Houston-based WellWorth was selected as the winner of this year’s Houston Startup Showcase. Photo courtesy of the Ion

The Ion hosted its annual startup pitch competition, and one company walked away with a win.

WellWorth, a financial modeling and analysis software-as-a-service company for the upstream energy sector, won the Houston Startup Showcase + Expo and secured a $5,000 prize. The startup's technology introduces a more streamlined approach to NAV modeling or corporate financial modeling for its users.

“Having worked in investment banking, I have seen firsthand how the limitations of Excel models and a lack of bespoke tools have led to inefficient workflows in upstream Oil & Gas finance," says Samra Nawaz, CEO and Co-founder of WellWorth, in a statement. "We decided to solve this problem by building a cloud-based platform that helps energy finance leaders improve decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.”

Nawaz explains how impactful the opportunity to pitch has been on WellWorth, which aims to raise funding early next year accelerate customer acquisition and product development.

“By getting involved in the Ion’s innovation ecosystem, we’ve been able to not only network with many entrepreneurs and innovators in the Houston community, but also find opportunities to scale our growth,” continues Nawaz. “We’re thrilled to have brought a few more customers onboard recently, and are working closely with them to optimize our product pipeline."

The company pitched alongside the other five finalists, which included Tierra Climate, MRG Health, BeOne Sports, Trez, and Mallard Bay. Mallard Bay, a booking platform for hunting and fishing trips, secured the people's choice award, which was decided by the crowd.

“Our flagship event, Houston Startup Showcase, not only connects startups and entrepreneurs with top business leaders but also provides them an opportunity to pitch their innovations to the technology ecosystem,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release. “We extend our congratulations to WellWorth and the company’s innovative SaaS platform for energy industry finance teams, as well as Mallard Bay, the People’s Choice winner. These companies are exemplifying the exciting new technologies being developed in Houston today.”

In addition to the pitches, several companies showcased at the event, including Nanotech, manufacturer of thermal management materials for the built environment; last year's winner Unytag, a universal toll tag that provides drivers the ability to pass through tolls anywhere in the nation; and Softeq, provides early-stage innovation, technology business consulting, and full-stack development solutions to enterprise companies and innovative startups.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The Ion now officially has more coworking space. Photo via thecommondesk.com

Coworking concept delivers 28,000-square-foot expansion in the Ion

move in ready

The coworking space in the Ion has increased by 50 percent thanks to a recent expansion project.

Dallas-based Common Desk has officially delivered on its project to expand the coworking space in the Ion that it originally opened on the second floor two years ago. Now, coworkers have access to a total of 86,400 square feet of space, including newly opened space on the fourth floor. The company has agreed to a 10-year commitment to the Ion with the expansion.

“This expansion of Common Desk at The Ion was designed specifically to complement the existing amenities and serve remote and hybrid work styles," Austin Gauley, head of design at Common Desk says in the news release. "There's a variety of video conferencing room types—from multiple individual private rooms, to a large group presentation-style room—all equipped with state-of-the-art technology that is also user-friendly.

"We doubled down on outfitting our space with more art from local artists and creative works that reflect the community," Gauley continues. "Altogether, we've built a range of workspace solutions to fuel creativity and productivity."

Common Desk has grown in Houston over the past few years, opening its sixth location earlier this year. The Ion location is home to many Houston startups and entrepreneurs. Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space.

"Common Desk's expansion at the Ion is a testament to the community and experience we've created here," Jan Odegard, executive director at the Ion, says in the release. "Accessibility to connections and an array of amenities and resources continues to drive traffic for us, and we are thrilled to welcome the anticipated growth of new like-minded individuals coming to the Ion daily."

Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space. Photo via thecommondesk.com

Get to know the Houston innovation community's top ecosystem builders. Photos courtesy

Houston's innovation leaders weigh in on community's growth, progress

Houston innovation awards

This year's finalists in the Ecosystem Builder category for the Houston Innovation Awards have a lot to say about the city's innovation community — and they are the right ones to say it.

Selected as finalists for the newly created category, each of the five finalists are leaders for the Houston innovation ecosystem. They were each asked some questions about the development of the Houston tech and startup community. Here's what they had to say.

