From a new hard tech grant opportunity to apply for to health tech innovation expansion, here's your latest roundup of Houston startup and innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

As Houston ramps up for fall, the city's innovation news has followed suit, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston angel investors dole out prize money, the DOE grants Houston innovators some cash, a digital health company expands, and more.

2 Houston teams win DOE geothermal manufacturing prize

Both of the teams that won this competition hailed from Houston. Image via energy.gov

This week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that two Houston-based companies have won the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize — a $4.65 million competition to incentivize innovators to use 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, to address the challenges associated with operating sensitive equipment in harsh geothermal environments, per a press release. The competition challenged participants with quickly developing, testing, and revising prototypes using additive manufacturing to support the advancement of geothermal tools and technologies.

“This DOE competition harnesses breakthroughs in additive manufacturing to help overcome barriers to widespread deployment of geothermal energy,” says Alejandro Moreno, deputy assistant secretary for renewable power, in the release. “The rapid prototype development supported by this prize is spurring advancements in the geothermal industry to help power the nation from the heat beneath our feet.”

The competition launched in January 2020, and the finalists presented their innovations at the annual Geothermal Rising conference in Reno, Nevada. The winning teams each were awarded $500,000 in cash and up to $200,000 to test their innovations in the field. The two Houston-based winning teams were:

  • Team Downhole Emerging Technologies: "This team developed an alternative to traditional packer systems," the release states. "The all-metal, retrievable packer system is designed specifically for high temperatures, extreme pressures, and corrosion experienced in geothermal wells. The Downhole Emerging Technologies’ partnership resulted in the production of the largest Inconel additively manufactured component by Proto Labs, Inc. and the development of DET’s tool, the Diamond ETIP (Extreme Temperature Isolation Packer).”
  • Team Ultra-High Temperature Logging Tool: "This team developed a technology that uses a labyrinthian heat sink to reduce thermal emissivity and increase the exposure time of temperature sensitive electronic components," according to the release. "Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a powder bed laser fusion technique to manufacture the heat sink design, with the aim that the technology would solve limitations around maximum temperature rating and lifetime of electronics in logging and measurement tools. The team also worked closely with Sandia National Laboratories to test the logging prototype in a high-temperature setting."

Koda Health expands across the country

Koda Health has gone nationwide. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health has announced via LinkedIn that it has expanded into a handful of new states recently: Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, Virginia, California, and Maryland. These six expansions have all been announced over the past month following the announcement in July that the company is going nationwide.

"Every state has different regulations and requirements for their advancecare planning documents. So, the folks at Nixon Gwilt Law and Koda Health have been hard at work making our platform compliant in every single state," the company announced in a post. "It's hard work, but we're committed to helping patients stay in control of their health care journey, regardless of where they call home."

Koda Health was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship and launched by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry in March of 2020. The platform uses AI to help patients create advanced medical care directives and documents, such as a living will, through its proprietary machine learning approach.

In February, Koda closed over $3 million in seed funding in order to grow its staff and support expansion. Now, including Texas, Koda is in seven states across the country.

Houston angels dole out cash to RBPC winner

Hoth Intelligence — a digital health startup — is cashing in on its RBPC prizes. Photo via Getty Images

The Houston Angel Network announced its investment of over $160,000 in Hoth Intelligence, the winner of HAN’s prize at the 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition.

“Following the HAN award announcement at the RBPC banquet, we learned that the Houston Chapter of The Indus investor Entrepreneurs (TiE) was also interested in Hoth as an investment for its members," says HAN Chairman Richard Hunter in a news release.

The organizations collaborated on due diligence and negotiation of the investment terms. Hunter led HAN's due diligence and Jeff Tomlinson led the effort on behalf of TiE.

The company, which was established at University of Pittsburgh, has developed an artificial intelligence platform for health care providers. The company's RBPC prize initially totaled $386,700 in investment awards from a handful of entities.

Per HAN's news release, Houston investment firms Prosalus Capital Partners joined in with a $300,000 investment and PiFei VC contributed an additional $100,000.”

“Several companies at the 2022 RPBC, including Hoth Intelligence, ranked very high in the TiE judging," says TiE Houston Chapter President Ram Shenoy. "We therefore decided to pursue due diligence and were very pleased to have worked with HAN to expeditiously complete the deal. To date, it has attracted TiE investors from chapters in Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and Southern California who have committed over $154,000 in investment.”

