With the acquisition of Amify, Cart.com has expanded its workforce and grown its suite of services. Photo courtesy of Cart.com

A Houston tech company has tapped an Amazon partner in a strategic acquisition and is bringing the company's full team on board.

Cart.com acquired Ohio-based Amify, a company that provides optimization and advertising solutions. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Cart.com will on board Amify’s entire employee base, including its founder Ethan McAfee, CEO Chris Mehrabi, and COO Christine McCambridge.

As chief delivery officer, Mehrabi will take the helm of Cart.com’s professional services business and McCambridge will lead Cart.com’s marketplace services team as vice president of marketplace services operations.

“I’m happy to welcome the entire Amify team to Cart.com and have industry veterans Chris Mehrabi and Christine McCambridge join our leadership team,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “Amify has been widely recognized for their expertise and technology and we’re excited to leverage their experience to help our customers maximize their potential across channels.”

Cart.com's membership will have access to Amify's proprietary technology platform, including advertising, creative content, supply chain strategy, and analytics. The company, which was founded in 2011, currently supports over 50 global brands and manages approximately $1 billion in gross merchandise value. According to LinkedIn, Amify has over 50 employees.

“We could not be more excited to join Cart.com and leverage the company’s resources and scale to deliver value to both our customers and employees,” Mehrabi says. “I’m honored to step into the role of Chief Delivery Officer and contribute to Cart.com’s incredible growth story and innovative reputation.”

Founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com provides comprehensive physical and digital infrastructure for online merchants. The company raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

Earlier this year, Tariq sat down with the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about how the company is currently in scale-up mode.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Omair Tariq of Cart.com, Amanda Marciel of Rice University, and Youngro Lee of Brassica. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.


Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

Last November, Houston-founded logistics tech company Cart.com announced that it would be returning its headquarters to Houston after spending the last two years growing in Austin. But Co-Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says that while the corporate address may have changed, he actually never left.

"I've been in Houston now forever — and I don't think I'm planning on leaving anytime soon. I love Houston — this city has given me everything I have," Tariq says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I even love the traffic and everything people hate about Houston."

Tariq, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Dubai before relocating as a teen to Houston, shared his entrepreneurial journey on the show, which included starting a jewelry business and being an early employee at Blinds.com before it was acquired in 2014 by Home Depot. Continue reading.

Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University

In addition to supporting Amanda Marciel's research, the funds will also go toward creating opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists at Rice University. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

An assistant professor at Rice University has won one of the highly competitive National Science Foundation's CAREER Awards.

The award grants $670,406 over five years to Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched, according to a statement from Rice. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

“My goal is to create a new paradigm for designing elastomers,” Marciel said in a statement. “The research has four aims: to determine the role of comb polymer topology in forming elastomers, understanding the effects of that topology on elastomer mechanics, characterizing its effects on elastomer structure and increasing the intellectual diversity in soft matter research.” Continue reading.

Youngro Lee, founder of Brassica

Youngro Lee is celebrating the acquisition of his company, Brassica. Photo courtesy

A Houston fintech innovator is celebrating his latest startup's exit.

Brassica Technologies Inc., a fintech infrastructure company that's provides a platform for alternative assets, has been acquired by BitGo, a Palo Alto, California-based tech company with digital asset services. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Joining forces with BitGo is a significant step towards Brassica's ultimate vision of building the financial infrastructure of the future," Youngro Lee, founder and CEO of Brassica, says in a news release. "Our strength lies in our 'one stop shop' approach of providing API-enabled infrastructure for the alternative assets industry. Continue reading.

Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

Houston innovator bets on Bayou City to scale fast-growing unicorn tech co.

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 223

Last November, Houston-founded logistics tech company Cart.com announced that it would be returning its headquarters to Houston after spending the last two years growing in Austin. But Co-Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says that while the corporate address may have changed, he actually never left.

"I've been in Houston now forever — and I don't think I'm planning on leaving anytime soon. I love Houston — this city has given me everything I have," Tariq says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I even love the traffic and everything people hate about Houston."

Tariq, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Dubai before relocating as a teen to Houston, shared his entrepreneurial journey on the show, which included starting a jewelry business and being an early employee at Blinds.com before it was acquired in 2014 by Home Depot.

