Here's what Houston startups and innovators will be honored at the Houston Innovation Awards on November 8. Graphic via Gow Media

2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists announced

best of the rest

In just three weeks, all of Houston's innovation ecosystem will gather to celebrate the hard work of startups, entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and more — and over 50 honorees will be recognized for their achievements.

Scroll down to see the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists.

A group of 10 judges evaluated over 200 submissions across 12 categories, and 12 individuals and 39 companies were named finalists. The winners in each category will be announced at the event on Wednesday, November 8, at Silver Street Studios. Additionally, the event will honor the 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, who was announced earlier this month.


If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please reach out to sales@innovationmap.com. The program is a collaboration between InnovationMap and Houston Exponential. If you have questions about the Houston Innovation Awards, email awards@innovationmap.com.

BIPOC-Owned Business, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation

  • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
  • Kanin Energy, helping heavy industry monetize their waste heat and decarbonize their operations.
  • Mars Materials, developing a carbon-negative pathway for carbon fiber and acrylamide production using CO2 and biomass as raw materials.
  • Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.
  • Rosarium Health, a platform that connects independent home health clinicians and home remodeling companies to households in need of accessible home modifications.

Female-Owned Business, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
  • Feelit Technologies, nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime.
  • Koda Health, , a tech-enabled care coordination service to improve serious illness care planning and drive savings for value-based care at scale.
  • The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.
  • UpBrainery Technologies, an innovative educational technology company that provides personalized and adaptive learning experiences to learners.

Hardtech Business, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology

  • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment.
  • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry.
  • Solugen, decarbonizing the chemical industry
  • Square Robot, applying robotic technology to eliminate the need to put people into dangerous enclosed spaces and eliminate taking tanks out of service.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels.
  • Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024.

Digital Solutions Business, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to a problem in an industry

  • InformAI.com, AI-enabled healthcare informatics solutions focused on AI innovation to improve safety, quality, efficiency, and consistency of healthcare delivery.
  • Innovapptive, empowering the deskless workers in operations, maintenance and warehouses by unlocking the power of SAP through mobility.
  • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk.
  • RepeatMD, software platform for customer loyalty, eCommerce, and fintech solutions to enhance the patient experience and provide a new source of revenue for the aesthetics and wellness space.
  • Voyager Portal, helping commodity shippers identify root causes of demurrage, reduce risk and streamline the entire fixture process.

Social Impact Business, honoring an innovative company providing a solution that would enhance humanity or society in a significant way

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
  • Asia Society Texas Center, a nonprofit educational institution that's tapping into tech to advance cultural exchange by celebrating the vibrant diversity of Asia and Houston
  • Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.
  • The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Sustainability Business, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, circular economy, and beyond

  • Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.
  • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future.
  • Kanin Energy, helping heavy industry monetize their waste heat and decarbonize their operations.
  • Sage Geosystems, a cost-effective geothermal baseload energy solution company, also innovating underground energy storage solutions.
  • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon.
  • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas.

Life Science Business, honoring an innovative company within the health and medical industries designing a treatment or technology

  • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
  • CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.
  • Hope Biosciences, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the development and delivery of adult stem cell based therapeutics.
  • Starling Medical, bringing the future of a proactive and predictive home-based healthcare system to patients today through passive AI powered at home urine screening.
  • Taurus Vascular, pioneering a new era of aortic aneurysm treatment by developing minimally invasive catheter solutions to drive better long-term patient outcomes.

People's Choice: Startup of the Year, selected via an interactive voting portal during the event

  • Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.
  • DrySee, innovative waterproof dressing with liquid intrusion technology.
  • Eden Grow Systems, next generation farming technologies.
  • Feelit Technologies, nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime.
  • Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.
  • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.
  • The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Corporate of the Year, honoring a corporation that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community

  • Aramco Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm for Aramco investing globally in startup and high-growth companies of strategic importance to Aramco.
  • Chevron Technology Ventures, leveraging equity investments and its pilot and deployment resources to take technological innovation from early concept all the way through scale within the Chevron enterprise.
  • Houston Methodist, a hospital system and health care innovation leader.
  • Microsoft, empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.

