3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's innovators to know roundup includes Kirsten Siebach of Rice University, Mike Francis of NanoTech Inc., and Kim Raath of Topl. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three innovators across industries — from space exploration to materials science.

Kirsten Siebach, assistant professor at Rice University

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Kirsten Siebach is getting ready for her Mars mission — one that keeps her firmly planted on Earth, but will allow her to search for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet nonetheless. The Rice University professor has again been selected by NASA to join a research team overseeing a rover that is currently en route to Mars.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades." Read more.

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech Inc.

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to fireproof California. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

Mike Francis wants to fireproof the state of California. It's a lofty goal, but he has the means. His company, NanoTech Inc., has an innovative product that can insulate and fireproof materials, and, buoyed by a $5 million seed round, he's well on his way to being able to slowly but surely fireproof existing infrastructure in the West Coast.

"We're working with all of the major players in the state of California to not only fireproof the utility infrastructure, but eventually homes and businesses," Francis says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal, if we're looking into the future, is to fireproof that state — and we're working with the right people and companies to make it happen." Read more and listen to the podcast.

Kim Raath, CEO of Topl

More and more consumers are expecting transparency from companies, and this Houston startup is on a mission to use blockchain to make businesses more transparent. Courtesy of Topl

Nowadays, consumers care about where their products come from — and if they exist due to a humanitarian or sustainable supply chain — and the onus is on businesses to increase transparency. That's where Topl, a Houston-based blockchain company, and its new partner Trackz, a Denver-based supply chain software company, come in.

"Topl and TrackX's solution will be a great option for companies having to comply with new regulations and compliance mandates," says Kim Raath, CEO of Topl. "Further, our joint solution allows users to visualize their supply chain data, monitor suppliers, and easily report the progress of ESG initiatives to all stakeholders."

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to fireproof California. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

With fresh funds, Houston startup plans to represent the future of fireproofing

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 60

A few years ago, Mike Francis caught a video of a man's hand coated in some sort of material and placed over a fire. Nothing was happening to the man's hand — the coating completely protected it — but something was happening in Francis's brain, and a year ago he founded Nanotech Inc.

Based in Houston, NanoTech' is focused on reducing energy waste by proper insulation within the construction industry — a half inch of NanoTech's material is the equivalent of 30 inches of fiberglass. However, perhaps more important to Francis is the life-saving capability the product provides in terms of fireproofing.

"We're working with all of the major players in the state of California to not only fireproof the utility infrastructure, but eventually homes and businesses," Francis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal, if we're looking into the future, is to fireproof that state — and we're working with the right people and companies to make it happen."

To the best of his knowledge, Francis says NanoTech is the only company this far along working on this goal. Millions of utility poles go up in flames as the forest fires sweep through the state, and coating them with NanoTech could help prevent this damage.

Of course, as the company grows, Francis is lucky to have the support and the funds behind him and his team. Earlier this year, Halliburton selected NanoTech as the inaugural member of Halliburton Labs. For the past few months, NanoTech has been based in the labs, receiving hands-on support, and NanoTech will join the year-long inaugural cohort of 15 or so companies in 2021.

NanoTech also has a new member to its support system — and $5 million — following the close of its seed round led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital. Francis says he was looking for an investor to bring new expertise the company doesn't have yet, and Ecliptic will be crucial to growing globally.

"Those first investors, especially in your seed round, are critical to your growth," says Francis. "We're so excited to be partnering with Ecliptic — we just trusted them."

Francis shares more about fundraising during a pandemic and what being based at Halliburton has meant for his company's growth. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston-based NanoTech Inc. has announced it's closed its seed round of funding. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

Houston startup closes $5M seed round led by Austin VC

Fresh funds

It's payday for a Houston startup that is housed out of the new Halliburton Labs. Nanotech Inc., which material science for fire-proofing and insulation, has announced the close of its $5 million seed round.

According to NanoTech's news release, Austin-based Ecliptic Capital led the investment round. Additionally, the deal also resulted in the conversion of a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE, that was previously issued to Halliburton Labs.

