In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, an offshore robotics company has rebranded, two startups earned bragging rights, and more. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startups have had a busy fourth quarter so far with exciting news from all around the local innovation ecosystem.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a pair of Houston startups receive national and international praise, a local robotics company rebrands, Houston Community College receives funding for BIPOC female founders, and more.

Houston-area robotics company rebrands

Nicolaus Radford is the founder of Nauticus Robotics Inc., neé Houston Mechatronics. Photo courtesy

Houston Mechatronics Inc. based in Webster, Texas, announced that it has rebranded its offshore robotics firm as Nauticus Robotics Inc.

"The name Nauticus Robotics makes clear our commitment to the blue economy," says Nicolaus Radford, the company's founder and CEO, in a news release. "Our mission is to grow that economy through sustainable robotics that deliver value while protecting our planet's most valuable resources. This rebrand aligns us with that goal and positions us as a leader in our space."

The company has also launched a new website, representing an expanded vision of "Green robotics for a blue economy," according to the news release.

"Our new website will really lead the charge for us on the sales side," says Todd Newell, senior vice president of business development at Nauticus Robotics, in the release. "Prospective customers can get an overview of our robotics and their capabilities. If they desire, they can download detailed specifications to see how a product might fit into their operations. And we've made it very easy for those interested in a demo or a call to quickly get in touch with our team."

Houston IT company forms new partnership

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

Liongard has formed a new partnership with email defense solution Vade to release a new tool for its users. The feature automatically surfaces critical account data, streamlining user management, and billing for M365 users, according to a news release.

"I'm very pleased that Vade for M365 is now integrated with Liongard's leading IT automation platform," says Adrien Gendre, chief technology and product officer at Vade, in the release. "MSPs who offer managed cybersecurity can now combine the threat detection and remediation capabilities of Vade for M365 with the automation and unified visibility of Liongard. Together, Liongard and Vade for M365 give MSPs the tools they need to save time, improve efficiencies, and grow their businesses."

The tool is already included in Liongard’s latest release and users can leverage licensing, billing, and security data to simplify security management, accounting, and reporting.

“We’re very excited about our new Vade Inspector and the value it brings to the MSP community,” says Matt Miller, vice president of product for Liongard. “Both Vade and Liongard are committed to helping the managed services community stay security-focused. This Inspector enables MSPs to maintain a strong security posture through automation, with the added benefit of saving time and effort across the organization.”

Houston startup snags national spotlight

Cobalt's founders wanted to avoid harsh alcoholic smells and opted for calming and fun scents. Photo courtesy of Cobalt

Southern Living magazine's December issue features the annual holiday gift guide, and making the list this year is Houston-based small business Cobalt's Crisp Peppermint Hand Sanitizer.

“We are beyond thrilled to be included in Southern Living magazine with the best company,” says Christina Milligan, co-founder of Cobalt, in a news release. “It’s so exciting to see how much Cobalt has grown in the past 12 months. The idea has surpassed the pandemic and become an everyday necessity for healthy lifestyles. What started out as blending and filling each bottle from our kitchen tables has evolved into corporate partnerships, multiple scents, and new product lines. We are so grateful for all of our customers across the country and look forward to the next phase of Cobalt.”

Milligan and Molly Voorhees launched Cobalt in November 2020 with a line of personal-sized surface cleaners, hand sanitizers, and travel kits.

Cobalt is the only Houston-based company in the 2021 guide, according to the release. The issue is on newsstands now.

Houston blockchain company wins startup of the year

Data Gumbo's team was recognized internationally for its impact. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, which has created an industrial smart contract network company, announced last month that it has been named the Oil and Gas Start Up Company of the Year at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference Awards Gala — the largest annual oil and gas awards event in the Middle East.

According to a news release from the company, "Data Gumbo was recognized for its potential to reshape the energy industry based on its continued innovation, strong business model and the impressive impact of its global industrial smart contract network."

“Our industrial smart contract network, GumboNet, offers the new gold standard for organizations to execute business better through guaranteed transactional certainty across commercial relationships,” says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo. “It’s an honor to be recognized by ADIPEC for our work and commitment to expanding our network across the global energy industry, allowing companies to eliminate the lack of trust in industrial sectors, streamline contract execution and capture significant cost savings.”

The 11th annual ADIPEC Awards' judges reviewed more than 700 entries from over 50 countries across digitalization, sustainability, research, innovation and more. For more info on the ADIPEC Awards, click here.