Sustainable biz tapped for prestigious program

This Houston entrepreneur is getting ready to pitch. Image courtesy

Houston-based Trendy Seconds was chosen as part of the SOCAP Global Entrepreneur 2022 Cohort — a prestigious event in the social entrepreneurship world that grants scholarships to entrepreneurs from all over the globe.

Trendy Seconds is an online marketplace where women can find pre-owned clothing or shop for new clothing from sustainable brands. The company shares items from more than 50 brands that can be searched by category, style, size, price, condition, and positive impact. To ensure the clothing is high quality, shoppers will find only gently-used or new items featured on Trendy Seconds.

Through the program, Founder Maria Burgos will pitch live in San Francisco on October 20.

Deadline approaches for Activate Anywhere

Calling all scientists on a mission. Image via Getty Images

A global accelerator billed as "for scientists on a mission" has opened its latest round of registration. Activate Anywhere is a remote-based program for hard tech innovators that takes no equity, requires no fees, and provides significant financial support, including a living stipend of up to $110,000 a year, $100,000 in R&D funding, $100,000 additional flexible capital, health care coverage, travel allowance, and more.

Applications September 15, but registration to apply is free and open now. The deadline to apply is October 31 and finalists will be announced in February.

To be eligible for the program, you must:

  • have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years post-baccalaureate scientific research, engineering, or technology development experience.
  • be the leader of a technical project or company that is relevant to our target industries and is based in the physical or biological sciences, or related engineering disciplines.
  • be leading the commercial development of a hardware-based technology innovation for the first time i.e. not a repeat hard-tech founder. You may apply as a solo applicant or with one co-applicant.
  • not have raised more than $2 million in debt or equity funding from non-governmental sources for the proposed project at the time of the application deadline.
  • be able to work in the U.S. for the duration of the fellowship, and have access to a qualified host laboratory.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kaitlyn Allen of MendIt, Miguel Calatayud of iwi, and Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Health. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Kaitlyn Allen, founder and chief strategy officer of MendIt

MendIt seeks to reduce textile waste by providing an easy-to-use app to make menders and customizers more accessible. Photo courtesy of MendIt

Kaitlyn Allen thought she had a great idea for a company — something that can help people repair clothing conveniently. And all of the pieces of the strategy already existed. There are plenty of seamstressing businesses around town, but not an easy way to navigate them. “

There’s a disconnect. There’s a market of people who potentially want to mend their clothes, but there’s no easy way of finding or accessing that service,” she says. “With this next generation, you need to meet them where they are.”

And where they are, Allen says, is on their phones.

MendIt is completing a pilot program with one mender — Connect Community in Gulfton area — in partnership with St. Luke's Gethsemane on Bellaire in Sharpstown. She also hopes to tap into a local artist who can help with customization — like embroidery, for instance. Click here to read more.

Miguel Calatayud, CEO of iwi

Miguel Calatayud, CEO of iwi, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his sustainable business of farming algae for nutritional products. Photo courtesy of iwi

Miguel Calatayud feels like he has the perfect storm of a product. Not only does his company iwi's nutritional supplement have a sustainability focus, it's also just a very competitive product in the marketplace. The company has created a sustainable suite of products from innovative algae farming in the deserts of Texas and New Mexico. These football field-sized farms operate on desert land using just salt water and sand and produce algae sustainably — all while absorbing CO2.

"We've been growing significantly for one main reason," Calatayud says. "It works."

Calatayud shares more about the impact he's making and why Houston is the ideal market for him to do it in on the Houston Innovators podcast. Click here to read more.

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda Health

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, closed recent funding for the digital health startup. Image via LinkedIn

Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, has something to celebrate. The Houston-based startup announced this month that it raised $3.5 million in its latest seed round. The funding will be used to help the digital advanced care planning company double the size of its team in the next six months.

"Koda Health helps vulnerable people navigate and communicate difficult decisions about their health care journey. So, when hiring, we look for empathetic people who are phenomenal communicators," Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, says in a statement.

The Koda team will also use the funds to expand its operations to all 50 states. According to the statement, the team plans to focus on low-resource communities and operating in different languages. Click here to read more.

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, closed recent funding for the digital health startup. Image via LinkedIn

Houston palliative care startup raises $3.5 million in seed funding to expand nationally

making moves

Houston-based Koda Health announced this month that it raised $3.5 million in its latest seed round.

