In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, an offshore robotics company has rebranded, two startups earned bragging rights, and more. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startups have had a busy fourth quarter so far with exciting news from all around the local innovation ecosystem.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a pair of Houston startups receive national and international praise, a local robotics company rebrands, Houston Community College receives funding for BIPOC female founders, and more.

Houston-area robotics company rebrands

Nicolaus Radford is the founder of Nauticus Robotics Inc., neé Houston Mechatronics. Photo courtesy

Houston Mechatronics Inc. based in Webster, Texas, announced that it has rebranded its offshore robotics firm as Nauticus Robotics Inc.

"The name Nauticus Robotics makes clear our commitment to the blue economy," says Nicolaus Radford, the company's founder and CEO, in a news release. "Our mission is to grow that economy through sustainable robotics that deliver value while protecting our planet's most valuable resources. This rebrand aligns us with that goal and positions us as a leader in our space."

The company has also launched a new website, representing an expanded vision of "Green robotics for a blue economy," according to the news release.

"Our new website will really lead the charge for us on the sales side," says Todd Newell, senior vice president of business development at Nauticus Robotics, in the release. "Prospective customers can get an overview of our robotics and their capabilities. If they desire, they can download detailed specifications to see how a product might fit into their operations. And we've made it very easy for those interested in a demo or a call to quickly get in touch with our team."

Houston IT company forms new partnership

Joe Alapat is the CEO of Houston-based Liongard. Courtesy of Liongard

Liongard has formed a new partnership with email defense solution Vade to release a new tool for its users. The feature automatically surfaces critical account data, streamlining user management, and billing for M365 users, according to a news release.

"I'm very pleased that Vade for M365 is now integrated with Liongard's leading IT automation platform," says Adrien Gendre, chief technology and product officer at Vade, in the release. "MSPs who offer managed cybersecurity can now combine the threat detection and remediation capabilities of Vade for M365 with the automation and unified visibility of Liongard. Together, Liongard and Vade for M365 give MSPs the tools they need to save time, improve efficiencies, and grow their businesses."

The tool is already included in Liongard’s latest release and users can leverage licensing, billing, and security data to simplify security management, accounting, and reporting.

“We’re very excited about our new Vade Inspector and the value it brings to the MSP community,” says Matt Miller, vice president of product for Liongard. “Both Vade and Liongard are committed to helping the managed services community stay security-focused. This Inspector enables MSPs to maintain a strong security posture through automation, with the added benefit of saving time and effort across the organization.”

Houston startup snags national spotlight

Cobalt's founders wanted to avoid harsh alcoholic smells and opted for calming and fun scents. Photo courtesy of Cobalt

Southern Living magazine's December issue features the annual holiday gift guide, and making the list this year is Houston-based small business Cobalt's Crisp Peppermint Hand Sanitizer.

“We are beyond thrilled to be included in Southern Living magazine with the best company,” says Christina Milligan, co-founder of Cobalt, in a news release. “It’s so exciting to see how much Cobalt has grown in the past 12 months. The idea has surpassed the pandemic and become an everyday necessity for healthy lifestyles. What started out as blending and filling each bottle from our kitchen tables has evolved into corporate partnerships, multiple scents, and new product lines. We are so grateful for all of our customers across the country and look forward to the next phase of Cobalt.”

Milligan and Molly Voorhees launched Cobalt in November 2020 with a line of personal-sized surface cleaners, hand sanitizers, and travel kits.

Cobalt is the only Houston-based company in the 2021 guide, according to the release. The issue is on newsstands now.

Houston blockchain company wins startup of the year

Data Gumbo's team was recognized internationally for its impact. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, which has created an industrial smart contract network company, announced last month that it has been named the Oil and Gas Start Up Company of the Year at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference Awards Gala — the largest annual oil and gas awards event in the Middle East.

According to a news release from the company, "Data Gumbo was recognized for its potential to reshape the energy industry based on its continued innovation, strong business model and the impressive impact of its global industrial smart contract network."

“Our industrial smart contract network, GumboNet, offers the new gold standard for organizations to execute business better through guaranteed transactional certainty across commercial relationships,” says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo. “It’s an honor to be recognized by ADIPEC for our work and commitment to expanding our network across the global energy industry, allowing companies to eliminate the lack of trust in industrial sectors, streamline contract execution and capture significant cost savings.”

The 11th annual ADIPEC Awards' judges reviewed more than 700 entries from over 50 countries across digitalization, sustainability, research, innovation and more. For more info on the ADIPEC Awards, click here.

Houston university system receives $750,000 grant to drive women-owned business success

HCC has fresh funds to support female entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Wells Fargo granted $750,000 to Houston Community College to support the new Open for Business program aimed at empowering women-owned businesses in the Houston region. The grant is part of a $420 million small business recovery effort by Wells Fargo to support nonprofit and educational organizations assisting women of color in overcoming longstanding obstacles to entrepreneurship.

