From startup pitch competitions seeking applications to Houston startups with big news, here are the latest short stories of Houston innovation. Photo courtesy TMC Innovation

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news fresh out of the gate for 2021, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a TMCx startup gets called out by Time Magazine, pitch competitions seek entries for thousands of dollars of investment prizes, and more.

The Cannon closes its acquisition of LetsLaunch

The Cannon has announced that it has has acquired Houston-based crowdfunding startup LetsLaunch. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Last summer, The Cannon, a Houston startup development organization with a network of coworking hubs, announced its plans to acquire a Houston fintech startup, LetsLaunch. The online investment platform allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors and has been connected with The Cannon in the past, and the two entities have even had a partnership arrangement.

As of last week, The Cannon has officially acquired LetsLaunch. The deal allows Cannon member companies access to a new fundraising option.

"The Cannon and LetsLaunch have a shared vision for enabling and optimizing the innovation ecosystem," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "LetsLaunch has passionately developed a technology platform that will deliver significant value to the entrepreneurial community by bringing together start-ups and investors of all kinds. By integrating the LetsLaunch platform into The Cannon's digital offerings, we will enhance the fundraising and strategic connection value we offer to our innovation community."

TMCx startup named to Time's top inventions

A U.K. company that recently participated in TMCx has been honored by Time Magazine. Photo courtesy of TMC

Health tech startup, Virti, which recently completed the Texas Medical Center's startup accelerator, was honored among Time Magazine's top inventions of 2020 in the augmented and virtual reality category.

Virti's artificial intelligence provides its users with instant feedback on training — and, in light of the pandemic, event indicates the right way to wear personal protective equipment, administer treatment, or ventilate a patient. According to a press release, this technology — as compared to traditional face-to-face training — has proven a 230 percent increase in knowledge gain and a 52 percent reduction in skill-fade post-training.

In the United Kingdom, where Virti was founded, the technology has been used to train 100,000 NHS staff, according to the release.

"This achievement rounds off what has been a very exciting year for Virti with significant growth in the United States and internationally building on successful partnerships such as the UK TMC BioBridge through the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT)," says Dr. Alex Young, Virti founder and CEO, in the press release.

Virti has US offices in Houston and the West Coast.

"The evidence is clear — immersive training that simulates real-world situations is more conducive to long-term memory and recall," says Lance Black, associate director of TMC Innovation, in the release. "Virti has unlocked how to provide high quality education to care teams to better prepare them for any situation as evidenced by their rapid adoption within the Texas Medical Center. The recognition by Time further demonstrates that Virti is ushering us into a new era of education and training, one that blurs the line between reality and fiction."

HX Venture Fund calls for Houston startups for pitch competition

The HX Venture Fund is looking for startups to pitch at a new event. Photo via Getty Images

The HX Venture Fund is preparing for two-day summit — called Venture Houston — next month and is looking for local startups to pitch in the conference's pitch competition.

According to the website, HXVF is looking for all pre-seed through series B companies interested in venture backing, and headquartered in Houston and the Gulf Coast Region. The competition has $1.65 million in investment prizes on the line from investors like Fitz Gate Ventures, The Artemis Fund, Montrose Lane (née Cottonwood Venture Partners), Mercury Fund, and more.

The application for the pitch competition is due January 15 and can be submitted online. If selected, startups will pitch during the February 4-5 event. To register for the virtual event, click here.

Validere announces partnership with California company to focus on ESG

Validere has a new partnership. Photo courtesy of Validere

Canadian energy supply chain software company, Validere, which has a growing presence in Houston, has announced a new strategic partnership with California-based Xpansiv. According to a news release, the partnership "enables the registration and transaction of digitized commodity products with embedded Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) attributes that support integration of ESG data into commodity markets."

Validere works with its oil and gas customers to provide tech solutions to connect, track, and audit data, allowing for transparency and optimization. This technology also allows corporations to prioritize ESG initiatives — something Nicole Rogers, senior vice president at Validere, recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss.

"Validere is proud to partner with Xpansiv to provide another pathway to value creation for our customers," Validere CEO Nouman Ahmad says in a news release. "The initiative supports our defining belief that accurate, accessible product-quality data can be used to create multiple forms of value."

