Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photo via Getty Images

It's giving season, and you need not look any further than Houston's startup and innovation community for some gift ideas.

This year's Houston startup gift guide includes experiences, sustainable shopping, and more.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas, and check out the 2021, 2020 and 2019 startup gift guides as well for even more options.

For someone outdoorsy: An easy-to-book fishing trip

Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, expanded in Houston this year. Photo via Getty Images

After seeing success in last year's Rice Business Plan Competition, Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, announced this year that it's moving half of its employees to Houston, InnovationMap reported. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas. You can book a trip for your family or shop gear on the startup's website.

For a wine lover: A quick cooling tool

The Cold Cork delivers 20-second beverage chilling. Photo via Facebook/Cold Cork

Perfect for someone who loves to entertain, The idea Cold Cork came from the brains of two Houstonians who love a chilled wine at the end of a long day. However, it often happens that while you're ready for wine, but the wine's not ready for you. The device, priced at $64.95, chills liquids 20 degrees in 20 seconds.

For the new mom in your life: A game-changing breastmilk service

Milkify secured a deal on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

As seen on Shark Tank, Houston-based Milkify provides a unique service to breastfeeding moms. The company freeze dries breast milk so that families can have the convenience of formula with the nutrition of breast milk. The startup, which won at this year's Houston Innovation Awards, secured an investment on the show and even got the nod of approval from Gwyneth Paltrow. Milkify has plans to scale, as the husband-and-wife team shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

For someone who loves a sweat sesh: Smell-free athletic wear

Houston-based Accel Lifestyle's innovative line of athleisure has made it into Talbots. Photo courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

For years, Houston athletic clothing brand Accel Lifestyle has been providing its customers with sporty outfits that are designed to not hold onto any stink resulting from bacteria from sweat. As of this summer, the brand is in Talbots, so you can shop in store, as well as online.

For the trendsetter: Sustainable fashion

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

Shop for one (or all) of your loved ones sustainably with Trendy Seconds, a website created by Houstonian Maria Burgos. There's likely something for everyone on your Christmas list — and no purchase can possibly considered naughty — at least when considering your carbon footprint.

For a party animal: Brews for every occasion

Bring these to your next holiday party. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Two Houston companies formalized their partnership this year. Bayou City Hemp Company announced that it has purchased 8th Wonder Brewery, Distillery, and Cannabis. The acquisition deepens a relationship that dates back to 2021, when 8th Wonder and Bayou City Hemp partnered to create Wonder Water, a non-alcoholic beverage available with either CBD or Delta-8 that became the top-selling to-go product at 8th Wonder. Now, the combined company creates adult beverages by offering a full lineup of beer, spirits, and cannabis-infused drinks.

For a mother-daughter duo: A tool to enhance their relationship

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kindA Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

Passport Journeys, an app with a membership that helps cultivate mother-daughter relationships, can help you on your new year's resolution to heal your relationship with your mom or daughter. The intake process is $280 with monthly fees after and includes a slew of support for relationship building.

Houston-based WellWorth was selected as the winner of this year’s Houston Startup Showcase. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Houston energy startup wins Ion's annual showcase, pitch competition

1st place

The Ion hosted its annual startup pitch competition, and one company walked away with a win.

WellWorth, a financial modeling and analysis software-as-a-service company for the upstream energy sector, won the Houston Startup Showcase + Expo and secured a $5,000 prize. The startup's technology introduces a more streamlined approach to NAV modeling or corporate financial modeling for its users.

“Having worked in investment banking, I have seen firsthand how the limitations of Excel models and a lack of bespoke tools have led to inefficient workflows in upstream Oil & Gas finance," says Samra Nawaz, CEO and Co-founder of WellWorth, in a statement. "We decided to solve this problem by building a cloud-based platform that helps energy finance leaders improve decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.”

Nawaz explains how impactful the opportunity to pitch has been on WellWorth, which aims to raise funding early next year accelerate customer acquisition and product development.

“By getting involved in the Ion’s innovation ecosystem, we’ve been able to not only network with many entrepreneurs and innovators in the Houston community, but also find opportunities to scale our growth,” continues Nawaz. “We’re thrilled to have brought a few more customers onboard recently, and are working closely with them to optimize our product pipeline."

The company pitched alongside the other five finalists, which included Tierra Climate, MRG Health, BeOne Sports, Trez, and Mallard Bay. Mallard Bay, a booking platform for hunting and fishing trips, secured the people's choice award, which was decided by the crowd.