"For me to build something here was always a priority," Tariq says. He founded Cart.com in 2020.

He explains that the initial HQ relocation to Austin in 2021 was more of a co-location between the two Texas cities that was motivated by an increase in Austin activity for investors and potential customers for Cart.com.

"Austin was doing a really good job of branding itself as being the city in Texas to come to when you think about innovation or technology," Tariq says. "What we learned was that as we were building our own brand of being a technology company and being a company that wanted to gain global and at least national credibility, we thought that if we're closer to the action happening in Austin, we would get there faster."

Since the relocation, Cart.com raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

"I think Austin served its purpose. It certainly allowed us to be in the limelight in all the right ways, and I'm grateful for it," Tariq says. "But once we got to a point, once we closed our series C round and became a unicorn ... I think we're now at a scale where the infrastructure that Houston provides is probably something that will be more attractive and useful for us in the long term."

And Tariq adds on the show that he feels confident that he knows Houston well, and knows it is the right place to continue Cart.com's growth, which he says hopes includes 10 times the brands supported, a global footprint, and potentially an IPO.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Andrew Chang of United Airlines Ventures, Omair Tariq of Cart.com, and Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt of Solugen. Photos courtesy

4 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 four local innovators across industries — from aviation to biotech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures

Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

When it comes to the future of aviation — namely, making it more sustainable, a rising tide lifts all boats. Or, in this case, planes.

Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, explains that working together is the key for advancing sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. That's why United Airlines started the Sustainable Flight Fund, a $200 million initiative with support from industry leaders, including Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase, Honeywell, Aramco Ventures, Bank of America, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Ventures, and several others.

"We all recognize that we may compete in our core business, but with the importance of sustainable aviation fuel and given that it's an industry that doesn't exist — you can't compete for something that doesn't exist — let's collaborate and work together to explore technologies that can directly or indirectly support the commercialization and production of sustainable aviation fuel," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

Omair Tariq, founder and CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq's Cart.com is coming home. Photo via Cart.com

While originally founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com has called Austin home for the past two years. Now, the scaling software company is coming home.

Cart.com, a tech company providing commerce and logistical solutions for businesses, announced today that its corporate headquarters has returned to Houston amid its rapid growth.

“I couldn’t be happier to bring Cart.com back home to Houston as we continue to revolutionize how merchants sell and fulfill products to meet customers anywhere they are,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “The idea for Cart.com was born in Houston and we’ve always maintained a strong local presence with the majority of our executive team and board based here. As our customer mix increasingly moves upmarket and our own needs evolve, I’m confident Houston has what we need as we look towards the next stage of Cart.com’s growth story.” Read more.

Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt, co-founders of Solugen

Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt were originally named regional winners in this year's competition this summer along with nine other Houston entrepreneurs. Photos via solugen.com

Houston’s Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt, the founders of the transformative chemical manufacturing company Solugen, have been named EY’s US National Award winners for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Solugen, also recently named a finalist in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, is an environmentally friendly approach that relies on smaller chemical refineries that helps in reducing costs and transportation-related emissions. Some of their noted accomplishments includes innovations like the proprietary reactor, dubbed the Bioforge, which is a carbon-negative molecule factory and manufacturing process produces zero wastewater or emissions compared with traditional petrochemical refineries.The Bioforge uses a chemienzymatic process in converting plant-sourced substances into essential materials that can be used instead of fossil fuels.

Chakrabarti and Hunt were originally named regional winners in this year's competition this summer along with nine other Houston entrepreneurs. Read more.

It's a homecoming for this Texas unicorn. Photo via cart.com

Houston-founded unicorn logistics company returns HQ to the Bayou City

coming home

While originally founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com has called Austin home for the past two years. Now, the scaling software company is coming home.

Cart.com, a tech company providing commerce and logistical solutions for businesses, announced today that its corporate headquarters has returned to Houston amid its rapid growth.

“I couldn’t be happier to bring Cart.com back home to Houston as we continue to revolutionize how merchants sell and fulfill products to meet customers anywhere they are,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “The idea for Cart.com was born in Houston and we’ve always maintained a strong local presence with the majority of our executive team and board based here. As our customer mix increasingly moves upmarket and our own needs evolve, I’m confident Houston has what we need as we look towards the next stage of Cart.com’s growth story.”

