Here's your latest roundup of Houston startup and innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

We're on the other side of the hill that is Houston's summer, but the Bayou City's still hot in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a Houston venture capital fund has made its latest investment, a hydrogen startup has raised fresh funding, accelerators open apps, and more.

Houston hydrogen startup closes $25M series B

This hydrogen company has fresh funding. Photo via utility.global

Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, has closed its series B round of funding to the tune of $25 million, Axios reports.

Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners led the round. Other participating investors included: Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco.

Utility Global, founded in 2018, has developed a clean hydrogen solution. The proprietary tech — called the eXERO Technology Platform — includes a zero electricity process that converts sustainable waste streams into high-purity hydrogen. Additionally, the company developed its H2Gen Product Line that delivers customers reliable, low carbon, and high purity hydrogen, which offers unparalleled feedstock flexibility and highly competitive economics.

"Leveraging our industry-first eXERO™ Process, Utility Global is expanding into numerous industrial sectors," reads the company's website. "Whether it's next-gen fueling, green chemicals, or sustainable steel, Utility Global's products can meet your needs. Our ultra-high-purity hydrogen is also ideal for the electronics, food, and glass industries. In the steel industry, our waste-to-hydrogen offering converts waste-gases into pure hydrogen, enabling decarbonization of the steel making process.

Houston female-focused VC fund leads round of fintech company

The Artemis Fund — led by Diana Murakhovskaya, Leslie Goldman, and Stephanie Campbell — has announced its latest investment. Courtesy photos

Houston-based Artemis Fund — a women-led, female-focused venture capital fund, has released information on its latest investment. The firm announced it has led the seed funding round for Los Angeles-based Payverse, a payment processor focusing on enabling global commerce via emerging technologies.

The round also saw participation from Alpha Ascent Ventures, Frank Mastrangelo, Mary Wieler, and Jonathan Palmer. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP represented Artemis in the deal.

“The Artemis Fund invests in phenomenal female talent modernizing and diversifying wealth. Payverse is poised to transform the payments industry by making it easier and more cost-effective for businesses and consumers to transact globally," says Stephanie Campbell, general partner at The Artemis Fund, in a news release. "We are proud to lead the company’s seed round which includes other top FinTech experts and industry leaders."

Houston public service professional accelerator opens applications for its second cohort

HTXelerator is gearing up for its second cohort. Photo via HoustonTX.gov

With its mission to identify and prepare future-focused leaders for public service, specifically boards, commissions, and city council, HTXelerator, a nonprofit that launched last fall, has opened applications for the second cohort. The three-month program trains class members on the nuts and bolts of city government and ends with a competition known as The Pitch, which enables each participant to put forward a policy platform for a hypothetical race.

“The Houston region continues to grow and subsequently so does the need for public leadership to reflect the city’s dynamic diversity," says Renee Cross, senior director at the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs, in a news release. "HTXelerator will allow people with an interest in public service to learn from experts in government, non-profit organizations, academia and the private sector. Whether pursuing a leadership position or running for office, HTXelerator graduates will be ahead of the game.”

Applications are due by August 22, and the cohort members will be announced by August 29. There is no fee to apply, but the program costs $250 per participant. Scholarships are available for those that need assistance. The program kicks off with a weekend retreat September 10 and 11 and ends with The Pitch competition on December 7.

Houston startup partners with pet tech giant

Wag, Robinhood, and DonateStock have teamed up on a new initiative. Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Houston-based DonateStock, a fintech platform that easily enables stock-based donations, has been adopted by Wag, a mobile-first marketplace for pet services. The company, which also struck a deal with Robinhood. Through these partnerships, the company has launched its Wag! Community Shares Program, a new method of charitable giving for the community of pet caregivers and for domestic pet nonprofit organizations, according to a news release.

Through its SPAC, CHW Acquisition Corp., Wag! will reserve up to 300,000 shares of common stock for the program, to be arranged through and administered by Robinhood. The company goes into more details — including information on how to participate — in the release.

“We are excited to play a key role in this ground-breaking initiative to use common stock to support domestic pet nonprofits at scale,” says Steve Latham, CEO and co-founder of DonateStock, in the release. “Our mission is to democratize charitable stock gifting. By allocating stock to more than 500 pet nonprofits, Wag! is expanding the definition of what that means.”