“We are delighted to broaden our programs to help women succeed in owning and operating businesses,” says Maya Durnovo, HCC’s chief entrepreneurial officer, in a news release, adding that the program has a particular focus on African American, Indo-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women.

The Open for Business Program – led by Director Tamala Austin – is already staffed with more than 165 women registered in the program.

“We can only imagine what kinds of businesses might have taken off, what products consumers might have enjoyed and what returns might have been realized had women and people of color enjoyed equal access to capital and opportunity,” Durnovo says in the release.

At a recent virtual event, experts discussed the hard tech wave that's coming for Houston. Photo via Getty Images

A hard tech revolution is coming, and Houston is primed to play a role in it

diving into deep tech

The past couple decades of innovation has been largely defined by software — and its been a bit of a boom. However, lately it's become evident that it's time for hardware innovation to shine.

At the HX Venture Fund's recent conference, Venture Houston, a few hard tech innovators joined a virtual discussion on the future of hardware — and what Houston's role will be in it.

When it comes to advancing technology for humankind, Adam Sharkawy, founder and managing partner of Boston-based Material Impact, a HXVF portfolio fund, says it's time to expand the walls of what is possible.

"Unlike other types of technologies that may facilitate the possible, deep and hard technologies expand what is in the realm of the possible," he says on the panel. "Software has caught up, and we need a new deep tech wave."

And the future looks promising, as Sharkawy says he's seen hard tech grow over the past 5 to 7 years by about 22 percent. Nic Radford, president and CEO of Houston Mechatronics agrees it's time to shift the focus to hard tech.

"The Information Age was the ubiquitous manipulation of the virtual world, but now we need to uncover the ubiquitous manipulation of the physical world is," he says. "And we need to make those investments toward that."

But investments seem, at least in the recent past, harder to come by for hard tech startups compared to software companies with quick exit strategies.

"Deep tech is traditionally thought of as requiring deep pockets," Sharkawy says.

Radford says there was over $167 billion in capital deployments last year, and only 8 percent of that went to industrial or hard tech. Hardware, he says, is tougher to evaluate, they take longer to exit and are tougher to scale.

"To me that's what makes them a gold mine," Radford adds. "It's an underserved market for sure, and that's because we're tougher to evaluate."

Something to note though, he continues, is that hard tech is going to have a bigger societal impact, but maybe it's not the one with the biggest return.

"I think corporates have an special role to play in the inevitability of hard tech," Radford says. "They aren't completely motivated by financial returns."

Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO and co-founder of Solugen, says he's had a different experience with raising funds. The Houston entrepreneur has raised over $100 million and is planning to go public soon. He's achieved this by attracting investment from the top VC funds in the country. If you zero in on these powerful funds, you can see they are dedicating more and more funds to this arena. And, he predicts, other VC funds will follow.

"This is a unique time for hardware companies to go and and raise from the top venture capitals of the world," Chakrabarti says.

The city of Houston, with its firm footing in the energy and space industries has an important role to play in this new era.

"The Houston area has all the key ingredients to be an innovation hub — no question," Sharkawy says.

The panelists identified Houston's fine education institutions, major corporations present, access to talent, and more as indicators for success. But the innovation here needs to continue to develop intentionally.

"I'd love to see Houston not try to copycat into a general tech hub," Sharkawy says. "Instead it would be great for Houston leverage its unique position as a leader in energy and space and help its constituents of more traditional energy — big corporates, for example — transform into the new frontier."

Vanessa Wyche, deputy director at NASA's Johnson Space Center, says she's seen the space industry take off as the field becomes more and more commercialized. And locally there's a lot of potential for Houston and all the resources and infrastructure that already exists.

"It's about taking what you're good at, and making it better," she says.

Each of the panelists expressed confidence in this evolving wave of hard tech — and are keeping a close watch on the major players as well as the city of Houston.

"We're going to have to get into the world and do something," Radford says. "That next wave of innovation is specifically interacting with our environment, in my opinion."

This week's Houston innovators to know include Nicolaus Radford of Houston Mechatronics Inc. and Sharita M. Humphry and Enrique Castro of BH Ventures. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: This week's roundup of innovators to know in Houston include three self-starting founders — a robotics expert who's job sounds more futuristic that realistic and a duo looking to bridge the gap between Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs while cultivating their business growth.

Nicolaus Radford, CEO, CTO, and co-founder of Houston Mechatronics Inc.

Nicolaus Radford joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to take his cloud robotics company global. Photo courtesy of HMI

Discussing Nicolaus Radford's career and his current work with his company, Houston Mechatronics Inc., feels like something out of a science fiction movie. But it's real life. HMI is building a fleet of underwater robots, and, before he founded his company in 2014, he worked on humanoid robots for NASA.

