3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Carolyn Rodz of Hello Alice, Kimon Angelides of FemTec Health, and Lara Cottingham of Greentown Labs. 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 — from health tech to clean energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice

Carolyn Rodz joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Hello Alice

Hello Alice exists to serve small business founders through their entrepreneurial journeys — that's why Carolyn Rodz founded the company — and SMBs needed support more than ever last year.

As challenging as the pandemic was for Hello Alice, it was validating too. Rodz says the company had a 700 percent increase in revenue and an 1,100 percent acquisition growth.

"We'd never operated in a downcycle, but what we learned through that process was that we're a really valuable resource for business owners when times are great, but we're also a really valuable resource for them when times are tough," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Kimon Angelides, founder, chairman, and interim CEO of FemTec Health,

Dr. Kimon Angelides is also the founder of Houston health tech startups Livongo Health and Vivante Health. Photo via LinkedIn

Kimon Angelides, who has founded a handful of Houston health tech startups, has announced his latest venture launched FemTec Health, a tech-enabled women's health sciences and beauty company focused on transforming the total healthcare experience for women. The company is emerging from stealth mode this week with already 10 million members, two clinical trials in progress, $38 million in funding, and a team of over 150.

"Our platform can be implemented across all areas including specialty care, wellness and prevention, reproductive care, sexual wellness, mental health, chronic care, and beyond," Angelides says in the release. "It is driven by state-of-the-art genomics and digital technologies that empower women to take control of their health at every stage of their life journey, based on their individual health profiles."

FemTec Health's business and growth model is to expand via acquisitions — and the company has several under its belt already, including beauty subscription box Birchbox, universal beauty store Mira Beauty, and beauty industry social marketing platform Liquid Grids, which has over 1.5 million members, according to the release. Click here to read more.

Lara Cottingham, chief of staff for Greentown Labs

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals." Click here to read more.

The new startup has acquired Birchbox and plans to relaunch the beauty subscription service with its patented health customization. Photo via birchbox.com

New women's health and beauty biz led by Houston entrepreneur emerges from stealth with $35M in funding

beauty tech

A Houston health tech entrepreneur who's started six businesses in his career has announced his latest endeavor.

Dr. Kimon Angelides, founder of Houston health tech startups Livongo Health and Vivante Health, launched FemTec Health, a tech-enabled women's health sciences and beauty company focused on transforming the total healthcare experience for women. The company is emerging from stealth mode this week with already 10 million members, two clinical trials in progress, and a team of over 150.

FemTec Health is building the data analytics platform to support products and services for women in every life stage. The patent-pending BiomeAI™engine uses AI and deep machine learning to translate consumer, genetic, microbiome, and biometric data into the delivery of holistic healthcare personalized for every woman, according to a news release from the company.

"Our platform can be implemented across all areas including specialty care, wellness and prevention, reproductive care, sexual wellness, mental health, chronic care, and beyond," Angelides says in the release. "It is driven by state-of-the-art genomics and digital technologies that empower women to take control of their health at every stage of their life journey, based on their individual health profiles."

Angelides serves as the new company's chairman and interim CEO. Photo via LinkedIn

FemTec has already raised more than $35 million in funding from a myriad of investors, capital, and shareholders, including Longmont Capital, Ithaca LifeSciences, Unilever Ventures, Estee Lauder, Shiseido, e.Ventures, Viking Global, and Trinity Capital.

The company, which has been in the works since May of 2020, has assembled an all-star team of experts, including Dr. Kimberly Capone, chief scientific officer (formerly with Johnson & Johnson), and Dr. Laura Clapper, COO (formerly Cigna, CVS-Aetna).

"Women's health has been under-researched and underrepresented for too long," says Capone in the release. "As a woman and a scientist, I have often been the sounding board for friends and family on their wellness journey – offering advice and feedback on skincare, vaginal care, probiotics and supplements that can help with issues in skin and vaginal health, PMS and menopause. What I hear consistently is that women do not know where to go, or what products to choose that may help."

This is exactly the need the technology will help to solve.

"This is where FemTec Health's unified and coordinated platform comes in — we provide personalized services and science-based products that are meaningful and effective for women at all stages of their lives. I believe the future is female and FemTec Health will help get us there," Capone continues.

FemTec Health's business and growth model is to expand via acquisitions — and the company has several under its belt already, including beauty subscription box Birchbox, universal beauty store Mira Beauty, and beauty industry social marketing platform Liquid Grids, which has over 1.5 million members, according to the release.

"Our first acquisitions within women's health and beauty are key to our mission to revolutionize the women's healthcare and beauty industry," says Angelides, who is the company's executive chairman and interim CEO. "Women deserve a comprehensive, all encompassing model designed specifically for them. The starting point is to really understand a woman's healthcare needs and then apply smart technology like AI and predictive analytics to translate the data into actionable outcomes."

In the near future, the company plans on re-launching Birchbox, using the BiomeAI™ platform to give subscribers curated personalized skin and healthcare products. Birchbox was sold to private equity firm, Viking Global — one of FemTec's investors, in 2018.

"I have always believed in the power of women as a community, and I believe this is a natural step in the evolution of Birchbox," says Katia Beauchamp, founder of Birchbox, in the release. "Eleven years ago, we were compelled by an ability to build deep customer relationships month after month. FemTec's vision for the future of women's healthcare was inspirational to me and I could see the opportunity for the thousands of women in the Birchbox community to extend beyond consumer beauty products to a more holistic health and wellness offering."