The round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital, which focuses on emergent and early-stage investments. Sigmas Capital, Headwater Ventures, CRCM, and a number of angel investors also participated in the round.

The funding will be used to help the digital advanced care planning company double the size of its team in the next six months.

"Koda Health helps vulnerable people navigate and communicate difficult decisions about their health care journey. So, when hiring, we look for empathetic people who are phenomenal communicators," Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, says in a statement.

The Koda team will also use the funds to expand its operations to all 50 states. According to the statement, the team plans to focus on low-resource communities and operating in different languages. When Fofanova spoke with Innovation Map in September, the platform was being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

Koda Health was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship and launched by Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry in March of 2020. The platform uses AI to help patients create advanced medical care directives and documents, such as a living will, through its proprietary machine learning approach.

The pandemic helped show the founders the demand for an accessible and conversational way to help underserved communities prepare for end of life care. According to the team, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user. It is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year.

"Most Medicare beneficiaries can't afford traditional approaches to planning for future care, like estate attorneys and direct to consumer solutions. But these are conversations and legal documents that are fundamental to navigating healthcare," Fofanova continued in the statement. "Koda bridges the clinical and legal divide to make advance care planning easily accessible to everyone."

The company was awarded a prestigious Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation in 2021, which was used to test the platform against phone conversations with 900 patients.

It was also named the inaugural winner of the Henry Ford Health System’s Digital Inclusion Challenge for "its potential to increase equity of access to advance care planning" in October 2021.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Amy Chronis of Deloitte, James Reinstein of Saranas, and Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Health. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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


Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner of Deloitte LLP

The Houston location is one of six Greenhouses in the U.S. and one of 40 around the world. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Co-located with the company's downtown Houston headquarters, the 14,000-square-foot Deloitte Greenhouse is intended to help executives plant and foster new ways of thinking, working, and experimenting in the energy industry.

Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner, at Deloitte LLP, says that as the energy capital of the world, Houston is an ideal location for one of six Greenhouses in the U.S. and one of 40 around the world.

"The oil and gas industry is at a crossroads where business transformation is no longer an option," says Chronis. "We are providing a controlled, safe environment for companies to experiment and test various workforce, technology and market scenarios to help them right-size and future-proof their businesses in this rapidly changing landscape." Click here to read more.

James Reinstein, president and CEO of Saranas

James Reinstein joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what's next for growing medical device company, Saranas. Photo courtesy

When James Reinstein took the helm of Houston-based Saranas in March 2020, he was tasked with taking the medical device company through its series B funding round and into larger clinical trials. Navigating these tasks during a global pandemic wasn't part of the plan.

"There was just so much uncertainty," Reinstein says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "All of the funds didn't know which end was up, what hospitals would be doing, what procedures were going to begin again."

Saranas received FDA approval and began its clinical trials for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System in 2019. The device is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels. Around 20 percent of patients suffer a bleeding complication during endovascular procedures. Click here to read more.

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda Health

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via LinkedIn

Founded by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fofanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fofanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions." Click here to read more.

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston health tech startup using AI in palliative care scores $256,000 grant to test its product

Med tech moves

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fofanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fofanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fofanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fofanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

Here's what Houston startups won prizes at the inaugural Venture Houston conference. Photo via Getty Images

Inaugural Houston Venture startup pitch competition names big winners and doles out nearly $1M

taking home the W

Just a few months ago, Venture Houston 2021 was just an idea. Now, the two-day conference concluded with over 2,500 registrants and doled out nearly $1 million in cash and investment prizes to startups.

The idea was to bring together startups, investors, corporations, and anyone who cares to advance the Houston tech ecosystem, says Sandy Guitar, managing director at HX Venture Fund, at the closing event. The conference, which was put on by HXVF, the Houston Angel Network, the Rice Alliance, and Houston Exponential, wrapped up with the announcement of nine startups taking home investment or cash prizes.

In its first year, the Venture Houston conference attracted over 266 startup applications, and a group of Houston innovation leaders named 30 semifinalists that pitched on Thursday, February 4. On Friday, February 5, seven finalists pitched:

  • Koda Health
  • Spark Biomedical Inc
  • PATH EX, Inc.
  • Conversifi
  • CellChorus
  • MacroFab, Inc.
  • Mainline

The top three startups in the competition took home cash prizes — Macrofab won first place and $15,000 from Halliburton Labs, Spark Biomedical won second place and $10,000 from Softeq, and PathEx won third place and $5,000 from ChampionX.

