From startup pitch competitions seeking applications to Houston startups with big news, here are the latest short stories of Houston innovation. Photo courtesy TMC Innovation

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news fresh out of the gate for 2021, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a TMCx startup gets called out by Time Magazine, pitch competitions seek entries for thousands of dollars of investment prizes, and more.

The Cannon closes its acquisition of LetsLaunch

The Cannon has announced that it has has acquired Houston-based crowdfunding startup LetsLaunch. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Last summer, The Cannon, a Houston startup development organization with a network of coworking hubs, announced its plans to acquire a Houston fintech startup, LetsLaunch. The online investment platform allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors and has been connected with The Cannon in the past, and the two entities have even had a partnership arrangement.

As of last week, The Cannon has officially acquired LetsLaunch. The deal allows Cannon member companies access to a new fundraising option.

"The Cannon and LetsLaunch have a shared vision for enabling and optimizing the innovation ecosystem," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "LetsLaunch has passionately developed a technology platform that will deliver significant value to the entrepreneurial community by bringing together start-ups and investors of all kinds. By integrating the LetsLaunch platform into The Cannon's digital offerings, we will enhance the fundraising and strategic connection value we offer to our innovation community."

TMCx startup named to Time's top inventions

A U.K. company that recently participated in TMCx has been honored by Time Magazine. Photo courtesy of TMC

Health tech startup, Virti, which recently completed the Texas Medical Center's startup accelerator, was honored among Time Magazine's top inventions of 2020 in the augmented and virtual reality category.

Virti's artificial intelligence provides its users with instant feedback on training — and, in light of the pandemic, event indicates the right way to wear personal protective equipment, administer treatment, or ventilate a patient. According to a press release, this technology — as compared to traditional face-to-face training — has proven a 230 percent increase in knowledge gain and a 52 percent reduction in skill-fade post-training.

In the United Kingdom, where Virti was founded, the technology has been used to train 100,000 NHS staff, according to the release.

"This achievement rounds off what has been a very exciting year for Virti with significant growth in the United States and internationally building on successful partnerships such as the UK TMC BioBridge through the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT)," says Dr. Alex Young, Virti founder and CEO, in the press release.

Virti has US offices in Houston and the West Coast.

"The evidence is clear — immersive training that simulates real-world situations is more conducive to long-term memory and recall," says Lance Black, associate director of TMC Innovation, in the release. "Virti has unlocked how to provide high quality education to care teams to better prepare them for any situation as evidenced by their rapid adoption within the Texas Medical Center. The recognition by Time further demonstrates that Virti is ushering us into a new era of education and training, one that blurs the line between reality and fiction."

HX Venture Fund calls for Houston startups for pitch competition

The HX Venture Fund is looking for startups to pitch at a new event. Photo via Getty Images

The HX Venture Fund is preparing for two-day summit — called Venture Houston — next month and is looking for local startups to pitch in the conference's pitch competition.

According to the website, HXVF is looking for all pre-seed through series B companies interested in venture backing, and headquartered in Houston and the Gulf Coast Region. The competition has $1.65 million in investment prizes on the line from investors like Fitz Gate Ventures, The Artemis Fund, Montrose Lane (née Cottonwood Venture Partners), Mercury Fund, and more.

The application for the pitch competition is due January 15 and can be submitted online. If selected, startups will pitch during the February 4-5 event. To register for the virtual event, click here.

Validere announces partnership with California company to focus on ESG

Validere has a new partnership. Photo courtesy of Validere

Canadian energy supply chain software company, Validere, which has a growing presence in Houston, has announced a new strategic partnership with California-based Xpansiv. According to a news release, the partnership "enables the registration and transaction of digitized commodity products with embedded Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) attributes that support integration of ESG data into commodity markets."

Validere works with its oil and gas customers to provide tech solutions to connect, track, and audit data, allowing for transparency and optimization. This technology also allows corporations to prioritize ESG initiatives — something Nicole Rogers, senior vice president at Validere, recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss.

"Validere is proud to partner with Xpansiv to provide another pathway to value creation for our customers," Validere CEO Nouman Ahmad says in a news release. "The initiative supports our defining belief that accurate, accessible product-quality data can be used to create multiple forms of value."