Houston university system receives $750,000 grant to drive women-owned business success

HCC has fresh funds to support female entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Wells Fargo granted $750,000 to Houston Community College to support the new Open for Business program aimed at empowering women-owned businesses in the Houston region. The grant is part of a $420 million small business recovery effort by Wells Fargo to support nonprofit and educational organizations assisting women of color in overcoming longstanding obstacles to entrepreneurship.

“We are delighted to broaden our programs to help women succeed in owning and operating businesses,” says Maya Durnovo, HCC’s chief entrepreneurial officer, in a news release, adding that the program has a particular focus on African American, Indo-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women.

The Open for Business Program – led by Director Tamala Austin – is already staffed with more than 165 women registered in the program.

“We can only imagine what kinds of businesses might have taken off, what products consumers might have enjoyed and what returns might have been realized had women and people of color enjoyed equal access to capital and opportunity,” Durnovo says in the release.

Optellum, Liongard, and Cart.com have hired new members to their executive teams. Photos courtesy

Updated: 3 Houston startups make strategic C-suite hires

short stories

A handful of Houston tech startups have recently announced new appointments to their C-suites. A med tech company with its national headquarters in Houston has a new leader, a Houston software has a new exec focused on strategy, and a e-commerce company has a new chief revenue officer.

Optellum names new CEO

Jason Pesterfield will lead United States operations for Optellum. Photo courtesy of Optellum

Optellum, a medical software startup based in the United Kingdom and has its United States HQ in Houston, has appointed Jason Pesterfield as CEO to lead growth in the U.S. clinical market. Optellum AI-based software enhances early lung cancer diagnosis and therapy with its medical device software platform, Virtual Nodule Clinic.

Pesterfield was previously the president and CEO of Veran Medical Technologies, a leader in image-guided lung cancer diagnosis. He brings 25 years of leadership experience in the medtech sector. Optellum was founded by Václav Potěšil, Lyndsey Pickup, Timor Kadir, Professor Sir Mike Brady, and Jérôme Declerck.

"It took us almost a year to find the right successor who shares our vision and has the right expertise to take Optellum on to the next stage of growth," says Potěšil in a news release. "I am really excited to work with Jason, to make Optellum's platform available to every clinician in the USA and around the world, and to help them diagnose their lung cancer patients as early as possible. With Jason on board, I can focus on advancing Optellum's vision to transform early lung cancer therapy through partnerships that harness the power of AI software combined with molecular diagnostics, robotics and interventional devices, and drugs."

Liongard announces chief strategy officer

Patrick Schneidau is the chief strategy officer for Liongard. Photo courtesy

​Houston software-as-a-service company, Liongard, has named Patrick Schneidau as chief strategy officer. The company, founded in 2015, was a 2021 InnovationMap Awards finalist and reported that the team was looking to expand by around 70 new hires over the next year.

"Liongard is an incredible Houston growth story," Schneidau tells InnovationMap. "Our founders, Joe Alapat and Vincent Tran, have built a first-class team that allow technology service providers to operate at 10x by providing unprecedented insight and data into the systems deployed in the modern IT stack. In a rapidly growing market, they are quickly becoming 'must have' technology. I'm excited to join to team to accelerate their growth into new markets and with new products."

Schneidau spent over a decade at Houston-based PROS before serving in C-level positions at two other Houston startups — Commtrex and Truss. He's also previously served as talent committee chair for Houston Exponential.

Cart.com hires a new chief revenue officer

Randy Ray is Cart.com's first chief revenue officer. Photo courtesy of Cart.com

Fresh off its $98 million series B, Cart.com has named its first chief revenue officer. Randy Ray is tasked with driving sales growth across the company. He has over 15 years of sales and operations experience and was previously senior vice president at supply-chain solution provider High Jump.

"I've worked with the world's biggest retail and SaaS brands, and I've seen the need for a unified Ecommerce-as-a-Service hub to create operational efficiencies and unlock scalable success," Ray says in a press release. "I'm a firm believer in the Cart.com mission to drive success for online brands, and I'm looking forward to tripling our sales organization and building out a world-class revenue infrastructure as we take the company global over the next 6 to 9 months."

Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? These ones are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Here's which of the InnovationMap Awards finalists are hiring

growing biz

After scouring Houston for the best of the Houston innovation ecosystem and evaluating dozens of companies, InnovationMap has announced the finalists in its inaugural awards. But which of these companies are growing their teams?

Turns out, almost all of them have open positions — some planning to double their teams over the next year. In fact, the 28 companies that make up our cohort of finalists are looking for over 250 new employees — some have these positions open now and others are seeking these new team members over the next 12 months.

Let's look at how many new hires these top startups are looking for.

