Here's who's making the call for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards. Photos courtesy

It's been two weeks since InnovationMap announced its inaugural awards program presented by Techwave — and the ecosystem is already buzzing with excitement to find out the top innovative companies in town.

The InnovationMap Awards will honor Houston's innovators and their breakthrough technologies across industries. The program and hybrid event — which will take place September 8 — will shine a spotlight on the movers and shakers within Houston's burgeoning innovation community. Nominations are open for the awards now — and the deadline to submit your nomination is July 23.

Click here to nominate a deserving company.

But who will decide this year's finalists and winners for the event? A cohort of eight of the best innovation leaders in the Bayou City. Introducing: The 2021 InnovationMap Awards judges:

Juliana Garaizar, head of Greentown Houston and vice president of Greentown Labs

Courtesy photo

A longtime angel investor and Houston innovation leader, Juliana Garaizar is no stranger to the local ecosystem. Prior to her current role leading Greentown Labs in Houston, she served as director of the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and managing director at the Houston Angel Network. She's also involved with Houston-based Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa, and has worked with Portfolia for over five years.

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

​A leader in Houston innovation for several years now, Jon Nordby oversees Boston-based MassChallenge's entire Texas operation. MassChallenge's global accelerator program supports an annual cohort of startups across industries. Prior to his current role, he served as director of strategy at Houston Exponential and vice president of talent and innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Photo courtesy of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez has dedicated herself to helping do-gooders do greater, as her LinkedIn page proudly boasts, and for the past three years, she's been doing that by leading Impact Hub Houston, a locally rooted, globally connected 501c3 nonprofit that champions inclusive, impact-driven innovation. She also co-founded Station Houston in 2016.

Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center

Photo courtesy of TMC Innovation

Emily Reiser is like a switchboard operator for TMC Innovation, where she's worked with health tech startups since 2019. She supports clinicians, innovators, corporate partners, and business advisers who are dedicated to advancing healthcare innovation all while providing a common ground for collaboration, connection, and innovation.

Serafina Lalany, vice president of operations at Houston Exponential

Photo courtesy of Serafina Lalany

Serafina Lalany leads operations at Houston Exponential, the city's nonprofit focused on accelerating the development of Houston's innovation economy. She's also a board member of Diversity Fund Houston — a micro venture fund created to invest in minority tech founders during the "friends and family round."

Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon

Photo via LinkedIn

After spending eight years in oil and gas, Alex Gras took his management skills to The Cannon Houston — a network of entrepreneurial hubs across Houston. The Cannon is the InnovationMap Awards venue for the September 8 event.

Rajasekhar Gummadapu, CEO of Techwave

Photo courtesy

Raj Gummadapu is the co-founder of Techwave, the award program's presenting sponsor. An accountant by trade, he has about 17 years of experience with combination of working with "big 5" consulting companies and various midsize to Fortune 100 companies across different industries on various strategic initiatives and global process and systems transformations.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

Photo courtesy

Natalie Harms has been at the helm of InnovationMap — Houston's voice for Innovation — since its inception in October 2018. She oversees all editorial operations of the site and hosts its weekly podcast, the Houston Innovators Podcast.

MassChallenge Texas has named its 2021 cohorts — including 71 companies to accelerate in Houston. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas names the 71 startups that make up its latest Houston cohort

ready to grow

Five Houston-based startups have been accepted into MassChallenge's 50th startup accelerator.

Three of the local startups are part of the program's Houston cohort, and two are part of the Austin cohort. In all, 71 startups from around the world are participating in the new Houston cohort.

Aside from Houston and Austin, there are cohorts in Boston and Rhode Island. This year's MassChallenge class, announced June 28, comprises 229 startups from 20 countries.

The five Houston-based startups in MassChallenge's latest accelerator program are:

  • Church Space, an "Airbnb for churches" that enables churches to rent out space for worship, events, meetings, and ghost kitchens. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Every Shelter, which localizes response and relief efforts for global refugee crises. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Milkify, which freeze-dries breast milk, enabling mothers to carry it in a powdered form. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Javari, a music prediction and discovery platform. It's part of the Austin cohort.
  • Netnoids Rx Laboratories, which provides a platform called Spanio that lets individuals and companies test therapeutics. It's part of the Austin cohort.

"At the core of these early stage businesses is the entrepreneurial spirit of their founders. Entrepreneurial spirit is the unique blend of optimism, passion, and drive that gets founders and their businesses through the daunting early days," Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, says in a news release.

