Here's who's making the call for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards. Photos courtesy

It's been two weeks since InnovationMap announced its inaugural awards program presented by Techwave — and the ecosystem is already buzzing with excitement to find out the top innovative companies in town.

The InnovationMap Awards will honor Houston's innovators and their breakthrough technologies across industries. The program and hybrid event — which will take place September 8 — will shine a spotlight on the movers and shakers within Houston's burgeoning innovation community. Nominations are open for the awards now — and the deadline to submit your nomination is July 23.

Click here to nominate a deserving company.

But who will decide this year's finalists and winners for the event? A cohort of eight of the best innovation leaders in the Bayou City. Introducing: The 2021 InnovationMap Awards judges:

Juliana Garaizar, head of Greentown Houston and vice president of Greentown Labs

Courtesy photo

A longtime angel investor and Houston innovation leader, Juliana Garaizar is no stranger to the local ecosystem. Prior to her current role leading Greentown Labs in Houston, she served as director of the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and managing director at the Houston Angel Network. She's also involved with Houston-based Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa, and has worked with Portfolia for over five years.

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

​A leader in Houston innovation for several years now, Jon Nordby oversees Boston-based MassChallenge's entire Texas operation. MassChallenge's global accelerator program supports an annual cohort of startups across industries. Prior to his current role, he served as director of strategy at Houston Exponential and vice president of talent and innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Photo courtesy of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez has dedicated herself to helping do-gooders do greater, as her LinkedIn page proudly boasts, and for the past three years, she's been doing that by leading Impact Hub Houston, a locally rooted, globally connected 501c3 nonprofit that champions inclusive, impact-driven innovation. She also co-founded Station Houston in 2016.

Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center

Photo courtesy of TMC Innovation

Emily Reiser is like a switchboard operator for TMC Innovation, where she's worked with health tech startups since 2019. She supports clinicians, innovators, corporate partners, and business advisers who are dedicated to advancing healthcare innovation all while providing a common ground for collaboration, connection, and innovation.

Serafina Lalany, vice president of operations at Houston Exponential

Photo courtesy of Serafina Lalany

Serafina Lalany leads operations at Houston Exponential, the city's nonprofit focused on accelerating the development of Houston's innovation economy. She's also a board member of Diversity Fund Houston — a micro venture fund created to invest in minority tech founders during the "friends and family round."

Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon

Photo via LinkedIn

After spending eight years in oil and gas, Alex Gras took his management skills to The Cannon Houston — a network of entrepreneurial hubs across Houston. The Cannon is the InnovationMap Awards venue for the September 8 event.

Rajasekhar Gummadapu, CEO of Techwave

Photo courtesy

Raj Gummadapu is the co-founder of Techwave, the award program's presenting sponsor. An accountant by trade, he has about 17 years of experience with combination of working with "big 5" consulting companies and various midsize to Fortune 100 companies across different industries on various strategic initiatives and global process and systems transformations.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

Photo courtesy

Natalie Harms has been at the helm of InnovationMap — Houston's voice for Innovation — since its inception in October 2018. She oversees all editorial operations of the site and hosts its weekly podcast, the Houston Innovators Podcast.

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."

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a Houston startup wins an international COVID-19 innovation competition, The Ion has a new founding partner, and more. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion Houston names new partner, growing startup names new CTO, and more local innovation news

short stories

It's been a busy week with virtual SXSW, spring break, and more. For this reason, some of Houston's innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a Houston startup grows its C-suite, a local accelerator application deadline looms, the latest news from The Ion, and more.

Baker Botts doubles down on The Ion

The Ion has a new founding partner. Courtesy of Rice University

Houston's rising innovation hub, The Ion, has named Houston-based Baker Botts as the latest founding partner, alongside previously announced partners Microsoft and Chevron Technology Ventures.

"Today's announcement not only solidifies Baker Botts' investment in The Ion and the programs we are activating, but is a commitment to growing Houston's innovation ecosystem," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "Baker Botts' work with The Ion has already helped countless entrepreneurs get their work off the ground, and we are excited for their support as we continue to accelerate innovation and connect communities to build sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Houston."