Biggest gains

The InnovationMap Awards finalist with the loftiest hiring goal is Liongard, which is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category. Liongard — a platform that helps IT companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems — is looking to fill 70 positions over the next year. The company, founded in 2015, has just over 100 employees now.

The startup finalist with the second highest hiring goals is Nanotech, a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech is looking to hire over 40 new employees in the next 12 months, which would almost triple its current staff of 15. Founded in 2019 by Mike Francis, the company is a finalist in both the Energy Transition and People's Choice categories.

Another People's Choice finalist, GoCo, and its all-in-one employee management platform, is currently looking to grow its team by adding 20 new employees to its staff of 53. The company was founded in 2015 and has since raised over $12 million in VC funding.

Also looking to grow their team by 20 new hires is Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company, co-founded by Carolyn Rodz, is up for an award in the BIPOC-Founded, Female-Founded, and People's Choice categories.

GoExpedi, whose founder and CEO Timothy Neal is a finalist in the Top Founder Under 40 category, currently has 17 positions open at the moment and is looking to add those new hires into its team of over 150 employees. The e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).

While Female-Founded Business finalist RingOn — a wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking — is only currently looking for six new hires, the company is expecting to hiring another 15 new employees next year. Right now, the company's employee count is at three.

Steady growth

A few of the awards finalists are sporting hiring goals in the seven to 12 new staffers range. Space Tech finalist NANCO Aero, which is developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles, is hiring a dozen new employees — a big goal considering the company currently has just four employees.

Enercross LLC, automation software for the energy industry, is a finalist in the Energy Transition category and is looking to add 11 new people to its team of 42. Meanwhile Sports Tech finalist sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events — is looking to about double its team of 10 over the few months.

Health Tech finalist Medical Informatics Corp. is the creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions. The company has seven open positions to grow its team of 36.

Seeking selectively

The following InnovationMap Awards finalists are looking to grow their teams with between two and six new hires:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Find out which of these employers take home the win at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

And the finalists for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards are... Graphic via Gow Media

InnovationMap names 28 Houston startup finalists for inaugural awards

who will take home the win?

Who are Houston's rising stars across energy transition, sports tech, health, and more? InnovationMap set out on a quest to discover that for its inaugural awards. Ahead of the September 8 event, we're revealing the finalists across all categories.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs; Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon; Rajasekhar Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO of Techwave; Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap; Serafina Lalany, interim president at Houston Exponential; Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge; Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center; and Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

The winners will be announced and celebrated — along with this year's previously announced Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger of Chevron Technology Ventures — at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business Award category, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.

Female-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business Award category presented by Veritex Community Bank, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by women, include:

  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • RingOn — wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Health Care Business Finalists

The finalists for the Health Care Business Award category presented by Gray Reed, which honors health care businesses with an innovative solution within life sciences, include:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.

Energy Transition Business Finalists

The finalists for the Energy Transition Business category, which honors energy business with innovative solutions within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, and beyond, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • Enercross LLC — automation software for the energy industry.
  • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Renewell Energy — converting idle oil and gas wells into flexible energy storage.

Sports Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Sports Tech Business category, which is honoring a sports tech business with an innovative solution within sports are:

  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • Mainline — an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.
  • sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events.

Space Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Space Tech Business category, which is honoring an aerospace business with an innovative solution within space exploration. are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • NANCO Aero — developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles.

Top Founder Under 40 Finalists

The finalists for the Top Founder Under 40 category, which honors an innovative founder younger than 40 by Sept. 8, 2021, are:

  • Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Timothy Neal of GoExpedi — an e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company that is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).
  • Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds.
  • Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Emily Cisek of The Postage — a legacy planning platform using tech to make afterlife decision making easier.

People’s Choice: Startup of the Year Finalists

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, which will each present a 60-second live elevator pitch at the event on September 8, are:

    • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
    • GoCo — all-in-one employee management platform.
    • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
    • Liongard — a platform that helps Information Technology companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems.
    • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
    • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
    • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.

    It pays to work at these four Houston companies. Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Facebook

    4 Houston companies clock in among America’s best employers, says Inc.

    happy workers

    Houston has already been heralded as a hotbed for innovation. Now, a handful of local companies are in the spotlight as the best places to work.

    Four Houston companies are among 429 businesses named May 12 to Inc. magazine's 2021 list of the country's best workplaces. They are:

    • Marketing and PR firm CKP, Houston.
    • Environmental restoration company Ecosystem Planning and Restoration, Tomball.
    • IT automation platform Liongard, Houston.
    • Online recruiting service WizeHire, Houston.