“Our flagship event, Houston Startup Showcase, not only connects startups and entrepreneurs with top business leaders but also provides them an opportunity to pitch their innovations to the technology ecosystem,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release. “We extend our congratulations to WellWorth and the company’s innovative SaaS platform for energy industry finance teams, as well as Mallard Bay, the People’s Choice winner. These companies are exemplifying the exciting new technologies being developed in Houston today.”

In addition to the pitches, several companies showcased at the event, including Nanotech, manufacturer of thermal management materials for the built environment; last year's winner Unytag, a universal toll tag that provides drivers the ability to pass through tolls anywhere in the nation; and Softeq, provides early-stage innovation, technology business consulting, and full-stack development solutions to enterprise companies and innovative startups.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, is expanding in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

A Louisiana-born, Houston-backed outdoors activity startup is expanding into the Bayou City

growing in Hou

A Louisiana-founded hunting and fishing startup is growing its operations and expanding into Houston.

Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, will move half of its employees to Houston and will join the Greater Houston Partnership, according to a release from the GHP. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas.

The company was founded in 2021 by a group of Louisiana State University students after noticing a gap in the outdoor travel space. Last year, founders Logan Meaux, Joel Moreau, Wyatt Mallett and Tam Nguyen entered in the Rice Business Plan Competition and won the fourth-most in investments and prizes, totaling $218,000.

“Entering the Rice Business Plan Competition helped close out our $1.8 million seed round last September,” Meaux, co-founder and CEO of Mallard Bay, says in a statement. “Not only did it help us raise money, but the recognition and the contacts we made were instrumental in growing the business and sparked the idea to expand to Houston. Prior to the competition, we were unaware of all that the Houston startup ecosystem had to offer, but quickly realized the value of having a network here in Houston.”

That same year the company also acquired Texas-based marketing firm, Bourbon Media. The company also recently launched GuideTech, which provides guides and charter services with tools like calendar management and payment solutions for back-office use, the Baton Rouge Business Report reported earlier this year.

According to the GHP, Mallard Bay now works with more than 300 outfitters, ranchers and charter captains. The company has seen more than 1,000 percent YOY growth over the last five months.

Houston-based technology services development company Softeq Venture Studio is a major investor in Mallard Bay. According to a statement from Billy Grandy, chief innovation officer at Softeq and Managing Partner of the Softeq Venture Fund, the company began working with Mallard Bay in 2022.

"The company has garnered significant interest since participating in The Softeq Venture Studio, our hands-on startup accelerator program and we are eager to see where this next chapter takes them," Grandy added in the statement.

Softeq announced its latest cohort for its accelerator program in May.

Houston is also home to outdoors and sporting equipment marketplace Everest. Founder and CEO Bill Voss spoke on the Houston Innovators Podcast about how Everest aims to disrupt the marketplace with its seller-friendly platform.
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Houston startup recognized for inclusivity on journey to commercialize next-gen therapeutics

future of medicine

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.

Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to be in the health and nutrition category at SXSW.

“We did really well, but there was another company that also did really well. And so we were not selected for the pitch competition, which we were a little bummed about because I killed the pitch,” Burkhardt recalls.

But Phiogen is worthy of note, pitch competition or not. The new company spun off from research at Dr. Anthony Maresso’s TAILOR Labs, a personalized phage therapy center at Baylor College of Medicine, last June.

“Our whole goal is to create the next generation of anti-infectives,” says Burkhardt.

That means that the company is making alternatives to antibiotics, but as Burkhardt says, “We’re hoping to be better than antibiotics.”

How does it work? Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

“You can imagine them as the predators in the bacteria world, but they don't infect humans. They don't affect animals. They only infect bacteria,” Burkhardt explains.

Phiogen utilizes carefully honed bacteriophages to attack bacteria that include the baddies behind urinary tract infection (UTI), bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and skin wounds.

The team’s primary focus is on treatment-resistant UTI. One example was a male patient who received Phiogen’s treatment thanks to an emergency-use authorization from the FDA. The gentleman had been suffering from an infection for 20 years. He was treated with Phiogen’s bacteriophage therapy for two weeks and completely cleared his infection with no recurrence.

Amanda Burkhardt is the CEO of Phiogen. Photo via LinkedIn

But Phiogen has its sights set well beyond the first maladies it’s treated. An oft-quoted 2016 report projected that by 2050, 10 million people a year will be dying from drug-resistant infections.

“A lot of scientists call it the silent pandemic because it's happening now, we're living in it, but there's just not as much being said about it because it normally happens to people who are already in the hospital for something else, or it's a comorbidity, but that's not always the case, especially when we're talking about urinary tract infections,” says Burkhardt.

