Fifteen of Houston Innovation Awards finalists share the best advice they've given or received. Photo via Getty Images

The startup journey is a long and winding road, and there's many ways to navigate it. Fifteen of this year's finalists have shared what their most valuable startup advice for their fellow Houston founders.

From the importance of mentorship to tips for female and BIPOC founders, these pearls of wisdom come directly from a selection of finalists across a handful of categories, including DEI Champion, BIPOC-Owned Business, Female-Owned Business, and Mentor of the Year.

Read these excerpts of advice from Houston's innovation community's top startup founders and supporters.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we'll name the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners.

"Be comfortable with asking for and accepting help. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint, but helping yourself with supportive people around is critical." — Cameron Carter of Rosarium Health, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Underrepresented founders often have trouble asking for what they want or deserve. ... Don't be scared to ask for what you want, or what you believe you deserve." — Pedro Silva of Milkify, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"It's not 'fake it' until you make it. It's 'take it' until you make it. Be proud to be you." — Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"When starting a company, remember it’s a game of attrition. The best way to last longer than your nearest neighbor is to find your tribe." — Aaron Fitzgerald of Mars Materials, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Know your worth and add tax. Choose your partners wisely — at home and work. Invest in the best stock you own: YOU." — Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Whatever battle you're fighting now that no one knows about — go ahead and WIN the war." — Shoshi Kaganovsky of Feelit Technologies, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"My advice would be to find truly effective mentors who are willing to open up their network for you. It doesn't matter if the mentors are men or women — what matters is that they genuinely care about your professional success and who you are as a person." — Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Healthcare, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Remember...There are a BILLION ways to apply sunscreen, but no matter how you apply it, it ALL protects you from the sun. Like sunscreen, there are infinite ways to succeed in the startup world. Trust your gut, stick to your vision, and keep trying until you find what works for you. ... Your purpose and vision should be your North Star, guiding decisions in team-building, coaching, and creating a company culture. Stick to that purpose—it's what will drive you through the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship." — Emily Cisek of The Postage, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"First and foremost, embrace your uniqueness. As a woman of color, you bring a distinctive perspective to the table. Your background is not just a part of who you are; it's a strength that sets you apart in a male-dominated industry. ... Resilience is your greatest ally. Challenges will arise, and it's okay to acknowledge them. What matters most is how you respond. Each obstacle is an opportunity for growth and learning. ... Lastly, trust yourself. You are not just running a business; you are shaping a narrative of empowerment and change." — Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery Technologies, a Female-Owned Business finalist

"Figure out, learn, and understand your mission inside and out and use it to make all your major business (and sometimes personal) decisions." — LaGina R Harris, founder and CEO of The Us Space and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Know your value and continue advocating for inclusion." — Janice Tran of Kanin Energy, a BIPOC-Owned Business finalist

"Be your true, authentic self. There are going to be some people that like what you are doing, and there's going to be some people that don't, but the biggest thing is being true to who you are, and that's always going to flourish more than being who someone else wants you to be." — Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Until you hire someone, you are the one wearing the product manager hat. You've got to love the problem more than the solution." — Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston and Mentor of the Year finalist

"Be the person your younger self needed. Representation really does matter. Be a listening ear, share your lessons, and allow people to blossom under your leadership." — Michelle Ngome, founder and president of the African American Marketing Association and DEI Champion finalist

"Embrace your unique perspective as a source of strength and innovation. ... In Houston's dynamic startup scene, your presence and contributions as a traditionally marginalized founder or investor are essential for driving innovation and diversity. By staying resilient, seeking support, and advocating for inclusivity, you can navigate the entrepreneurial journey and make a lasting impact on both your business and the broader community." — Jessica Adebiyi, diversity and professional development director at Womble Bond Dickinson and DEI Champion finalist

The six finalists for the sustainability category for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards weigh in on their challenges overcome. Photos courtesy

Top Houston-based sustainability startups share their 4 biggest challenges

houston innovation awards

Six Houston-area sustainability startups have been named finalists in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, but they didn't achieve this recognition — as well as see success for their businesses — without any obstacles.

The finalists were asked what their biggest challenges have been. From funding to market adoption, the sustainability companies have had to overcome major obstacles to continue to develop their businesses.

