This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Gautam Phanse of Chevron Technology Ventures, Dede Raad of Dress Up Buttercup, and Benjamin Foster of Nurseify. Photos courtesy

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


Gautam Phanse, strategic relationship manager for Chevron Technology Ventures

Gautam Phanse of Chevron Technology Ventures answers questions about this unique program. Photo courtesy

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has applications open for its second Chevron Studio cohort that matches entrepreneurs with promising technologies coming out of universities and labs. The overall goal of the studio — a collaboration between Chevron and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL — is to scale up and commercialize early-stage technologies that have the potential to impact the future of energy.

"The goal of Chevron Studio is to scale up and commercialize technology developed in the Universities and National Labs. We curate the intellectual property developed at universities and national labs and provide a platform to match entrepreneurs with the IP," says Gautam Phanse, the strategic relationship manager for Chevron Technology Ventures. "The program provides seed funding and a pathway through incubation, pilot and field trials to scale up the technologies. The uniqueness of this program is its target and the breadth of its scope — all the way from incubation to field trials."

Phanse joins InnovationMap for a Q&A to explain more about the opportunity. Read more.

Dede Raad, founder of Dress Up Buttercup

Dede Raad of Dress Up Buttercup created a unique pitch series — completely fueled by her social media community — that gave a spotlight to eight businesses. Photo via dressupbuttercup.com

After growing her audience to over a million followers on Instagram, Houston fashion blogger Dede Raad felt the pressure to expand her business — but she didn't feel inspired by any particular line of business to grow into.

"In the blogging world, which I've been doing for about seven years, everyone's next step is to start a brand and to start something of their own," Raad, founder of Dress Up Buttercup, tells InnovationMap. "I just don't have anything in my heart that I was really passionate about. I know once you start something, you have to give it your all."

But what Raad realized — after a year of thinking about her next move and a chance viewing of Shark Tank — was that tons of business founders were passionate about their own brands, and there was an opportunity for Raad use her community to support them instead of coming up with something of her own. She launched "Build Up Buttercup," an initiative that featured small business pitches for a select group of investors. Read more.

Benjamin Foster, CEO and founder of Nurseify

In honor of Black History Month, Houstonian Benjamin Foster shares some of his lessons learned about navigating the business world as a Black founder. Photo courtesy

Last month was a time to reflect on Black history — as well as to look forward to the future of Black Americans. Benjamin Foster, a Houston entrepreneur, wrote a guest column about his experience as a Black founder.

"No matter how smart or hard working you are, it is impossible for a nonprofit owner, entrepreneur, or business owner to know everything about running and managing a business," he writes. "For me, I understood the health care industry and business management side, but I acknowledged that as a founder, it was okay to not know it all and to need the support of a village to get traction to keep moving forward." Read more.

In honor of Black History Month, Houstonian Benjamin Foster shares some of his lessons learned about navigating the business world as a Black founder. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: What I've learned about navigating the business world as a Black founder

guest column

Entrepreneurship is the process of creating, developing and managing a new business venture with the aim of making a profit. Successful entrepreneurs are known for their creativity, tenacity and willingness to take risks, often disrupting existing markets and challenging traditional ways of doing things to make an impactful change in the world.

With the increasing demand on health care professionals over the past few years, medical professionals, especially nurses, are veering off the traditional nurse career path. Entrepreneurial ventures have slowly emerged as nurses look for different routes for employment that allow them to utilize their health care skillset, such as, transitioning to the health care technology industry or becoming a wellness coach.

When exploring entrepreneurship, one must be passionate about what type of company or service he or she chooses to create, build, develop and invest in. The extensive list of work to be done can be overwhelming, so to keep the motivation going, one must have the drive to see the concept come to fruition. To make an idea become a reality, trustworthy legal counsel is critical. Navigating legalese is not a common skill, so guarantee the legal safety of your company by allowing the experts to fight on your behalf. It is vital to have a strong team as reinforcement to help your organization propel forward.

Successful businesses often have work environments where employees are encouraged to be innovative. For nurses, this can be prioritized through the introduction of online platforms that allow nurses and medical facilities to pick what schedule, location, shift length or compensation works best for them. Through an extensive database, these preferences can be personalized for the benefit of the person on the website.

To address the challenges faced by Black entrepreneurs, there is a growing movement to provide targeted support and resources to help them succeed. This includes initiatives to increase access to capital and business development support, as well as efforts to address systemic inequalities and promote greater diversity and inclusion in the business world. In industry meetings, it is rare to be a part of discussions where there is more than one African American representative and, to be honest, that is probably the toughest part of being a Black entrepreneur. Through these efforts, African American entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build successful businesses and make a positive impact on their communities and the wider economy.

No matter how smart or hard working you are, it is impossible for a nonprofit owner, entrepreneur, or business owner to know everything about running and managing a business. For me, I understood the health care industry and business management side, but I acknowledged that as a founder, it was okay to not know it all and to need the support of a village to get traction to keep moving forward.

As a Black business founder, I take pride in being able to voice the concerns and requests of African Americans across the health care industry and believe that is part of our responsibility as an organization. It is rewarding to spearhead efforts to increase diversity within the health care industry and represent the individuals and the voices that have been overlooked. It is our job to continue to be creative and ambitious in the support we can offer.

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Benjamin Foster is the CEO and founder of Nurseify.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Philip Dutton of Solidatus, Benjamin Foster of Nurseify, and Tasos Katsaounis of Bread Man Baking Co. 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 baking to software development — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Philip Dutton, CEO of Solidatus

Philip Dutton is the new Houston-based CEO of Solidatus, a London-founded data management startup. Photo via LinkedIn

As part of a company reorganization, data management startup Solidatus has established Houston as its North American headquarters and has named co-founder Philip Dutton as its Houston-based CEO.