According to the release, more strategic partnerships with health and wellness companies will be announced soon.

Vivante Health, which uses technology and at-home testing to help users treat chronic digestive health issues, has raised $5.8 million. Getty Images

Digital health startup based in Houston closes $5.8 million round

Money moves

A Houston health technology startup that uses digital solutions and on-demand support to help its users with digestive health has closed a Series A round of funding.

Vivante Health raised $5.8 million in a series A1 round, according to a news release. The round was led by California-based Lifeforce Capital and Athens, Greece-based Big Pi Ventures. Additionally, NFP Ventures, FCA Venture Partners, and Longmont Capital contributed to the round.

"We knew we were onto something when the market responded so positively," says Dr. Kimon Angelides, Vivante Health founder and CEO, in the release, "but support from esteemed, experienced and successful firms like Lifeforce and Big Pi, and the continued strong support from our initial investor partners, give us a very encouraging boost of confidence as we carry out our vision and further develop the GIThrive platform."

With the fresh funds, Vivante will continue to develop its GI health platform, GIThrive. The digital tool has an at-home microbiome test kit for users, as well as a breath tester that monitors food sensitivities. GIThrive also connects users to on-demand support from nutritionists and experts on the GIThrive app.

The startup's Houston headquarters is based out of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center, JLabs@TMC, but has offices in Nashville, Chicago, and Athens. Angelides, who honors his Greek heritage by spending a fair about of time in Greece, says in the release how important the Big Pi investment is for him.

"This partnership with Big Pi, a tech-based investment firm who's driven by the desire to support Greek talent, makes perfect sense. What's more, we have partnered with a team who themselves have been very successful entrepreneurs," says Angelides in the release.

Angelides, who has founded three other health tech companies, impressed Big Pi with his entrepreneurial track record and nationwide team

"This is one of those rare investments where the financial upside goes hand in hand with the prospect of radically improving the lives of millions of people across the globe," says Marco Veremis, investment partner with Big Pi, in the release.

Lifeforce Capital has a portfolio of software startups, including Aspire, Cricket Health, Notable Labs, One Medical, and Second Genome, per the news release, and the VC firm is excited for their new addition.

"We were immediately struck by Kim's entrepreneurial passion and big vision," says Sander Duncan, general partner with Lifeforce Capital, in the release. "We are thrilled to work with the Vivante team to build the first platform tackling digestive disease for millions of suffering patients."

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Comcast donates tech, funds to support diversity-focused nonprofit

gift of tech

A Houston organization focused on helping low-income communities by providing access to education, training, and employment has received a new donation.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program announced the a donation of a $30,000 financial grant and 1,000 laptops to SERJobs. The gift is part of a new partnership with SERJobs that's aimed at educating and equipping adults with technical skills, including training on Microsoft Office and professional development.

“SERJobs is excited to celebrate 10 years of Comcast's Internet Essentials program,” says Sheroo Mukhtiar, CEO, SERJobs, in a news release. “The Workforce Development Rally highlights the importance of digital literacy in our increasingly virtual world—especially as technology and the needs of our economy evolve. We are grateful to Comcast for their ongoing partnership and support of SERJobs’ and our members.”

For 10 years Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more than 10 million people to the Internet at home — most for the first time. This particular donation is a part of Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity.

“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across Houston,” says Toni Beck, vice president of external affairs at Comcast Houston, in the release.

“Together, we have connected hundreds of thousands of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides," she continues. "Our work is not done, and we are excited to partner with SERJobs to ensure the next generation of leaders in Houston are equipped with the technical training they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.”

It's not the first time the tech company has supported Houston's low-income families. This summer, Comcast's Internet Essentials program and Region 4 Education Service Center partnered with the Texas Education Agency's Connect Texas Program to make sure Texas students have access to internet services.

Additionally, Comcast set up an internet voucher program with the City of Houston last December, and earlier this year, the company announced 50 Houston-area community centers will have free Wi-Fi connections for three years. Earlier this year, the company also dedicated $1 million to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic that are owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

President Joe Biden appoints Houston green space guru to lofty national post

new gig

Aprominent and nationally acclaimed Houston parks presence has just received a hefty national appointment. President Joe Biden has named Beth White, Houston Parks Board president and CEO, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the organization announced.

The NCPC, established by Congress in 1924, is the federal government’s central planning agency for the National Capital Region. The commission provides overall guidance related to federal land and buildings in the region. Functions include reviewing the design of federal and local projects, overseeing long-range planning for future development, and monitoring capital investment by federal agencies.

Fittingly, White was initially appointed to NCPC as the at-large presidential commissioner in January 2012, per a press release. She was reappointed for another six-year term in 2016. Most recently, White served as the commission’s vice-chair.

“I’m honored to chair the National Capital Planning Commission and work with my fellow commissioners to build and sustain a livable, resilient capital region and advance the Biden Administration’s critical priorities around sustainability, equity, and innovation,” White said in a statement.

Before joining Houston Parks Board in 2016, White served as the director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, where she spearheaded development of The 606 public park and was instrumental in establishing Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge.

Renowned in the Windy City, she also was managing director of communications and policy for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief of staff for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Chicago Transit Board; and assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. She was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Urban Land Institute Houston.

The graduate of Northwestern and Loyola universities most recently received the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO award, per her bio.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.