The 11 executives now will move on to national Entrepreneur Of The Year program. National winners will be named in November. Photos courtesy

Eleven Houston-based executives have been crowned regional winners in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program, run by professional services firm EY.

The 11 executives now will move on to national Entrepreneur Of The Year program. National winners will be named in November.

“Every year, we are completely blown away by the accomplishments of our Entrepreneur Of The Year Regional Award winners, and 2023 is no different,” AJ Jordan, director of the Entrepreneur Of The Year program for EY Americas, says in a news release. “They are change-makers and champions of business and community, and we are so proud to be honoring them. We can’t wait to see how these leaders will continue to improve lives and disrupt industries.”

Here are the 11 local winners from the program’s Gulf South region.

Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013, is a publicly traded space exploration company. The company’s upcoming mission will send the first U.S. spacecraft to the moon since 1972 as well as the first-ever commercial lunar lander. Its Nova-C spacecraft will carry commercial and NASA payloads.

Earlier this year, a joint venture led by Intuitive Machines nabbed a contract valued at up to $719 million for work on NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System. The company, which went public in February 2023, forecasts revenue of $174 million to $268 million this year.

“Steve’s visionary mindset and ability to assemble and inspire a talented team have been instrumental in our collective success,” the company says in a statement about the Entrepreneur Of The Year award. “He consistently fosters a culture of excellence, empowering our diverse group of engineers, scientists, and visionaries to pioneer groundbreaking solutions and deliver outstanding results.”

Gaurab Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of Solugen, and Sean Hunt, co-founder and CTO

Solugen, founded in 2016, makes and distributes specialty chemicals derived from feedstock. The startup is reportedly valued at more than $2 billion. To date, Solugen has raised $642.2 million, according to Crunchbase.

In naming Solugen one of the most innovative companies of 2022, Fast Company noted that the carbon-negative process embraced by Solugen and the startup’s “ability to sell flexible amounts of chemicals to companies looking to lower their own footprint have helped the company make inroads in a traditionally slow-moving industry.”

Daryl Dudum and Matthew Hadda, founders and co-CEOs of Specialty1 Partners

Specialty1 Partners, which launched in 2019, supplies business services to dental surgery practices. These services include HR, recruiting, payroll, accounting, operations, marketing, business development, compliance, IT, and legal.

In 2022, Specialty1 Partners appeared at No. 72 on the Inc. 5000 list with two-year revenue growth of 2,921 percent.

“Supporting our partners and helping them grow while continuing to build partnerships with industry-leading, innovative surgical specialists is what we focus on every day,” Dudum says in a 2022 news release. “It’s not just about growing our network — we are committed to helping our partner practices grow and succeed on their terms.”

Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services

MasterWord Services offers translation and interpretation in more than 400 languages for customers such as energy, health care, and tech companies. The woman-owned business was founded in 1993.

“I’m grateful to our exceptional team and to each of our translators and interpreters who every day live our mission of connecting people across language and culture,” Golovine says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year honor.

Roger Jenkins, president and CEO of Murphy Oil

Murphy Oil is involved in oil and natural gas exploration and production primarily onshore in the U.S. and Canada, and offshore along the Gulf of Mexico. The publicly traded Fortune 1000 company, founded in 1944, racked up revenue of nearly $4 billion in 2022.

“Over the years, the company has grown and evolved to become a leading independent energy company, with strategic assets around the world,” Murphy says on its website. “All the while, we have remained true to our mission — to challenge the norm, tap into our strong legacy, and use our foresight and financial discipline to deliver inspired energy solutions.

Mohammad Millwala, founder and CEO of DM Clinical Research

DM Clinical Research, founded in 2006, runs 13 sites for clinical trials. Its areas of specialty include vaccines, internal medicine, pediatrics, gastrointestinal, psychiatry, and women’s health.

“DM Clinical Research is in a period of rapid growth with multiple new study sites added over the last two years in addition to the quadrupling of our staff to over 500 employees,” Millwala says in a January 2023 news release. “We expect this transformational growth trajectory to continue for the foreseeable future, on the road to becoming the leading independent clinical research network in the nation.”

Mark Walker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Direct Digital Holdings, and Keith Smith, co-founder and president

Publicly traded Direct Digital Holdings owns three operating companies that offer online platforms for advertising. Three years after its founding in 2018, the company became the ninth Black-owned business to go public in the U.S.

The company posted revenue of $88 million in 2022, up 131 percent from the previous year.

“Direct Digital Holdings’ success is rooted in the hard work and commitment we have long seen in taking advantage of advertising opportunities targeting underserved communities and [that] markets often overlook,” Smith says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year award.

Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

While technically headquartered in Austin, Houston-funded Cart.com's co-founder and CEO, Omair Tariq, also was a Gulf South winner in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program.

The e-commerce company moved its headquarters from Houston to Austin in 2021. However, Tariq remains in Houston. In May 2023, Tariq delivered the commencement address to MBA recipients from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, where he earned his MBA.

Cart.com, founded in 2020, offers software and services to thousands of online merchants. To date, the pre-IPO company has raised $421 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

“We want to be the commerce-enablement infrastructure for the largest brands in the world,” Tariq told the Insider news website in 2022.

This week's Houston innovators to know are hoping to make an impact. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Starting off a new — hopefully drier — week in Houston, these three Houston innovators to know are looking to make an impact. From using tech for good to creating a women's movement in Texas business, these three Houstonians are on a roll.