"The investment from Ecliptic Capital will allow us to scale our business to achieve our mission of fireproofing the world and reducing global energy consumption. Additionally, our participation with Halliburton Labs provides us with the support of a Fortune 500 company." says NanoTech's CEO Mike Francis in the release.

Based in Austin, Ecliptic Capital is a fund focused on early-stage startups and supports a wide range of technologies across neglected geographies and industries.

"Ecliptic is proud to partner with NanoTech as the company's founding institutional investor," says Mike W. Erwin, founder of Ecliptic Capital, in the release. "We're excited to work with the company and leverage our operational expertise to rapidly scale this impactful, world-changing technology. We look forward to a new world where NanoTech accelerates the thermal management market from science-fiction to science-fact."

Halliburton Company chose NanoTech among a round of contenders to be the first participant of their 12-month program located at their Houston headquarters. Halliburton provides Nanotech with its own office space, access to Halliburton facilities, technical expertise, and an extensive network to accelerate their product to market.

'We are thrilled to see a Halliburton Labs participant secure their first round of financing, and congratulate the Ecliptic and NanoTech teams,' says Scott Gale, Halliburton Labs executive director, in the release. 'We are confident in the path forward as they work towards achieving a clean energy future.'

NanoTech's proprietary technology has the ability to be utilized for various industries — including commercial construction, chemical plants, oil and gas, aviation, utilities and much more — for eco-friendly spray-on insulation and fireproofing.

"As a company, we are just scratching the surface on where our technology will be used and can't wait to see the business scale." adds Mike Francis.

Houston-based Nanotech was the first company to be selected for Halliburton Labs, a recently announced startup incubator. Photo via halliburtonlabs.com

Houston startup — buoyed by Halliburton — plans to scale

in the lab

A Houston-based material science startup that uses nanotechnology for thermal insulation and fireproofing has been chosen as the first participant of Halliburton Labs, an innovation incubator, announced late last month by the oil and gas giant.

Halliburton Company chose Nanotech Inc., among a round of contenders to be the first participant of their 12-month program located at their Houston headquarters. Halliburton will provide Nanotech with its own office space, access to Halliburton facilities, technical expertise, and an extensive network to accelerate their product to market.

"With Nanotech's shield material we can have fireproofing infrastructure, saving lives and helping save the planet," says Mike Francis, CEO of Nanotech. "But it's tremendously difficult to scale our small lab to take our product globally, so when we heard about this opportunity with Halliburton Labs, we jumped immediately on it."

Nanotech Inc., started with a singular technology and a simple mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption globally. The base nano shield, flex shield, and forged shield products contain nanoparticles ranging from 1 micrometer to 1 nanometer in a water-based solution with other inorganic compounds. The coating is heat resistant, non-flammable, and the nontoxic properties ensure it is sustainable for the environment.

"We see the Nanotech team as part of our team," says Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs. "We see them as an extension of the founding Halliburton Labs team, during our initial conversations, we saw their product development cycle and founding team and found a lot of great overlap."

From Francis' perspective, Halliburton Labs allows his company to live the best of both worlds, with access to the garage-style office of any startup and a lab equipped with the full muscle of the Halliburton resources and knowledge.

"What they are providing us is incredible," says Francis. "We have access to this world-class multimillion-dollar laboratory that would take us years to build up, we also have access to our own startup garage. You don't lose the magic of that startup phase, but we also get that bump."

According to Francis, they have already began using the lab to conduct tests that will accelerate the rate to take their nano shield technology to market faster.

"The product stands in and of itself but having access to Halliburton Lab's has changed our trajectory dramatically," says Francis. "If Nanotech had to use a third-party lab, the turnaround would take longer, and many of these tests we have been able to conduct in-house with a one or two-day turnaround."

Nanotech is aiming to move quickly, with its funding process well underway, they expect to reach full capitalization in one or two months. From there they will be looking for a home of their own after they graduate from the incubator, constructing a plant that accommodates their infrastructure and their goals of a global operation. Since the announcement of their participation in Halliburton Labs, many investors have reached out to them.

"By this time next year we'll have our fully operational plant that's going to be able to do hundreds of thousands of tons of product per year," says Francis. "We'll be able to iron out the kinks while we use the Halliburton Labs facilities and figure out what we need in our own lab."