DEI Champion, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization

  • Calicia Johnson, chair of Blacks at Microsoft Houston
  • Jesse Martinez, founder and CEO of LSA Global - Latinx Startup Alliance
  • Jessica Adebiyi, diversity and professional development director at Womble Bond Dickinson
  • Michelle Ngome, founder and president of the African American Marketing Association

Ecosystem Builder, honoring an individual who has acted as a leader in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem

  • Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion
  • Jason Ethier, co-founder of Lambda Catalyzer and host of the Energy Tech Startups podcast
  • Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion
  • Kendrick Alridge, senior manager of community at Greentown Labs
  • Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston

Mentor of the Year, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs

  • LaGina R Harris, founder and CEO of The Us Space
  • Lance Black, chief clinical strategy officer of Prana Thoracic
  • Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston
  • Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston

Brad Burke has been named the 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient. Photo via alliance.rice.edu

Houston Innovation Awards names longtime Rice leader as 2023 Trailblazer

leading innovation

In less than a month, all of Houston's innovation community's movers and shakers will gather to celebrate the Houston Innovation Awards, and the night's first honoree has officially been named.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was selected to receive the 2023 Trailblazer Award. The award was established to recognize an individual who has already left a profound impact on Houston's business and innovation ecosystem and is dedicated to continuing to support Houston and its entrepreneurs.

The award, which is selected from a group of internal and external nominations, was decided by a vote of the 2023 awards judges, who represent Houston's business, investment, and entrepreneurial community across industries. Last year, Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, accepted the award, and the inaugural recipient in 2021 was Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

Founded in 2000, the Rice Alliance has been led by Burke since its early days, and its impact had far exceeded the Rice University campus. The organization's cornerstone event, the Rice Business Plan Competition, attracts hundreds of student entrepreneurs, venture investors, and more to Houston every spring.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Burke discusses his passion for Houston and the impact he and the Rice Alliance have made on the city.

InnovationMap: ​From the Rice Business Plan Competition to the many venture days and other programing, how would you describe the Rice Alliance's impact — under your leadership for the past more than 20 years — on the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Brad Burke: From the earliest days of the Rice Alliance in 2000, our goal has been to create a community to support the launch of tech startups in Houston and bring together the resources to enable them to be successful, whether they need entrepreneurship education, mentoring, funding, legal support, opportunities for pilots, or connections. It’s been really important for us to bridge a connection between Rice University and the Houston ecosystem—so we’ve been intentional about driving our impact outside of the hedges and I always envision Rice to be a hub for entrepreneurial ecosystem and a pillar in the Houston community.

Through the Rice Business Plan Competition, our venture forums, accelerators, educational workshops, and other programs, we have coalesced hundreds, if not thousands, of investors, mentors, corporates, service providers, who collaborate with a shared goal of making Houston a leading region for entrepreneurship. The RBPC alone now has more than 350 investors and other judges and has resulted in the formation of several new investment groups including, Goose Capital, Owl Investment Group, and nCourage Entrepreneurs. We’ve also aimed to shine a light on Houston outside of the city. That’s why we’ve built global programs to bring entrepreneurs and investors here to see just how great we all know the Houston community to be. The growth of RBPC into the “world’s largest and richest student startup competition” is not just a result of the Rice Alliance, but it’s really a result of the Houston community members who have been dedicated with us for so long. We hope this is a point of pride and feels like a win for everyone in Houston, not just the Rice Alliance.

Based on our research we know that more than 3,165 startups have participated in our programs and raised more than $23 billion in funding.

IM: Rice University is an integral part of the Houston business and innovation community. Why are you and other university leaders committed to supporting entrepreneurship in Houston on and off the Rice campus?

BB: When you look across the country, in every leading region of entrepreneurship and venture capital, strong research universities played a major role as a catalyst for driving success, such as Stanford and Berkeley in Silicon Valley and MIT and Harvard in Boston. For Houston to succeed, it is important to Rice to play a similar leadership role. A key part of our mission is to help commercialize technologies developed by the incredibly talented faculty at Rice as well as other institutions in the region. But it is also to help entrepreneurs who may have no affiliation with Rice, as well as bring some of the most promising startups from other regions to Houston to meet with local investors and to encourage them to build their companies here. At the same time, we bring hundreds of investors to Houston each year from other parts of the U.S. and organize hundreds of one-on-one meetings with regional startups. By fostering and building the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we foster economic development and job creation in Houston, and can help ensure Houston remains the energy capital of the world and a global leader in healthcare and life sciences, building on the work of the Texas Medical Center.

IM: Looking back on your career so far, as well as to the future, what do you hope your legacy is?

