CodeLaunch, which pairs startups with software consultants, is returning to Houston this spring. Photo via codelaunch.com

A traveling seed-stage accelerator has announced its return to Houston and named its second cohort.

CodeLaunch, produced by Dallas-based constant and software development company Improving and presented by Ohio-based VC network Cyrannus, is returning to Houston. The company's second Houston accelerator event will be held on March 2.

Putting a fresh spin on the seed accelerator model, CodeLaunch combines a startup competition with a tech tradeshow, as well as allows for networking among attendees. Since its inception ten years ago, the touring competition has doled out over $1.4 million in services to its finalists and overall winners.

"CodeLaunch is a startup and rock-n-roll show like nothing you've ever seen before," says CodeLaunch President and Founder Jason W. Taylor in a news release.

The competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies. This year's finalists and mentor pairings are as follows:

  • Lake Charles, Louisiana-based GOPHR's consultant mentor is Softeq
  • Port Arthur, Texas-based DrinKicks is paired with BJSS
  • Energy360, based in Houston, has been matched with Honeycomb Software
  • Inpathy, based in Detroit and Tyler, Texas, will work with Contollo
  • Drivingo, led by a student founder from Virginia Tech, is selected to collaborate with Blue People
  • Houston-based AnyShift's consultant mentor is Improving

Houston-based Softeq is returning to the event after working with software startup Codiac.

“CodeLaunch was great. We gained customers, investors, and a lot of local notoriety. It was the best event we had all last year," says Ben Ghazi, founder of Codiac about the event.

ResQ TRX, a Houston startup that provides solutions for the logistics industry, won CodeLaunch HOU 2022. Houston-based Clutch won Judges' Choice in last year's competition.

This year, investment is also on the line. Presenting partner Cyrannus announced that all startup founders who advance to the semifinal round of CodeLaunch will be competing in a $100,000 investment challenge, as well as the $50,000 challenge for impact startups. There would be one or two winners — either a winner for each award or, if a company scores top marks in both categories, one company can take home the entire $150,000.

“Not only will (a winner) get the cash, but also be introduced to a network that will help them refine their idea and get ready for their first big fundraiser," says Lee Mosbacker, founder of Cyrannus, in a news release.

This year's CodeLaunch event will be a part of Houston Tech Rodeo, which is taking place February 27 to March 2 this year. Tech Rodeo, which announced its schedule this week, will conclude its programming with the CodeLaunch event.

"Houston Exponential could not be more excited about our partnership with CodeLaunch Houston," says Houston Exponential CEO Natara Branch in the release. "They are a fantastic ally in Houston’s efforts to serve its growing startup community and CodeLaunch is an incredible fit for the capstone of the 2022 Tech Rodeo. Finishing off Tech Rodeo with CodeLaunch's exciting atmosphere will be a highly anticipated event for the Houston innovation ecosystem after an engaging week of programming."

Houston Tech Rodeo returns with 2023 programing across space, health, emerging tech, and more. Image via houstontechrodeo.com

Houston Tech Rodeo drops schedule for 2023 events

ready to rodeo

Houston Tech Rodeo returns this year — and the lineup of panels and networking opportunities has been released online.

The four-day summit was originally introduced in 2020 by Houston Exponential to shine a spotlight on Houston's tech and startup ecosystem. Last year, HX changed ownership, converted into a for-profit business, and named Natara Branch as the new CEO. With the new ownership comes a new era for HTR — complete with AI-generated media, a goal for a record-breaking finale event with CodeLaunch, and more.

"The biggest theme of Tech Rodeo this year is around being aware," Branch tells InnovationMap. "We want entrepreneurs to know what resources are out there, that they are supported, and that there are all these entities out here that are conducting themselves in a manner that is really centered around supporting them."

"We hope that when entrepreneurs and startups walk away from Tech Rodeo this year, it will really feel to them like there's more momentum in this city than there has been in the past so that we can be a top-tier startup destination," she continues.

