Here's who won big for Houston innovation. Photos courtesy

In a virtual awards program, Houston Exponential has revealed the winners of the inaugural Listies awards.

The Listies, brought to you by Houston Exponential in partnership with InnovationMap, named the winning companies and people across 12 awards on November 20 at 3 pm as a part of Impact Hub's annual The Houston Innovation Summit (THIS).

Nominations were open until Friday, November 6, and then a group of judges made up of members of the Houston innovation ecosystem reviewed the submissions to settle on the 38 finalists. Click here to see the finalists.

Here's who took home the big wins.

SDO Superstar: MassChallenge Texas

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

A startup development organization can be an accelerator program, an incubator, or a coworking space — and organizations falling into all three of these sectors were nominated for this category. MassChallenge Texas, which has been running its non-equity, general accelerator program in Houston for two years, stood out to judges to take the win for the SDO Superstar category.

Individual Contributor: Slawek Omylski of SecurityGate

Photo via LinkedIn

The individual contributor award was meant to find and recognize a non-founder who was essential to the success of a Houston startup, and that's exactly how SecurityGate's team sees Slawek Omylski, director of engineering. Not only has he been essential from the start over three years ago when he joined as employee No. 4, but Omylski, when unexpectedly having to move back home to Italy, never missed a single meeting or tech deployment despite being an ocean away from the rest of his team. Known as "Suave" by his teammates, his nominators say Omylski is usually the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave.

Civic Innovation: Annapurna Solutions

Image viaannapurnasolutions.org

Everyone knows that the key to sustainability is reducing, reusing, and recycling, but the fact of the matter is no one has quite perfected recycling. Houston-based Annapurna Solutions is stepping in to help. The company provides innovative technology solutions to address waste and recycling challenges, helping to make cities smart and sustainable — like the company's ReciklApp.

Welcome to Houston: Greentown Labs

Photo via greentownlabs.com

Greentown Labs is a startup development organization, but it's are also a startup itself, but when it opens its doors in Houston in the spring, the organization isn't starting from scratch. After years of working with over 200 climatech companies in the Boston area, Greentown's expansion into Houston means incubating Houston energy tech companies and furthering the conversation and activation within the energy transition.

Investor of the Year: Integr8d Capital

Photo via TMC.edu

John "J.R." Reale has been a well respected mentor, entrepreneur, and investor in Houston for years. His firm Integr8d Capital has invested in several Houston companies, including Liongard from seed stage to series A and series B. Reale is also the entrepreneur in residence for the TMC Innovation Institute.

Corporate Innovator: Houston Methodist

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston Methodist and its Center for Innovation led by Roberta Schwartz is leading health tech innovation in Houston. In January, the hospital opened its Technology Hub, 3,500-square-foot space renovated from a former 18-room patient wing to showcase and test new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, and more. Additionally, the hub helped with the training of dozens of doctors with the rise of telemedicine during COVID-19.

Outstanding Leadership: Grace Rodriguez

Photo courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Grace Rodriguez's career spans industry and time, but her leadership has been consistent throughout. She currently serves Impact Hub Houston as CEO and executive director. Her nominator calls her an inspiration and someone who "shows up," clearly loving everything she does and is responsible. During COVID-19, she's gone above and beyond to provide resources and information to everyone who needs it, including launching a fund to help pay for meals for health care workers and first responders. The LIFE Fund raised over $20,000.

COVID Phoenix: Luminare

Image via luminaremed.com

Originally founded by Dr. Sarma Velamuri to treat and fight sepsis, Luminare took its sepsis platform and pivoted it to created a COVID self-assessment and testing tool. Their digital platform directed 5.5 million people to COVID-19 testing sites in just 21 days, according to its nomination. The tool was used by Harris County and several other entities.

DEI Champion: Maria Maso

Photo courtesy of Nijalon Dunn

Maria Maso is looking out for minorities when it comes to investment. As the founder and CEO of the Business Angel Minority Association (baMa) — an Angel Association aimed at bridging minority-founded startups with accesses to capital — Maria has been a champion for diversity. She also has helped to educate and activate 40 diverse investors through baMa's Diversity Investor Academy, according to her nomination.

Mentor of the Year: Landi Spearman

Photo via LinkedIn

Landi Spearman's approach to mentorship, according to her nominee, is to mentor the full person — from professional to personal life — through Organized SHIFT, which focuses on helping highly productive leaders, individuals and organizations in their quest to sustain positive growth internally and externally. She also supports entrepreneurs though The Ion, Station Houston, General Assembly, the National Urban League, Power to Fly, Black Women in Science and Engineering, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston Black Chamber, Pink Petro, and more.

