This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emily Cisek of The Postage, Kevin Coker of Proxima Clinical Research, and Sylvia Kampshoff of Kanthaka. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — tech, health care, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Emily Cisek, founder of The Postage

The Postage — a Houston-based company that's streamlining afterlife planning — has rolled out a new app. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Emily Cisek had a mission when she founded The Postage. She wanted to make afterlife planning simpler — and she's taken one giant step toward that goal with the company's new app.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple."

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app. Click here to read more.

Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research

Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research, say his company transform from uncertainty to almost uncontrollable growth in just 12 months. He shares what happened on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Proxima

After a huge dip in business due to the pandemic, a Houston company focused on supporting innovative life science companies saw 12 months of unprecedented growth. Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research, says that's not only a good sign for the future of his business — but also of the future of Houston's life science sector.

"We're a good barometer for what's happening not only locally but across the country," Coker says. "As Proxima has grown, it's really show how the Houston life science market is growing."

Coker shares more about Proxima's growth and Houston's potential of being a major life science hub on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Sylvia Kampshoff, founder of Kanthaka

Sylvia Kampshoff has launched Kanthaka's first crowdfunding campaign. Photo courtesy of Kanthaka

Sylvia Kampshoff has lofty goals for her company Kanthaka, a platform for connecting users to personal trainers across over a dozen cities. With the launch of a new $1 million crowdfunding raise, Kampshoff is one step closer to growing her business according to these goals.

"Our vision is to become Amazon for health & fitness and the go-to provider to live a longer, happier and healthier life," Kampshoff says. "We couldn't be more excited about this journey." Click here to read more.

Sylvia Kampshoff has launched Kanthaka's first crowdfunding campaign. Photo courtesy of Kanthaka

Houston fitness tech startup launches $1M crowdfunding campaign

money moves

Calling all cardio lovers, yogis, and strength trainers alike — a Houston fitness platform is opening up investment opportunities through a new crowdfunding campaign.

Kanthaka, a Houston-based app that connects clients to personal trainers and yoga instructors on-demand, announced it will be launching a $1 million campaign through Republic, a crowdfunding platform. Kanthaka's users and trainers — or anyone interested — now have the option to become part owners in the company.

"We are very happy at Kanthaka to have been selected by Republic for their crowdfunding campaign," says Sylvia Kampshoff, founder and CEO of Kanthaka, in a press release. "I want our users as our evangelists.

"Since we started the company I've had clients reaching out wanting to invest but it was complicated — you had to be an accredited investor or VC," Kampshoff continues. "Now through this crowdfunding campaign, clients and trainers can participate in our journey."

According to the release, Republic, which is strategically partnered with Houston-based NextSeed, only accepts less than 1 percent of applicants interested in being funded on the platform. Kanthaka has reportedly raised over $850,000 from two venture capitalists and angels investors to date.

The company provides both live in-person and virtual sessions. Between March 2020 and March 2021, Kanthaka grew over 700 percent in sessions sold, per the release, and now, with the COVID-19 vaccines, the company is seeing a new spike in sessions.

"Our vision is to become Amazon for health & fitness and the go-to provider to live a longer, happier and healthier life," Kampshoff says in the release. "We couldn't be more excited about this journey."

Frustrated with the lack of ease in booking training sessions, Kampshoff launched Kanthaka in 2017 and has grown the company and expanded into 15 markets. Kanthaka participated in Austin-based accelerator Sputnik ATX.

Image via mykanthaka.com

This week's innovators to know are Allie Danziger, Sylvia Kampshoff, and Brittany Barreto. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This one's for the ladies. InnovationMap's weekly roundup of innovators to know features three female founders — one is offering her advice on crisis communications, one is innovating the at-home workout, and one is planning on making Houston a city for femtech.

Allie Danziger, founder and president of Integrate Agency

Photo courtesy of Integrate

Now more than ever your company's message is extremely important, says communications expert Allie Danziger, and she and her company, Integrate Agency are focused on helping businesses at this trying time.

"Practicing what we preach, we understand that as communication experts, it is our mission and responsibility during this time to help our local business community," writes Danziger in her guest column. "We are putting our money where our mouth is and for the last week have been offering free communication and marketing consultation to any business in need."

Click here to read the rest of Danziger's column.

Sylvia Kampshoff, founder of Kanthaka

Photo courtesy of Kanthaka

Big-box gyms have the potential of being a breeding ground for the coronavirus, but smaller studios aren't immune from the disease's consequences either. While most fitness spots have closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Houston-based Kanthaka has been using tech to enable at-home exercise before it was the only option.