This year's schedule is divided across a few themes and all events are being held in the Houston Innovation District in Midtown.

  • Monday, February 27: Space Tech at the Ion
  • Tuesday, February 28: Global Mindset at HCC Central Campus and Energy Tech at Greentown Labs
  • Wednesday, March 1: Bio Economy at TMC Innovation and Emerging Tech at The Cannon - Downtown
  • Thursday, March 2: Townhall and CodeLaunch Finale at Sesh Coworking and 713 Music Hall
The week's events will attract founders, investors, startup development organizers, and more. When HTR launched its free tickets online, Branch says they received around 800 registrants in one day. At the center of everything HX does is the Houston founders, Branch says.
"It was supper important to us to make sure that entrepreneurs have access," she says. "It's free to entrepreneurs — they are number one in who should attend."

More information and registration is available at houstontechrodeo.com.

Head to houstontechrodeo.com for up-to-date schedule information. Graphic courtesy of HX

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes John Higgins of illumiPure, Natara Branch of HX, and Daniel Murray of Covenant Underwriters. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from insurtech to entrepreneurship — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

John Higgins, CEO of illumiPure

CleanWhite can quickly and continuously sanitize high-touch areas through its light-based technology. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based illumiPure recently announced that it has received a worldwide patent for its LED white light disinfectant earlier this year, known as CleanWhite. The product can quickly and continuously sanitize high-touch areas while a room remains occupied and has shown an elimination of 99 percent of surface bacteria, spores, mold, biofilms, and viruses including SARS-CoV-2 through light-based technology. It's intended to be used in areas like kitchens, restrooms, and locker rooms and is safe for humans and pets.

CleanWhite uses spikes of light wavelengths at 405 and 470 nanometers to kill surface pathogens. Unlike other products on the market, CleanWhite can emit these levels without also emitting a visible purple-violet light while also suppressing blue light wavelengths.

"CleanWhite features technology that makes it the first of its kind, achieving a sought-after solution to produce 405+470 nm blue light as white light," John Higgins, CEO of illumiPure, says in a statement. "As a result of this revolutionary finding, we anticipate the patent’s success across a myriad of industries, including education, healthcare, hospitality, and retail.” Click here to read more.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential

Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

Ever since she accepted the new position as CEO of Houston Exponential, Natara Branch has been on a listening tour of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Branch explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that she has a passion for the city of Houston, and she's got open ears to anyone in the ecosystem who wants to contribute to the advancement of the city's tech ecosystem.

As she explains, she is getting her fair share of feedback — but she has an ask for anyone who she's met.

"I am challenging people. You're not just going to give me feedback and sit back and watch. You're going to participate," Branch says. "I have not met one person who doesn't want Houston to win — they wouldn't be here if they didn't." Click here to read more and listen to the podcast.

Daniel Murray, co-founder and chief underwriter of Covenant Underwriters

The emerging insurtech industry has a plethora of opportunities for job seekers and more. Photo courtesy

More than 100,000 Houstonians work in insurance, according to Daniel Murray, co-founder and chief underwriter of Covenant Underwriters, a Houston-based insurtech start-up, building e-commerce insurance products for underserved niches. But the 400-year-old industry is hungry for tech talent.

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Murray explains the need for tech and innovation within insurance — and the opportunity the industry has.

"The adage goes that everyone in the insurance industry was either born into it or tricked into it," he writes. "This may have applied to the last generation, but today’s insurance industry offers vast opportunities (including remote) for every discipline, especially for tech job seekers." Click here to read more.

Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

New HX leader strives to unlock Houston's potential

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 158

For the past few weeks, Natara Branch has been on a listening tour of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Recently named the CEO of Houston Exponential, Branch says one word comes to mind when she thinks of the future of HX: Potential.

"I know that's an overused word," Branch says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but I think we really have to get everyone in Houston galvanized around the fact that we do have this potential so that people can see it and invest in Houston — both internally and externally. I really do believe Houston has so much to offer people who live or want to live here."

