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 family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.