The company has raised over $400 million in venture funding over the past three years, and has grown a customer base of 6,000 users, supporting over $8 billion in gross merchandise value, according to Cart.com. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

Cart.com's most recent raise, a $60 million series C round this summer, was announced to support an international expansion. Last year, the company secured $240 million in equity and debt funding.

According to the release, the relocation comes at a time of "unprecedented growth" for the business, which calls out Houston's central location, transportation infrastructure, and dynamic business community.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Cart.com home and proud to have one of the country’s fastest-growing unicorns back in Houston,” Bob Harvey, president and CEO of Greater Houston Partnership, in the release. “Cart.com’s homecoming is a testament to why companies repeatedly choose Houston to scale their business with its diverse and dynamic economy along with its unparalleled talent pool that cuts across technology, professional services and global trade. We’re excited to support Cart.com’s continued growth and look forward to the company’s contribution to Houston’s growing tech community.”

Earlier this month, Tariq was named a regional winner in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program, run by professional services firm EY. He was one of 11 Houston-based executives named in the Gulf South region and now will move on to national Entrepreneur Of The Year program.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jason Ethier of Greentown Labs, Megan Eddings of Accel Lifestyle, and Omair Tariq of Cart.com. 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 clean energy to materials science — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Jason Ethier, senior director of membership at Greentown Labs

Jason Ethier witnessed Greentown Labs, a climatetech incubator based in Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, from its early days.

"Greentown is one of those things where a business seems obvious in retrospect," says Ethier, a serial energy entrepreneur, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how the incubator launched as just a way to enable coworking between startups. As it grew and eventually expanded to Houston, Ethier had a front-row seat.

Ethier, whose previous startup brought him to Houston frequently, recognized the same scrappy founder mentality and need for incubation support in the Bayou City and was a key player in expanding Greentown to Houston in 2021.

"Every city is proud of who they are, but I think Houston especially is a city that likes to solve problems and build things locally," Ethier says. "When presented the opportunity to help build and ecosystem here, members of the ecosystem raised their hands and said, 'how can I help.'" Read more.

Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Lifestyle

Houston-based Accel Lifestyle's innovative line of athleisure has made it into Talbots. Photo courtesy of Accel

For a year, Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Lifestyle, has been working on the logistics of getting her clothing — made from eco-friendly, sustainable, antibacterial fabrics — into Talbots, and she's finally sealed the deal.

Shoppers can now find Accel Lifestyle apparel on Talbot's website. This partnership marks the first-ever collaboration for the athleisure brand of Talbots, T by Talbots. By teaming up with Accel Lifestyle, Talbots expands its product offerings and also provides its loyal, forward-thinking, and ethically minded customers with a new clothing option that perfectly fits with their values.

"We are beyond elated about the Accel x Talbots launch," Eddings tells CultureMap." Amanda Cotler, Accel's Director of Operations, and I have been working on this opportunity for a year, and it feels incredible for the collaboration to be live. Our passions are textiles with technology and an ethical made-in-the-USA supply chain. To have a multi-billion dollar company like Talbots care about the same things brings us so much joy." Read more.

Omair Tariq, CEO and co-founder of Cart.com

Omair Tariq's Cart.com raised a big round this week. Photo via Cart.com

Houston-founded Cart.com, which provides a suite of software solutions for commerce and logistics enablement, can now check the box saying "unicorn" with its $1.2 billion valuation that came with its $60 million series C equity funding round.

According to a news announcement from the company, Cart.com will use the funding for international expansion, continued product development, and to meet increased client demand.

“We are proud to partner with this prestigious group of investors to accelerate our growth and continue to deliver best-in-class solutions to our customers,” says Omair Tariq, CEO and co-founder of Cart.com, in a statement. “As a leading commerce software and services provider, we are focused on enabling our customers to compete and win across every channel through digital tools and digitally driven logistics capabilities. We will continue to invest in our industry-leading commerce data capabilities, which are built to address the specific inventory, channel and supply chain challenges facing enterprises.” Read more.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.