The awards program — hosted by InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community. Eighteen energy startups were named as finalists across all categories, but the following responses come from the finalists in the sustainability category specifically.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

    1. Securing a commercial pilot

    "As an early-stage clean energy developer, we struggled to convince key suppliers to work on our commercial pilot project. Suppliers were skeptical of our unproven technology and, given limited inventory from COVID, preferred to prioritize larger clients. We overcame this challenge by bringing on our top suppliers as strategic investors. With a long-term equity stake in Fervo, leading oilfield services companies were willing to provide Fervo with needed drilling rigs, frack crews, pumps, and other equipment." — Tim Latimer, founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

    2. Finding funding

    "Securing funding in Houston as a solo cleantech startup founder and an immigrant with no network. Overcome that by adopting a milestone-based fundraising approach and establishing credibility through accelerator/incubator programs." — Anas Al Kassas, CEO and founder of INOVUES

    "The biggest challenge has been finding funding. Most investors are looking towards software development companies as the capital costs are low in case of a risk. Geothermal costs are high, but it is physical technology that needs to be implemented to safety transition the energy grid to reliable, green power." — Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

    3. Market adoption

    "Market adoption by convincing partners and government about WHP as a solution, which is resource-intensive. Making strides by finding the correct contacts to educate." — Janice Tran, CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy

    "We are creating a brand new financial instrument at the intersection of carbon markets and power markets, both of which are complicated and esoteric. Our biggest challenge has been the cold-start problem associated with launching a new product that has effectively no adoption. We tackled this problem by leading the Energy Storage Solutions Consortium (a group of corporates and battery developers looking for sustainability solutions in the power space), which has opened up access to customers on both sides of our marketplace. We have also leveraged our deep networks within corporate power procurement and energy storage development to talk to key decision-makers at innovative companies with aggressive climate goals to become early adopters of our products and services." — Emma Konet, CTO and co-founder of Tierra Climate

    4. Long scale timelines

    "Scaling and commercializing industrial technologies takes time. We realized this early on and designed the eXERO technology to be scalable from the onset. We developed the technology at the nexus of traditional electrolysis and conventional gas processing, taking the best of both worlds while avoiding their main pitfalls." — Claus Nussgruber, CEO of Utility Global

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

    This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Albert Huang of Allotrope Medical, Janice Tran of Kanin Energy, and Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR. Photos courtesy

    3 Houston innovators to know this week

    Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from medical device to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

    Albert Huang, founder of Allotrope Medical

    Allotrope Medical was founded in 2016 by Dr. Albert Huang. Image via LinkedIn

    Illinois-based Northgate Technologies Inc. announced the acquisition of Houston-founded Allotrope Medical earlier this month. Founded in 2016 by Dr. Albert Huang, the startup has designed an electrosurgical ureter identification system for optimizing surgery for both robotic and non-robotic laparoscopic surgical procedures. Huang, according to his LinkedIn, is now chief medical officer for NTI.

    "To have taken this from idea to exit has been a true honor," Huang writes in a post on LinkedIn. "To all those that have generously given me their time, their input, their investment, and even more importantly, those that believed in me and this technology, thank you." Read more.

    Janice Tran, CEO of Kanin Energy

    Kanin Energy set up shop in Greentown Labs last year to grow its impact on the energy transition. Photo via LinkedIn

    Last year, Janice Tran, CEO of Kanin Energy, a waste-heat-to-power concept that uses a technology called organic rankine cycle, moved from Calgary, Canada, to Houston to continue growing as a company.

    “We’re hiring and building our team office out of Greentown. It’s been really great for us,” she says, adding that becoming part of the Houston energy ecosystem has been invaluable for Kanin.

    The investments being made in climate tech and in energy transition make Space City the right place for the company. Read more.

    Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

    Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

    Though most of the BiVACOR team works on the West Coast and even Australia, the medical device company has its headquarters in Houston because it's the "center of the universe when it comes to blood pumps," says Dr. Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR.

    The company has designed a unique device that can both fully replace the human heart and last the rest of the patient's life, something neither artificial on transplanted hearts can do.

    "The device is suspended by magnets — it's not touching anything," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "So, theoretically, the device has no wear and can last as long as the patient can possibly live. That's new to the field." Read more.