Apply now: Capital Factory to host pitch competition for Black entrepreneurs

Capital Factory is hosting its annual Black in Tech event. Getty Images

For the third year, Capital Factory, a Texas-wide startup development organization, is seeking Black entrepreneurs to pitch for a $100,000 prize. The competition, which will be on February 16 during Capital Factory's Black in Tech Summit, will have five technology startup finalists that will be judged by a panel of successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and mentors. One startup will take home a $100,000 prize.

The application deadline is January 22, and any startups with a Black founder can apply online. For more information on the summit and the competition, click here.

The Cannon has announced plans to acquire Houston-based crowdfunding startup LetsLaunch. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneurial hub set to acquire local fintech startup

growth stage

The Cannon, a Houston startup development organization with a network of coworking hubs, has announced its plans to acquire a Houston fintech startup.

LetsLaunch, an online investment platform that allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors, has been connected with The Cannon in the past, and the two entities have even had a partnership arrangement. Now, The Cannon has plans to acquire LetsLaunch in order to provide Cannon member companies with the fundraising option.

"The Cannon and LetsLaunch have a shared vision for enabling and optimizing the innovation ecosystem," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "LetsLaunch has passionately developed a technology platform that will deliver significant value to the entrepreneurial community by bringing together start-ups and investors of all kinds. By integrating the LetsLaunch platform into The Cannon's digital offerings, we will enhance the fundraising and strategic connection value we offer to our innovation community."

Lambert says the opportunity to provide The Cannon's members this opportunity to fundraise comes at an important time.

"Fundraising in the COVID-19/Post COVID-19 era is, and is likely to remain, a bit of an unknown," he continues in the release. "Adding another viable funding channel for the startups in our community who are ready for investment will be a valued benefit for our members and will provide us exposure to a whole new group of entrepreneurial investors."

The terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but it is expected to close in June 2020. The transaction remains subject to customary closing conditions and approvals.

"We built LetsLaunch to provide broad segments of the population with a mechanism to invest in startups, while giving startups another source of capital," says Nick Carnrite, who co-founded LetsLaunch in 2018, in the release. "Crowdfunding will always remain at LetsLaunch's core, but it also became clear we had a role to play in connecting the innovation community, including startups, investors, advisors, mentors and service providers, based on their location, interests and preferences."

According to the release, the acquisition falls in line with both companies' missions to help develop an ecosystem of resources for startups.

"[LetsLaunch's] vision is completely complementary to The Cannon's goal to develop a tightly integrated innovation ecosystem," adds Brian Coyle, co-founder of LetsLaunch. "There is no better time to work together to help support private businesses."

Lawson Gow, CEO and founder of The Cannon, has officially opened cut the ribbon on the West Houston startup incubation hub. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon Houston makes grand debut with live fundraising and immersive activities

Open for business

The coworking and acceleration hub that's been holding down the Houston innovation ecosystem's West Houston presence has officially cut the ribbon and celebrated its grand opening.

Just hours after announcing The Downtown Launch Pad on October 24, The Cannon Houston celebrated the grand opening of its 120,0000-square-foot home at 1334 Brittmoore Road. The party welcomed over 600 innovators, Cannon members, and visitors.

Founder and CEO, Lawson Gow, who is also the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, cut the ribbon on the new building that houses over 250 companies and is nearly sold out for leasing opportunities.

"It's been incredible watching The Cannon come to life since it was a drawing on a whiteboard," says Gow in a news release. "There are far too many people to thank — from the first community members that joined us in The Waiting Room more than 18 months ago, the numerous partners, investors, ecosystem members and resources that have helped us get where we are today, all the way to our new members who patiently waited for the space to open."

Gow's "Waiting Room" building is still in existence adjacent to the new building — the landlord of the property is operating it, but Cannon companies have all moved in to the new facility.

The grand opening event showcased all the startups and entrepreneurs based in The Cannon, plus hosted mental breaks — with free massages and cuddles with dogs — and other activities like poker and pingpong.

One Cannon-based startup, LetsLaunch, even hosted a live pitch event for a few of the companies using its digital investment platform, including: Camppedia, Social Chains, Pill Golf, and Paylight. Since the live pitch last week, LetsLaunch has seen a $21,000 increase of investment online.