After spending over 18 years at the National Football League driving that organization forward, Branch says she was looking a role that would bring her back to her adopted hometown of Houston — a city she's been cheering on from afar during her tenure at the NFL based in New York City.

Branch joins HX as the organization changed ownership — it was acquired by Gow Companies, a company founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO) — and transitioned from being a nonprofit into being a for-profit company. Branch says that this transition shouldn't affect Houston entrepreneurs' interaction with HX other than improve on the experience as now HX is an entity for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs too.

"I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a consultant, I invest, and I work with entrepreneurs all the time," she says on the podcast. "I'm an entrepreneur at heart. ... If you're a founder, you know it's a unique experience. If you're an investor, it's a risky experience, and I've been on both sides."

Branch shares more on the show about her passion for the city of Houston, and how she's got open ears to anyone in the ecosystem who wants to contribute to the advancement of the city's tech ecosystem. And, as she explains, she is getting her fair share of feedback — but she has an ask for anyone who she's met.

"I am challenging people. You're not just going to give me feedback and sit back and watch. You're going to participate," Branch says. "I have not met one person who doesn't want Houston to win — they wouldn't be here if they didn't."

Next week, Branch is making her Houston debut to the greater community at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, a collaborative event hosted by HX and InnovationMap, on November 9 at the Ion. She shares what all she's excited about for the event on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

Exclusive: Houston Exponential names new CEO to lead strategy at the evolving organization

ready to grow

There's a new leader at the helm of an organization dedicated to advancing Houston's innovation ecosystem.

Natara Branch has been named as CEO of Houston Exponential. She started the new role earlier this month and replaces Lawson Gow, who temporarily held the responsibility when his company, Gow Companies, acquired the entity and transitioned it from a nonprofit into a for-profit. While Gow Cos. remains the parent company of HX, the organization will be led independently by its own set of leadership and board, which is in the process of being formed.

In her new role, Branch is focused on establishing the strategy of the evolved organization as well as strengthening and establishing key partnerships within Houston and beyond.

"When we acquired Houston Exponential, one of our immediate priorities was to search for a world-class CEO to lead the organization into the future," says Lawson Gow, who is the son of David Gow, CEO of Gow Media, InnovationMap's parent company. "We are thrilled to announce that we've found that in Natara Branch. She is going to be the amazing leader that Houston needs to carry HX into the future."

Born in Germany and raised all around Texas, Branch says she is passionate about Houston as her adoptive hometown. She attended the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business, where she got her degree in accounting, and worked at ExxonMobil's audit team in Houston earlier in her career. Most recently, Branch was the first African American woman to hold a vice president position at the NFL. Based in New York, she oversaw operations in various leadership roles at the NFL for over 18 years.

A strategist and investor, Branch serves on the board for the University of Houston's Bauer School of Business as well as the school's Power Athletics Task Force. She also serves as a director for Super Group and as a director and chair of the audit committee for Bleuacacia.

"For the last 18 and a half years, I have been shouting from the rooftops about the resources, talent, and potential of this city," Branch tells InnovationMap. "And now, to be able to do that first-hand here in the city — that literally wakes me up excited every morning.

"This city has given me so much in so many different ways," she continues. "This is my opportunity to give back to the city that really did raise me and has given me so many opportunities. I could not be more excited to be a part of this momentum."

Branch joins HX at a uniquely transitional time for the organization. Founded in 2017 as a nonprofit by a cohort of collaborative organizations — the Greater Houston Partnership, the Mayor's Office, and the Houston Technology Center — HX was established to connect and convene Houston's tech and startup scene with the rest of the ecosystem, including educational institutions, corporations, investors, and more.

While the business model has evolved, this access to support is not changing, Branch says, explaining that entrepreneurs will always have access to resources and support at no cost.

"If HX is doing its job, you'll know the name — but you'll know it as a supporter of entrepreneurs," Branch says. "They are the heroes of the story. It's not HX. HX is here to tell the stories of these entrepreneurs so that they are getting funding, resources, advisers, mentors, exits."

