Get a sneak peek into the inaugural InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. Photo by Queen's Photoworks

Last week, the inaugural InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave honored 28 companies across eight categories.

The hybrid event, which took place on September 8, was hosted at The Cannon West Houston as well as streamed online. The in-person attendees included finalists, judges, partners, and sponsors as well as their guests. Missed the event? We rounded up some moments in an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast as well as the slideshow below.

Click here to read more articles about the InnovationMap Awards.

Scenes from the 2021 InnovationMap Awards

Photo by Queen's Photoworks

The crowd of startup founders, corporate innovators, and more attended the event at The Cannon West Houston.

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It's been a busy week for InnovationMap. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: Celebrating 100 episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast and the InnovationMap Awards

Houston innovators podcast episode 100

Editor's note: It's been a big week for InnovationMap. Not only did we celebrate our inaugural awards program on Wednesday, September 8, but, coincidentally, this week marked the 100th episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

The podcast, launched about two years ago under the InnovationMap umbrella, airs weekly — usually on Wednesdays — and features an interview with innovator. From startup founders and accelerator leaders to investors and corporate innovation executives, the podcast aims to represent the Houston innovation ecosystem as a whole — and the people who power it.

In this special edition of the podcast, I discuss both of these big moments in InnovationMap's legacy, with a lookback on the podcast as well as with audio clips from our awards startup pitches and from the Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures. Listen to the podcast below, or wherever you stream your podcasts.

Click here for more on the InnovationMap Awards.


The inaugural InnovationMap Awards revealed its big winners across eight categories and honored its Trailblazer Award recipient. Photos courtesy

InnovationMap reveals the winners of our inaugural awards

in it to win it

The votes are in — and it's time to announce the winners of the inaugural InnovationMap Awards, presented by Techwave.

The event, held September 8 at The Cannon, honored all 28 finalists, spanning innovative Houston companies and founders, as well as our first-ever Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger. Click here to read about all the finalists.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: Juliana Garaizar, 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.

Want to watch the event in full? Click here.

Without further adieu, here are our 2021 InnovationMap Award winners.

Hello Alice is a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company was also nominated for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year Award and the Female-Founded Business categories.

Topl is an impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain. The company was also nominated for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year Award.

Saranas is the creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.

Nanotech is a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech was also a finalist for the People's Choice category.

Mainline is an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.

Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals. The company was also a finalist in the Energy Transition Business category.

Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds. LAMIK was also a finalist in the BIPOC-Founded Business category,

The inaugural InnovationMap Awards event, which is about three weeks away, was created to honor the best of Houston innovation. The Trailblazer Award in particular was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive the 2021 Trailblazer Award at the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. Burger was nominated and approved by this year's judges. Click here to read more about the Trailblazer Award.

And the winner is.... Cheers Health, which is creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.

Watch the InnovationMap Awards livestream honoring Houston tech and innovation

now streaming

Who are Houston's rising stars across energy transition, sports tech, health, and more? Watch the livestream to find out. Click play on the video above, or join the conversation on YouTube by clicking here.

We are also honoring our 2021 Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. She will take the stage later this evening.

Meet the 28 finalists by clicking here, and read through some of our pre-awards content here.

The five finalists in the Top Founder Under 40 category for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards share the challenges they have had to overcome. Photos courtesy

Overheard: Young founders explain the challenges they've faced

Eavesdropping in houston

It's not easy being the youngest person in a room, and that's certainly the case for startup founders looking to make an impact on an industry that's been doing things a certain way since before they were born.

The five finalists of the Top Founder Under 40 category for the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave were asked to share their challenges overcame as young founders. Here's what they had to say. Click here to register for the livestream.

"It wasn't until I stood my ground by being persistent, and by not being afraid to hand their responsibilities to someone else, that they finally took me seriously."

Photo courtesy of CaseCTRL

— Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL says. "While working as on a Department of Defense Contract, I was leading a development effort with other older white men who were mostly retired military," she explains."They did not appreciate a young ethnic female giving them orders, and would often ignore my email requests or assigned tasks. At first, I felt defeated, but then I had to remember that although they have a lot of knowledge in general, I was the one with the right knowledge for this specific project."

"Changing the minds of experienced executives, who have worked in the energy industry for decades, was an uphill battle that took time and a considerable amount of effort."

With fresh funds, this Houston entrepreneur plans to scale his industrial e-commerce startup

Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

— Tim Neal of GoExpedi. "Over the years, I have enjoyed great success in my professional career, but that has not come without a few challenges," Neal says. "I am incredibly grateful for my mentors who believed in my vision despite my age."

