Take a peek into this year's Houston Innovation Awards Gala. Photo by K. Mamou Photography

Last week, the Houston Innovation Awards Gala honored 44 honorees within the Houston innovation ecosystem and named 11 winners across categories.

The event, held November 9 at the Ion, was hosted by InnovationMap and Houston Exponential. Nearly 600 attendees — finalists, guests, judges, sponsors, and more — joined to eat, drink, and celebrate the city's top innovators.

Missed the event? Scroll through some of the night's top moments.

Scenes from the Houston Innovation Awards Gala

Photo by K. Mamou Photography

Learn more about this year's awards and honorees:

The 2022 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 11 categories. Photos courtesy

InnovationMap, HX reveal winners from 2022 Houston Innovation Awards Gala

and the winners are...

That's a wrap on the Houston Innovation Awards Gala. InnovationMap and Houston Exponential announced the winners of the 2022 awards that celebrated Houston's booming innovation ecosystem, and 11 startups and individuals walked away with the awards.

The event, held November 9 at the Ion, honored all 43 finalists as well as Trailblazer Award recipient, Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury. Click here to read about all the finalists.

Eight judges evaluated over 150 companies and individuals across 11 categories for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards. This year's judges includedCarolynRodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice; Wogbe Ofori, founder of Wrx Companies; ScottGale, executive director of Halliburton Labs; AshleyDanna, senior manager of regional economic development of Greater Houston Partnership; KellyMcCormick, professor at the University of Houston; PaulCherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University; LawsonGow, CEO of Houston Exponential; and NatalieHarms, editor of InnovationMap.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Founded Business: Steradian Technologies

The winner for the BIPOC-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is: Steradian Technologies, a health tech startup that uses deep-photonics technology to diagnose respiratory diseases in seconds, all for the price of a latte.

Female-Founded Business: Sesh Coworking

The winner for the Female-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is: Sesh Coworking, a women and genderqueer inclusive coworking and community.

Hardtech Business: Fluence Analytics

The winner for the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology across life science, energy, space, and beyond, is: Fluence Analytics, real-time analytics solution that optimizes processes and provides novel insights into material properties that enable customers to increase yields, improve product quality, and reduce costs.

B2B Software Business: Liongard

The winner for the B2B Software Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to impact the business sector, is: Liongard — software company that unlocks the intelligence hidden deep within IT systems to give MSPs an operational advantage that delivers both higher profits and an exceptional customer experience.

Green Impact Business: Cemvita Factory

The winner for the Green Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, and beyond, is: Cemvita Factory, a biotech company that uses a sustainable, economical, nature-inspired approach to empower companies with sustainable products and environmental technologies to decrease their carbon footprint, reverse climate change, and create a brighter future for the planet.

Smart City Business: Sensytec

The winner for the Smart City Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a tech solution within transportation, infrastructure, data, and beyond, is: Sensytec, an IoT Solutions platform that expedites and enhances concrete construction operations.

New to Hou Business: Venus Aerospace

The winner for the New to Hou Business category, honoring an innovative company, accelerator, or investor that has relocated its primary operations to Houston within the past three years, is: Venus Aerospace, the creator of a hypersonic spaceplane capable of one-hour global travel.

DEI Champion: Loretta Williams Gurnell

The winner for the DEI Champion category, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is: Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation.

Mentor of the Year: Kara Branch

The winner for the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is: Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. and developer and manager at Intel Corp.

Investor of the Year: John "JR" Reale

The winner for the Investor of the Year category, honoring an individual who is leading venture capital or angel investing, is: John (JR) Reale, managing director of Integr8d Capital and venture lead of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund

People's Choice (Startup of the Year): Milkify

The winner for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during of the event, is: Milkify — creator of patent-pending process to freeze-dry breast milk into a powder that is easy to use and transport and lasts for three years on the shelf.

These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

Houston's 2022 DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

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— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

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Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

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— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say no to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

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— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

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— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

Here's why three New to Hou finalists from the Houston Innovation Awards have committed to Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Why these 3 startups relocated to Houston

eavesdropping at the houston innovation awards gala

Houston is attracting more and more businesses big and small, old and new. So much that it seemed worthy of an award for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala.

The awards event, which is on November 9 and hosted by InnovationMap and Houston Exponential at the Ion, is honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have recently relocated or significantly expanded to Houston.

Here's why three of these New to Hou finalists have committed to Houston.

"The move to the Houston area allowed us to be much closer to our strategic partners, customers and suppliers. We are also impressed by the vast talent pool in the area. Houston has a highly skilled workforce with diverse experiences, particularly in oil and gas, petrochemicals, and a broad range of technical areas."

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Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics, which relocated from Louisiana to Stafford last year, just outside of Houston. "We have been able to engage very actively with many customers since the move and also have developed valuable supplier relationships."

"In 2019, Chevron and EIC (both Houston based) became investors and we already had a lot of US clients, so we wanted to create a Houston footprint."

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John van Pol, co-founder and CEO of INGU, which opened its new Houston office in 2021. Van Pol adds that the pandemic delayed their expansion initially.

"Houston has a quickly-growing biotechnology sector and already has existing oil and gas talent, making it an ideal place to find the people we need to grow our business."

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Zimri T. Hinshaw, founder and CEO of BUCHA BIO, which relocated to Houston from New York in January 2022. "Our most prominent investor is Houston-based New Climate Ventures," he adds.

