Here's what MassChallenge companies won big this year. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

Nine startups that went through the 2021 Houston cohort for MassChallenge Texas have received cash prizes from the global accelerator.

Now in its 12th year, Boston-based MassChallenge awarded 39 equity-free cash and investment prizes to 36 early-stage companies from the 2021 virtual programs across Austin, Boston, Houston, and Rhode Island. The startups were recognized at a virtual showcase. Of the 229 companies to go through the program this year, about 70 of those were a part of the Houston cohort, which was announced in June, however none of the nine Houston cohort companies are based in Houston.

Here's which companies from the Houston program received awards:

  • AEROSENS, based in Miami, is a platform able to maximize aircraft cabin security and increase efficiency while reducing costs, using Bluetooth Low Energy sensors and the everyday smartphone or tablet. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • Analatom, based in Santa Clara, California, received the $10,000 FM Global Resilience Prize. The company has created an AI Deep Learning inspection technology automatically flag surface defects in images reducing maintenance costs improving inspection quality.
  • Astrileux Corporation, based in La Jolla, California, is accelerating manufacturing of next-gen ICs at 7 nm and smaller increasing power and performance in the era of zettabyte computing. The company scored one of the three top awards — a $100,000 Diamond Award.
  • Card Medic, based in the United Kingdom, received a $50,000 Platinum Award for its innovative digital technology designed to improve communication between healthcare staff and patients, across any barrier.
  • Exum Instruments, based in Denver, is combining high-performance tech with intuitive, seamless operations, Exum is solving materials characterization for a variety of industries. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • Grain4Grain, based in San Antonio, is using proprietary upcycling technology to turn byproducts from alcohol producers into low carb, high fiber flour alternatives at low cost. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • KNWN Technologies, based in DelRay Beach, received the Houston Angel Network Investment Prize as well as a $25,000 Gold Award. The technology provides a new level of identity validation for businesses to know and protect customer identity from enrollment through the life of the relationship.
  • Krtkl, based in San Francisco, is a new high-reliability edge-computing and artificial-intelligence solutions for robotics, sensing, and communications applications. The company received the ISSNL + CASIS Technology in Space Prize.
  • LucyDX, based in Middletown, Delaware, is preventing blindness in diabetics through early detection. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.

Texas-based Ecliptic Capital will also give out its Investment Prize, but did not announce their winner at the showcase. The organization announced its full list of winners online and at the showcase.

"We designed our process to work with all founders especially those who may be overlooked or underestimated by traditional equity accelerators and investment models. These founders still benefit from and deserve access to accountability, expertise, and a network traditionally often made available only to venture-backed companies," says Siobhan Dullea, CEO of MassChallenge, in the press release. "The 229 startups from this year's cohort demonstrate just how much opportunity exists beyond the closed process of venture when we widen the lens. Congratulations to the winners."

MassChallenge Texas has named its 2021 cohorts — including 71 companies to accelerate in Houston. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas names the 71 startups that make up its latest Houston cohort

ready to grow

Five Houston-based startups have been accepted into MassChallenge's 50th startup accelerator.

Three of the local startups are part of the program's Houston cohort, and two are part of the Austin cohort. In all, 71 startups from around the world are participating in the new Houston cohort.

Aside from Houston and Austin, there are cohorts in Boston and Rhode Island. This year's MassChallenge class, announced June 28, comprises 229 startups from 20 countries.

The five Houston-based startups in MassChallenge's latest accelerator program are:

  • Church Space, an "Airbnb for churches" that enables churches to rent out space for worship, events, meetings, and ghost kitchens. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Every Shelter, which localizes response and relief efforts for global refugee crises. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Milkify, which freeze-dries breast milk, enabling mothers to carry it in a powdered form. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Javari, a music prediction and discovery platform. It's part of the Austin cohort.
  • Netnoids Rx Laboratories, which provides a platform called Spanio that lets individuals and companies test therapeutics. It's part of the Austin cohort.

"At the core of these early stage businesses is the entrepreneurial spirit of their founders. Entrepreneurial spirit is the unique blend of optimism, passion, and drive that gets founders and their businesses through the daunting early days," Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, says in a news release.

Church Space, Every Shelter, and Milkify are among the 71 startups in the new Houston cohort. MassChallenge released the names of 69 of those companies. The two others are in stealth mode. Below are the names of the 69 publicly identified startups.

