

“It’s not just about the innovation — it’s really about scaling that innovation and that execution, because that’s when we get impact, when these technologies are actually used in the energy system, and when we create new businesses,” she explains on the show. “It’s going to take investment, capabilities, a real understanding of the marketplace, and, in many cases, it’s going to take a relationship with the government.”

Texas continued its year-over-year improvement on an annual report of most innovative states. Photo via Getty Images

Texas again improves on annual ranking of most innovative states

making progress

It's another year of slow but steady progress for the Lone Star State on an annual report on the top states for innovation.

Texas ranked No. 14 with a score of 48.43 points on personal finance site WalletHub's Most and Least Innovative States in 2024 ranking. Last year, Texas ranked No. 15. The state has steadily inched up the list — Texas was No.16 on the list in 2022 and No. 17 in 2021.

According to the report, Texas had the following ranking across the following categories:

  • No. 19 – Share of STEM Professionals
  • No. 16 – Projected STEM-Job Demand by 2030
  • No. 25 – Eighth-Grade Math & Science Performance
  • No. 19 – Share of Science & Engineering Graduates Aged 25+
  • No. 13 – Share of Technology Companies
  • No. 31 – R&D Spending per Capita
  • No. 15 – Venture-Capital Funding per Capita
Source: WalletHub

The report analyzed the 50 states and the District of Columbia and how each performed across 25 key metrics and across two key dimensions, “Human Capital” and “Innovation Environment," per the report. The data was pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Center for Education Statistics, United States Patent and Trademark Office, and other records.

“The most innovative states are especially attractive to people who have majored in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as they offer abundant career opportunities and investment dollars, both for jobs at existing companies and for startups," says Cassandra Happe, a WalletHub analyst in the report. "These states also instill young students with the skills they need to succeed in the current workforce, skills which are useful whether or not they pursue a STEM career.”

The report's top 10 included:

  1. District of Columbia with a score of 71.65
  2. Massachusetts with a score of 69.93
  3. Washington with a score of 66.36
  4. California with a score of 65.63
  5. Colorado with a score of 63.93
  6. Maryland with a score of 62.41
  7. Virginia with a score of 59.86
  8. Delaware with a score of 54.58
  9. Utah with a score of 53.66
  10. New Jersey with a score of 53.2
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston Airports to explore autonomous, fully electric air taxis in Houston region

taking flight

A fleet of electric and autonomous air taxis is expected to take flight in Houston, thanks to a partnership between a California startup and the Houston Airport System.

HAS announced a Memorandum of Understanding with Wisk Aero, a fully-owned subsidiary of Boeing, which recently announced a similar partnership with the city of Sugar Land. For the next year, the company will identify vertiport infrastructure at Houston's three airports — George Bush Intercontinental Airport, William P. Hobby Airport, and Ellington Airport.

“During my time in the Texas senate, I voted for legislation supporting advanced air mobility. This public-private partnership marks a significant step forward for the City of Houston as we invest in innovative and sustainable modes of air transportation,” Houston Mayor John Whitmire says in a statement. “The collaboration underscores our commitment to pioneer advancements that will shape the future of urban mobility.”

Wisk will also develop Houston-area relationships and chart out flight paths for self-flying, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis. The company's Generation 6 aircraft is autonomous, but a human supervisor remotely oversees every flight.

"Houston is at the forefront of aviation and aerospace innovation, so it’s only fitting that Houston Airports take the first steps to explore the next generation of air transportation,” says Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports. “Our partnership with Wisk represents a bold step towards revolutionizing air mobility not just within our city, but across the entire Greater Houston region."

Earlier this year, Wisk partnered in a similar capacity with Sugar Land. The company and HAS will also work with the Federal Aviation Administration on this initiative.

“Our partnership with Houston Airports solidifies Wisk’s commitment to creating new and efficient ways to travel within the Greater Houston area and furthers our relationship with infrastructure and regulatory partners in the region," adds Brian Yutko, CEO at Wisk. “Connecting suburbs to Houston’s airports, business centers and prime tourist destinations through autonomous, sustainable air travel will create a new form of urban mobility and have tremendous economic and workforce impacts, supporting the growth of the Houston region.”

In addition to early infrastructure planning for maintenance and training facilities in Houston, the partnership means Houston Airports and Wisk will collaborate on integrating AAM into HAS's long-term plans.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with an innovation leader from Rice University, the CEO of a tech recycling company, and a startup founder with fresh funding.

Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration at Lilie

Taylor Anne Adams is working to support Rice University's most ambitious entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of Lilie

Rice University can barely keep up with the interest of students in entrepreneurial classes and programming — even in the summer.

The university's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers around 30 classes a year and over a dozen co-curricular programs — all focused on supporting student entrepreneurs.

"There is a huge desire for this across the campus," Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration at Lilie, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our class enrollment has just continued to skyrocket, and we've had to add on more classes and programs and that still seems to not be enough." Continue reading.

Kelly Hess, CEO of CompuCycle

Kelly Hess leads CompuCycle, a Houston-based company focused on electronics recycling. Courtesy of CompuCycle

An innovative Houston company focused on sustainable tech recycling has expanded.

CompuCycle describes its unique Plastics Recycling System as the first and only certified, single solution e-waste recycling business. The company's unique process can now break down discarded technology products into single polymers that can then be reused in the manufacturing process.

“Properly managing all components of electronics is a cornerstone of sustainability and environmental responsibility,” Kelly Adels Hess, CEO of CompuCycle, says in a news release. “Making single polymer plastics that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can reuse to produce new electronics or other products, while adhering to international recycling standards, is a gamechanger for domestic companies and those that need their plastics shipped globally.” Continue reading.

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda Health

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her company's growth. Image via LinkedIn

Koda Health achieved a successful oversubscription of additional seed round funding thanks to the participation of AARP, Memorial Hermann Health System, and the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund. The total amount raised was undisclosed, and the round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital.

The tech platform improves planning for serious illness treatment and end-of-life care using a cloud-based advance care planning, or ACP, platform that pairs with in-house support. Essentially, it allows patients to do their planning ahead and make sure that their wishes are actually put into action. According to Koda Health, this results in an average of $9,500 saved per-patient, as well as improved health outcomes.

"If we’re looking at speed of market adoption, it’s clear that Koda Health is at the forefront of a crucial transformation in Advance Care Planning," says Tatiana Fofanova, PhD, CEO of Koda Health, in a press release. “In just a few years, we’ve built out a product that now serves well over 700,000 patients nationwide for industry giants like Cigna, Privia and Houston Methodist.” Continue reading.

Houston digital health platform raises additional seed funding from fresh investors

money moves

A Houston-born digital advance care planning company, has secured new funding from some big names.

Koda Health achieved a successful oversubscription of additional seed round funding thanks to the participation of AARP, Memorial Hermann Health System, and the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund. The total amount raised was undisclosed, and the round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital.

The tech platform improves planning for serious illness treatment and end-of-life care using a cloud-based advance care planning, or ACP, platform that pairs with in-house support. Essentially, it allows patients to do their planning ahead and make sure that their wishes are actually put into action. According to Koda Health, this results in an average of $9,500 saved per-patient, as well as improved health outcomes.

"If we’re looking at speed of market adoption, it’s clear that Koda Health is at the forefront of a crucial transformation in Advance Care Planning," says Tatiana Fofanova, PhD, CEO of Koda Health, in a press release. “In just a few years, we’ve built out a product that now serves well over 700,000 patients nationwide for industry giants like Cigna, Privia and Houston Methodist.”

Dr. Desh Mohan, the chief medical officer for Koda Health says that it was important to the company to create strategic partnerships with its investors. In fact, Memorial Hermann isn’t just helping with funding. The hospital system is also collaborating with Koda on a new pilot project.

“Koda is uniquely positioned to serve payers, providers and patients,” adds William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center. “We rarely see a company that provides value to all three stakeholders. Seeing Koda launch from our TMCi BioDesign program to the progress they've made with our member institutions and players in the value chain is incredible.”

Beyond the TMC, Koda’s collaboration with AARP goes through the latter’s AgeTech Collaborative. That ecosystem unites founders in the realm of longevity tech to make meaningful change in their field.

"AARP research shows that there is a willingness among older adults in the U.S. to prepare for the end of their lives," says Amelia Hay, VP of Startup Programming and Investments at AgeTech Collaborative. "This indicates a need for more programs and services geared towards ensuring adults take the necessary steps, and AARP is pleased to invest in Koda Health to help address that need."

Koda raised its first seed funding in 2022, a round that totaled $3.5 million. The new round close means that Koda can accelerate its efforts to modernize ACP.