The five finalists in the BIPOC and Female-Founded Business categories for the Houston Innovation Awards share the challenges they have had to overcome. Photos courtesy

Overheard: Houston-based BIPOC, female founder finalists of 2022 share challenges overcome

eavesdropping at the houston innovation awards gala

Houston is often lauded as one of the most diverse cities in America, and that diversity is seen across its business communities as well, which includes its innovation ecosystem.

Some of the BIPOC-Founded and Female-Founded Business category finalists from the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9, shared some of the challenges they faced being in the minority of their industries and careers.

"The biggest challenge I've faced as a female BIPOC founder is having to work 2 to 4 times harder to convince individuals that I am an expert in my field, and that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to my technology and implementation."

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— Asma Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Steradian Technologies. "The way I overcame it was by showing irrefutable data to support my expertise and our invention, as well as hiring a diverse team that could substantiate our claims," she adds.

"As a female founder, I used to think that I was looked at as 'less than,' compared to my male counterparts. While I still struggle with this feeling,...  I decided that the biggest hinderance in my confidence as a female founder was the lies that I was telling myself."

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— Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Unite. "I felt — and still sometimes do — insecure in a room filled with male founders, not because I thought I was any less-than, but because I was thinking they thought I was less-than — before ever even meeting me," Eddings added, sharing how she tries to change her own perspective. "I now feel a responsibility to share my story, as to show other women that they are not alone, their voice matters and to keep going."

"As a BIPOC founder, it was not easy in the beginning to find the connections and network with folks that had the resources to help us with our aspirations. That was the biggest challenge in getting started."

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— Enrique Carro, CEO of Blue People. "Now that we have a few clients and testimonials, we are able to pull on them to help us find new clients and connections," he continues. "But this was something that we had to really work hard on at the beginning."

"One of my fears going into the fundraising process was being seen as too weak or too fragile to lead an early-stage venture."

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— Joanna Nathan, CEO of Prana Thoracic, who shares she feels this way following the loss of her son. "I found that in being transparent with potential investors, after building some trust, and speaking openly about my loss and how it has inspired me to build this company, I was able to overcome this fear."

"The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a female founder comes down to resources. Finding the capital and time to get everything done is difficult for female founders because we have a lot on our shoulders and there are systemic inequalities that make things even more difficult."

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— Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand. "I’m creating a billion dollar company, but I’m a mom of two young girls, the executive director of one nonprofit and a board member of another, and a dependable friend, wife, daughter, sister and niece, too," she continues. "Other female founders and VCs are stretched, too, so it can be difficult to connect and find time to figure it out together. I have been very fortunate and also worked really hard to find both the time and resources to make it all work."

The five finalists for Mentor of the Year in the Houston Innovation Awards sound off on their best advice. Photos courtesy

Houston's top startup mentors of 2022 share go-to advice for founders

words of wisdom

Houston is home to many great mentors — all hailing for completely different backgrounds.

At the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9, InnovationMap and Houston Exponential are honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have dedicated at least a portion of their lives to supporting others within the startup and tech scene in Houston.

Here are some words of wisdom from our awards honorees from the Mentor of the Year category for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards.

"I always remind people to be open and ask for help. There is a common misconception that if you disclose your idea, someone else will quickly run with it and beat you to market! ... Don’t alienate yourself by overprotecting the idea and keeping it all to yourself. The more you open up about your idea the more feedback you’ll get, good and bad, both of which are vital in the success of the product long term."

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- Alfredo Arvide, Blue People and HOUnited. Arvide, who's been an advisor for over a decade, adds, that "most markets are big enough to allow competition to thrive, so keeping your idea behind close doors until you launch may hurt you as the market may not be ready for it. Having multiple players competing in the market will help you in the long run, as long as you have a great product and a sound marketing strategy."

"Understand the problem you are trying to solve. Build a team that works well together and has the intellect, drive, and willingness to develop and bring to market a solution for that problem. Leadership is not about giving orders and making all the decisions. It is about creating the environment for your team members individually and collectively to do their best work and be most fulfilled."

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- Barbara Burger, adviser and board member for several startups and organizations. With over 20 years of experience supporting startups, Burger says she is mostly focused on startups dedicated to decarbonizing the energy system.

"Don't have 'rocking chair regret.' What I mean is when you are old and in a rocking chair, you aren't going to regret the year (or less) you took away from a guaranteed salary to test if your idea worked. So, take the time and follow your dreams — you never know what could happen!"

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- Craig Ceccanti, T-Minus Solutions. Ceccanti, who also co-founded Pinot's Palette and Rivalry Technologies, has been mentoring for over a decade. "I love helping people and always have so helping others achieve their dreams is a natural progression for me, he says. "I've also had incredible mentors and I like to pay it forward every chance I get. I feel that mentoring is fun, therapeutic, and mutually beneficial as I feel I learn from the smart people I get to talk to daily!

"Bring great people on your journey with you — team members, advisors, investors, mentors, consultants, etc."

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- Emily Reiser, Texas Medical Center and Enventure. Reiser, who's mentored companies for several years, says it's her own mentors that inspired her. "I had excellent mentors who generously gave their time for me, especially Upendra Marathi, and it's just a given that I mentor others. It's a privilege to learn from the people I mentor and see them become successful."

"Be your own cheerleader. Stay true to yourself and don't give up."

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Kara Branch, founder of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "I have always been the only black woman in all my roles. As a mother of three daughters, my oldest daughter inspired Black Girls Do Engineer Corp.," Branch says. "When she daughter was 9, she came to me and said she wanted to be a software engineer. ... If anyone can help her achieve her dreams is her mom and I wanted to create a space for girls who look like my daughter to come together and do the things they love and are passionate about."

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.