    "We've taken steps, especially during the pandemic, to build an amazing team and inclusive culture that is rooted in collaboration," Liongard CEO Joe Alapat says in a news release. "I am proud every day of the work this team is doing and the positive impact we're having on the managed services industry, and thrilled that our employees share our excitement and enthusiasm."

    Meanwhile, 11 Austin companies receiving kudos are:

    • 9Gauge Partners, a business management consulting firm.
    • AgileAssets, a provider of transportation management software.
    • AlertMedia, an emergency communication and monitoring platform.
    • Decent, a provider of health insurance.
    • Fourlane, a provider of QuickBooks support.
    • Made In Cookware, an e-commerce startup that sells pots, pans, and other cookware.
    • Mighty Citizen, a branding, marketing, and communications firm.
    • OJO Labs, a platform for buying and selling homes.
    • Ontic, a company whose software helps companies address physical threats.
    • Q1Media, a digital media company.
    • The Zebra, an insurance marketplace.

    Nick Soman, founder and CEO of Decent, says his company seeks to trust, respect, and appreciate every employee.

    "This year that has meant quickly helping employees who lost power during an unprecedented snowstorm find a warm place to stay and offering unlimited time off," Soman says in a news release. "Being recognized as a top workplace is a special honor for Decent. Our people are at the heart of our company. They foster our amazing culture and drive our consistently outstanding customer service."

    Lukas Quanstrom, CEO of Ontic, says his company is committed to upholding the core values, standards, and practices that contributed to the Inc. honor.

    "Over the past year, the Ontic team has experienced rapid growth reinforcing how important our supportive, entrepreneurial culture is to nurturing talent and prioritizing our employees' overall welfare," Quanstrom says in a news release.

    Each nominated company took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, on topics including management effectiveness, perks, and employee growth. Also, an organization's benefits were audited to help determine the employer's standing.

    Elsewhere in Texas, seven Dallas-Fort Worth employers, four Houston-area employers, and one San Antonio employer made the Inc. list.

    Dallas-Fort Worth area

    • Staffing and recruiting firm BridgeWork Partners, Dallas.
    • Commercial real estate services company esrp, Frisco.
    • Staffing agency Frontline Source Group, Dallas.
    • PR and marketing firm Idea Grove, Dallas.
    • HVAC and plumbing warranty company JB Warranties, Argyle.
    • Technical consulting firm Stratosphere Consulting, Dallas.
    • NetSuite consulting firm The Vested Group, Plano.

    Inc. highlights esrp's employee emergency fund, which offers "a financial lifeline for a range of life events, including funerals, medical emergencies, and welcoming new grandchildren. The omnipresent resource is funded through anonymous employee donations."

    San Antonio

    The only San Antonio company to make the 2021 list was IT services provider Mobius Partners.

    ------

    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    The ultimate who's who of 2020 — favorite Houston Innovators Podcast guests of last year. Photos courtesy

    Editor's Picks: Top 7 Houston innovation interviews of 2020

    2020 in review

    Editor's note: With 2020 in the rearview, InnovationMap is looking back on the top stories of the year. With over 60 episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast and about half of those being recorded in 2020, here are the top episides from the year.

    Chris Buckner, co-founder and CEO of Mainline

    With sports went offline, esports startup Mainline saw an opportunity for growth during the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo courtesy of Mainline

    What happened when collegiate sport stadiums shut down and seasons were postponed? People started to turn to esports to get their competitive fix. And Houston-based esports tournament software company Mainline saw a huge boost to business.

    "Everyone is looking for how to get sports, or esports, in front of people because everyone is just missing [sports] so much," Chris Buckner, co-founder and CEO of Mainline, says in a June episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've been very fortunate to work in the industry we do."

    On campuses this past spring, colleges are looking for a way to connect with and engage students, Buckner says. And, Mainline has even been able to attract interest on the professional level.

    "Our June will pretty much be the best month of our company, and a lot of that is driven by the fact that everyone is looking for a digital solution rather than an in-person solution," Buckner says.

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

    Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @ TMC

    Fiona Mack joined JLABS @ TMC as head of the incubator. Photo courtesy of JLABS

    Last year, JLABS @ TMC — a local health tech startup incubator under the Johnson & Johnson arm — welcomed Fiona Mack as the new head of the program. On her plate was assessing the needs of the incubator's 49 member companies in the portfolio and understanding the needs of the Texas innovation ecosystem.

    "As I learn more about the history of life science sector in Texas, over the past 20 years there has been an impetuous to build up this critical mass of companies here to really make it a strong hub that competes with the energy sector to make it a pillar of the economy here," Mack says in a November episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

    One of the things that's top of mind for Mack is a focus on diversity — both from an entrepreneurship and a representation standpoint.