Founded in London in 2017, Solidatus initially focused on supplying data management software to businesses in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but has since extended its reach to North America. Overall, Solidatus employs more than 110 people. It plans to triple its U.S. headcount over the next year.

“Solidatus serves visionary organizations that desire streamlined access and clarity of their data to build smarter and more profitable businesses. That’s everyone from Fortune 500 companies that have an unmanageably complex data landscape to startups and scale-ups that want to optimize their data practices from the get-go. There is no greater concentration of these organizations than in the U.S.,” Dutton, who had been the co-CEO, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

Benjamin Foster, founder and CEO of Nurseify

Benjamin Foster was leading human resources at Gulf Coast Division during Hurricane Harvey when he saw a huge need for an alternative to hiring short-term nurses quickly. That's when he had the idea for Nurseify, a platform that allows for nurses to find jobs — and for facilities to find nurses with the specialties they need. The platform is now live in five pilot states — Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Nevada.

Nurses are facing a significant amount of burnout — in part due to what they went through during the pandemic, but also because of the stressful work environments due to hiring misalignment. Foster says he's intentionally designed the platform to be supportive of nurses.

"We want Nurseify to be known as the most nurse-friendly company in the world. We believe we can bridge the gap between administration and operations and nurses," Foster says. "We want 'Nurseify' to become a verb at some point." Click here to read more.

Tasos Katsaounis, CEO and founder of Bread Man Baking Co.

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls. He took that hobby and turned it into Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42. Click here to read more.

Benjamin Foster joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to talk about Nurseify. Image courtesy of Nurseify

Houston innovator tackles growing nursing shortages with startup platform

houston innovators podcast episode 148

The past few years have been challenging for health care workers, and even before the pandemic, hospital systems were facing a nursing shortage, says Benjamin Foster on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

It was during Hurricane Harvey that Foster, leading human resources at Gulf Coast Division at the time, saw a huge need for an alternative to hiring short-term nurses quickly. That's when he had the idea for Nurseify, a platform that allows for nurses to find jobs — and for facilities to find nurses with the specialties they need. The platform is now live in five pilot states — Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Nevada.

"Part of the reason those are our pilot states is those are states that are projected to have five of the top 10 nursing shortages," Foster says on the show. "We also see a lot of seasonality in those states. If there are certain periods of time where patient volume increases a lot, you need to bring in more nurses."

Now, having launched, Foster says he's focused on growing density in those regions — for both the facility side and the nursing side — so that there are more opportunities for users of the platform.

Nurses are facing a significant amount of burnout — in part due to what they went through during the pandemic, but also because of the stressful work environments due to hiring misalignment. Foster says he's intentionally designed the platform to be supportive of nurses.

"We want Nurseify to be known as the most nurse-friendly company in the world. We believe we can bridge the gap between administration and operations and nurses," Foster says. "We want Nurseify to become a verb at some point."

In addition to being a marketplace for nurses and health care facilities, Foster says he is staying completely tapped into ways to provide resources and support for the user base — which, statistically, is a primarily female industry.

"Nurses are worn out because we've asked them to work so much during the pandemic, and I would argue that as an industry, we have not done enough to protect them," he says. "We want to be a voice for that."

Foster shares more on the future of Nurseify and the difference his platform is making in the industry on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Nurseify is an on-demand platform that allows nurses and health care organizations to take part in the gig economy. Photo via unsplash.com

Houston-based gig platform for nurses to launch app next month

help in health care

Health care executive Benjamin Foster knows that nurses are essential — especially in times of crisis.

In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, he watched as local health care organizations struggled to find nurses who could meet the desperate need at hard-to-reach facilities. And as Regional Chief Human Resources Officer at HCA Houston Healthcare, he had also grown accustomed to the high costs and inefficiencies of traditional medical staffing agencies.

In 2020, in response to the demand for nurses in the pandemic, he decided it was time to act, launching Nurseify in May of that year.

Nurseify is an on-demand platform that allows nurses and health care organizations to take part in the gig economy.With guidance from Rama Walker, Nurseify’s Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer with a background in ER administration, the platform uses AI to match nurses with facilities looking to fill short-term assignments.

Nurses are able to set their rates and schedules through the app. Health care facilities can directly vet applicants through their profiles and ratings. The platform also can predict when there might be a higher demand for contract nurses at various facilities based on vacancies and increased patient volume.

“We hope to empower nurses and help individuals take control of their careers by offering transparency and a way to create schedules to better fit their lifestyles,” says Foster, CEO of Nurseify, in a statement. “In this gig-economy, it’s imperative to have an easy and effective way for nurses and healthcare facilities to communicate directly about opportunities, and Nurseify provides a place where they can do just that.”

Additionally, the platform features educational, financial, and support resources for nurse users, as well as options to work with entrepreneurial mentors and wellness coaches with the goal of empowering nurses in what's proven to be a demanding field, especially since the onset of the pandemic.

“As nurse advocates, we prioritize an honest hiring process and nurses’ work-life balance and overall wellbeing,” Walker adds in a statement.

According to the Nurseify team, more than 5,000 nurses have created profiles on the platform at press time; and 60 healthcare facilities have access to Nurseify.

Through the Nuresify mobile app, which launches in May, the company aims to attract more users and health care facilities.

Currently the company is focused on its operations in Texas, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, which were pilot states for Nurseify. But the company aims to expand nationally and internationally in the future.

Houston-based acute care startup Kare Technologies launched a similar platform for staffing within the senior living facility and caregiving realms in 2021. Read more about that company here.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.