"I think my go getter attitude has always helped me out and aid me mature faster."

Photo courtesy of LAMIK Beauty

— Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty. "Since I started at such young age at 21, after being labeled 'at risk' in high school, I think I have always been seen as 'too young,'" she says. "However, My life motto is 'qualify yourself!'"

"Once I started just being myself and not carrying the weight of the no's it really improved my productivity, my leadership, and my overall success as a person and as a leader in my business."

Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage

Photo courtesy of The Postage

— Emily Cisek of The Postage. "I think advocating for myself and my business as a younger female founder has been a challenge mostly because as a person you want to please the people around you, investors, whoever, and sometimes no matter what you do, they aren't going to be on the same page and that's OK," she says. "But not carrying that forward is what's important. There's been times I've been told no, when I was trying to be exactly what I thought an investor or business partner wanted to hear."

"Typically, companies that have been around and have older leadership can have an advantage."

Photo via TMC.edu

— Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. She says she's experienced age discrimination early on within the health care industry.

The five finalists in the Female-Founded Business category for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards share the challenges they overcame as female founders. Photos courtesy

Houston founders share the challenges they've had to overcome as women in tech

innovationmap awards

Even in 2021, women face discrimination in the workplace — whether it's running their own businesses or climbing the corporate ladder.

The five female finalists of the Female-Founded Business category for the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave were asked to share their challenges overcame as female founders. Here's what they had to say. Click here to register for the livestream.

Raising capital

Carolyn Rodz, founder of Hello Alice, says raising capital was her biggest challenge.

"We overcame it through insane networking and persistence," she continues. "Each round got easier as we proved that we knew how to grow this business and build a fiercely loyal owner community.

Katharine Forth, co-founder of Zibrio, agrees that raising early funding was her biggest challenge.

"To overcome it, I was very creative with the limited funds to generate the progress we created until we reached a threshold that was more comfortable for investors," she explains.

Being the only woman in the room

"This is a hurdle in and of itself, but it brings lots of other little behavioral hurdles too," says Kim Raath, CEO and co-founder of Topl. "Because men and women are socialized so differently, women often have to adapt to or accommodate for male-pattern behaviors."

Raath continues, saying how men tend to up-sell what they are doing, while women undersell. Additionally, she says, men are more likely to make statements while women suggest their ideas.

"It takes a lot of courage to fight for yourself and your ideas in a room full of men," Raath says. "You can't expect others to do it for you. Even further, those of us that are in the room have a duty to speak up, not just for our own sake, but for other voices that are still excluded. Being a woman in the tech space means learning how to accommodate, navigate, and hold your ground."

Being treated equally

For Samantha Snabes, co-founder of re:3D, her biggest challenge was being treated the same as her male co-founder.

"I've learned that I need to be more confident and to be proud of the differences in my leadership or communication style," she explains.

Being mistaken for the secretary

Shoshi Kaganovsky, founder of RingOn, says electronics is a very male dominated arena.

"Every time I approach a man — whether to interview him for a job or to partner up on another level — they think I'm the CEO's secretary," she says.

"When male investors talk to me they often times think I don't understand what I'm doing or that they need to dumb it down for me," continues Kaganovsky, who speaks five languages and has six degrees. "Second conversations are completely different usually."

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2 new COVID-19-focused research projects happening in Houston

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While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

Houston hospital receives $37M in donations to continue its life-saving cancer care

guardian angels

A $25 million gift will support expansion of research conducted at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center and may help the center earn top-tier federal designation.

In honor of the $25 million donation from Dr. Mary Neal and husband Ron Neal, the cancer center is being renamed the Houston Methodist Dr. Mary and Ron Neal Cancer Center. The hospital system will raise an additional $12 million in matching funds, bringing the total to $37 million.

Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, says the Bellaire couple's gift "plays an important role in advancing our leading medicine mission and bringing potentially life-saving cancer treatments to more patients throughout Houston and the nation."

Mary Neal, previously in private practice as an obstetrician-gynecologist, is now a part-time volunteer physician at Houston Methodist's San Jose Clinic. Ron Neal is co-founder and co-owner of offshore development company Houston Energy. He also is CEO of Houston-based HEQ Deepwater, a more than $400 million venture formed earlier this year by Houston Energy and Houston-based private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners to buy deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico.

With the donation from Dr. Mary Neal and husband Ron Neal, the cancer center is being renamed the Houston Methodist Dr. Mary and Ron Neal Cancer Center. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

The Neals' donation will boost ongoing research led by Dr. Jenny Chang, director of the cancer center and Emily Herrmann Presidential Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research. Chang's research has advanced cancer therapy with breakthroughs such as targeted drugs for treatment of breast cancer.

