The 2022 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 11 categories. Photos courtesy

That's a wrap on the Houston Innovation Awards Gala. InnovationMap and Houston Exponential announced the winners of the 2022 awards that celebrated Houston's booming innovation ecosystem, and 11 startups and individuals walked away with the awards.

The event, held November 9 at the Ion, honored all 43 finalists as well as Trailblazer Award recipient, Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury. Click here to read about all the finalists.

Eight judges evaluated over 150 companies and individuals across 11 categories for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards. This year's judges includedCarolynRodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice; Wogbe Ofori, founder of Wrx Companies; ScottGale, executive director of Halliburton Labs; AshleyDanna, senior manager of regional economic development of Greater Houston Partnership; KellyMcCormick, professor at the University of Houston; PaulCherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University; LawsonGow, CEO of Houston Exponential; and NatalieHarms, editor of InnovationMap.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Founded Business: Steradian Technologies

The winner for the BIPOC-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is: Steradian Technologies, a health tech startup that uses deep-photonics technology to diagnose respiratory diseases in seconds, all for the price of a latte.

Female-Founded Business: Sesh Coworking

The winner for the Female-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is: Sesh Coworking, a women and genderqueer inclusive coworking and community.

Hardtech Business: Fluence Analytics

The winner for the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology across life science, energy, space, and beyond, is: Fluence Analytics, real-time analytics solution that optimizes processes and provides novel insights into material properties that enable customers to increase yields, improve product quality, and reduce costs.

B2B Software Business: Liongard

The winner for the B2B Software Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to impact the business sector, is: Liongard — software company that unlocks the intelligence hidden deep within IT systems to give MSPs an operational advantage that delivers both higher profits and an exceptional customer experience.

Green Impact Business: Cemvita Factory

The winner for the Green Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, and beyond, is: Cemvita Factory, a biotech company that uses a sustainable, economical, nature-inspired approach to empower companies with sustainable products and environmental technologies to decrease their carbon footprint, reverse climate change, and create a brighter future for the planet.

Smart City Business: Sensytec

The winner for the Smart City Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a tech solution within transportation, infrastructure, data, and beyond, is: Sensytec, an IoT Solutions platform that expedites and enhances concrete construction operations.

New to Hou Business: Venus Aerospace

The winner for the New to Hou Business category, honoring an innovative company, accelerator, or investor that has relocated its primary operations to Houston within the past three years, is: Venus Aerospace, the creator of a hypersonic spaceplane capable of one-hour global travel.

DEI Champion: Loretta Williams Gurnell

The winner for the DEI Champion category, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is: Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation.

Mentor of the Year: Kara Branch

The winner for the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is: Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. and developer and manager at Intel Corp.

Investor of the Year: John "JR" Reale

The winner for the Investor of the Year category, honoring an individual who is leading venture capital or angel investing, is: John (JR) Reale, managing director of Integr8d Capital and venture lead of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund

People's Choice (Startup of the Year): Milkify

The winner for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during of the event, is: Milkify — creator of patent-pending process to freeze-dry breast milk into a powder that is easy to use and transport and lasts for three years on the shelf.

These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

Houston's 2022 DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

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— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

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Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

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— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say no to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

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— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

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— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Loretta Williams Gurnell of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation, Al Ansari of FreshBrew, and Carolyn Rodz of Hello Alice. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder and executive director of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation

Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder and executive director of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she's impacting young women in STEM. Photo courtesy of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation

Years ago, through her own experience working with students, Loretta Williams Gurnell realized there wasn't any initiative connecting the dots for young women in terms of translating their state-mandated math and science classes into successful careers and job opportunities.

She set out to connect those dots and increase STEM opportunities for young women and launched her organization SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation in early 2016 to focus on programming to spark STEM interest and education for girls age 10 to 17. Later, amid the pandemic, she realized she needed to do more than just put on events and programming for these young women.

"We had to look at what's going to be longterm for these girls. How can we take the programatic piece that we do so well and make it a part of their lifestyle and decision making opportunities, so we had to pivot," she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to read more.