    "From a research perspective, there's a strong effect of having a lack of diversity in a lot of the metrics we're looking at," she shares.

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

    Joe Alapat, CEO of Liongard

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

    Despite a pandemic that at least in some ways negatively affected venture capital investment, a Houston software startup managed to persevere with a $17 million series B. Liongard's CEO Joe Alapat, who co-founded the company with COO Vincent Tran in 2015, says in a May episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that the round was the result of ongoing relationships with advisers and investors that meant a successful round — even in light of a pandemic.

    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."

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

    Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler of Accel Lifestyle

    Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler of Accel Lifestyle joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how they made the pivot from making T-shirts to face masks. Photos courtesy

    For years, Megan Eddings, founder and CEO of Accel Lifestyle, worked on perfecting the perfect antibacterial fabric for an anti-stink athletic clothing line, but it only took her a few weeks to pivot toward using the material to make masks.

    On a May episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Eddings and Amanda Cotler, director of operations, shared the story of how this pivot came to be and how they saw the Center for Disease Control was recommending wearing bandanas and cloth when face masks weren't available, they had an epiphany.

    "Megan and I read that and immediately hopped on a call with our team," Cotler says. "We had a realization with our antibacterial fabric that a face mask made from it would be so much cleaner."

    Within 24 hours, the duo had a sample in their hands, and they had 14,000 yards of their Prema fabric being shipped from California to Houston, where they had managed to find 60 local sewers ready to start making the masks.

    Now, with the Houston workforce making moves to return to the workplace, Eddings says she's seen an increased interest in corporations wanting custom masks with the company logo on it for their employees.

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

    Durg Kumar and Allen Bryant,  partners at Knightsgate Ventures

    Houston-founded venture capital firm heads into second fund focused on social impact Durg Kumar (left) and Allen Bryant, partners at Knightsgate Ventures, join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss their second fund. Photos courtesy

    Durg Kumar founded Knightsgate Ventures in order to find and fund startups with a social impact and a profitable business strategy. The Houston-based firm was founded in Houston and has since expanded to add a New York partner, Allen Bryant, to the operation. The duo joined the Houston Innovators Podcast in November.

    "For a very long time, there was a perceived trade off between social returns and financial returns," Bryant says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What we are seeing now is that's really not the case. You actually have businesses that are bringing impactful change and those businesses are propelled by that."

    The VC's first fund invested in six startups — including Houston-based Voyager — and is now heading into its second fund. Kumar says the first fund's success was in part due to his network. Now heading into the second go around, Knightsgate's network has grown with the addition of Bryant.

    The end of the year, Kumar and Bryant were focused on helping their portfolio startups focus on the next year.

    "Now's a good time to retrench and focus on building product," Kumar says, "so that in 2021 when travel restrictions ease, then you've got your refined product to go out and take it to the customers."

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

    Joy M. Hutton, local leader of the Grow with Google in Houston

    Joy M. Hutton leads the Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy of Google

    In November, when Google announced it was expanding its Grow with Google Digital Coach program to Houston, Joy M. Hutton was named the local leader. The entrepreneur and business consultant is hoping to help provide important business resources to entrepreneurs just like herself.

    "In Houston, you have a lot of different resources that weren't available to startups before just within the past few years, and I think that's huge," Hutton says in a December episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Being more inclusive with people who need the resources who haven't traditionally had access to those resources is a big initiative. I personally am proud to be a part of that."

    Hutton specifically calls out resources like MassChallenge and Founder's Institute — both of which she serves as a mentor for — as well as DivInc, gBeta, and of course the Grow with Google program. To get involved, Houston entrepreneurs can head online to learn more and keep an eye out for monthly classes online — and hopefully, in the future, in person events as well.

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

    Kyle Judah, executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

    Kyle Judah joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his new role. Photo courtesy of Lilie

    When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

    Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

    "One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says in a September episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

    Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

    "We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

    Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

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    Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

    short stories

    Houston is starting 2022 strong 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, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

    Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

    After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

    Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

    The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

    “Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

    Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

    “Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

    WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

    Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

    Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

    “Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

    Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

    Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

    Source: WalletHub

    When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

    • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
    • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
    • No. 43 – Math Performance
    • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
    • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
    • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
    • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
    • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

    Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

    Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

    Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

    Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

    “We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

    Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

    Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

    City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

    Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

    Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

    “This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

    According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

    "Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

    Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

    money moves

    Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

    The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

    Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

    Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

    Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

    “Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

    The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

    Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

    Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

    HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

    Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

    Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

    "We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

    Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

    "The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

    This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

    Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

    The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

    "Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

    Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.