Mary Neal says she and her husband believe their contribution "will further advance pivotal and innovative research beyond chemotherapy and radiation."

The gift also will fund and retain three endowed chairs and complementary funding for early stage research and therapies, support recruitment and fellowship training, and expand clinical trials at all of the community hospitals within Houston Methodist. Part of the gift is dedicated to cancer innovation efforts within the Center for Drug Repositioning and Development.

"Our vision for the Dr. Mary and Ron Neal Cancer Center is to grow our network of cancer physicians offering comprehensive care with the latest technologies and clinical trials so that patients across the region have the best access to cancer care," Chang says. "While the gift from the Neal family will have direct impact for patients at the community level in areas that are often deserts for cancer care, my hope is that it will also propel our ongoing research and work to the national level toward NCI designation."

Cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) meet rigorous standards for research and clinical care. The Neals' gift is aimed at elevating research done at the cancer center and helping retain talent to accelerate Houston Methodist's pursuit of NCI designation.

Texas is home to four NCI-designated cancer centers:

  • Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine.
  • University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, also in Houston.
  • Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
  • Mays Cancer Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

NCI designation represents "the highest federal rating a cancer center can achieve," according to the University of Chicago's NCI-designated cancer center. "It's the gold standard for cancer programs, and is bestowed upon the nation's top cancer centers in recognition of their innovative research and leading-edge treatments."

This designation can lead to benefits such as more research grants, quicker access to clinical trials for cancer treatments, and stepped-up recruitment of high-profile cancer researchers.

"At any given time, hundreds of research studies are under way at the cancer centers, ranging from basic laboratory research to clinical assessments of new treatments," the NCI says. "Many of these studies are collaborative and may involve several cancer centers, as well as other partners in industry and the community."

Houston entrepreneur launches diversity-focused fund, programming to address inequality in tech

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 111

Phillip Yates is juggling a lot. The Houston lawyer started Equiliberty, a technology company that's part financial resource and part social network, to help diverse communities create lasting wealth. Now, he's also launching Diversity Fund Houston — a $3 million initiative to support diverse tech founders — ahead of the inaugural Black Entrepreneurship Week, which Yates is hosting in Houston starting Saturday, November 27.

While it is a handful, all three initiatives align with Yates's goal to move the needle on improving equity when it comes to access to capital, finding a community, and creating institutional change. Just like most Black professional, he's faced his share of challenges — but he's persevered thanks to his mentors, family, and supportive network.

"Everytime I failed, there was somebody there that made sure I stayed on track," Yates shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Now Yates, across his efforts, wants to help create this same type of support for others. Equaliberty connects users to a hyper-local network and mentor, as well as relationships to financial institutions and key resources.

"We're doing two things — we're creating a new asset class for banks and financial institutions, but then also we're building a group of wealth creators in the community who will take ownership in the geographical region they live in, which isn't happening," Yates says. "We throw the word 'gentrification' around, but we never attack it at the root problem, and a lot of times it's ownership."

Ultimately, Yates says he wants to help to move the needle on eliminating poverty in the United States — it's not going to happen overnight or with him alone. One huge step toward this goal is raising awareness of the issues, and that's what he hopes to do with Black Entrepreneurship Week.

BEW will feature several opportunities — from the Black Market, which will allow people to shop local Black merchants, to a special Giving Tuesday event to support Black-focused nonprofits in Houston. Specifically, Yates wants to target a multi-generational crowd — that's what's goring to drive lasting changes.

"When you have a wealth initiative, you can't just talk to the parents or the youth — you're still going to have a missing link there," Yates says on the show, explaining the week's wealth challenge that will reinforce this idea.

Access to wealth is a key focus for Yates, who announced the launch of Diversity Fund Houston this week co-founded by emerging fund managers Tiffany Williams, Kiley Summers, and Yates and in partnership with Bank of America, Houston Area Urban League, Hello Alice, Impact Hub Houston, Equiliberty, DivInc., and Prairie View A&M University.

The fund will target early-stage companies founded by diverse entrepreneurs — tapping into an underserved community, not just because it's the right thing to do but because there are real opportunities. And now is the time to make these changes, Yates says.

"The Black American community is at a point where millennials are coming into their own," Yates says explaining how he's at the opportune point in his life. "I'm stable enough and still young enough where I can make these contributions — and the same thing with my co-founders. ... Time is of the essence for our community."

Yates shares more on what to expect at BEW and with the new fund on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.