While HX will continue the legacy of its two cornerstone events — its gala, which is on November 9 this year in collaboration with InnovationMap, and Tech Rodeo, usually occurring in the spring — Branch says the company will not be an events-focused organization. Rather, HX will amplify and convene the existing events and programming already taking place in town — both to Houstonians and to the rest of the world.

"We will be a sort of tour guide of innovation and technology within the city of Houston," Branch says, comparing the concept to her role at the NFL, which scouts out host cities for the SuperBowl. "If someone is looking for a coworking space or mentors and academic institutions to support their research, we will be that hub that can get that information out to the people already doing this hard and important work."

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Report: Houston's hot medical office market might be on track to cool

by the numbers

Houston’s medical office market is on a roll.

A report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows net absorption and transaction volume saw healthy gains in 2022:

  • The annual absorption total of 289,215 square feet was 50.5 percent higher than the five-year average.
  • Transaction volume notched a 31.7 percent year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, net rents held steady at $26.92 per square foot, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The fourth-quarter 2022 vacancy rate stood at 15.9 percent.

Despite those numbers, the report suggests a slowdown in medical office rentals may be underway.

“Tenants who may have previously considered building out or expanding their lease agreements are now in a holding pattern due to increased construction costs and higher interest rates,” the report says. “These factors are having a direct impact on financial decisions when it comes to lease renewals, making it more likely that tenants will remain in their existing location for the foreseeable future.”

Still, the report notes “a number of bright spots for the future of healthcare in Houston.” Aside from last year’s record-high jump in sales volume, the report indicates an aging population coupled with a growing preference for community-based treatment “will lift demand even higher in coming years.”

The report shows that in last year’s fourth quarter, 527,083 square of medical office space was under construction in the Houston area, including:

  • 152,871 square feet in the Clear Lake area.
  • 104,665 square feet in the South submarket.
  • 103,647 square feet in Sugar Land.
Last fall, JLL recognized Houston as a top city for life sciences. According to that report, the Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Houston financial services firm announces acquisition, plans to grow

M&A radar

A Houston-based financial services company has made a recent strategic acquisition that gives it a new banking status.

LevelField Financial, which is creating a platform that combines traditional banking and digital asset products and services, announced this week that it is acquiring Burling Bank, an FDIC-insured, Illinois state-chartered bank. According to the company, once it receives regulatory approval, "LevelField will be the first full-service bank to offer fully compliant traditional banking and digital asset services."

The financial terms of the deal's transaction, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.

The combined company will be able to provide traditional banking services, as well as LevelField's digital asset management. Burling Bank's senior management team will join LevelField's leadership, per a press release. They will focus on serving the bank's existing clients and growing the banking business nationwide.

"We conducted a broad review of banks in the U.S. to find the ideal institution with both an existing business and a management team who are aligned with our vision; we exceeded our expectations with Burling Bank. With this acquisition, LevelField will become a traditional bank, albeit one serving customers interested in the digital asset class," says Gene A. Grant II, CEO of LevelField Financial, in the release.

"We are thrilled to have the Burling executives join our leadership team, and together we intend to deliver fantastic customer service and well-designed products to customers who have an interest in accessing the digital asset class through a traditional bank," he continues.

Founded in 2018 by former banking executives, LevelField's leadership believes "the future of money is digital and that banks will continue to be a trusted provider of financial services," according to the website. This acquisition comes ahead of the company's plans to expand nationally.

"LevelField's strategic approach presented a tremendous opportunity for the bank to expand beyond our local footprint and serve customers with shared interests across the nation," says Michael J. Busch, Burling Bank president and CEO. "Together, we will continue to provide superior service and demonstrate that we truly understand the expanding and unique needs of our customers. Additionally, through the carefully developed suite of products we can address our customers' interests in digital assets and introduce them to LevelField's safe, simple, and secure platform."

How this Houston innovator's tech is gearing up to impact EV charging, energy transition

houston innovators podcast episode 172

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.