Baker Botts has agreed to the following partnership opportunities with the Ion:

  • Provide in-kind services to this year's Houston Startup Showcase Winner
  • Offer on-site presence to support The Ion's various community members and provide substantive programming to startups
  • Host legal programming and workshops for The Ion's Accelerator Hub members
  • Expand gateway events including The Ion's Family Tech Night and Plaza Tec series

"Given our market-leading strengths in Houston, this is an exciting opportunity for the firm," says John Martin, managing partner of Baker Botts, in the release. "Our participation with The Ion brings together lawyers across our corporate venture capital, energy tech, IP and other practices to work closely with a range of cutting-edge companies at the heart of the Texas startup ecosystem."

GoExpedi recruits new CTO from big tech

GoExpedi has a new CTO. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

Houston-based GoExpedi — a B2B e-commerce, supply chain and analytics company — recently hired global engineering executive Yang Tang as CTO. Tang has more than 20 years of experience leading technology and product teams at both startups and corporations, including Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and at Walmart eCommerce's operations.

"After an extensive search to find one of the most accomplished product leaders of our time, we are excited to introduce Tang as the new head of our technical operations and state-of-the-art supply chain model," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi's CEO, in a news release. "His history of excellence in the e-commerce space is beyond reproach. He brings unparalleled expertise having managed global projects with an emphasis on e-commerce development and digital engineering for some of the world's most reputable brands. With his leadership, vision, and technical expertise, we are primed to launch into the next stage of our company's development as we expand our offering of new digital and consumer-friendly solutions."

In his position, Tang will oversee the design and execution of GoExpedi's technology, product, and data roadmaps.

"I am pleased to help the manufacturing and energy industries reimagine industrial supply chain with the brightest minds in technology, MRO procurement and oil and gas," says Tang in the release. "I was fortunate to contribute to the e-commerce renaissance that exploded in the consumer space over the last few years and am eager to apply what I have learned to the industrial sector. I look forward to collaborating with the team at GoExpedi to drive continuous improvements in all aspects of the industrial supply chain."

Last fall, GoExpedi closed a $25 million series C round with plans to hire.

Houston startup named a winner at $6M COVID-testing competition

Houston-based Steradian Technologies, Inc. was named among the winners of XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing competition, an international innovation challenge that called for solutions for high-quality, affordable COVID-19 testing.

"We are extremely excited to create high-tech diagnostic solutions that are rapid, inexpensive, and accurate to create healthcare accessibility and equity for everyone, irrespective of any financial, geopolitical, or socioeconomic barriers. COVID-19 detection is our near-term goal, and we're looking forward to the possibilities of ubiquitous testing for all," says Asma Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Steradian Technologies, in a news release.

Steradian Technologies is "developing a product that created human super-sight via the startup's proprietary optics," according to the release, and pivoted its technology to create the RUMI diagnostic system, which uses Steradian's technology to look at photonics to detect disease biomarkers within a user's breath within 30-seconds.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we need to be more prepared as a nation and as a global community for future viral threats. The rapid development of vaccines has been achieved through incorporating new technologies, and diagnostic tech needs to do the same. Our goal has been just that. We wanted to create a diagnostic tool that could be fast, accurate, and easy to use and could be widely deployed," says John Marino, co-founder and chief of product development, in the release. "We know that COVID-19 won't be the last threat of this kind and are developing a solution that can easily adapt to any new pathogen. We are extremely grateful to have been recognized by XPRIZE for our effort."

Houston entrepreneur to pitch with Techstars

Amanda Ducach, founder and CEO of SocialMama

Amanda Ducach, founder of SocialMama, is expecting to pitch at Techstars Austin. Photo courtesy of SocialMama

Houston-based consumer tech company, SocialMama, which connects mothers virtually via an app, was accepted into the Techstars Austin program for 2021. Founder Amanda Ducach will be presenting at the recently announced Techstars Austin virtual Demo Day on March 24.