Annual business competition lifts off

Houston business competition opens applications

Small businesses in Houston can apply for the annual Liftoff Houston competition. Photo via liftoffhouston.smapply.org

The city of Houston's annual business plan competition has kicked off. Liftoff Houston is an entrepreneurial initiative aimed at empowering Houston entrepreneurs mentorship and business support and education.The program's sponsor, Capital One Bank, provides cash prizes totaling $30,000.

To be eligible for the startup program, the applicant:

  • Must be in the start-up phase of your business, which means you either must have a business idea or have a business in operation for less than one year
  • Must have revenue of less than $10,000
  • Must live within the city of Houston limits. Also, if you have a business location, it must be within the city of Houston limits.

Participants can also apply for the 2022 Liftoff Houston Educational Pathway. There are no eligibility requirements for that program, which will support small businesses and provide access to workshops and the final competition event.

There will be three award categories: product, service, and innovation.

  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Product” Based Business Plan (Retail, resale, merchandise, etc.)
  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Service” Based Business Plan (Food, labor, consulting, etc.)
  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Innovation” Based Business Plan (Software, Hardware, inventions, new market businesses, etc.)

The competition will open applications online on July 27 and close August 19. The full schedule is online.

Applications are now open for Liftoff Houston. Photo courtesy of the City of Houston

City of Houston's startup competition takes off with $30,000 up for grabs

ready for liftoff

The applications for the 2021 Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition opened this week and local businesses have less than a month to get their submissions in for a chance to be one of three companies to take home seed funds.

"I am excited to see what business ideas and concepts this year's contestants will bring to the table," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release from the city. "We are grateful for Capital One Bank's commitment to helping Houstonians make their small business dreams come true. I encourage all aspiring entrepreneurs not to miss out on this wonderful opportunity that will help move our economy and city forward."

Liftoff Houston, sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library and the Office of Business Opportunity, aims to empower Houston entrepreneurs through workshops and coaching sessions that take place from August through October. The program will name winners in three categories – service, product, and innovation – and award each $10,000 in seed money from Capital One Bank. Applications close Monday, Aug. 2.

"Startup businesses play a critical role in our City's economic future," says Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Lawson in the release. "The Houston Public Library is pleased to support their development by providing access to free and vital business and investment reference resources, market research, state of the art technology equipment with high-speed Wi-Fi, and other valuable services such as fax and copy services and space for meetings and trainings."

The program, which has been supporting startups in town for almost a decade, has had over 12,623 participants and doled out more than $240,000 in prize money from Capital One Bank.

Liftoff Houston is looking for applicants who live and operate their business within the Houston city limits. Other requirements include:

  • must be a for-profit business
  • must be in operation for less than one year
  • must have verifiable revenue that does not exceed $10,000

If not selected for the program, applicants have the option to participate in the Liftoff Houston Educational Pathway, which offers access to all the business education opportunities provided by the program, but without the pitching component.

"Liftoff Houston will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and information about how to successfully start your business, and the Office of Business Opportunity is also available to assist," says Office of Business Opportunity Director Marsha Murray in the release. "I encourage contestants to connect with us for a host of free resources at our 'one stop business center' where you can receive guidance on business permitting, licenses, one-on-one business counseling, legal assistance and much more. These services can certainly supplement the learnings offered by Liftoff Houston, and assist contestants on their entrepreneurship journeys."

Past participants include:

For more information and to apply, interested parties can visit the website.

Texans see need for telemedicine amid the pandemic, Liftoff Houston has launched applications, ChipMonk Bakery is growing, and more of the latest Houston innovation news. Getty Images

Startups raise funds, Houston biz contest opens apps, and more innovation news

Short stories

From health-conscious cookies reaching fundraising goals to a Houston-wide business competition, the Bayou City's innovation news is pretty diverse.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of startup and tech short stories, there's everything from telemedicine, fundraising, and more.

Houston baking startup raises money after finding its new home

ChipMonk Baking Company, a consumer packaged goods startup focused on healthy dessert options, has met its goal of $150,000. Photo courtesy of ChipMonk

Houston-based ChipMonk Baking Company, which recently found a new home in a new dedicated production facility, has reached its goal on its investment round on NextSeed.

ChipMonk, which was founded last year to create sweets that use sweeteners monk fruit and allulose for health-conscious consumers, will soon operate in a 2,300-square-foot space at 3042 Antoine Dr. The space is strictly for baking, storage, etc. and will not have a storefront.