Apply now: Capital Factory to host pitch competition for Black entrepreneurs

Capital Factory is hosting its annual Black in Tech event. Getty Images

For the third year, Capital Factory, a Texas-wide startup development organization, is seeking Black entrepreneurs to pitch for a $100,000 prize. The competition, which will be on February 16 during Capital Factory's Black in Tech Summit, will have five technology startup finalists that will be judged by a panel of successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and mentors. One startup will take home a $100,000 prize.

The application deadline is January 22, and any startups with a Black founder can apply online. For more information on the summit and the competition, click here.

This week's Houston innovators to know includes Jon Lambert of The Cannon, Catherine Koerner of NASA, and Colton Robey of Revere Resources. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: As we start on another week, it's time to introduce you to three movers and shakers within science, tech, and innovation in Houston. This week, we have a startup leader taking coworking online, a new NASA exec with moon-bound plans, and an entrepreneur looking out for mineral rights owners.

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Cannon Connect and the growth of The Cannon. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

When Jon Lambert joined The Cannon as CEO, he was ready to hit the ground running to expand the coworking and entrepreneurial hub concept across Houston and beyond — and, six months in, he was doing just that. Then, a pandemic hit and he and his team were forced to rethink how to grow.

The Cannon Connect, a virtual platform that exists to recreate The Cannon community online, launched a few weeks ago. Now, Lambert is focused on developing the platform to be a tool for new markets The Cannon plans to expand into.

"[We can] bring the players of the ecosystem together inside the digital component so that we can then use those connections and that dialogue to then determine the right time and place to do the physical hub development," Lambert says, adding that the these pre-pandemic conversations have picked up again. "That's where we are right now." Read more.

Catherine Koerner, manager of NASA's Orion Program

Catherine Koerner is leading the Orion Program from Houston's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of NASA

Earlier this month, Catherine Koerner was named to be the new manager of NASA's Orion Program, the spacecraft that will be used for the moon-bound Artemis missions. According to a press release, Koerner's position was effective Tuesday, September 8, and will be based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"I'm honored to be selected as the Orion Program Manager. Orion is a key element of the agency's Artemis infrastructure, and I look forward to leading the team responsible for developing and building America's deep space human spacecraft," Koerner says in the release. "Next year we'll be launching the Artemis I test flight — a major milestone — and the first of the Artemis mission series on our way to putting the first woman and the next man on the Moon." Read more.

Colton Robey, co-founder and senior vice president of Revere Resource

Colton Robey started Revere Resources to help mineral rights owners protect themselves from bad actors. Photo courtesy of Revere Resources

A few years ago, Colton Robey helped protect his grandmother from an unfair transaction within the mineral rights space, and it led to an idea for a company. So, he teamed up with other leaders in the oil, tech, and finance industries to found Revere Resources to help landowners like his grandmother make the right decisions for their assets.

Their recently launched online resource, RevereNet, provides a dollar figure and geographic view of an owner's mineral composition along with the historical value and extensive data on wells and well locations, giving owners the information they need to get the best deal.

"Our team has all worked in different capacities at different private equity-backed mineral rights funds," says Robey. "And it all came together after somebody tried to buy my grandmother's mineral rights unjustly, it wasn't until that moment that I realized that bad actors are prevalent in the industry." Read more.

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Cannon Connect and the growth of The Cannon. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Houston entrepreneurial hub plans to scale with new virtual platform

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 49

When Jon Lambert joined The Cannon as CEO about a year ago, he was preparing to grow the coworking company across Houston and beyond. However, In March, when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and forced the closure of The Cannon's three campuses, Lambert's goals instead shifted to how to keep a company so focused on fostering an in-person community going.

"Nothing prepares you for this kind of situation," Lambert says on the Houston Innovators Podcast about how COVID-19 has affected the organization.

But The Cannon had something they were working on up their sleeves. Cannon Connect — an online platform for community tools like a resource center, forums, calendar, and more — launched a few weeks ago in order to help connect The Cannon community virtually. The plans for Cannon Connect, as Lambert says, were actually concocted prior to the pandemic as a way to connect the coworking company's multiple locations as it continued to expand.

"We pretty quickly identified that our vision and our desire to provide value to the entrepreneurial ecosystem went well beyond what we had the ability to do in the physical spaces we had," Lambert says. "We started thinking through the need to have a digital experience that was aligned with the physical experience."