Now, there's a growing market need for the type of robots HMI is working on, and he share on the Houston Innovators Podcast that there's a huge international opportunity for him.

"We're absolutely going to be a global company," Radford says, explaining that new clients in these areas are what's calling for the new offices. "The next 12 months of this company are going to be extremely vibrant and dynamic." Read more.

Enrique Castro and Sharita M. Humphry of BH Ventures

Enrique Castro and Sharita M. Humphrey met at an alumni event at UH and decided to work together on an inclusive accelerator program. Courtesy photos

Black and Hispanics tend to fall low on the lists of personal finance and business success, and usually the two communities don't do business together. That's what BH Ventures, a business accelerator program founded by Sharita M. Humphrey and Enrique Castro, is looking to change.

"Enrique and I know that there can sometimes be a barrier between Black and Hispanics doing business together," says Humphrey. "This is why I wanted, as an African American woman, and him, being a Hispanic male, to be able to show that we should be doing business together — especially in the city of Houston."

Humphrey and Castro met at an alumni event for the University of Houston's SURE program, which creates educational programming for entrepreneurs from under-resourced communities. The duo thought that they could create a program that built upon UH's. In February, after building out the curriculum, BH Ventures ran a successful pilot program in collaboration with UH. Read more.

Nicolaus Radford — CEO, CTO, and co-founder of Houston Mechatronics Inc. — joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to take his cloud robotics company global. Photo courtesy of HMI

Houston robotics company founder plans to take his startup global

houston innovators podcast episode 45

What do space and the ocean have in common? Both have a lot left to explore — while also having environments that aren't so easy for human exploration. A former robotics expert at NASA, Nicolaus Radford founded his cloud robotics company six years ago to create a fleet of robots that can help better complete the tasks that offshore industries need.

Radford remembers his time at NASA and how the organization was looking for opportunities to incorporate more public-private partnerships. Through some meetings and tours, Radford began to see that there was an emerging interest in underwater robotics.

"It became evident that not only was there a huge desire and requirement for what people wanted to do under water, but Houston was likely an epicenter for it," Radford says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

With this in mind — and an entrepreneurial itch — Radford started Houston Mechatronics Inc. in 2014. He's grown the company through a few venture capital raises and across the energy biz and into new industries. Now, he's looking to take the company global with plans for opening new offices in the United Kingdom and in the Asia Pacific region.

"We're absolutely going to be a global company," Radford says, explaining that new clients in these areas are what's calling for the new offices. "The next 12 months of this company are going to be extremely vibrant and dynamic."

Radford also discusses how the pandemic has affected his business and his challenges raising a round in the episode of the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes

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Houston expert: How to thrive as an employer amid The Great Resignation

guest column

With Baby Boomers and older generations exiting the workforce in droves and COVID-19 variants still straining hospitals and doctors’ offices, the health-care industry is experiencing its own “Great Resignation” at a time when health-care occupations are projected to add more jobs than any other occupational group.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that “Employment in health-care occupations is projected to grow 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.6 million new jobs … mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for health-care services.”

This greater demand might run into a supply issue if employers don’t act swiftly to find creative ways to retain and recruit their staffs. Today’s workforce knows its value and is no longer so easily enticed or satisfied with basic benefits packages. It’s an employee market and employers across all industries are having to step up and bring their A-game when it comes to retention and recruitment.

What you can do to up your ‘A-game’ in 2022

COVID has taught employers that they must change to survive. Spend the time now to develop a strategic plan that will allow you to adapt and improve throughout the year. Be sure to give yourself a cushion in your budget that will allow you to meet new employee demands as they arise and to be generous with relocation and sign-on incentives when you compete for top talent. You can later list these incentives in your job advertisements and highlight any other benefits that might capture interest and bring talent into your organization.

Start your recruitment and retention efforts with a survey of your staff. Find out what they really need and want from you, then try to find ways to meet their demands. Some simple ways for you to take care of your employees right now include:

Bring employees meals to their floor.

Hospitals are becoming filled up once again with sick patients and most are understaffed as employees are contracting COVID from patients. Treat your staff to healthy food—not cookies and cakes—allow them to really stop and take 15 minutes to breathe and fuel their body. This can be done twice or three times a week for each shift. Talk to them about food options or restrictions so that everyone feels like they can participate.

Bring in a counselor on a monthly basis that employees may access during their shift.

Providing this accessible, valuable resource will give your staff the opportunity to address their mental health and wellness and can help you reduce burnout among your ranks.

Allow at least one meeting a week to be focused solely on your employees.