SocialMama's Techstar Austin cohort colleagues include: BallBox, Inc (Chicago, IL), Enlightapp (Fargo, ND), Fêtefully (Dallas, TX), hampr (Lafayette, LA), Kousso (Charlotte, NC), Livo (Coral Gables, FL), Mowies (Medellin, Colombia), Nutritional Freedom (Austin, TX), and Talk Howdy (Austin, TX).

Registration is free and open online.

MassChallenge Houston's applications open for two more weeks

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas has opened applications for it's next cohort in Houston. The equity-free, no-cost program is seeking startups across industries that have raised less than $1 million in funding and less than $2 million in revenue to apply. The program provides startups mentorship, corporate partnerships, curriculum, and more.

The deadline to apply is March 31 by midnight. If interested, entrepreneurs can apply for free with the code "MC21INNOMAP." Click here to learn more and apply.

Register for some of these informative online events happening throughout the month of February. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events online in February ​

where to be online

February may be the shortest month, but it's jam-packed with online innovation and startup events that Houston innovators need to know about.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — from workshops and webinars to summits and pitch parties. Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

February 2 — Perfecting Your Pitch Deck

Join The Ion for our series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, February 2, at 1 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 4 — Building Together for the Future

A celebration of building—building Greentown Houston, building community, and building connections across Houston's cleantech ecosystem.

The event is on Thursday, February 4, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 4-5 — Venture Houston

The HX Venture Fund and its partners are putting on a jam-packed two-day online conference focused on venture capital in Houston. There will also be. a pitch competition with over $1.6 million in prizes. (InnovationMap is the media partner for Venture Houston.)

The event is on Thursday, February 4, and Friday, February 5. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 5 — Funding Your Startup Ask Me Anything

Join Hello Alice for an AMA event to learn all about Funding Your Business Startup with our expert Henri Pierre-Jacques, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Harlem Capital, a venture capital firm changing the face of entrepreneurship. He has led 13 investments and currently sits on 4 boards.

The event is on Friday, February 5, at 1:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 9 — Ladies who LaUNCH #11: Etiquette in Entrepreneurship with Merci Grace

Etiquette in entrepreneurship is a well-kept secret, and an understanding of startup culture and decision-making can set successful entrepreneurs and companies apart from the rest. Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for its 11th Ladies who LaUNCH event, featuring Merci Grace, partner at Lightspeed Ventures.

The event is on Tuesday, February 9, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 10 – Lilie Lecture with John Paul DeJoria

Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for its first fireside chat with the inspirational, rags-to-riches serial entrepreneur, John Paul Dejoria — co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products and The Patrón Spirits Company — as he shares his entrepreneurial journey.

The event is on Wednesday, February 10, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 16 — Black in Tech Summit presented by Deloitte

Capital Factory is dedicated to increasing diversity in the tech community and making its coworking space an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds and identities. The organization says the 3rd annual event is ideal for Black leaders, entrepreneurs, and allies in tech who support and invest in diversity and inclusion.

The event is on Tuesday, February 16, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 16 — E-Commerce Panel Discussion: Overcoming E-Commerce Challenges

As the world continues to navigate this new normal in the midst of COVID-19, The Ion will continue to bring panel discussions that will cover tools and strategies that are making it possible for businesses and consumers to stay connected.This month's guests are the co-founders of Melanoid Exchange.

The event is on Tuesday, February 16, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 17 — MassChallenge: From Idea to IPO

The journey from idea to IPO is full of twists and turns. Hear how two expert CEOs stayed laser-focused on impact amidst uncertainty, successfully taking their startups public during the COVID pandemic. This exclusive MassChallenge event will feature Thomas Healy, CEO of Hyliion (MC Boston 2015), and Armon Sharei, CEO of SQZ BioTech (MC Boston 2014).

The event is on Wednesday, February 17, at 10:30 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 17 — Top Legal Considerations for Startups

Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for a session with corporate and securities lawyer Aaron Barker, who specializes in advising companies from formation to exit, will give you the inside knowledge to help you launch your venture, and possibly save you from making a rookie mistake.