Lambert says the pandemic — as well as the launch of this platform — has adjusted the expansion track The Cannon was on. Prior to the coronavirus, The Cannon's team had conversations with about 30 different cities around the world that wanted to explore the process of getting their very own coworking hub. Now, instead of entering into these places with a physical space first, it might make more sense to begin with the digital product first.

"[We can] bring the players of the ecosystem together inside the digital component so that we can then use those connections and that dialogue to then determine the right time and place to do the physical hub development," Lambert says, adding that the these pre-pandemic conversations have picked up again. "That's where we are right now."

Lambert shares more on where he plans to lead The Cannon and other challenges his team has overcame this year in the podcast episode. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

The Cannon launched Cannon Connect — an online platform that takes its community of entrepreneurs, investors, and more online — amid the pandemic and plans for growth. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneurial hub launches 'future-proofed' online platform

Cannon Connect

When the team at The Cannon — a Houston coworking company with three locations across town — was planning an online platform that would connect members across their properties in January, they didn't see a global pandemic enroute to upend how Houstonians work. It did, however, make the need for an online platform all the more relevant.

Now, Cannon Connect has launched to its members — and it comes equipped with virtual networking, job hunting, resources, and more. The whole goal of the platform is to democratize the programming, resources, and culture The Cannon has created.

"Our recognition was that we have a lot of value we can deliver," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon. "We want to provide the value that we have to entrepreneurs anywhere and everywhere — we don't want to preclude entrepreneurs, investors, advisers, and service providers from being part of what The Cannon is trying to build just because you're not close to one of our facilities."

Cannon Connect acts as a virtual hub for networking, resources, and more. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

A pivot toward a virtual platform isn't a novel idea, Lambert admits, and other Houston organizations have rolled out their platforms — like Houston Exponential's HTX TechList and Sesh Coworking's Inner Circle. However, The Cannon's main goal is replicating the community it has in its locations and creating an online space for that.

"Having a portal is one thing — creating an environment and an experience where people want to spend their time is another," Lambert says, comparing Cannon Connect to social media platforms and how people use them regularly to stay connected to what's going on.

Another differentiating factor is The Cannon is planning to have its platform used by more than just the Houston ecosystem. Lambert says that over the past year, he's talked to around 30 cities from around the world who are interested in The Cannon's concept. The "future-proofed" virtual platform will enable connectivity and consistency as the company grows.

Current members have access to the portal, and new members can opt in for $30 a month. Image courtesy of The Cannon

"If we're really going to create and grow this community, there's not a building that's big enough for every entrepreneur out there, but certainly in a digital environment, we have the ability to pull those folks in," Lambert tells InnovationMap.

While the conversations on physical spaces in these cities has stalled, Lambert says entering into new markets with a digital-first plan has become the new priority.

The online community is made up of a forum section, jobs board, knowledge center, and more. In the future, The Cannon, which recently acquired Houston crowdfunding platform LetsLaunch, will add in a crowdfunding capability to the site. Live streaming events is another tool that's in the works.

Cannon Connect is available to all Cannon coworking members, and online-only registration is $30 a month or $300 a year. The Cannon team is also working on creating a student membership option, which should be available in the near future.

Learn more in The Cannon's promotional video below:

The Cannon is an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem www.youtube.com

The Cannon has announced plans to acquire Houston-based crowdfunding startup LetsLaunch. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneurial hub set to acquire local fintech startup

growth stage

The Cannon, a Houston startup development organization with a network of coworking hubs, has announced its plans to acquire a Houston fintech startup.

LetsLaunch, an online investment platform that allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors, has been connected with The Cannon in the past, and the two entities have even had a partnership arrangement. Now, The Cannon has plans to acquire LetsLaunch in order to provide Cannon member companies with the fundraising option.

"The Cannon and LetsLaunch have a shared vision for enabling and optimizing the innovation ecosystem," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "LetsLaunch has passionately developed a technology platform that will deliver significant value to the entrepreneurial community by bringing together start-ups and investors of all kinds. By integrating the LetsLaunch platform into The Cannon's digital offerings, we will enhance the fundraising and strategic connection value we offer to our innovation community."

Lambert says the opportunity to provide The Cannon's members this opportunity to fundraise comes at an important time.