InnovationMap: What is your favorite part of Houston's innovation ecosystem? How have you helped contribute to that aspect of the community?

Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion: Can do attitude and willingness to make big bets that can solve hard problems with global societal impact. Creating and supporting a place where this can happen is critical to the success, a place where we create the necessary density for collisions and that will sprue the next ideas.

Jason Ethier, co-founder of Lambda Catalyzer and host of the Energy Tech Startups podcast: Perhaps small, but the Ion District in the small part we have to play in it. Being able to be in a place where you can cross paths with active investors, innovators and partners. This is the hub we hoped to build over the last few years. That connective tissue may be small and focused compared to other ecosystems, but it is very strong here.

Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion: My favorite part of the Houston Innovation Ecosystem is the progress and potential. We have gone from talking about how to build a Houston ecosystem to now exploring our collective potential. The conversations are now tactical actions to scale our efforts.

Kendrick Alridge, senior manager of community at Greentown Labs: My favorite part of the ecosystem is the Cup of Joey gathering. It's a great opportunity to run into or catch up with people looking to get involved in the ecosystem or looking for support. It's a great networking opportunity.

Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston: I love seeing how the community has really connected this past year specifically. We've gathered momentum and have a "gravity well" of community leaders feeding value to one another.

IM: What are the strengths of the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Odegard: Access to (engineering) talent, capabilities, and global connectivity that are not afraid of getting her hands dirty to build and scale.

Ethier: The diversity of the founders and the intrinsic diversity of the Houston ecosystem. There are few native Houstonians, and most of the fantastic founders we meet are from somewhere else. The energy industry brings the best of the best from around the world and they inject Houston with unique excellence.

Sanchez: We are a resource right environment. We have a plethora of talent and capital. With the economy the size of Belgium, we have access to industries and talent unlike any other city. Also the convergence of energy, medical and aerospace is one of a kind. Each industry is transforming and providing a ripe opportunity for innovation.

Alridge: The growing number of startup development organizations (SDOs), incubators and accelerators, makerspaces, co-working spaces, non-profits, and academic institutions that is available is a strength, because their are plenty of places to get support and your ideas off the ground.

Pinder: We do hard things here because the ARE hard! 1) Life and death situations en masse, 2) infrastructure at scale 3) Boldly going where no one has gone before! That's what we've done here. That's what we stand to innovate on! If it's a hard problem, Houston gets it done!

IM: What are the weaknesses of the Houston innovation ecosystem? Are you helping to make improvements to these weaker aspects of the community and, if so, how?

Odegard: Access to more risk capital.

Ethier: We need a skill set on scaling businesses. This is something the valley does exceptionally well. When there is product market fit, the startup ecosystem knows how to scale teams from 20-200 and do so repeatedly. Houston knows how to do big energy projects; from sput to TD, there is a skill set here around complexity...but how that applies to scaling businesses its unclear we have what it takes. This is why its imperative we bring in mature startups from around the country and try to transfer knowledge from the energy industry into the startup space. Building an acceleration program like Lambda is a step in solving this problem.

Sanchez: Density is our biggest challenge. The geographic sprawl of our region is vast. Serendipitous meetings are a challenging. The Ion has created a central place where our ecosystem can come together. Every Friday we meet for Cup of Joey and now we host a Cup of Joey in The Woodlands, Space Center Houston, Sugar Land and The Cannon West. Creating eight Cup of Joey meetups each month. The most exciting element of Cup of Joey is coming in an online platform for connection.

Alridge: We need a robust cadre of startup specialists, serial entrepreneurs who have successfully started companies. Especially in business and STEM fields, is needed in the innovation system. Higher education in providing talent is important, I'm doing my part by organizing opportunities for students to work with our startups which can directly and indirectly contribute to the workforce and the grown startup community.

Pinder: We're changing this... but we still have a ways to go with the "I'm good... what do I need to show up for?" thinking. It's not for lack of wanting to show up... traffic makes it tougher to show up most of the time.