The event is on Wednesday, February 17, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 17 — EnventureSA "Inspire" Seminar Series - With Dr. Rafael Veraza

Enventure's "Inspire" Seminar Series teaches about the reality of working in the biotech and biomedical fields. This month's event will star Dr. Rafael J. Veraza as guest speaker. Dr. Veraza received an MPH at Emory University and a PhD in Translational Science at UT Health San Antonio. After graduating, he also completed a Postdoc at UT Health while working as a Senior Scientist at Vascular Perfusion Solutions, Inc. where he currently serves as the Director of Translational Science.

The event is on Wednesday, February 17, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 18 — Tech and Space

Five Space City representatives join General Assembly to discuss all about space challenges and innovations.

  • Deanea LeFlore - Senior Director, Partnerships, The Ion
  • Nicholas Skytland - Deputy Chief, Exploration Technology Office, NASA
  • Guy de Carufel - CEO, Cognitive Space
  • Samantha Snabes - Co-founder: Catalyst, re:3D Inc
  • Tara Karimi - Founder and Chief Scientist, Cemvita Factory Inc.

The event is on Thursday, February 18, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 18 — Building Black Wealth in the 21st Century

Join Urban Capital Network (UCN) and special guests to engage in an open discussion on building black wealth in the 21st century.

The event is on Thursday, February 18, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 24 — Houston Startup Showcase

The Houston Startup Showcase is a flagship event from The Ion, formerly known as Demo Day. This event will allow for developing companies to receive feedback from subject matter experts and showcase their successes thus far. The event is a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions, and results in a final winner to close the series in November. Companies are encouraged to apply online to pitch.

The event is on Wednesday, February 24, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

Here's who won big for Houston innovation. Photos courtesy

Houston Exponential names winners of inaugural innovation awards

And the winner is...

In a virtual awards program, Houston Exponential has revealed the winners of the inaugural Listies awards.

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

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 38 finalists. Click here to see the finalists.

Here's who took home the big wins.

SDO Superstar: MassChallenge Texas

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

A startup development organization can be an accelerator program, an incubator, or a coworking space — and organizations falling into all three of these sectors were nominated for this category. MassChallenge Texas, which has been running its non-equity, general accelerator program in Houston for two years, stood out to judges to take the win for the SDO Superstar category.

Individual Contributor: Slawek Omylski of SecurityGate

Photo via LinkedIn

The individual contributor award was meant to find and recognize a non-founder who was essential to the success of a Houston startup, and that's exactly how SecurityGate's team sees Slawek Omylski, director of engineering. Not only has he been essential from the start over three years ago when he joined as employee No. 4, but Omylski, when unexpectedly having to move back home to Italy, never missed a single meeting or tech deployment despite being an ocean away from the rest of his team. Known as "Suave" by his teammates, his nominators say Omylski is usually the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave.

Civic Innovation: Annapurna Solutions

Image viaannapurnasolutions.org

Everyone knows that the key to sustainability is reducing, reusing, and recycling, but the fact of the matter is no one has quite perfected recycling. Houston-based Annapurna Solutions is stepping in to help. The company provides innovative technology solutions to address waste and recycling challenges, helping to make cities smart and sustainable — like the company's ReciklApp.

Welcome to Houston: Greentown Labs

Photo via greentownlabs.com

Greentown Labs is a startup development organization, but it's are also a startup itself, but when it opens its doors in Houston in the spring, the organization isn't starting from scratch. After years of working with over 200 climatech companies in the Boston area, Greentown's expansion into Houston means incubating Houston energy tech companies and furthering the conversation and activation within the energy transition.

Investor of the Year: Integr8d Capital

Photo via TMC.edu

John "J.R." Reale has been a well respected mentor, entrepreneur, and investor in Houston for years. His firm Integr8d Capital has invested in several Houston companies, including Liongard from seed stage to series A and series B. Reale is also the entrepreneur in residence for the TMC Innovation Institute.

Corporate Innovator: Houston Methodist

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston Methodist and its Center for Innovation led by Roberta Schwartz is leading health tech innovation in Houston. In January, the hospital opened its Technology Hub, 3,500-square-foot space renovated from a former 18-room patient wing to showcase and test new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, and more. Additionally, the hub helped with the training of dozens of doctors with the rise of telemedicine during COVID-19.