While The Cannon team is settled, the organization already has growth and expansion in the works.

"Each person had a major part in getting us where we are today," Gow says. "We knew that Houston was in desperate need of a resource like this and are thankful to be able to build this community and fulfill our mission of supporting Houston's entrepreneurs."

Off with a blast

Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

The Cannon welcomed in over 600 members, staff, and guests into its new home on Thursday, October 24.

From credit to crowdfunding, startups have more cash flow options now than ever before. Getty Images

Houston small business finance panel lays out funding options for startups

Follow the money

When it comes to raising money for your startup, there's plenty of fish in the sea, however, navigating the rough waters can be difficult.

Houston Community College put on a Small Business Summit on June 13 and gathered a group of financial professionals to represent several types of funding options, from venture capital to microlending.

Crowdfunding

The crowdfunding game has changed, says Rhian Davies, business development manager for LetsLaunch, an equity-based crowdfunding tool.

While most people think that donation-based crowdfunding — like GoFundMe or Kickstarter that give you the product or thank-you gift when you give — are the only options, that's not the case. And, investing using these platforms doesn't mean anything to you if the company sees success.

"If it makes it big, you're not going to get anything back," says Davies of these types of platforms.

But the JOBS Act in 2012 changed everything. Now, companies fundraising on crowdfunding sites can trade in equity for funds.

"Previously, investments were reserved for wealthy individuals — accredited individuals — who had a certain amount of money could invest in businesses," says Davies. "Equity crowdfunding opened that up."

With crowdfunding, you can also run other types of fundraising efforts at the same time, spreading out your options.

"It allows (the community) to invest in your business and it allows you to pass the hat and have people come on board," Davies says.

The other benefit to using the LetsLaunch platform is the team assists the startups every step of the way, from uploading a digital pitch deck onto the LetsLaunch platform and preparing paperwork to filing with the SEC.

However, one of the major challenges for startups is deciding what their funding goal is. Davies says you do have to hit a certain funding goal to be able to take that cash home, and for LetsLaunch, they look for that figure to be $10,000 minimum. Anything less than that isn't worth it — from both the LetsLaunch and the startup's perspective. The maximum value for equity crowdfunding is capped at just over $1 million — per the SEC.

Venture capital

VC funding is where most people's minds go when it comes to startup funding. And this type of funding is in an evolution phase too, says Remington Tonar, managing director at The Cannon Houston. While traditional VCs want a three-times return in five to seven years, some firms have more on their minds then just the money.

"There's a new phenomenon in venture where a lot of early stage investors and angel investors are looking at social impact investing," Tonar says. "They want to invest in women- or minority-owned businesses or companies that have a sustainability or social impact component to them. For those investors, the return demands are much more flexible."

Not only are they more flexible on returns, but VCs want more hands-on roles at the companies they invest in. Tonar says venture capitalists don't want to give passive capital.

Another way VCs differ from other types of funding is they are looking for something different in the companies they invest in — they want the next big thing.

"What venture capitalists really look for is disruptive business that are creating value in news ways," Tonar says.

And investments can be industry agnostic — VCs aren't reserved to just tech and computing industries.

"Most people would not have thought the hotel industry was a great industry for venture capital until Airbnb came along," says Tonar. "Most people would not have thought that taxis were a great industry for venture capital until Uber came along."

Fundraising through VC firms is a very personal process — they are investing in you, the founder, just as much as they are investing in the company or idea, Tonar says. You can have a horrible credit history or have declared bankrupt in the past, and while they will find that out, it's not a dealbreaker like it would be for a bank or traditional loan process.

"But if the investor feels that the idea has value and can create value and meets their risk profile, they will look at your startup and go through their due diligence process."

Microlending

A new trend in funding options is microlending — a type of loan process that caps out at $50,000. Lisa Riley is Houston market president for LiftFund, one of the largest microlenders in the United States.

Since the amount is smaller, the risk is smaller too. The type of customer LiftFund looks for is the person or company that's been denied by other banks.

"It's not always because of something negative with the customer," Riley says. "There are certain industries where it's very difficult to get finance right now."