Church Space, Every Shelter, and Milkify are among the 71 startups in the new Houston cohort. MassChallenge released the names of 69 of those companies. The two others are in stealth mode. Below are the names of the 69 publicly identified startups.

Energy / clean tech

  • Ener.com
  • SeebeckCell Technologies

General

  • Algdeha
  • Analatom
  • Astrileux
  • DeepCharge
  • Freshspire
  • Grain4Grain
  • Intelligent NanoFiber
  • Lepidext
  • Lodgeur
  • Milkify
  • NanoFlowX
  • Nature Knows
  • NjordFrey
  • ProFish Ghana
  • Solo
  • Stagetime

Health care / life sciences

  • AMF Medical
  • Arcascope
  • CardMedic
  • CaringWire
  • Exposphere Fitness
  • Galileo Innovations
  • Insu Health Design
  • Kismet Technologies
  • LucyDx
  • Newton Tech
  • Nightingale Caring Solutions
  • Nurlabs
  • Refined Imaging
  • Ronawk
  • SafetySit
  • SONOflammation
  • Tender Light Scientific
  • Uniphage
  • WestFace Medical

Social impact

  • Carta Digital
  • Every Shelter
  • Nile Agro Value Chain

Tech

  • Aerosens
  • Areanna AI
  • Church Space
  • CodeLn
  • Cybrik
  • Debtle
  • Edusko Africa
  • Exum Instruments
  • Fanorama Social Media
  • Glo3D.com
  • HintEd
  • Invento Robotics
  • KNWN Technologies
  • Krtki
  • Magos
  • Makeena
  • Manus Robotics
  • ModoScript
  • Notewardy
  • Nuw
  • Otomo
  • Owiwi
  • Patturn
  • Privoce
  • Third Ray
  • Tru-Spot Technologies
  • Yada.ai
  • Xena Intelligence
  • Xiggit

To be selected for the MassChallenge program, startups went through a two-round process that included more than 1,000 judges. During the program, participants will receive tools and advice to grow their businesses.

At the end of this year's program, startups will compete for equity-free cash prizes and grants adding up to $100,000. The prizes and grants will be awarded in October.

Attention Houston female founders — there are two new accelerator programs to have on your radars. Photo via Getty Images

Houston organizations announce two new female founder-focused programs

who runs the world?

A couple of Houston startup development organizations have recently announced programing and opportunities for female founders looking to advance their businesses.

Impact Hub Houston has announced that it has partnered up with Frost Bank to sponsor eight female founders to participate in Impact Hub's new Accelerate Membership Program. Applications are now open online and once the inaugural cohort is selected, they will receive the program for three months at no cost.

"At Impact Hub we believe the time to act is now. It's why we are excited to launch our new Accelerate Membership," says Maria Trindade, global network development director at Impact Hub Global, in a news release. "Its unique approach combines all the benefits of an enterprise support program with the flexibility that entrepreneurs need; plus its tailored nature makes this intervention highly accessible for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds who may not be able to dedicate full-time to their business idea."

Impact Hub Houston has also teamed up with MassChallenge for their own initiative supporting female founders in the Houston-Galveston region in partnership with Houston-based Workforce Solutions. The three organizations are collaborating to launch launch a bootcamp to support female founders in the greater Houston region.

"There is unprecedented growth in startup creation as a result of the pandemic and founders from all corners of the world are connecting in this virtual environment to build and scale amazing ideas," says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, in a news release. "With these new collaborations, we are also witnessing a massive gap in access to startup development resources. Our partnership with Workforce Solutions and Impact Hub Houston will help female founders build on their existing knowledge to become life-long innovators."

Applications for the bootcamp opened April 1 and will close at 5 pm on April 7 and are available online in both English and Spanish. The industry agnostic program will leverage MassChallenge's acceleration model and Impact Hub Houston's inclusive incubation expertise to accelerate female founders by connecting them with the resources they need to launch and scale high-impact businesses, according to the release.

"As a female founder myself, I'm incredibly excited about this opportunity to support and uplift more women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses in our region," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in the release. "By now, it's no secret that women, and especially women of color, are under-invested in; and this is our chance to change that by helping more women strengthen their businesses and prepare to seek funding."

These are the 10 finalists heading to MassChallenge's virtual awards program next month. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas names its top 10 companies in its Houston cohort

best of the rest

Boston-based MassChallenge has named its top picks from its second Houston cohort ahead of its awards event. This year's programming, due to the pandemic, was held completely online.