People's Choice and Soonicorn: Liongard

Photos via LinkedIn

People's Choice was based off how many nominations the startups received, and Liongard was a clear winner. The company, which also won in the Soonicorn category, has experienced major growth and, as the nominations read, that's to both Joe Alapat and Vincent Tran, co-founders, credit. The company has raised $12 million to date — the most recent round, a $10 million Series A — closed this year.

Houston Exponential has announced the 38 finalists for the inaugural Listies Awards. Photo via Getty Images

Exclusive: HX names finalists for inaugural Houston innovation awards

the listies go to...

Ever wonder what Houston startups and innovators are the best of the best? Here's your chance to figure it out. The inaugural Listies awards program has named its finalists.

The Listies, brought to you by Houston Exponential in partnership with InnovationMap, will name the winning companies and people across 12 awards on November 20 at 3 pm at a virtual event as a part of Impact Hub's annual The Houston Innovation Summit (THIS). Click here to register for the free event.

Nominations were open until Friday, November 6, and then a group of judges made up of members of the Houston innovation ecosystem reviewed the submissions to settle on the finalists. Below, in alphabetical order, the 38 finalists are listed for each category.

DEI champion

  • Heath Butler
  • Maria Maso
  • Grace Rodriguez

Individual contributor

  • Michael Matthews
  • Slawek Omylski
  • Brad True

Mentor of the year

  • Keith Kreuer
  • Wade Pinder
  • Landi Spearman

Outstanding leadership

  • Stephanie Campbell
  • Grace Rodriguez
  • Roberta Schwartz

Corporate innovation

  • Chevron Technology Ventures
  • Houston Methodist
  • Shell Ventures

Investor of the year

  • CSL Capital Management
  • Golden Section VC (GSTVC)
  • Integr8d Capital

SDO superstar

  • MassChallenge Houston
  • Rice Alliance
  • TMCx

Welcome to Houston

  • Greentown Labs
  • TestCard
  • Win-Win

Civic engagement

  • Annapurna
  • Luminare
  • McMac Cx

COVID pivot/phoenix

  • Luminare
  • re:3D
  • sEATz

People choice

  • INK
  • Liongard
  • Luminare
  • re:3D
  • Topl

Soonicorn

  • GoExpedi
  • Liongard
  • Medical Informatics Corp.
HX Venture Fund recently hosted a virtual panel on how the tide has turned in Houston when it comes to tech investment. Getty Images

Overheard: Experts discuss why Houston is the next hub for tech investing

eavesdropping in Houston

When Joe Alapat, co-founder and CEO of Liongard, was first getting started on his company, he says a few people recommended he go to Austin or one of the coasts to give his software company a better chance.

"For me, the thought process never really entered my mind that Houston was a place where I would be challenged in doing what I do well. My network is here," Alapat shared on a virtual panel hosted by the HX Venture Fund.

Turns out, it was a good decision. Liongard recently closed a $17 million series B round led by Updata Partners, a portfolio fund of HXVF. Moderated by Brian Richards of Accenture's Houston innovation hub, the panel asked Alapat, Sandy Guitar of HXVF, and Carter Griffin of Updata why Houston is the next hub for tech investing. Here are some key moments from the discussion.

“We’re cautious when we go into places — like Austin and Boston — where there’s a lot of activity both on the company side and the investor side. We’d rather find the opportunities where things aren’t as competitive and frothy, and you’re really dealing with people trying to build a real business, serve customers, and build value in the right way, and not just catch lightning in a bottle and build the next unicorn.”

—says Griffin about Updata's strategy of looking at cities like Houston in the middle of the country.

“A lot has changed in the past couple of years — the thought process, the awareness, as well as the willingness for folks to think about Houston as a place where you can build a startup.”

— says Alapat about how Houston's startup ecosystem has evolved since he started Liongard in 2015. He later notes that Houston's innovation leaders have done well to not copy other metros, but listen and learn from the successes and mistakes of other innovation cities.

“There was this feeling that we needed to be uniquely Houston — we couldn’t replicate Silicon Valley or Austin, we needed to be us. But we were going to have to do things differently. We couldn’t keep doing the same things and expecting this [change.]”

— Richard says, noting the corporate mindset, among other aspects of the ecosystem, shifted to be more focused on startups.

“The VCs are very interested in engaging in this model. So, we’re spoiled for choices is one way of saying it.”

— Guitar says on interest from venture funds in HXVF, noting that the VCs see an opportunity for their portfolio startups to connect with HXVF's corporate partners.