Our philosophy has been to be supportive of and collaborative with every organization in Houston. We all share a common goal to make Houston a leading entrepreneurship region. In order to achieve this goal, it takes a collaborative effort. We have strived to serve as a role model in Houston to achieve this success. In everything we’ve built over the past 22 years at Rice Alliance, we’ve prioritized building relationships and collaborations, bringing people in, so that it’s not just the Rice Alliance’s success but Houston’s success and that when I think about legacy, that mindset and that approach is part of that.

As I look back, it feels like the trajectory of Houston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has reached an inflection point over the past several years. As I meet with leaders from around the country, they are all familiar with the success of the Rice Business Plan Competition, and increasingly view Houston as a major player in energy innovation and the energy transition. I would hope that the Rice Alliance is viewed as one of the organizations that contributed substantially to this success and has played a key role as a catalyst in the ecosystem. I hope that the success of the Rice Alliance has spurred additional support for the ecosystem, such as Rice’s investment in the Ion and the Ion Innovation District.

But I hope the legacy will extend beyond Houston, as we were a co-founder of the Texas University Network for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (TUNIE), along with UT Dallas, in order to help every university in the state of Texas enhance its entrepreneurship program. And we are the headquarters for Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) which brings together over 300 universities each year to network and share best practices. Both organizations reflect positively on Rice and the Houston ecosystem.

Most of all, I recognize that whatever we have accomplished has been due to the amazing team members that comprise the Rice Alliance. It is without a doubt the best group of people I have ever worked with in my career.

I’m proud of the relationships and collaborations we have formed at all levels: within our Rice Alliance team, with the RBPC and many judges and the formation of new investor groups, the formation of TUNIE and relationships with universities within Texas, and leadership of the GCEC, a collaboration of other universities across the U.S. and the world.

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Join InnovationMap and Houston Exponential in celebrating Brad Burke and the other honorees — who will be announced next week — at the November 8 event.


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

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

Where to be

Hold onto your hats, Houston. If you thought October was a busy month for business events, November even more exciting and full of pitches, conferences, summits, and more. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for November when it comes to innovation-related events.

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

FEATURED: November 9 — Houston Innovation Awards Gala

Find out what Houston startups and innovators go home with the big win at InnovationMap and Houston Exponential's gala. Learn more about this year's finalists by clicking here.

The event is Wednesday, November 9, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 1-3 — Urban Manufacturing Alliance's Houston Gathering

Learn about the unique challenges and opportunities within manufacturing in the current economy, as well as network with Houston manufacturing professionals.

The event is Tuesday, November 1, to Wednesday, November 3, at West Houston Institute. Click here to register.

November 2 — Greentown Labs Climatetech Summit

Hear from the climatetech industry's leaders at Greentown Labs' annual event. The morning features panels and pitches, followed by lunch, networking, and an expo. The summit continues on November 3 in Boston, and both days will be streamed for viewers.

The event is Wednesday, November 2, at 8 am, at Greentown Houston and streaming online. Click here to register.

November 4 — Enventure's 10-Year Anniversary

Join Enventure as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary — from the organization's accomplishments to a look toward what the future brings to Enventure.

The event is Friday, November 4, at 7 pm, at III by Wolfgang Puck. Click here to register.

November 5 — Tech Fest Live in-person Experience at the Ion

The Ion as partnered with Tech Fest Live to bring your family to an engaging Family Tech Day experience, designed with middle and high school students in mind.

The event is Saturday, November 5, at 9:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 8 — Texas Life Science Forum

The Texas Life Science Forum, co-hosted by BioHouston and Rice Alliance, is the premier life science and healthtech event in Texas that brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic and investors. Hear pitches from innovative and early stage life science companies, network and enjoy exciting panels, keynotes and speakers.

The event is Tuesday, November 8, at 8:30 am, at Rice University. Click here to register.

November 9 — The Future of Industrial Automation Lunch & Learn with Yokogawa

In this Lunch & Learn, Elbert van der Bijl (Director of Marketing & Solutions Consulting for Yokogawa North America), will talk about the journey from industrial automation to industrial autonomy (IA2IA). He will also speak about how new technologies are being embraced to be able to make this transition. The presentation will highlight some key developments like Open Process Automation (OPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), and mobile Robotics and how they will play a role in the future of Industrial Automation.

The event is Wednesday, November 9, at 11:30 am, at The Cannon-West Houston. Click here to register.