Co-founders Jose Hernandez and David Downing have seen a spike in demand since the start of the pandemic, which increased the need to upgrade from shared kitchen space.

"The stay-at-home environment has encouraged many people to think more about their health and to start cooking and baking more at home. We've been able to offer a delicious option that fits perfectly in this growing trend," says Downing, who also serves as CEO.

ChipMonk's lease begins next month, and, to fund its growth plans, the company launched a its campaign on NextSeed. In just a couple weeks, the startup met its fundraising goal of $150,000.

Cancer nonprofit moves into new space

The Rose has a new facility to better serve patients. Photos courtesy of The Rose

The Rose, a Houston-based breast cancer nonprofit that provides medical services to 40,000 patients annually, has moved into its new space at 6575 West Loop South, suite 275, in May.

"We know this location will allow us to better serve our community," says Dorothy Gibbons, co-founder and CEO of The Rose, in a news release. "During this time of the pandemic, we've added so many safety precautions and will continue to space appointments to allow social distancing. Most of all we want our patients to feel safe and welcome from the moment they walk through our door."

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, data reports have shown a drop in routine health care, like cervical and breast cancer screenings. Gibbons says the drop in these appointments is concerning and those who postpone routine screening or diagnostic testing could be at risk for developing later stage breast cancer.

"Our message to our patients is breast cancer is not going to wait until this pandemic is over; neither should you. With the projected increase in uninsured women, due to so many job losses, The Rose has to be ready to serve. Now more than ever, we depend on our insured patients to help cover the care for uninsured patients," she says.

Houston business competition opens applications

Small businesses in Houston have until August 10 to apply for the annual Liftoff Houston competition. Photo via liftoffhouston.smapply.org

The city of houston's annual business plan competition, Liftoff Houston, has opened applications. The program, which is sponsored by Capital One Bank, is looking for companies and will award winners in three categories: Product, service, and innovation

Each business that wins will receive a $10,000 cash prize. The competition is focused on early stage startups with revenue less than $10,000 and must have only been in business for less than a year. The companies also must be based in Houston.

Applicants can submit their information online to be considered for the contest. The deadline to apply is August 10.

TMCx company closes $1.53 million seed round

Manatee

Manatee has raised funds for its digital therapy platform. Photo via getmanatee.com

Manatee, a health tech startup based in Denver that was a member of this year's TMCx cohort, has announced it closed its seed funding round at $1.53 million. The company, which provides digital solutions to therapy for children, closed the round at the end of June.

Michigan-based Grand Ventures led the raise and invested alongside The American Family Insurance Institute (AmFam), Telosity, SpringTime Ventures, and notable health care entrepreneurs, Danish Munir, Luke Leninger, and Johnathan Weiner, according to information emailed by Manatee representative.

"Manatee was the first solution we found that really understood kids and their unique needs," says Christopher Neuharth, executive director of digital health and experience at Children's Wisconsin. "They got the dynamics between the child, parent, and therapist – and how to influence behavior change."

Accenture study finds COVID-19 has been a gamechanger for telemedicine

Houston medical organizations pivot to telemedicine and remote care amid COVID-19 crisis

An Accenture study found that most Texans are seeking telehealth amid the pandemic. Getty Images

According to a recent study from Accenture, 89 percent of Texas consumers want telehealth options — and the COVID-19 pandemic deserves the credit for the increased interest.

According to a press release from the company, the research found that:

  • One-fourth of Texans surveyed said they first learned about virtual health care following the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • The number of Texans who said they know a little or a lot about virtual health care increased 25 percent following the outbreak.
  • Approximately nine in 10 Texans surveyed after the pandemic began believe that virtual care options should be available to everyone.

The widespread stay-at-home orders exposed Texans to virtual health care and left a positive impression on receiving care remotely. For instance:

  • An estimated 4.5 million state residents began using virtual health care services since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) of Texans said they trust a virtual health visit as much as or more than an in-person visit—a 15 percent uptick from the pre-pandemic period.
  • Six out of seven remote-care patients (86 percent) who have continued to use virtual care options during the pandemic said their experience after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak was better or the same as before, and three-quarters (76 percent) said their wait time was shorter or the same.

"A lot of Texans got a taste for what it's like to see their physicians and specialists from the safety and comfort of their home," says Mark Olney, a managing director in Accenture's health practice and the study's lead author. "Now patients are eager to get more of that access, convenience and time savings."

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Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

Texas startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.