Al Ansari, president and CEO of FreshBrew

FreshBrew has upgraded to some high-tech roasting equipment. Image courtesy of FreshBrew

Al Ansari takes coffee seriously — and he's putting his money where his mouth is. Houston-based FreshBrew, one of the largest private-label coffee and tea producers in the country, announced this month the recent investment of $10 million into its specialty roasting and production divisions.

The company, which supplies specialty blended coffee, tea and total beverage solutions to hospitality and retail business, is expanding its current roasting production and will fund extraction, bottling and canning capabilities, making FreshBrew one of only a few companies in the country to offer total end-to-end beverage solutions. The expansion, which is on the same land the company has owned since its inception in 1995, is slated to be complete in early 2023.

“Over the years, we take a myopic approach with our customers, we look at what they want to achieve and look at their market, and blend their wants and our knowledge and create custom profiles for them,” says Ansari, president and CEO of FreshBrew. Click here to read more.

Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice

In an interview with InnovationMap, Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice, explains how the partnership came about and how the program will significantly move the needle on equitable access to capital for small business owners. Photo courtesy of Hello Alice

Last month, Hello Alice — now with 1 million members in its community — announced a new program with MasterCard that provides small business owners a simpler way to unlock access to capital.

The Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard offers users expert business advice, business insights, cash back, and a rewards program that gives entrepreneurs points for completing business-advancing activities on the Hello Alice platform.

"As a small business owner myself, I've created a card that I wish I would have had," Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice, tells InnovationMap. "We really looked at where are the gaps for these business owners and the things they don't already have or are unable to access." Click here to read more.

Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder and executive director of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she's impacting young women in STEM. Photo courtesy of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation

Houston innovator shines a spotlight on ways young women can get involved in STEM and innovation

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 151

Years ago, through her own experience working with students, Loretta Williams Gurnell realized there wasn't any initiative connecting the dots for young women in terms of translating their state-mandated math and science classes into successful careers and job opportunities.

As she explains on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast, you don't know what you don't know — how can girls be expected to picture themselves as a researcher, a startup founder, or a business leader if they aren't exposed to people who look like them in those roles?

So, she set out to connect those dots and increase STEM opportunities for young women. She officially launched her organization SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation in early 2016 to focus on programming to spark STEM interest and education for girls age 10 to 17. Later, amid the pandemic, she realized she needed to do more than just put on events and programming for these young women.

"We had to look at what's going to be longterm for these girls. How can we take the programatic piece that we do so well and make it a part of their lifestyle and decision making opportunities, so we had to pivot," she says on the show.

The organization's three pillars are innovation, STEM, and leadership, and Williams Gurnell says she's excited to welcome her latest batch of SHINEGirls at the second annual membership induction ceremony on Sept. 23. The year-long program will match the students with mentors who will support and encourage them.

Looking back on the past few years, the pandemic also reinforced a need for community for SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. Williams Gurnell says the shutdown nearly put her nonprofit out of business, but she realized one way to stay afloat is to be involved with an engaged group of people.

"We knew that if we could build community, we could build our power," she says. "So we built a community and put it online."

Another way the foundation is tapping into community is through the Ion. Williams Gurnell says that the hub for innovation and tech reached out to her to initiate a partnership. Now, the nonprofit is headquartered out of the Midtown building and provides interns and job placement for its members, working with startups and other companies — as well as hosts programming and opportunities in the space.

Williams Gurnell says it's a matter of working together — with schools, students, other organizations, and partners — to really allow for impact. It's not one person's responsibility and there's not one quick fix — just like it's not just affecting one person or a group of people.

"It's not an urban problem — and it's not a low-, moderate-income problem. It's an economic problem and a systemic problem," she says. "But when you give people skills and access and equity, it changes the game and allows them to play in that game with the skills to be able to be successful."

Williams Gurnell says she hopes to expand opportunities nationwide and is looking to her Houston community for support — whether that's financial or through volunteering and attending events, like the induction ceremony later this month.

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


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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.