Just like the trend in VCs, these types of lenders want to be hands on too to help secure success and a return.

"The last thing we want to be is another monthly obligation or a debt — the noose around someone's neck suffocating their small business," Riley says. "We want to make sure and walk with you and hold your hand as long as you'll hold mine so that when we give you your loan it's the right amount for your business and the right time."

Traditional loans and factoring

Of course, conventional loans is still an option, as is factoring — the process in which a business sells its accounts receivables to a third-party entity, called a factor.

Peter Ellen, senior vice president at Amegy Bank, explains the process as being pretty traditional. His bank wants to see a secure and profitable business on trach for growth.

"Typically, we look for a business that's been established for two years, that has generated a profit, and can show a clear path of repayment," Ellen says.

Again, like other funding options, Ellen says a relationship with the company is important.

"That's really what we look to do, is to form a relationship at an early stage with a company, really understand what they do, and help assist in the growth and success of their company," he says.

SBA loans

SBA loans are another lending option for startups to consider, Aziz Rahim, senior vice president at Wallis Bank, explains.

Different from a traditional loan process, SBA loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Association up to 85 percent, which lowers the risk for then lending partner.

Other benefits to SBA loans are lower down payments, generous term lengths, and caps on interest rates.

"The good thing about SBA loans compared to conventional loans is SBA loans do not balloon," Rahim says.

From a free workspace competition at The Cannon to a tech company's big acquisition, here are some Houston innovation short stories. Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston tech co. makes acquisition, free coworking space contest launches, and more innovation news

Short stories

It's easy to miss some of Houston's innovation news — there's quite a lot coming out across town. From contests launching out of The Cannon to a Houston tech company making a major acquisition, here are some quick news stories you need to know.

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Onit Inc.makes acquisition

Houston-based contract management software company, Onit Inc., announced the acquisition of SimpleLegal, another legal services software company. The terms of the deal were not made public.

"Onit and SimpleLegal share both a passion for both disrupting the legal technology space and valuing product innovation," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a release. "Our shared commitment to elevate legal operations technology is an asset for all of our customers – from rapidly growing startups with their first in-house counsel all the way to the largest, most complex organizations. Together, our goal is to help all legal operations professionals achieve operational excellence on their legal technology journey."

According to the release, all product, support and services will go on without any interruption for customers of both companies. Elfman will serve as the CEO of the merged organization, and Nathan Wenzel, who was the CEO and co-founder of SimpleLegal, has been named the general manager of SimpleLegal.

"Today, corporations spend more than $160 billion on their in-house legal teams. The combination of Onit and SimpleLegal is a game-changer for the legal market and the future of legal operations," says Wenzel in the release. "Our teams are uniquely equipped to help shape the technology that is powering legal departments worldwide. Together, we're looking forward to combining efforts and talent to build and bring to market the next generation of legal operations technology."

The Cannon and Insperity launch startup competition

The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot space is on track to open this summer. Courtesy of The Cannon

The Insperity Innovation Scholarship is back — this time the prize of 6 months of free office space inside The Cannon means the new, 120,000-square-foot space that's set to open in West Houston very soon.

"We are so excited that Insperity has chosen to bring back this year's Innovation Scholarship and will be rewarding another lucky Houston area startup with space in our brand new building," says The Cannon's founder and CEO, Lawson Gow, in a release. "As one of our original partners, we are looking forward to another year of working with Insperity to fulfill a mission that we share — providing Houston area startups with all the resources they need to succeed and establish Houston as an exceptional place to start your business." (Gow is the son of InnovationMap's CEO.)

The applications are open from now until June 5. The finalists will be notified on June 7. All of the finalists will pitch their company to a panel of judges on June 13. Companies based in the Houston area with 3 to 8 employees are eligible. Startups can apply here.

New-to-Houston coworking concept in CITYCENTRE breaks ground

FUSE Dynamic Workspace just announced its new 26,000-square-foot project coming to CITYCENTRE. Photo via workfuse.com

The construction process has officially started this month for Texas-based FUSE Dynamic Workspace's second location in CITYCENTRE. The complex will consist of 26,000 square feet of coworking space in two buildings connected by a bridge, and include an additional 5,000 square feet across four outdoor terraces. The space will have 95 private offices, a coworking café and lounge, dedicated desks, and conference space for up to 100 people.