That's why the app's founder Sylvia Kampshoff says she saw a huge spike in numbers last week as things began to close. Kanthaka allows users to book personal training sessions to their home. The one-on-one interaction has become really popular in this time of social distancing, and Kampshoff say soon the app will go even further in their efforts allowing its personal trainers to give virtual one-on-one training.

Click here to read more about Kanthaka's latest initiatives.

Brittany Barreto, venture associate at Capital Factory

Photo courtesy of Brittany Barreto

Brittany Barreto is passionate about femtech, helping entrepreneurs, and, despite being from the Northeast, Houston. Barreto joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss her passions and her use to the Houston innovation ecosystem as a former founder herself.

"I actually think Houston needs to figure out how to capitalize on these recycled founders and how to get them in more mentorship and leadership positions," Barreto says on the podcast. "We're in Houston, Texas, and the second question out of everyone's mouths is, 'How can I help you?'"

Click here to stream the episode and read more about Barreto.

A Houston company has seen a spike in sales in their on-demand fitness training sessions, and the startup is adding features to help users stay sane and healthy while stuck inside. Photo courtesy of Kanthaka

Houston on-demand fitness startup to launch virtual option for at-home exercise options

workout from home

Last week, Sylvia Kampshoff saw a spike in her sales — something very uncommon for companies at this time, unless they are selling hand sanitizer, face masks, or toilet paper.

Kampshoff's company isn't providing toiletries though. Houston-based Kanthaka is an on-demand personal trainer tool for users to book one-on-one sessions with fitness experts at their own homes. With the city of Houston announcing that all bars and restaurants close to patrons, fitness studios followed suit. And that for Kanthaka meant a rise in sessions bought in Houston, Austin, Denver, Chicago, or any of the fifteen cities the app has launched in.

While gyms might be closing, "people feel pretty safe about having people come into their home," Kampshoff says, "and on the other hand we are wanting to give more jobs to trainers who have lost their jobs."

Kanthaka now has two people on boarding new fitness professionals on the app, and trainers who are out of work because their gym closed can get in touch with Kanthaka about the opportunity.

This spike in sales is coming mostly from younger users — particularly those in their 20s — but usually, Kanthaka has about a third of its users in the 60 and up age group — a population of people most at-risk from the COVID-19, or coronavirus. With this in mind, Kampshoff started looking into non face-to-face options for people who aren't comfortable with in-home instruction.

Next week, Kampshoff will launch digital sessions on Kanthaka. The sessions will still be one-on-one, but virtual. They won't be any cheaper, but will still provide that individual, undivided attention from a professional trainer. Additionally, Kanthaka will host free group fitness broadcasts online, and some will even factor in kids who are also stuck inside without many options for activities.

In just one week, Kampshoff had to pivot and tap a third-party streaming provider for the new service, something she has been able to do thanks to Sputnik ATX, an Austin-based accelerator Kampshoff is a part of.

"They were the first ones to say, 'Hey you should go virtual,'" Kampshoff says. "We started talking about it for the first time on Friday."

Ultimately, Kampshoff hopes this pivot will allow people access to personal training, as well as provide work for fitness professionals during the uncertain times of the coronavirus outbreak.

From what you wear to where you go, here are some Houston fitness startups changing the game. Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

4 fitness-focused Houston startups changing the industry

Business exercise

Houston has developed into a city full of boutique fitness studios and updated parks, and now the city is seeing fitness startups popping up as well. From creating a smell-free fabric to engaging NASA technology into training, these Houston fitness startups are working out innovative ideas into the exercise industry.

Accel Lifestyle

Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Megan Eddings tried everything to get the stink out of her husband's workout clothes, but nothing worked completely. With her background in chemistry, she knew there was something she could do to create a fabric that didn't hold on to the bacteria that built up in normal fabrics. So, she got to work. Now, years later, she's finally perfected her product and is ready to launch by summer.

"I never thought it would take this so long to make a T-shirt," Eddings says. "But, if you do it right and in an ethical way, it just takes a little longer."

Eddings says she'll have six different styles of men's and women's shirts to start, and they will be available on the Accel website, which recently got a facelift. Read more about Accel's journey here.

Kanthaka

Courtesy of Kanthaka

Finding a quality personal training session that fits your schedule and location hasn't really been done before Houston-based Kanthaka launched in 2017. Founder Sylvia Kampshoff wanted something that allowed her to exercise with someone on her own schedule, and with people who valued customer service.

The app uses location technology similar to that of ride sharing apps to allow users to book training sessions with certified personal trainers, all of whom are heavily vetted and background checked by Kampshoff and her team.

"Many trainers at gyms or who work privately aren't certified," she says. "And that was important to me, that we have professionals who understand training and the body. And making sure our clients felt safe was a huge priority for me. We interview every trainer personally to ensure they not only meet our standards but also share our goals."