The HX Venture Fund reached a proof point of its model — one that arrived much earlier than expected. Getty Images

Houston's fund of funds expands its portfolio and team after reaching benchmark with local investment

money moves

When a Houston software startup closed a $17 million series B funding round, it was a big win for more than just the startup. Not only was the deal among the few Houston venture capital deals to happen amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but it represented a proof of concept for Houston's fund of funds.

The HX Venture Fund was founded in October of 2018 to encourage investment into local startups by raising corporate funds and investing into a portfolio of non-Houston venture capital funds that show an interest in Houston. HXVF hit a milestone last month when Liongard, a software-as-a-service company based in Houston, closed its fundraising round led by Updata Partners — one of HXVF's portfolio funds.

To date, the HXVF has reviewed over 150 venture capital funds and invested in eight: Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners and Next Coast Ventures, Washington D.C.-based Updata Partners, Chicago-based Baird Capital, San Francisco-based VenBio, and Boston-based .406 Ventures, OpenView Venture Partners, and Material Impact Fund. Since each investment, those funds have invested in over 30 startups that are also included in the greater HXVF portfolio.

These HXVF portfolio funds represent various stages — from seed to growth stages, like Liongard — and across industries, from software and hardware to life sciences — "the whole gamut," says Sandy Guitar, managing director of HXVF.

"What that means now is there is over $2 billion of venture capital that actively has Houston on its radar right now," Guitar tells InnovationMap.

The Liongard investment represents a proof point for the fund of funds — one that comes earlier than expected. HXVF invested in Updata less than six months before Liongard closed its round with Updata's lead investment. Guitar says she expected to get to this milestone within 18 to 24 months of the fund of funds deploying capital — and it's happened in just nine months.

"You have this trickle down effect, where it can easily take two to three years to get your capital at work," Guitar says, explaining that HXVF first has to raise funds from its corporate partners, then vet and invest in the VCs, and, finally, wait to see how those funds invest.

Of course, the pandemic has not exactly helped the growth of Houston's startup and venture capital sectors. While COVID-19 has allowed growth in some sectors — telemedicine, for instance — it has limited the opportunities for startups to test the market.

"To build great startups, a startup has to do what I call 'run into walls.' They have to test the market, get it wrong, and pivot. The problem right now is there are no walls to run into," Guitar says. "You have to have an actively running economy and market for proof points of what's working and what's not working."

Meanwhile, Guitar observes, VC investors have limited their activity to their own networks due to the inability to meet face-to-face with unfamiliar startups. Comparing the VC-startup relationship to a marriage, you wouldn't meet and marry someone you've never met in person just like investors wouldn't fund an entrepreneur they have only ever met via Zoom.

"A lot of VCs are staying in their known networks in the short term," says Guitar, while, in the long term, VCs are going to rely on introductions to entrepreneurs from their network.

With this benchmark secured, HXVF is continuing to grow its portfolio — as well as its team. Recently, Guitar — who runs the fund with Guillermo Borda — brought on Houston native Aleece Hobson as venture partner.

"Aleece joining is a phenomenal step for us — a dedicated resource and venture partner on activation," says Guitar on the hire. "I think it speaks to the seriousness of purpose we have to make this not just an investment platform, but one that moves the needle on Houston."

Guitar says HXVF is also growing its limited partners with the addition of Rice University, which joins the likes of HEB, Shell, Chevron, and Houston Methodist — to name a few.

"We're going to be getting even closer to our limited partners' needs and introducing them to the 34 portfolio companies," Guitar says "and creating meaningful collisions between those two groups."

Aleece Hobson joined the HX Venture Fund as venture partner. Photo courtesy of HXVF

Joe Alapat is the CEO of Houston-based Liongard, which just raised a $17 million series B round. Courtesy of Liongard

Startup founder sees 'the waves are hitting the shore' for Houston innovation ecosystem

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 32

Last week, Houston-based software-as-a-service startup, Liongard, announced the closing of its $17 million series B fundraising round, ending what was a bit of a dry spell for Houston venture capital investment caused by COVID-19's effect on the economy.

But for Liongard's CEO Joe Alapat, who co-founded the company with COO Vincent Tran in 2015, the round was the result of ongoing relationships with advisers and investors that meant a successful round — even in light of a pandemic.

"The process for us with the series B was much like our seed or series A round. We chose to communicate early and keep in touch with the investment community," Alapat says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, and he shares his experience as an example to other startups looking to raise venture capital investment.

"Communicate early and share progress, so that when you get to the point when you are looking for an investment, it's not a fresh start. It's a continuation of that conversation."

With the money, Liongard will gear up for growth, expanding its teams and getting the word out on the value the company is providing.