Houston-based oil field service company, Halliburton, has introduced its new startup incubator. Getty Images

Houston oil and gas giant premieres new startup incubator and names first participant

new to hou

Not intending to be left out of the energy transition, a Houston-based, multinational oil and gas services company has announced its new incubator for startups to advance cleaner, affordable energy.

Halliburton Company has introduced Halliburton Labs this week and named Houston-based Nanotech Inc., which uses nanotechnology for thermal insulation and fireproofing, as its first participant. Nanotech — along with future entrepreneurs and academics — will have access to the Halliburton facilities, the company's experts, and its network.

"Halliburton Labs reflects our commitment to the science and continued evolution of sustainable, reliable energy," says Jeff Miller, chairman, president, and CEO at Halliburton, in a news release. "We firmly believe that oil and gas will remain an affordable and reliable energy resource for decades to come. At the same time, we recognize the importance of developing alternative energy sources. We are excited to help advance solutions that have the potential for a long term, meaningful impact and that align well with our sustainability objectives."

The program will be based out of Halliburton's North Houston headquarters and will be led by executive director, Scott Gale. The primary focus of the incubator is to help advance and scale the participating startups, which includes developing and advancing products, securing financing and customers, and more.

Startups that will be considered for the program must be past the proof-of-concept phase, and a formal application process will roll out in September. According to the release, additional startup participants will be announced in the next few months. Meanwhile, Nanotech has already moved into the new lab at Halliburton.

"We also couldn't be more pleased to have Nanotech, Inc. as the first participant of Halliburton Labs," says Miller in the release. "Nanotech delivers technology that will change the way we think about energy conservation and fire safety across many sectors."

Nanotech's Nano Shield products can protect from fire damage as well as improve energy efficiency. Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder, launched Nanotech in 2019.

"We are incredibly excited to have been selected as an anchor for Halliburton Labs and help drive meaningful change and innovation in the energy sector," says Francis, in the release. "Access to Halliburton Labs' resources and world-class facilities will help accelerate our growth and deliver our transformative line of products. Through this collaboration, we intend to fundamentally shift the fireproofing and thermal insulation markets towards more effective and environmentally friendly solutions."

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Texas named a top state for women-led startups

this one's for the ladies

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

New downtown office tower will rise in bustling Discovery Green

new to hou

A new office tower will soon loom over the popular Discovery Green as the anchor of a new downtown district. Global development and construction firm, Skanksa, announced the new building at 1550 Lamar St. and its anchor tenant on January 13. The new 28-story, 375,000-square-foot Class-A office structure is dubbed 1550 on the Green, per a Skanska statement.

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright will relocate its Houston office in 2024 and acquire naming rights upon occupancy, according to a press release.

Bound by La Branch, Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas Streets, 1550 on The Green will feature extra-wide pedestrian zones with a canopy of trees, two tenant outdoor roof terraces, and wide views of the surrounding greenery.

International design firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group led the building's design; it is the company's first foray into Texas. BIG's design promises sustainability, energy efficiency, and an "airy" office environment for tenants, a release describes.

Some 7,000 square feet of retail space will greet first-floor guests. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has been tapped to design the interior amenity spaces; those include a fitness center, rooftop event space and terrace, and community spaces.

The new 1550 on the Green tower is part of a new envisioned district that will be branded as Discovery West. The district will consist of 3.5 acres of mixed-use development boasting restaurants, retail, green space, and "world-class architecture," per a release.

Working with Central Houston Inc., Discovery Green, Bike Houston, the Kinder Foundation, as well as several brokers, Skanska and design firm of record, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, completed the master plan for Discovery West in early 2020.

Skanska has been noticeably active in the Houston office market, specifically with the development of Bank of America Tower, West Memorial Place I and II, and the future Discovery West. The company is behind the acquisition of a buzzy strip center in Montrose. Skanska also plans to multifamily to its Houston portfolio, the firm notes.

"As an organization that prides itself on building what matters to our communities, our team, made up of Houstonians, has been working alongside local stakeholders to develop a plan and a building that will transform this side of downtown Houston while still meeting the needs of the city," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA commercial development's Houston market, in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.