    Kanin Energy set up shop in Greentown Labs last year to grow its impact on the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

    Why this energy transition startup came to Houston to grow, build its waste-heat-to-power tech

    eyes on hou

    Waste heat is everywhere, but in Houston, the Energy Capital of the World, it is becoming a hot commodity. What is it? Janice Tran, CEO of Kanin Energy, uses the example of turning ore into steel.

    “There’s a lot of heat involved in that chemical process,” she says. “It’s a waste of energy.”

    But Kanin Energy can do something about that. Its waste-heat-to-power, or WHP, concept uses a technology called organic rankine cycle. Tran explains that heat drives a turbine that generates electricity.

    “It’s a very similar concept to a steam engine,” she says. Tran adds that the best term for what Kanin Energy does is “waste heat recovery.”

    Emission-free power should be its own virtuous goal, but for companies creating waste heat, it can be an expensive endeavor both in terms of capital and human resources to work on energy transition solutions. But Kanin Energy helps companies to decarbonize with no cost to them.

    “We can pay for the projects, then we pay the customers for that heat. We turn a waste product into a revenue stream for our customer,” Tran explains. Kanin Energy then sells the clean power back to the facility or to the grid, hence decarbonizing the facility gratis. Financing, construction, and operations are all part of the package.

    Kanin Energy began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the spring of 2020.

    “We started like a lotus. A lotus grows in mud — you start in the worst conditions and everything is better and easier from there,” says Tran.

    That tough birth has helped provide the team with a discipline and thoughtfulness that’s been key to the company’s culture. Remote work has forced the team to get procedures clearly in place and react efficiently.

    Back in May of 2020, its inception took place in Calgary. But the team, which also includes CDO Dan Fipke and CTO Jake Bainbridge, began to notice that many of their customers were either based in Houston or had Houston ties.

    A year ago, the Kanin team visited Houston to see if the city could be a fit for an office. In July of 2022, Tran opened Kanin Energy offices in Greentown Labs.

    “We’re hiring and building our team office out of Greentown. It’s been really great for us,” she says.

    With the company now in its commercialization stage, Tran says that becoming part of the Houston energy ecosystem has been invaluable for Kanin.

    The investments being made in climate tech and in energy transition make Space City the right place for the company. For Canadian-born Kanin Energy, Houston is now home. Investors across the nation, including Texas, are now helping Kanin to blossom, much like the lotus.

    Janice Tran is the CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy. Photo via LinkedIn

    The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship handed out awards to the founders of the most promising companies that pitched. Photo courtesy of Slyworks Photography/Rice Alliance

    Investors name most promising energy tech startups at annual Houston event

    ones to watch

    Nearly 100 energy tech startups pitched at the 19th annual Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum this week — and over a third of those companies are based in the Houston area.

    At the conclusion of the event — which took place on Thursday, September 15, at Rice University, and included a day full of company pitches, panels, and thought leadership — 10 startups were deemed the most promising among their peers. The group was voted on by investors attending office hours ahead of the event.

    The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship facilitated nearly 700 meetings between 70 investor groups and 90 ventures, according to the organization. The group of presenting companies included participants from Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator's first two cohorts.

    Here are 10 of the energy tech industry's most promising companies — and the technology they are working on that's set to disrupt the status quo.

    Arolytics

    Based in Calgary and founded in 2018, Arolytics is a software company that specializes in emissions management, ESG performance, and regulatory compliance. The company's platform is able to save its users up to 40 percent of their associated measurement costs and emissions management.

    Atargis Energy

    Atargis Energy is based in Pueblo, Colorado, and is a a member of Rice's second cohort of its Clean Energy Accelerator. The company has developed a twin hydrofoil-based wave energy converter that creates electric power from ocean waves. The technology is paired with real-time sensors and machine learning to optimize power conversion.

    Compact Membrane Systems

    Based in Delaware, Compact Membrane Systems, is pioneering membrane systems for decarbonizing hard-to-abate chemical manufacturing and industrial carbon capturing. The technology has the potential to revolutionize the chemicals industry.

    Dimensional Energy

    Dimensional Energy, based in Ithaca, New York, is transforming carbon dioxide into sustainable aviation fuels and products at market competitive prices. The technology integrates carbon capture, electrolysis, and Fischer Tropsch synthesis.

    Kanin Energy

    Headquartered in Houston, Kanin Energy works with heavy Industry to turn their waste heat into a clean baseload power source. The platform also provides tools such as project development, financing, and operations.