IM: What do you wish more people knew about the Houston startup community?

Odegard: That Houston IS a tech hub addressing some of the biggest societal challenges we are face today, such as: power (security), healthcare (affordable and accessible), sustainability (clean and green), and equitable access to economic opportunities.

Ethier: How climate focused everyone is, from the founders, to the SMEs, industry and SMEs. Houston (and energy companies) know how to manage what's measured and now that we have targets around decarbonization, we are going to get it done.

Sanchez: I wish the world knew more about Houston and our Houston startup community. I believe that our foundation is strong and we are ready for scale. 2026 to 2036 will be a decade of massive growth for Houston and our ecosystem.

Alridge: We are more than oil and gas and health care.

Pinder: We've got the solutions to some huge problems sitting right here in Houston.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we announce the winner of this exciting new category.

Houston Methodist opened a new tech hub in the Ion this week. Photo by Shannon O’Hara/Ion

Photos: Houston hospital opens tech hub in the Ion

innovation outpost

A Houston hospital has opened an innovation outpost in the Ion this week in order to showcase health tech innovation and connect with Houston innovators.

The Houston Methodist Tech Hub at Ion hub has officially opened. The 1,200-square-foot space was created in addition to the Center for Innovation Technology Hub that's in Houston Methodist’s flagship location in the Texas Medical Center, which opened in February 2020.

The new space, located on the lower level of the Ion, exists to serve as a common ground for innovators across industries to promote collisions and innovation, as well as interaction with Houston Methodist team members

“Our new Tech Hub at Ion supports not only our commitment to the Houston innovation community but also to the rapidly shifting healthcare industry,” Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, says in a statement. “We know we can’t solve the healthcare challenges of the future if we confine ourselves within our hospital walls or even within our own industry.

"We look forward to the collaborative space our new Tech Hub will provide and the future programming opportunities we can create together to inspire, challenge, and foster a spirit of innovation in our city.”

The new hub, according to the news release, also will host educational events, reverse pitch sessions, and more. Visitors can schedule a time to view the space or connect with the Houston Methodist innovation team by filling out a form online.

The hub, which was originally announced last year, is the latest partner to open within the Ion's space. Earlier this year, the organization announced other new tenants.

“Houston Methodist’s space at the Ion opens up even more opportunities for our start-up and entrepreneur community to embed and gain exposure to the latest innovations in health care, health technology, and digital health,” Jan E. Odegard, executive director of Ion, says. “This partnership and opportunity provided by Houston Methodist, a leading healthcare organization in the country, is a testament to the ecosystem we’re building and the talent within our building. Furthermore, Houston Methodist’s approach and appetite for cross-industry innovation and collaboration meshes seamlessly with the Ion’s ongoing plans to support Houston’s growing innovation community in industries and fields that will change the world.”

Both of Houston Methodist's tech hubs will showcase its latest technologies its implementing in its hospital system, including the "hospital of the future" it's building out in Cypress.

Collaborative effort

Photo by Shannon O’Hara/Ion

Revealed at an event earlier this month, the Ion is now home to installations by Houston-based artists Christopher Blay and Kill Joy, which play on the traditional window displays the building hosted for years as the historic Sears Building. Photo courtesy of Marc Furi Creative/the Ion

Photos: Ion Houston's latest art installations tackle tech, social issues

eye on the ion

Two new art installations at the Ion speak to the building's past and its potential future.

Revealed at an event earlier this month, the innovation hub developed by Rice University is now home to installations by Houston-based artists Christopher Blay and Kill Joy, which play on the traditional window displays the building hosted for years as the historic Sears Building.

The pieces are part of the Ion's Eye on Art program, according to a release. Each was selected by the Ion and Ion District Art Advisory Council with support from Piper Faust.

"Innovation and art have a lot more in common than you might think. Many of our local artists learn how to use emerging technologies to create their pieces and hone their craft,” Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion, says in a statement. “Creativity plays a vital role in fostering innovation and we’re honored to provide artists like Christopher and Kill Joy with a platform to serve as an inspiration for the entire innovation ecosystem here at the Ion.”