"Fundraising in the COVID-19/Post COVID-19 era is, and is likely to remain, a bit of an unknown," he continues in the release. "Adding another viable funding channel for the startups in our community who are ready for investment will be a valued benefit for our members and will provide us exposure to a whole new group of entrepreneurial investors."

The terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but it is expected to close in June 2020. The transaction remains subject to customary closing conditions and approvals.

"We built LetsLaunch to provide broad segments of the population with a mechanism to invest in startups, while giving startups another source of capital," says Nick Carnrite, who co-founded LetsLaunch in 2018, in the release. "Crowdfunding will always remain at LetsLaunch's core, but it also became clear we had a role to play in connecting the innovation community, including startups, investors, advisors, mentors and service providers, based on their location, interests and preferences."

According to the release, the acquisition falls in line with both companies' missions to help develop an ecosystem of resources for startups.

"[LetsLaunch's] vision is completely complementary to The Cannon's goal to develop a tightly integrated innovation ecosystem," adds Brian Coyle, co-founder of LetsLaunch. "There is no better time to work together to help support private businesses."

The Cannon Houston's third location is planned to open on December 9. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon Houston's downtown space expects to open its doors early next month

ready for liftoff

A Houston entrepreneurial hub plans to open its third coworking space location only a few weeks after its main campus debuted in West Houston.

The Cannon Houston's newest location will be a 17,000-square-foot space on the top floor of The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main in Downtown Houston. The opening date for the new space is Monday, December 9.

The announcement follows the grand opening of The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot flagship space, which is now close to being completely leased by startups and small businesses, and represents another step in the company's ambitious expansion plan.

"We've long known that we will need multiple locations across Houston in order to serve our mission of supporting Houston's entrepreneurs, and we are thrilled to work with an incredibly forward-thinking organization like Amegy to continue to fulfill this mission," says Cannon founder and president, Lawson Gow, in a news release. "The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main will be unlike any other space in the city, in which we will be developing a 'vertical village' of innovation, programs, and resources, transforming Amegy on Main into a hub for Downtown Houston's entrepreneurs."

Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — recently transitioned into his position as The Cannon named Jon Lambert as CEO earlier this month.

The Cannon's space is just one part of the equation that is the Downtown Launch Pad — a joint project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank. The Amegy building will also house MassChallenge and gener8or, as well as event and common space for programming on the 11th floor.

"Amegy Bank is thrilled to be a part of the expansion of the innovation community by offering space, amenities, and business development support," says Kelly Foreman, Amegy Bank's senior vice president and manager of corporate real estate and facilities, in a news release. "We have a long track record of helping businesses grow, and creating this space for a hub of start-ups and accelerators is yet another way to do just that."

Moving forward, The Cannon will play a role in expanding workspace, resources, and programming in the building. The space is now open for leasing, and the first 100 members to join the new space will receive free parking for the course of their membership.

Plans for growth

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon Houston will be a major player as the Downtown Launch Pad expands throughout the building.

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Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Chevron's Houston-based venture arm launches $300M fund focusing on low-carbon tech

show me the money

Chevron Corp.'s investment arm has launched a $300 million fund that will focus on low-carbon technology.

Chevron Technology Ventures LLC's Future Energy Fund II builds on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Chevron Technology Ventures' portfolio for low-carbon technology comprises a dozen companies: Blue Planet, Carbon Clean, Carbon Engineering, ChargePoint, Eavor, Infinitum Electric, Natron Energy, Spear Power Systems, Svante, Voyage, Vutility, and Zap Energy.

Only one of the companies in the low-carbon portfolio is based in Texas — Infinitum Electric, located in Round Rock. However, Chevron Technology Ventures is active in the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem as a participant in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and The Ion. Chevron's investment arm was the first tenant at The Ion.

In an August 2020 interview with InnovationMap, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said the investment arm places a priority on helping advance entrepreneurship in Houston. "It is our home court," she said.

Burger said that for Houston to succeed in energy innovation, companies, government agencies, investment firms, and universities must rally around the city.

"We're doing a lot of things right — almost in spite of the world being crazy. … I think constancy of purpose is important," she said. "Despite the headwinds from COVID and despite the headwinds that industries are facing, we need to stay committed to that."

Burger noted that innovation "is not a straight path."

"We've got to plant a bunch of these seeds and see how they grow — we need to water them every day, and then I think we'll have a beautiful garden," she said.