Bacteriophages are important because they can be quickly trained to fight against resistant strains, whereas it takes years and millions of dollars to develop new antibiotics. There are 13 clinical trials that are currently taking place for bacteriophage therapy. Burkhardt estimates that the treatment method will likely gain FDA approval in the next five years.

“The FDA actually has been super flexible on progressing forward. Because they are naturally occurring, there's not really a safety risk with these products,” she says.

And Burkhardt, whose background is in life-science commercialization, says there’s no better place to build Phiogen than in Houston.

“You have Boston, you have the Bay [Area], and you have the Gulf Coast,” she says. “And Houston is cheaper, the people are friendlier, and it’s not a bad place to be in the winter.”

She also mentions the impressive shadow that Helix Park will cast over the ecosystem. Phiogen will move later this year to the new campus — one of the labs selected to join Baylor College of Medicine.

And as for that prize, chances are, it won’t be Phiogen’s last.

Houston student selected for prestigious health care research program

bright future

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.”

Ziaee aims to become a physician who can use an understanding of social health conditions to guide his clinical practice. At a young age, he was inspired to go into the field by his family's own experience.

According to UH, Ziaee is the oldest child of Iranian American immigrants. He saw firsthand the challenges of how language and cultural barriers can impact patients' access to and level of care.

“I think a lot of people define health as purely biological, but a lot of other factors influence our well-being, such as mental health, financial health, and even access to good food, medical care and the internet,” he said in a statement. “I am interested in seeing the relationship among all these things and how they impact our health. So far, a lot of health policies and systems have not really looked beyond biology.”

"I want everyone to have an equal chance to access health care and take charge of their well-being. We need to have the systems in place that let people do that,” he added.

Ziaee is already on his way to helping Houston-based and national health systems and organizations make headway in this area.

He was named as a student regent on the UH System Board of Regents last year, sits on the board of the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross, and is an Albert Schweitzer Fellow.

Last year he was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John R. Lewis scholar, for which he presented his research project about predicting food insecurity in pediatric clinical settings and recommendations to improve the assessment based off his summer research with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Prior to this, he completed a 10-week guided research experience using data visualization and predictive modeling techniques to assess food insecurity in the Third Ward.

“I just took every opportunity that came to me,” Ziaee said. “All my experiences connect with my central desire to increase health access and improve health care. I am very intentional about connecting the dots to my passion.”

Earlier this year, three UH student researchers were named among 16 other early-stage research projects at U.S. colleges and universities to receive a total of $17.4 million from the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). The projects were each awarded between about $750,000 to up to $1.5 million.

Houston tech entrepreneur expands energy data co. in Europe, continues to scale

houston innovators podcast episode 229

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector. But CEO Sean Kelly says he doesn't run his business like an energy company.

Kelly explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that he chooses to run Amperon as a tech company when it comes to hiring and scaling.

"There are a lot of energy companies that do tech — they'll hire a large IT department, they'll outsource a bunch of things, and they'll try to undergo a product themselves because they think it should be IP," he says on the show. "A tech company means that at your core, you're trying to build the best and brightest technology."

To Kelly, Amperon should be hiring in the same field as Google and other big tech companies that sit at the top of the market. And Kelly has done a lot of hiring recently. Recently closing the company's $20 million series B round last fall led by Energize Capital, Amperon has tripled its team in the past 14 months.

With his growing team, Kelly also speaks to the importance of partnerships as the company scales. Earlier this month, Amperon announced that it is replatforming its AI-powered energy analytics technology onto Microsoft Azure. The partnership with the tech giant allows Amperon's energy sector clients to use Microsoft's analytics stack with Amperon data.

And there are more collaborations where that comes from.

"For Amperon, 2024 is the year of partnerships," Kelly says on the podcast. "I think you'll see partnership announcements here in the next couple of quarters."

Along with more partners, Amperon is entering an era of expansion, specifically in Europe, which Kelly says has taken place at a fast pace.

"Amperon will be live in a month in 25 countries," he says.

While Amperon's technology isn't energy transition specific, Kelly shares how it's been surprising how many clean tech and climate tech lists Amperon has made it on.

"We don't brand ourselves as a clean tech company," Kelly says, "but we have four of the top six or eight wind providers who have all invested in Amperon. So, there's something there."

Amperon, which originally founded in 2018 before relocating to Houston a couple of years ago, is providing technology that helps customers move toward a lower carbon future.

"If you look at our customer base, Amperon is the heart of the energy transition. And Houston is the heart of the energy transition," he says.