"The purpose for raising this money is really to advance our growth, accelerate what we've done with our platform to continue to execute on our mission, and really serve our customers on a higher degree," Alapat says.

In the episode, Alapat also shares his advice for Houston startups looking to tap into the Houston innovation ecosystem — something he's watched grow over the past five years. Now, he says, when it comes to new startups in Houston, "the waves are hitting the shore."

"Houston has always been an entrepreneurial city, and this is just that next stage," Alapat says on the episode. "For me, it's the technology side that excites me even more to see technology companies really succeeding."

Listen to the full interview with Alapat below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston-based SaaS company, Liongard, has closed its recent fundraising round led by one of HX Venture Fund's portfolio funds. Getty Images

Houston software startup closes $17M series B

money moves

A fast-growing software-as-a-service company has closed its latest round of funding to the tune of $17 million.

An information technology automation and management company, Liongard's round was led by Updata Partners with contribution by TDF Ventures, Integr8d Capital, and private investors. With customers in 20 countries, Liongard saw triple-digit customer growth and doubled its staff over the past 18 months, according to a news release.

Liongard's CEO, Joe Alapat, who co-founded the company with COO Vincent Tran in 2015, says that the new funds will continue to support its Roar platform — a software product that creates a single dashboard for all data systems and allows automation of managed service providers, or MSPs, for auditing and security within a company's IT.

"Since the launch of Liongard, the platform's adoption and popularity with MSPs has grown rapidly, transforming Liongard into a highly recognized brand in the MSP ecosystem," Alapat says in the release. "This new investment and the continued confidence of our investors will fuel our growth by giving us the means to further advance our solution's capabilities and serve our customers at an even better level."

Liongard's total funding now sits at over $20 million. Last year, the company raised a $4.5 million series A round following a $1.3 million seed round in 2018. TDF Ventures and Integr8d Capital have previously invested in the company.

Lead investor, Updata Partners, is based in Washington D.C. and invests in SaaS, tech-enabled service providers, and digital media and e-commerce. The HX Venture Fund, a fund-of-funds under Houston Exponential, has invested in Updata Partner's recent fund.

"Liongard has recognized an industry gap and addressed the need for greater visibility in how systems are managed," says Carter Griffin, a general partner at Updata Partners, in the release.

"The team created a valuable solution for MSPs, making the company an excellent investment opportunity for Updata. The combination of Liongard's in-demand platform, strong market presence, robust roadmap for ongoing growth and strong leadership team point to a company well-positioned for ongoing success."


Joe Alapat is the CEO of Houston-based Liongard. Courtesy of Liongard

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston Black-owned beauty biz gets major holiday shout out from Oprah

favorite things

Every holiday season, Oprah Winfrey and her elves work hard to put together her namesake list of Favorite Things. The 2020 list of must-have gifts highlights Black-owned or led businesses, including a Houston-based beauty line, 54 Thrones.

For the past six years, Oprah's Favorite Things are available for purchase in the Oprah's Favorite Things storefront exclusively on Amazon, including the 54 Thrones African Beauty Body Butter Collection Gift Set.

The limited-edition Holiday Deluxe Tin contains five individually packaged African Beauty Butters. The Beauty Body Butters are infused with African-grown, pure, and organic plant botanicals which help protect, soothe, and nourish the skin. These Beauty Butters nourish and revitalize the skin; repair dry, tired, or cracked skin; and hydrate the body, hands, elbows, and feet.

Founder Christina Funke Tegbe was inspired by her Nigerian aunt and the tubs of shea butter she sent from Nigeria. In 2015, Tegbe left the corporate world of high-powered consulting and founded 54 Thrones, named after Africa's 54 countries.

This year, more than 50 of the 72 featured products on the Oprah list come from Black-owned businesses, according to Amazon.

"As so many continue to look for ways to support Black lives any way they can, we found dozens of absolutely gorgeous gifts from Black-owned businesses that we wanted to share and celebrate as part of this year's Favorite Things," said Winfrey, via Amazon.

Founder of 54 Thrones, Christina Funke Tegbe. Photo courtesy of 54 Thrones

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert: New technologies are improving lives of those living with type 1 diabetes

Guest column

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease where insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body's immune system. Insulin is vital in controlling blood-sugar or glucose levels. Not only do you need proper blood-sugar levels for day-to-day energy, but when blood-sugar levels get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia), it can cause serious problems and even death. Because of this, those with T1D are dependent on injections or pumps to survive.

The causes of T1D are not fully known, and there is currently no cure; however, advancing technologies are making it easier to live with T1D.