    Orbital Sidekick

    Orbital Sidekick, based in San Francisco, is an intelligence and analytics company that specializes in remote detection of environmental hazards by way of hyperspectral satellites. The technology provides actionable insights for its customers.

    Power to Hydrogen

    Based in Columbus, Ohio, Power to Hydrogen has developed an AEM-based electrolysis technology that produces high pressure, high efficiency hydrogen at low cost via water and renewable energy.

    Quino Energy

    Another Clean Energy Accelerator Class 2 member, Quino Energy produces flow battery systems with over eight hours of energy storage. The batteries are cheaper than lithium-ion alternatives, as well as being safer and easier to scale.

    STARS Technology

    Based in Richland, Washington, STARS Technology Corp. is commercializing advanced micro-channel chemical process technology that originally was designed for NASA and the Department of Energy. The company's reactors and heat exchangers are compact, energy-efficient, and more.

    Syzygy Plasmonics

    Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics is commercializing its light-reacting energy, which would greatly reduce carbon emissions in the chemical industry. The technology originated out of Rice University.

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    Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

    ready to pitch

    The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

    The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

    Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

    The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

    Invitees include:

    • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
    • Blaze Power, UCLA
    • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
    • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
    • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
    • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
    • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
    • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
    • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
    • HEXAspec, Rice University
    • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
    • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
    • Informuta, Tulane University
    • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
    • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
    • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
    • LiQuidium, University of Houston
    • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
    • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
    • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
    • NaviAI, Cornell University
    • NutriAI, Tufts University
    • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
    • Overture Games, Northwestern University
    • OX SOX, University of Georgia
    • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
    • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
    • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
    • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
    • Poka Labs, Harvard University
    • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
    • ProPika, University of Arkansas
    • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
    • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
    • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
    • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
    • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
    • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
    • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
    • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
    • WattShift, University of Chicago
    • ZebraMD, UCLA

    The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

    Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

    Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

    Texas is the No. 1 destination for Gen Zers on the move, study says

    by the numbers

    A new population analysis by real estate marketplace Zillow has pegged the Lone Star State as the No. 1 destination for adults born between 1996 and 2004 – also known as Gen Z.

    Using data from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, the report identifies the Top 10 states to which Gen Zers are moving, and Texas was the runaway winner – far outranking No. 2 destination, California, with 76,805 Gen Z movers, versus California's 43,913.

    Reasons for moving vary, but the report says young adults from 18 to 24 years old may prefer to live in states with high performing job markets, especially in a place like San Antonio where one of the nation's top employers resides. San Antonio is also a great place for remote work, according to estimations by Forbes.

    Favorable weather also may play a factor in the high migration of Gen Z'ers, the report suggests. Texas' mostly year-round sunshine makes it more attractive to younger crowds who are looking for fun activities around the state, not to mention the advantageous impact on dating opportunities.

    Other top states with high influx of Gen Z movers include Washington (No. 5), which added over 33,500 Gen Z movers in 2022, and Colorado (No. 6) with less than 31,000 new Gen Z residents.

    Their least favorite destination was Michigan, and the Northeast also ranked poorly, with four New England states – Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine – all in the bottom 10.

    State with a high cost-of-living like Washington, Colorado, and Virginia (No. 7) are places where young adults are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, work in tech, or serve in the military, according to Zillow principal population scientist Edward Berchick.

    However, becoming a homeowner is much more difficult, as the report found 77 percent of the Gen Z workers in these states are renters.

    "Gen Z movers are likely drawn to the job opportunities in these states, despite the higher costs of housing," Berchick explains. "They may also be in a stage of life where they're willing and able to be flexible in their standards of living while starting their careers."

    The top 10 states for Gen Z movers are:

    • No. 1 – Texas
    • No. 2 – California
    • No. 3 – Florida
    • No. 4 – North Carolina
    • No. 5 – Washington
    • No. 6 – Colorado
    • No. 7 – Virginia
    • No. 8 – Illinois
    • No. 9 – Georgia
    • No. 10 – Arizona

    The full report can be found on zillow.mediaroom.com.

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    Op-Ed: Black-owned businesses are making history in Texas, across America

    guest column

    In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

    Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

    As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

    The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

    The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

    Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

    Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

    These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

    The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

    To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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    Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.