Blay, who's an artist, writer and currently serves as the chief curator of the Houston Museum of African American Culture, created his installation in collaboration with the Ion Prototyping Lab. Using canvases and wood frames, the installation depicts slaving vessels and spaceships to "symbolizes where the Black community has been and where they are going," according to the Ion.

The installation is part of Blay's latest body of work, “The SpLaVCe Program."

Joy's work focuses on environmental and social justice. Her installation at the Ion, “Creation, Current, Solution," uses animated puppets inspired by Filipino folklore to explore the intersection of technology and sustainable living.

Blay and Joy's installations will be on display for the next six months, and will rotate out to feature other Houston-based artists' work.

The Ion first launched the The Eye On Art Program in March 2022. The debut displays included Lina Dib’s over-the-top kitsch “Self-Portrait in the Garden” and Preston Gaines' multi-sensory “Fantasy Landscape.” The second rotation featured Lisa Morales and Stacey Gresell’s “The Collective Hive” and “Exploración Orgánica” by Maria Rodriguez, Miriam Mireles, Bryce Saucier, Timothy Hudson, and Victoria Armenta: “Exploración Orgánica”

Earlier this summer, the Ion also announced that it would launch its official workforce development partner’s 12- to 15- week technology skills training courses this fall.

Click through photos from the new installation below.

“The SpLaVCe Program" by Christopher Blay

Photo courtesy of Marc Furi Creative/the Ion

The Ion has announced the latest companies to move into the hub. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion announces new tenants that have recently moved in, expanded within the hub

moving in

Several organizations — from tech startups to a nonprofit — have moved into the Ion recently to either relocate or expand their presence in Houston.

The Ion District announced new tenants today, bringing the total space leased to 86 percent, according to a news release. The recent additions to the Ion include:

  • Carbon Clean announced its new United States HQ last month. The startup’s technology has captured nearly two million tons of carbon dioxide at almost 50 sites around the world.
  • Cognite is a Norwegian software company for asset-heavy industries that turns industrial data into customer value.
  • OpenStax, a Houston-based nonprofit, is publishing openly licensed college textbooks that are free online and low cost in print.
  • Synopic is a California-based startup that's building next-gen depth-enabled cameras to improve visualization and decision making during medical procedures.
  • Houston-based Motif Neurotech, a medical equipment manufacturing startup, is working to develop minimally invasive electronic solutions for mental health.
  • RedSwan CRE, founded in Houston, is a crowdfunding-style investment platform and marketplace of tokenized commercial real estate.
  • Nauticus Robotics, a marine robotics hardtech and software company, recently went public.
  • Rice University’s Office of Innovation and its Nexus Lab, which is under construction and designed for prototyping and scaling-up technologies, is increasing its presence in the Ion.
  • Also noteworthy is the expanded office of Ara Partners, which first moved into the Ion last year. The Houston-based, global private equity firm is focused on investing in carbon decentralization technology.
  • Dallas-headquartered flexible workspace provider Common Desk announced that it would expand its space by nearly 50 percent at the Ion last December.

“Welcoming this amazing lineup of new tenants, across the breadth of sectors they represent, demonstrates that the Ion is the place to be and do business in Houston,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in the news release. “By continuing to fill our space with new innovators across all these different offerings, from all around the globe, we’ve become the home for collisions that will create solutions to the biggest problems facing our world today.

"We pride ourselves on advancing the diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that will propel our world forward. Our inspiring new tenants will do just that,” he continues.

The Ion's grand opening took place just about a year ago, and existing tenants include Chevron, Microsoft, (Schlumberger) SLB Innovation Factori, Houston Methodist. The growing Ion District is home to more than 300 businesses, including corporates, small businesses, startups, and restaurants.

“The Ion continues to see leasing demand from companies that understand the value of a creative and active work environment,” says Bryson Grover, investment manager of real estate development at Rice Management Co. “Companies are choosing Ion District because it offers more than just a solution for space needs. Workers are given the opportunity to experience a sense of community that brings together like-minded individuals and those with different perspectives.”

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Texas nonprofit grants $68.5M to Houston organizations for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.

Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.