Energy / clean tech

  • Ener.com
  • SeebeckCell Technologies

General

  • Algdeha
  • Analatom
  • Astrileux
  • DeepCharge
  • Freshspire
  • Grain4Grain
  • Intelligent NanoFiber
  • Lepidext
  • Lodgeur
  • Milkify
  • NanoFlowX
  • Nature Knows
  • NjordFrey
  • ProFish Ghana
  • Solo
  • Stagetime

Health care / life sciences

  • AMF Medical
  • Arcascope
  • CardMedic
  • CaringWire
  • Exposphere Fitness
  • Galileo Innovations
  • Insu Health Design
  • Kismet Technologies
  • LucyDx
  • Newton Tech
  • Nightingale Caring Solutions
  • Nurlabs
  • Refined Imaging
  • Ronawk
  • SafetySit
  • SONOflammation
  • Tender Light Scientific
  • Uniphage
  • WestFace Medical

Social impact

  • Carta Digital
  • Every Shelter
  • Nile Agro Value Chain

Tech

  • Aerosens
  • Areanna AI
  • Church Space
  • CodeLn
  • Cybrik
  • Debtle
  • Edusko Africa
  • Exum Instruments
  • Fanorama Social Media
  • Glo3D.com
  • HintEd
  • Invento Robotics
  • KNWN Technologies
  • Krtki
  • Magos
  • Makeena
  • Manus Robotics
  • ModoScript
  • Notewardy
  • Nuw
  • Otomo
  • Owiwi
  • Patturn
  • Privoce
  • Third Ray
  • Tru-Spot Technologies
  • Yada.ai
  • Xena Intelligence
  • Xiggit

To be selected for the MassChallenge program, startups went through a two-round process that included more than 1,000 judges. During the program, participants will receive tools and advice to grow their businesses.

At the end of this year's program, startups will compete for equity-free cash prizes and grants adding up to $100,000. The prizes and grants will be awarded in October.

Attention Houston female founders — there are two new accelerator programs to have on your radars. Photo via Getty Images

Houston organizations announce two new female founder-focused programs

who runs the world?

A couple of Houston startup development organizations have recently announced programing and opportunities for female founders looking to advance their businesses.

Impact Hub Houston has announced that it has partnered up with Frost Bank to sponsor eight female founders to participate in Impact Hub's new Accelerate Membership Program. Applications are now open online and once the inaugural cohort is selected, they will receive the program for three months at no cost.

"At Impact Hub we believe the time to act is now. It's why we are excited to launch our new Accelerate Membership," says Maria Trindade, global network development director at Impact Hub Global, in a news release. "Its unique approach combines all the benefits of an enterprise support program with the flexibility that entrepreneurs need; plus its tailored nature makes this intervention highly accessible for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds who may not be able to dedicate full-time to their business idea."

Impact Hub Houston has also teamed up with MassChallenge for their own initiative supporting female founders in the Houston-Galveston region in partnership with Houston-based Workforce Solutions. The three organizations are collaborating to launch launch a bootcamp to support female founders in the greater Houston region.

"There is unprecedented growth in startup creation as a result of the pandemic and founders from all corners of the world are connecting in this virtual environment to build and scale amazing ideas," says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, in a news release. "With these new collaborations, we are also witnessing a massive gap in access to startup development resources. Our partnership with Workforce Solutions and Impact Hub Houston will help female founders build on their existing knowledge to become life-long innovators."

Applications for the bootcamp opened April 1 and will close at 5 pm on April 7 and are available online in both English and Spanish. The industry agnostic program will leverage MassChallenge's acceleration model and Impact Hub Houston's inclusive incubation expertise to accelerate female founders by connecting them with the resources they need to launch and scale high-impact businesses, according to the release.

"As a female founder myself, I'm incredibly excited about this opportunity to support and uplift more women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses in our region," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in the release. "By now, it's no secret that women, and especially women of color, are under-invested in; and this is our chance to change that by helping more women strengthen their businesses and prepare to seek funding."

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

Exclusive: HX names finalists for inaugural Houston innovation awards

the listies go to...

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

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

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

DEI champion

  • Heath Butler
  • Maria Maso
  • Grace Rodriguez

Individual contributor

  • Michael Matthews
  • Slawek Omylski
  • Brad True

Mentor of the year

  • Keith Kreuer
  • Wade Pinder
  • Landi Spearman

Outstanding leadership

  • Stephanie Campbell
  • Grace Rodriguez
  • Roberta Schwartz

Corporate innovation

  • Chevron Technology Ventures
  • Houston Methodist
  • Shell Ventures

Investor of the year

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

SDO superstar

  • MassChallenge Houston
  • Rice Alliance
  • TMCx

Welcome to Houston

  • Greentown Labs
  • TestCard
  • Win-Win

Civic engagement

  • Annapurna
  • Luminare
  • McMac Cx

COVID pivot/phoenix

  • Luminare
  • re:3D
  • sEATz

People choice

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

Soonicorn

  • GoExpedi
  • Liongard
  • Medical Informatics Corp.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.