"Great entrepreneurs don't let a crisis go to waste: this cohort was assembled from virtually every industry across 13 different countries and through the twists and turns, their passion became a beacon for the future," says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston. "These top startups represent the best qualities of all of us: resilient, ingenious, and able to push ourselves further than we think we are capable. They embody the entrepreneurial spirit that brings hope and progress to society."

The 10 companies — which represent the top 18 percent of the cohort — will now compete in a final round of judging for up to $250,000 in equity-free cash prizes. The winners will be revealed at the 2020 MassChallenge Virtual U.S. Awards, which will be held online.

The 2020 MassChallenge Texas in Houston top 10 finalists are:

  • B2B Pay, based in Helsinki, Finland, is a fintech startup with a multi-bank platform.
  • FloodFrame, based in Richmond just outside of Houston, is a self-deploying flood protection system that can be easily installed to existing houses.
  • Healium, based in Columbia, Missouri, is an extended reality device created for self-management of anxiety.
  • Houston-based Integricote uses nanotechnology research that originated from the University of Houston in the treatment and fortification of materials like wood and concrete.
  • Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc., based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, specializes in problem solving using technology and software in the harshest environments – from jet engines to earth orbit.
  • Houston-based PATH EX Inc. is focused on the rapid diagnosis and treatment of sepsis through a pathogen extraction platform.
  • PREEMIEr Diagnostics, based in Southfield, Michigan, created a way to identify which premature infants need an adjustment to their glucose levels to prevent them from losing vision.
  • Scout Inc., based in Alexandria, Virginia, is developing the first commercial in-space satellite inspection service.
  • Sunnydale, California-based Sizzle is using artificial intelligence to automatically create gaming highlights for the billion gaming viewers.
  • Starling Medical, based in Houston, has tapped into tech to optimize urinary catheter for patients with neurogenic bladder dysfunction.

The 54-company cohort, which is the second based in Houston since the program's launch last year, was challenged early on — much like the other MassChallenge cohorts — to pivot to virtual acceleration over the four-month experience.

Robert Pieroni, director of Economic Development for Central Houston, which was part of the group that worked to bring MCTX to Houston, says he sees a need for this type of accelerator now more than ever.

"MassChallenge's work sources ground-breaking ideas from around the world and invites them into an inclusive village surrounded by a network of tools, resources, and opportunities that help founders accelerate and scale their business to solve humankind's boldest challenges head-on," he says. "The addition of virtual and the rise of distributed teams in response to the pandemic will make it easier for startups to launch and build businesses anywhere."

MassChallenge's Houston cohort will be one of a few featured at the virtual awards event on October 22 at 4 p.m. Headliners for the event include Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Linda Pizzuti Henry, managing director of the Boston Globe, and Chris Denson of Innovation Crush will be the host. For more information about the event and to register, visit the MassChallenge website.

"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Local innovation leaders share what they see has changed in Houston for venture investing

Eavesdropping online

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

MassChallenge Houston's 2020 cohort has been selected. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge Texas

MassChallenge names 56 startups to newest Houston cohort along with new space and sports tracks

meet the cohort

After launching in Houston with a smaller cohort last year, MassChallenge Texas has announced its latest, full-scale cohort and is kicking off virtual programming this month.

"Today's world is up against new challenges that require creative solutions to help us get back to speed as quickly and as efficiently as possible," says Jon Nordby, MassChallenge Texas in Houston's managing director in a news release. "The incoming cohort is uniquely positioned to make an impact because of their ability to act swiftly and adapt to new market needs. These founders will go on to create the impact and the jobs that will underpin the recovery of our economy for years to come."

The program begins this June 22 and concludes in October. According to the news release, the accelerator will operate as a hybrid — combining virtual and in-person programming. The startups will pitch virtually at the MassChallenge Virtual Startup Showcase on July 16 and 17, as well as at the conclusion of the program at the the MassChallenge Texas in Houston 2020 Awards.

The cohort represents 12 countries and 13 states — with over a third being female founded. The program is also introducing two new tracks: Sports tech, which was announced in April, and space commercialization. Some startups from this cohort will also be participating in the tracks, but MCTX hasn't identified the new tracks' cohorts yet.

Here are the members of the 2020 MassChallenge Texas Houston cohort and where they are based.

Energy and clean tech

General and retail

Health care and life science

Technology

Social impact

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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.