FUSE strives to provide business professional amenities while also giving back to its community. The first location was in Prosper, Texas.

re:3D wins over $700,000 grant

After just opening a new factory and community space, re:3D was awarded a large grant. Courtesy of re:3D

Houston-based re:3D, which just opened its new 7,000-square-foot community space and factory, recently won a six-figure grant from the National Science Foundation.

The SBIR Phase II grant is for $749,111 to further commercialize the company's Gigabot and increase maker manufacturing through 3D printing with reclaimed plastic and direct drive pellet extrusion, according to an email sent to re:3D's community.

Griddy grows with new partnership

Griddy Energy enables customer pricing transparency. Photo via gogriddy.com

Griddy Energy has signed a strategic partnership with EDF Trading Ltd — a subsidiary of low-carbon energy group EDF Group. Through this partnership, EDF will provide support to Griddy as it expands its services.

"We're thrilled to announce this deal because our focus has always been saving Texans money by connecting them directly to the grid for wholesale electricity rates. This partnership means we can bring the power of wholesale to far more people," Greg Craig, CEO of Griddy, says in a release, "In 2018, Texans paid a combined $20 billion to REPs. Had Texans paid wholesale last year, they would have paid just $14 billion. That means Texans overpaid by a staggering $6 billion last year. Our goal is to get as much of that money back into the hands of Texans in the form of savings — and this partnership with EDF will allow us to do just that."

Griddy, which has a huge presence in Texas, provides customers wholesale electricity prices and promises to be open, honest, and transparent. Rather than charging inflated rates, the company only makes a profit from the $9.99 monthly membership fees. Everything else is at cost — no margins, hidden fees, or break fees. Read more about Griddy here.

LetsLaunch and The Cannon team up ahead of a live fundraising event

LetsLaunch, a Houston-based fundraising platform, has teamed up with The Cannon. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Fundraising for your company could be stressful, but exciting. Now, imaging that process taking place at an event in a face-to-face capacity. LetsLaunch and The Cannon have teamed up to put on a live fundraising event — think of it like a online fundraising platform meets a cocktail party.

The event is set for June 15, and LetsLaunch is taking applications for potential participating startups until May 24. Apply here.

These three Houstonians have a lot up their sleeves for their companies. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's three Houston entrepreneurs are all about improving access for startups — either to capital or to resources — and that's no small undertaking in a market like Houston. With its urban sprawl and large population, Houston's been considered to have a connectivity problem. Luckily, these three folks have solutions.

Grace Rodriguez, executive director and co-founder of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez is the co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Grace Rodriguez has been working to launch Impact Hub Houston for a while now, but her and her team's moment has come. For Rodriguez, the goal is to both advance Houston startups, as well as the innovation ecosystem as a whole.

"Our real vision is to help Houston become a role model for how the world solves the most pressing issues," she says. "We want to show the rest of the world that Houston has the talent, expertise, insight, and resources to solve issues around the world." Read more about Rodriguez and Impact Hub Houston here.

Nicolas Carnrite, co-founder of LetsLaunch

Nicolas Carnrite founded LetsLaunch to improve access to funding. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Something didn't add up for Nicolas Carnrite. The opportunity to invest in companies was limited to such a small percentage of the population.

"There's something like 30 million people globally that have a $1 million net worth, which is the definition of being an accredited investor," Carnrite says. "Thirty million people out of 7.7 billion, so it's a little less than half a percentage."

This translated into an opportunity to create LetsLaunch, a securities investment online platform that democratizes investment. The Houston company has taken it a step further in its recent partnership with The Cannon. Read more about this partnership here.

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed

Youngro Lee NextSeed

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed, wants to create a connection between business and their communities. Courtesy of NextSeed

Thanks to a recent SEC accreditation, Youngro Lee is now able to announce that his Houston online fundraising platform, NextSeed, is a broker-dealer. The platform, which has helped the likes of Buffalo Bayou Brewery and The Waffle Bus raise thousands of capital dollars, is now able to offer its community more investment opportunities. Read more about what the deal means for the company here.

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

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 esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.