Outstanding Leadership: Grace Rodriguez

Photo courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Grace Rodriguez's career spans industry and time, but her leadership has been consistent throughout. She currently serves Impact Hub Houston as CEO and executive director. Her nominator calls her an inspiration and someone who "shows up," clearly loving everything she does and is responsible. During COVID-19, she's gone above and beyond to provide resources and information to everyone who needs it, including launching a fund to help pay for meals for health care workers and first responders. The LIFE Fund raised over $20,000.

COVID Phoenix: Luminare

Image via luminaremed.com

Originally founded by Dr. Sarma Velamuri to treat and fight sepsis, Luminare took its sepsis platform and pivoted it to created a COVID self-assessment and testing tool. Their digital platform directed 5.5 million people to COVID-19 testing sites in just 21 days, according to its nomination. The tool was used by Harris County and several other entities.

DEI Champion: Maria Maso

Photo courtesy of Nijalon Dunn

Maria Maso is looking out for minorities when it comes to investment. As the founder and CEO of the Business Angel Minority Association (baMa) — an Angel Association aimed at bridging minority-founded startups with accesses to capital — Maria has been a champion for diversity. She also has helped to educate and activate 40 diverse investors through baMa's Diversity Investor Academy, according to her nomination.

Mentor of the Year: Landi Spearman

Photo via LinkedIn

Landi Spearman's approach to mentorship, according to her nominee, is to mentor the full person — from professional to personal life — through Organized SHIFT, which focuses on helping highly productive leaders, individuals and organizations in their quest to sustain positive growth internally and externally. She also supports entrepreneurs though The Ion, Station Houston, General Assembly, the National Urban League, Power to Fly, Black Women in Science and Engineering, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston Black Chamber, Pink Petro, and more.

People's Choice and Soonicorn: Liongard

Photos via LinkedIn

People's Choice was based off how many nominations the startups received, and Liongard was a clear winner. The company, which also won in the Soonicorn category, has experienced major growth and, as the nominations read, that's to both Joe Alapat and Vincent Tran, co-founders, credit. The company has raised $12 million to date — the most recent round, a $10 million Series A — closed this year.

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City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

Rice University rises with massive $100M gift for innovative new student center

student centered

Rice University's Owls are soaring of late, with the school just being named the top in Texas and No. 7 in the U.S. Now, the institution known as the "Ivy League of the South" is the recipient of a mammoth gift aimed at a game-changing student center.

The Moody Foundation has granted Rice University a massive $100 million for its planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will replace Rice's current Memorial Center (RMC), and will become a new focal point for the university's 300-acre wooded campus, the school announced.

Notably, this new student center is designed by Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; the acclaimed architect's other works include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scheduled to break ground in early 2022 and construction completed in 2023, the brand-new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity will maintain some elements of the old RMC, namely the chapel and cloisters. Students and staff can expect demolition of the rest of the existing RMC, per a press release.

Moody's $100 million grant matches the record for the largest gift in the university's history. (Last year, the Robert A. Welch Foundation donated $100 million to the school to establish the innovation-driven Welch Institute.) The Moody Foundation has contributed over $125 million to Rice since 1964, a press release notes.

As part of the Moody $100 million gift, a new Moody Fund for Student Opportunity will support an endowment dedicated to student programs "physically anchored in the new student center and elsewhere in the university," according to the school.

All this supports Rice's recently announced plans for a 20-percent expansion of the undergraduate student body by fall 2025, as CultureMap previously reported.

"We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary philanthropy in support of Rice students," said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. "This gift will enable our students to broaden their engagements and experiences while at Rice in ways that will empower their success throughout their lives. It will also enable us to both connect more deeply with Houston and with the world. This will be the epitome of what an inclusive and outward-looking student center should be."

Elle Moody, a trustee of both the Moody Foundation and Rice, added: "As a Rice University alumna, I know this gift will have a profound and lasting effect on the campus and its students. This investment is supporting much more than just a building. We're investing in every student, so they have access to pursue any endeavor whether it's leadership, artistic, athletic, global or more."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.