Cristen Reat, co-founder and program director at BridgingApps

BridgingApps, a program backed by Easter Seals of Greater Houston, uses technology like iPads to help provide services for children and adults with disabilities — as well as for veterans — and their families. Courtesy of BridgingApps

At the cusp of the tablet generation, Cristen Reat saw her child, who had down syndrome, and this convenient emerging technology and connected the dots. She helped start a support group in a therapy clinic where many parents were interested about why mobile devices and apps were so engaging to their children.

"We were just amazed about how our children with different types of disabilities were engaged with the devices, were able to communicate with the devices, and were making big strides in their therapy," says Reat.

BridgingApps was founded by Reat and Sami Rahman in 2010, both seeking to help their children grow. The program became a part of Easter Seals of Greater Houston in 2011. The website currently boasts over 3,000 apps which users can sort through by category, age, price, skill, grade level, mobile device, and more. The apps are also able to benefit and treat veterans and their families. Read more about Reat and the BridgingApps program here.

Charley Donaldson, co-founder and COO of CaringBand

CaringBand is using a simple technology to better connect family and friends to the ones they love. Courtesy of CaringBand

When Charley Donaldson's mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, he and his wife knew they were in for a tough time. What they didn't realize was how important communication was going to be with each other. The ability to check in with loved ones frequently is tough — whether it's a good day or a bad day, people are busy and picking up the phone can be time consuming.

"It's like, you want to show people that you care about them, but you don't want to interrupt their day, or you don't want to be a burden to them if they aren't up to company," Donaldson says.

CaringBand is a light-up bracelet that's Bluetooth enabled, and connects to a mobile app. A person gives the bracelet to a loved one, who then pairs it with his or her smartphone. App users can send and receive pre-set messages of encouragement to and from other app users. Those wearing a CaringBand bracelet get alerted by a blinking light or vibration that lets them know someone is thinking about them. The wearer then reads these encouraging messages on the CaringBand app when convenient and with no need to respond. Read more about the Houston company connecting loved ones.

Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc. and a founding member of Women in Localization's Texas Chapter

Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc. and a founding member of newly formed Women in Localization's Texas Chapter, writes on the importance of localization. Courtesy of Golovine

Your business message is only as good as the receiver's ability to understand it. Localization is extremely important for business growth, and Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc., wrote a guest article for InnovationMap about this importance as it pertains to the digital age.

"Opening a website or an app that wasn't intended for you can feel a lot like being lost in another country: you cannot understand the street signs, everything is different, and you don't even know how to ask a question of where to go," she writes.

Golovine is a founding member of newly formed Women in Localization's Texas Chapter. The organization is hosting its first Houston panel and networking event on Tuesday, September 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Station Houston. Read Golovine's guest article here.

Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc. and a founding member of newly formed Women in Localization's Texas Chapter, writes on the importance of localization. The new organization is hosting its first Houston panel on September 24 at Station Houston. Getty Images

Using tech in the localization process is key in growing businesses in a diverse city like Houston

Guest column

Today we live in a world where we not only do business globally, but where our local communities are becoming increasingly more international. And yet, we don't always market to prospective clients' local preferences. Opening a website or an app that wasn't intended for you can feel a lot like being lost in another country: you cannot understand the street signs, everything is different, and you don't even know how to ask a question of where to go.

Localization has come to define the process by which we adapt information and products to offer them to new markets and regions, the end goal being to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter the language, culture, or location. CNN knows that there are more than 58 million Latinos in the U.S. who want their own Spanish language shows. Domino's Pizza has an extremely flexible localization strategy where they regularly update their menu and topping choices to incorporate local tastes and food preferences. These are prime examples of localization.

In 2014, Common Sense Advisory, a major independent research company, published a report titled "Can't Read: Won't Buy." The report summarized responses of 3,000+ consumers across 10 countries regarding their buying preferences. According to the report, 75 percent of consumers said they were more likely to purchase goods and services if the product information was in their native language, and 56.2 percent of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language was more important than price.

As most brands have growth on their mind, the significance of personalization and localized marketing cannot be underestimated. It is not only global or international corporations that benefit from localization. Domestically, it is estimated that that 30 percent of the U.S. population will be Hispanic by 2042, and the buying power of minorities in the U.S. is continuing to increase.

For many companies, success depends on capturing market share in communities that don't speak English and don't necessarily relate to our nuanced culture. Overall, today businesses competing in a world of more than 7,000 spoken languages face increasing pressure to have the right language strategy in place to properly capture their desired market share, serve customers, and attract and retain experienced talent worldwide.

Website and app localization are among the more frequently sought services. With websites and apps available in multiple languages with modified content to suit the preferences of a particular market, adapted graphic design and geographic references, units of measure, proper local formats for dates, addresses and phone numbers for instance, businesses achieve:

  • Increased credibility as consumers find reassurance and comfort when information is accurately portrayed in their preferred language;
  • Enhanced customer engagement and retention as customers are attracted and loyalty is developed when information is provided in their native language. In fact, research confirms that most consumers would pay extra if the information was available in their native language;
  • Improved brand recognition as consumers are much more likely to identify with a brand they can relate to, one that shares information in their preferred language through website content, marketing and promotional materials or when providing customer service; and
  • More efficient SEO as multilingual content helps drive more traffic to websites. Leveraging SEO keywords may provide a competitive challenge in English, but in languages other than English, there is significantly less competition.

To attain a global reach, or to expand into diverse local communities right here in Houston, localization is an effective way to broaden the market and reach more customers, starting here in our multi-cultural city.

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Ludmila Golovine is the president and CEO of MasterWord Services Inc. and a founding member of newly formed Women in Localization's Texas Chapter. The organization is hosting its first Houston panel and networking event on Tuesday, September 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440).

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.