November 10 — Greater Houston Partnership's State of the Port

Join the Greater Houston Partnership at the annual State of the Port featuring Ric Campo, Chairman of the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority. Campo will discuss innovations taking place at Port Houston and Project 11. The highly anticipated Project 11 will deepen and widen the Houston Ship Channel and increase economic impact, jobs and address supply chain challenges.

The event is Thursday, November 10, at 10:30 am, at The Omni Riverway. Click here to register.

November 10 — BGV Pitch Tour Houston

The BGV Pitch Tour is coming to Houston November 10th in partnership with Omaze and the aid of our amazing 6 Change Agents to throw a BGV Pitch Competition. Thee BGV Change Agents are amazing Black and/or Brown women-identifying founders who are actively working to uplift and grow the city's ecosystem for Black and Brown founders in their area.

The event is Thursday, November 10, at 6 pm, at The Cannon-West Houston. Click here to register.

November 15 — Lilie's Community Celebration

Celebrate the end of the semester and take a peek into what all the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship community has going on.

The event is Tuesday, November 15, at 6 pm, at the Lilie offices at Rice University. Click here to register.

November 17 — Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator 2022 Demo Day

Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is hosting a Demo Day to showcase its Class 2 startups who are ready for investment, pilots and accelerating the energy transition.

The event is Thursday, November 17, at 1:30 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 19 — Pearland Innovation Hub Pitch Competition

Come attend this event open to the community to hear pitches from local small business owners, network, and learn about the Pearland Innovation Hub.

The event is Tuesday, November 17, at 4 pm, at Pearland City Hall. Click here to register.

November 30 — Commercial ZEV Event

This event by Houston-based Evolve is your chance to drive zero-emissions commercial vehicles and learn how you can convert your fleet to save on costs.

The event is Wednesday, November 30, at 8:30 am to 5 pm, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

And the finalists for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards are... Graphic via Gow Media

InnovationMap names 28 Houston startup finalists for inaugural awards

who will take home the win?

Who are Houston's rising stars across energy transition, sports tech, health, and more? InnovationMap set out on a quest to discover that for its inaugural awards. Ahead of the September 8 event, we're revealing the finalists across all categories.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: JulianaGaraizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs; Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon; Rajasekhar Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO of Techwave; Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap; Serafina Lalany, interim president at Houston Exponential; Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge; Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center; and Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

The winners will be announced and celebrated — along with this year's previously announced Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger of Chevron Technology Ventures — at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business Award category, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.

Female-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business Award category presented by Veritex Community Bank, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by women, include:

  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • RingOn — wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Health Care Business Finalists

The finalists for the Health Care Business Award category presented by Gray Reed, which honors health care businesses with an innovative solution within life sciences, include:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.

Energy Transition Business Finalists

The finalists for the Energy Transition Business category, which honors energy business with innovative solutions within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, and beyond, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • Enercross LLC — automation software for the energy industry.
  • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Renewell Energy — converting idle oil and gas wells into flexible energy storage.

Sports Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Sports Tech Business category, which is honoring a sports tech business with an innovative solution within sports are:

  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • Mainline — an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.
  • sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events.

Space Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Space Tech Business category, which is honoring an aerospace business with an innovative solution within space exploration. are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • NANCO Aero — developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles.

Top Founder Under 40 Finalists

The finalists for the Top Founder Under 40 category, which honors an innovative founder younger than 40 by Sept. 8, 2021, are:

  • Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Timothy Neal of GoExpedi — an e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company that is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).
  • Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds.
  • Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Emily Cisek of The Postage — a legacy planning platform using tech to make afterlife decision making easier.

People’s Choice: Startup of the Year Finalists

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, which will each present a 60-second live elevator pitch at the event on September 8, are:

    • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
    • GoCo — all-in-one employee management platform.
    • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
    • Liongard — a platform that helps Information Technology companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems.
    • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
    • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
    • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.

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    Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

    money moves

    Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

    The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

    “We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

    The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

    “Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

    Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

    “With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

    While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

    Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


    NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

    moon rider

    Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

    Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

    The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

    NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

    The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

    “This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

    Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

    “Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

    Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

    Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

    In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

    Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

    guest column

    One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

    Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

    Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

    Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

    When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

    There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

    Network

    A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

    Employee Referrals

    When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

    Alternative Candidates

    In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

    Contingent Workforce

    Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

    Internal Talent

    Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

    In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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    Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.