Since launch, Kanthaka has expanded to Austin and is expanding to San Antonio in April and Atlanta in May. The company has secured angel investment and has seen a month over month growth of 10 to 50 percent since the end of 2018. Read more about Kanthaka here.

Muvve

Courtesy of Muvve

What would you get if you crossed a dating app with an event planner focused on creating friendships around fitness? Houston-based Muvve. The app, which was created by Avi Ravishankar and Julian Se, came from the idea that working out, training for a marathon, or just staying active is way better with a buddy.

"Intrinsic motivation is hard to find, especially in individual sports, like running, cycling, or yoga," Ravishankar says. "Whereas, in team sports, like basketball or volleyball, you have the team to train with and motivate you."

The app, which launched in May of 2018, acts like a network for fitness lovers — just like a dating app would connect potential romantic partners. Dating apps, actually, were a big influence on Ravishankar, he says.

"I fell in love with dating apps. It was this mind-blowing idea for me of how many people you can connect with — even if it's not for dating," he says. "The amount of people I have met just through technology always blows my mind. There's so much power in it."

Ravishankar plans on growing the app's user base to 10,000 users by summer. Read more about Muvve here.

Sutaria Training & Fitness

Blake Hobson/ST&F

Sutaria Training & Fitness LLC, a Houston-based personal training company, has a new partnership with NASA that aims to provide exclusive access to astronaut training equipment to clients.

Jay Sutaria, founder and lead trainer, says that the equipment at NASA, called the force plate, shows how much power a client's body is producing in specific areas and how that power drops over time. The data produced by these machines can help trainers customize and tweak workouts for each client to take training a step further.

Sutaria and his partners at NASA recently tested the equipment with the Chinese olympic boxing team to see how it can be applied to workouts at NASA's location in Clear Lake.

"It's exclusive access to the equipment that is not available openly in Houston," says Sutaria. "NASA is a reference for us to become better trainers." Click here to read more about ST&F.

Among this week's top stories is a feature on a Houston-based startup aiming to be the Uber or Lyft of personal trainers. Courtesy of Kanthaka

5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

Now trending

Editor's note: Houston saw big shake ups at some major innovation institutions this week, which made for some trending stories. And, per usual, readers enjoyed learning about local entrepreneurs fighting the good fight with their organizations.

Station Houston announces its transition into becoming a nonprofit

Station Houston's stakeholders voted in favor of the organization transitioning to a nonprofit. Station Houston/Facebook

Houston's startup scene just got a little more accessible. Station Houston's stakeholders voted to transition the organization to nonprofit status from the C-corp status it currently holds. The status change is effective January 1, 2019, for the acceleration hub, which is based in downtown Houston. The news was announced to its members in an email sent on December 13. Read the full story here.

Houston entrepreneur creates a network to link up with other blockchain professionals

The Houston Blockchain Alliance aims to connect and educate tech professionals in town. Getty Images

Houstonians traveling around the country might covet other cities for their mountain scapes, beaches, or more mild summers, but Mahesh Sashital envied the fact that other major cities had developed networks and organizations focused on connecting and educating tech professionals. Houston, it seems, was late to the party.

So, he decided to make his own blockchain-focused organization, and a few months ago, he launched the Houston Blockchain Alliance. Read the full story here.

3 Houston energy innovators to know this week

These energy startup leaders are the reason Houston will keep its "energy capital of the world" title. Courtesy images

Houston's known as the energy capital of the world, but it won't stay that way if the city as a whole doesn't work toward innovation. These three professionals started their own companies to improve efficiency and promote ingenuity in their fields. From drones and AI to quicker pipeline data access, this week's three innovators to know are the future of the energy industry. Read the full story here.

TMC Innovation Institute leader leaves the organization

Erik Halvorsen has reportedly left his position at the TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

Erik Halvorsen, director of the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute, has left his position, according to multiple reports.

TMC's medical device innovation team lead, Lance Black, was named as the interim replacement for Halvorsen, according to Xconomy. Black has been with TMC for almost two years. Read the full story here.

Get on-demand personal training from Houston-based app

Houston-based Kanthaka is the Uber or Lyft of personal training, and has recently expanded into the Austin market. Courtesy of Kanthaka

As a busy lawyer who traveled heavily for work, Sylvia Kampshoff found her workouts were often overlooked as she went from city to city, a casualty of long hours and a busy schedule. And, even though she did have a membership to a national gym with privileges at any of its locations, she hated the feeling of always being sold something and disliked that both the trainers and managers she worked with took very little interest in her personal needs and fitness goals.

She wanted something that allowed her to exercise with someone on her own schedule, and with people who valued customer service. That's how the idea for Kanthaka was born. Read the full story here.


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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.