  • Work & Mother won $250,000 from The Artemis Fund
  • MacroFab won $250,000 — $100,000 from Mercury Fund and $150,000 from Carnrite Ventures
  • Conversifi won $200,000 — $100,000 from Next Coast Ventures and $100,000 from Live Oak Venture Partners
  • Koda Health won $50,000 from Houston Angel Network
  • CellChorus won $50,000 from Texas Halo Fund
  • Nesh won $50,000 from Plug and Play
  • Cemvita Factory won $25,000 from baMa

Two previously announced prizes — $500,000 from Fitz Gate Ventures and $250,000 from Montrose Lane — were not given out.

The Venture Houston organizers are already looking forward to next year's program, but in the meantime Guitar had a parting call to action.

"Keep helping your fellow entrepreneur," she says, "that's really what Venture Houston 2021 is really about at the end of the day. The entrepreneur journey is a difficult one — often a lonely one — and sometimes one of hard knocks. Please keep finding entrepreneurs within your ecosystem. Let's help them with our advice, our capital, and our understanding."

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Houstonian designs new experiences to encourage innovation in students

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 154

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

Part of being an educator is to prepare students for tomorrow, Essama explains, but with rapid technology development and adaption, no one knows what the future will hold for the job market or the world in general. The best way to prepare the future generation of the workforce is to teach them how to innovate, think differently, and adapt to new ways of doing things.

"That's what people are looking for right now — people who can provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems," Essama says on the show.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase.

Strategically, Essama tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem with the intent of showcasing the community.

"Innovation to me is being able to create something that has never been seen or done before — and that has a very important purpose," she says. "Exposing ourselves to innovation and people who think this way — and learning from them —is key to be able to be competitive tomorrow."

Essama says this program is still in the development phase. She's been testing out the concept with fourth graders and now ninth graders. She hopes the full program will be up and running by next fall.

She shares more details about the grant and the future of The Dream Lab on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

fresh funding

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

"Cypress has a decade-long track record of success in helping emerging software and services companies achieve scale," he continues. "It is clear that the team’s collective entrepreneurial and operating experience will be of tremendous benefit to us as we focus on expanding our customer base in a very intentional way.”

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption.

“Scott and his team have built an exceptional business that is poised for dramatic growth,” says Cypress Partner Pat McCaffrey in the release. “HTX Labs’ modern, immersive training solution provides clients with a force multiplier for modernizing training and an unmatched ROI.”

Houston's biggest benefactors gift massive $50M to pivotal Rice University institute

big money

Houston’s most generous couple has once again gifted a massive sum to a local institution. Rich and Nancy Kinder’s Kinder Foundation has donated $50 million to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the organization announced.

The Kinder's generous grant will assist the institute’s focus on what it dubs “inclusive prosperity” — that is, “ensuring that everyone can contribute to Houston's success and share in its opportunities.”

This new grant follows the approximately $30 million he Kinder Foundation previously gifted Rice’s Kinder Institute and its affiliates to facilitate its headquarters.

“Over the past decade, the Kinder Institute has played an integral role in shaping Houston,” said Rich Kinder, chairman of the Kinder Foundation. “However, we can do more to inform and more directly address the challenges our communities face, particularly in the areas of housing, education, economic mobility, health and population research.”

To that end, the Kinders’ funds will ensure the institute can assist its partners regardless of their ability to pay for research. Funds will also help the institute respond to community research needs quickly during times of crisis — such as a catastrophic storm or pandemic — when funds aren’t readily available.

Kinder Institute director Ruth López Turley calls the grant “a gift to all of Houston,” speaking to the institute’s work to improve lives through data, research, engagement and action.

“Inclusive prosperity doesn’t just happen spontaneously,” she noted in a statement. “It requires an explicit effort informed by research. Lots of organizations are working hard to make things better, but most of them have very limited research capacity, and that’s what the Kinder Institute is primed to do.”

Founded in 2010, the institute has evolved into a leader in research, data, and policy analysis of critical issues such as housing, transportation, and education. The institute also releases the familiar Kinder Houston Area Survey, which charts significant changes in the way area residents perceive and understand Houston’s ongoing challenges and opportunities.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.