Monitoring

Those who have had T1D for decades might recall having to pee into a vial and test reagent strips in order to check their blood-sugar levels. Thankfully, this evolved into glucometers, or glucose meters. With a glucometer, those with T1D prick their finger and place a drop on the edge of the test strip, which is connected to the monitor that displays their results. Nowadays, glucometers, much like most T1D tech, can be Bluetooth enabled and sync with a smartphone.

From there, scientists have developed the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) so that those with T1D can monitor their blood sugar 24/7. All you need to do is insert a small sensor under the skin. The sensor then measures glucose levels every few minutes, and that information can then be transmitted to smartphones, computers and even smart watches.

Monitoring blood-sugar levels is vital for those with T1D, particularly because it helps them stay more aware of their body, know what to do and even what to expect, but they also have to actively control those levels by injecting insulin. Think of a monitor as the "check engine" light. It can tell you that there may be a problem, but it won't fix it for you. To fix it, you would need an injection or a pump.

Pumps and artificial pancreas

The development of insulin pumps has made a huge impact on the lives of those with T1D and parents of children with T1D by making it easier to manage their blood-sugar levels. 50 years ago, the prototype of the insulin pump was so large, it had to be a backpack, but with today's technology, it is about the size of a smartphone. The pump is worn on the outside of the body, and it delivers insulin through a tube which is placed under the skin. Insulin pumps mimic the way a pancreas works by sending out small doses of insulin that are short acting. A pump can also be manipulated depending on each person's needs. For example, you can press a button to deliver a dose with meals and snacks, you can remove it or reduce it when active and it can be programmed to deliver more at certain times or suspend delivery if necessary.

One of the most recent and trending developments in T1D research is the artificial pancreas, or more formally referred to as the automated insulin delivery (AID) systems. Essentially, the artificial pancreas is an insulin pump that works with a CGM. The CGM notifies the insulin pump of your blood-sugar reading, which acts accordingly to restore your blood sugar to the target level. The artificial pancreas allows those with T1D to be even more hands off, as it does essentially everything: It continuously monitors blood-sugar levels, calculates how much insulin you would need, which can be done through smart devices, and automatically delivers insulin through the pump.

Living with T1D is a 24/7/365 battle; however, the advances in technology make it easier and safer to live with the disease. Organizations like JDRF play a huge role in investing in research, advocating for government support and more.

November was National Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year is particularly special for JDRF, as it is the 50th year of the organization. JDRF was founded in 1970 by two moms. The community grew to include scientists, lobbyists, celebrities and children—all determined to improve lives and find cures.

Bound by a will stronger than the disease, this year during National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM), JDRF celebrates "The Power of Us." We are reflecting on the power of our community and reminding ourselves and the public of how far we've come in the fight against T1D.


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Rick Byrd is the executive director of the JDRF Southern Texas Chapter.

Houston startup closes $5M seed round led by Austin VC

Fresh funds

It's payday for a Houston startup that is housed out of the new Halliburton Labs. Nanotech Inc., which material science for fire-proofing and insulation, has announced the close of its $5 million seed round.

According to NanoTech's news release, Austin-based Ecliptic Capital led the investment round. Additionally, the deal also resulted in the conversion of a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE, that was previously issued to Halliburton Labs.

"The investment from Ecliptic Capital will allow us to scale our business to achieve our mission of fireproofing the world and reducing global energy consumption. Additionally, our participation with Halliburton Labs provides us with the support of a Fortune 500 company." says NanoTech's CEO Mike Francis in the release.

Based in Austin, Ecliptic Capital is a fund focused on early-stage startups and supports a wide range of technologies across neglected geographies and industries.

"Ecliptic is proud to partner with NanoTech as the company's founding institutional investor," says Mike W. Erwin, founder of Ecliptic Capital, in the release. "We're excited to work with the company and leverage our operational expertise to rapidly scale this impactful, world-changing technology. We look forward to a new world where NanoTech accelerates the thermal management market from science-fiction to science-fact."

Halliburton Company chose NanoTech among a round of contenders to be the first participant of their 12-month program located at their Houston headquarters. Halliburton provides Nanotech with its own office space, access to Halliburton facilities, technical expertise, and an extensive network to accelerate their product to market.

'We are thrilled to see a Halliburton Labs participant secure their first round of financing, and congratulate the Ecliptic and NanoTech teams,' says Scott Gale, Halliburton Labs executive director, in the release. 'We are confident in the path forward as they work towards achieving a clean energy future.'

NanoTech's proprietary technology has the ability to be utilized for various industries — including commercial construction, chemical plants, oil and gas, aviation, utilities and much more — for eco-friendly spray-on insulation and fireproofing.

"As a company, we are just scratching the surface on where our technology will be used and can't wait to see the business scale." adds Mike Francis.