Often the shift start-up meetings are rushed due to the day’s demands. Spend at least one of these meetings a week asking your team things like, “Where do you feel you impacted someone this week?” or ask everyone to share a personal achievement that has helped them personally keep going. This will help you build unity with your team and develop a more positive, empathetic relationship.

Provide bonus incentives to take on extra shifts.

There’s a lot of work to be done and often too few people to do it, so make it worth their while by offering a bonus for taking on more work than normal. You can also provide an option for them to earn overtime on a rotation so they can plan accordingly and still have opportunities for rest and a life balance.

Help relieve the stress of being in a high-risk environment by offering additional paid sick leave for a COVID-related absence.

The paid leave should be for the employee to quarantine at home and convalesce or care for an immediate family member who has the disease, and it should not take away from their accrued unused time off. Consult your HR advisor or attorney to find out whether paid sick leave is legally required in your jurisdiction.

Say “thank you.”

It may sound overly simple but just having the executive leadership go in and say thank you, shake hands, or even show up to a shift meeting can show the staff that their leadership cares about their hard work and recognizes the excellent care they are providing to their clients and patients. People in health care or associated service industries just want to know that they are making a difference, so share positive feedback from patients when you can. It matters.

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Denise Macik is the manager of strategic HR advisory services for G&A Partners, a leading professional employer organization that has been helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses for more than 25 years.

Houston 3D printing company closes latest round of funding, plans to hire

money moves

Roboze — an Italian high-performance 3D printing company with its U.S. headquarters in Houston — closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding this month with investments from an international group of leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Investors include Nova Capital, Lagfin, Andrea Guerra, Luigi De Vecchi, Roberto Ferraresi, Luca Giacometti, Denis Faccioli and others, according to a statement.

“We are honored to have a group of investors of this caliber, who strongly believe in the vision of Roboze and in the change of production paradigm that our technology is enabling by replacing metals and producing parts without wasting raw materials," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, said in a statement.

Roboze aims to put the funds towards the research and development of a new "super material" developed in the company's R&D facility in Italy, where the company is also building a new chemistry lab.

The company added that it will also be implementing an aggressive hiring plan in 2022, hiring 60 experts in the next 12 to 18 months in fields such as materials science, chemistry, business development, aerospace, medical devices, and field and applications engineering. Half of the new jobs will be based in the U.S. while the others are slated to be located in Italy and Germany.

Roboze specializes in manufacturing industrial 3D printing technology, such as its ARGO1000, which the company says is the largest printer of its kind. Through a process called Metal Replacement 3D Printing, the company uses super polymers and composites like PEEK and Carbon PEEK to create large-scale, end-use parts for an array of industries—from aeronautics equipment to medical manufacturing.

The company currently works with GE, Bosch, and Airbus, among others, and announced in the statement that manufacturing giant Siemens Energy acquired its first 3D printer from the company.

"We think additive manufacturing is playing a key role in digitalization and cost out in the energy sector. At Siemens Energy we evaluated many companies and found that Roboze technology for high temperature polymers has met our engineering qualification and expectations," Andrew Bridges, Service Frame Owner at Siemens Energy, said in a statement. "As a result, we acquired our first machine and look forward to expanding our relationship with Roboze."

Atlanta growth equity firm acquires Houston health care startup

M&A moves

A Houston-based startup specializing in minimally invasive vascular procedures has made an exit.

Fulcrum Equity Partners, based in Atlanta, has announced the acquisition of Texas Endovascular Associates, a specialty physician practice across five locations in the greater Houston area. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are excited to partner with the Texas Endovascular team to continue growing the impressive platform they have already built,” says Tom Greer of Fulcrum Equity Partners in a news release. “The company has created a differentiated service model and is well positioned to continue its growth in Texas. We look forward to building on this strong presence in the state as well as pursuing strategic acquisitions as we expand its geographical footprint.”

Fulcrum manages over $600 million in assets and provides expansion capital to rapidly growing companies within health care — including IT, B2B software, and more.

The new funding will spur Texas Endovascular's growth into its next phase of business.

“We knew that finding the right equity partner was critical to our long-term growth prospects,” said Sean Mullen, CEO of Texas Endovascular. “After an exhaustive search and after meeting with multiple prospective PE firms, we chose Fulcrum because of their healthcare experience, collaborative approach, and impressive track record. We are excited to enter this new chapter in our company’s life with Fulcrum as our partner."

The two entities collaborated with Founders Advisors LLC, a merger, acquisition, and strategic advisory firm serving middle-market companies.

“Working with the founders of the practice, Drs. Fox and Hardee, as well as the CEO, Sean Mullen, was a pleasure. The entire team at Texas Endovascular acted as a cohesive unit and persevered to find the right partner in Fulcrum," says Michael White, managing director at Founders Advisors. "We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this process and we are looking forward to the future of Texas Endovascular in partnership with Fulcrum”.