Here's who's making the call for this year's Houston Innovation Awards. Photos courtesy

Nominations are closed, applications are out, and the city of Houston is waiting to see who are the finalists for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards. But first — who are tasked with the job of deciding the honorees for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9?

Click here to secure your tickets to the event.

A cohort of eight of the best innovation leaders in the Bayou City — representing all corners of tech and innovation, from energy and hard tech to software and startup acceleration. Introducing: The 2022 Houston Innovation Awards judges:

Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice

Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice

Photo courtesy of Hello Alice

Carolyn Rodz is a leader in Houston innovation — both as a startup founder and as a resources for startups and small businesses across the country. As CEO, she leads Hello Alice, a company Rodz founded with Elizabeth Gore, on its mission to provide support and guidance to small business owners.

Rodz is no stranger to InnovationMap's awards program. Last year, Hello Alice was a finalist in three categories and took home the win for BIPOC-owned business.

Wogbe Ofori, founder of Wrx Companies

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​Wogbe Ofori is a champion of Houston innovation, startup mentor, investor, and more. He's particularly passionate about hard tech and serves as an adviser to Houston-based Nauticus Robotics and CaringBand. He also participates as a mentor across several organizations, including MassChallenge, Capital Factory, Founder Institute, and the University of Houston.

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs

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After several years in strategy at Halliburton, Scott Gale switched gears to lead Halliburton Labs, which launched in 2020. The startup incubation lab focuses on supporting early-stage companies within climatetech and the future of energy.

Ashley Danna, senior manager of regional economic development of Greater Houston Partnership

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It's Ashley Danna's job at GHP to have a pulse on companies in Houston — including tech and life science businesses. Her role is focused on marketing the Houston region as a business magnet to expanding and relocating domestic businesses to foster job creation and economic growth while collaborating and strengthening relationships with external stakeholders.

Kelly McCormick, professor at the University of Houston

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Kelly McCormick has spent the better part of a decade molding young, entrepreneurial minds at the University of Houston, both as a professor and as leading UH's student startup accelerator, Red Labs.

Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University

Photo courtesy of Rice

Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, was named the inaugural vice president for innovation at Rice University in August. In his role, Cherukuri leads Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society.

Lawson Gow, CEO of Houston Exponential

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Lawson Gow wears many hats within the Houston innovation ecosystem. He founded The Cannon, a Houston-wide coworking company, and now oversees Houston Exponential. He also is the founder and CEO of sportstech-focused Pokatok and chief strategy officer of SportsMap SPAC.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

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Natalie Harms has been at the helm of InnovationMap — Houston's voice for Innovation — since its inception in October 2018. She oversees all editorial operations of the site and hosts its weekly podcast, the Houston Innovators Podcast.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Sledzik of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Arti Bhosale of Sieve Health, and Paul Cherukuri of Rice University. 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 corporate venture capital to digital health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures

Jim Sledzik joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss corporate venture, Houston's role in the energy transition, and more. Photo courtesy of Aramco

When it comes to venture capital, the corporate model can be considered a little less risky, Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Over the past decade, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures has invested $320 million into 33 portfolio companies in the United States. Sledzik, who's worked in various energy services roles around the world before entering in to investment, explains that the corporate venture model is ideal for scaling big technology — and fast.

“When you’re using the venture model in a corporate setting, you have the company and the balance sheet behind you, which brings different benefits to companies you’re investing in,” he says. “These entrepreneurs who are looking to figure out how to deploy technology at scale becomes the real interesting item. All entrepreneurs want to grow — and they want to grow fast."

Scaling fast is risky, but big corporates — like Aramco — can help address the risks by providing a foothold in the market, a place to roll out the technology, and more. Click here to stream the episode and read more.

Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health

Sieve Health is an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials. Photo

Throughout her career, Arti Bhosale has seen the inefficiency and the ineffectiveness of selecting patients for clinical trials.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

So, in 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials. Click here to read more.

Paul Cherukuri, the inaugural vice president for innovation at Rice University

Meet Paul Cherukuri — the new face of innovation at Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University has stood up a new office of innovation — and named its new leader. Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the inaugural vice president for innovation. In his role, Cherukuri will "lead Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society," per a news release from Rice.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve in this new role at this inflection point in our university’s history,” Cherukuri says in the release. “Rice has some of the finest minds in the world and I look forward to working with President DesRoches and the leadership team he has assembled to chart a bold new path for world-changing innovation from Rice by engaging the remarkable innovation ecosystem including the Ion District, the Texas Medical Center, industry and other unique assets in Houston.” Click here to read more.

Meet Paul Cherukuri — the new face of innovation at Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

Houston university names inaugural VP of innovation

man in charge

Rice University has created a new position to be a steward of innovation on campus — and the "Ivy League of the South" has selected the official to take on the job.

Rice University has named Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the inaugural vice president for innovation. In his role, Cherukuri will "lead Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society," per a news release from Rice.

Rice continues explaining that the new office's focus areas will be technology translation, startup creation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship training, as well as steering engagement at the Ion. The Office of Innovation and the new leadership position were created to ensure Rice is a leader within Houston and the global innovation ecosystem, says President Reginald DesRoches.

“Paul has already started to develop a culture of innovation and impact on campus in his role at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering,” DesRoches says in the release. “He has created ways for faculty to serve as academic entrepreneurs, engaged external partners in innovative pursuits and started working to improve Rice’s transfer and translation systems. I look forward to continuing to work with him on these initiatives and to leveraging Rice's world-class research community, thriving entrepreneurship programming, top-ranked degree programs and talented undergraduate and graduate student body to advance and grow the institution's innovation portfolio.”

Cherukuri — who is a physicist, chemist, and medtech entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in academia and the pharmaceutical industry — will assume the role and its responsibilities on August 16. He has served as executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering since 2016.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve in this new role at this inflection point in our university’s history,” Cherukuri says in the release. “Rice has some of the finest minds in the world and I look forward to working with President DesRoches and the leadership team he has assembled to chart a bold new path for world-changing innovation from Rice by engaging the remarkable innovation ecosystem including the Ion District, the Texas Medical Center, industry and other unique assets in Houston.”

Nine search committee members selected Cherukuri. Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Smalley-Curl Institute, led the committee.

“Paul is the perfect fit to lead our university’s innovation future,” Halas says in the release. “His entrepreneurial experience in early-stage startups and big pharma gives him a unique ability to accelerate the translation of breakthrough discoveries into the marketplace. He creates clear pathways for researchers to find new avenues for application within the research realm as well as transition into commercial use. I am excited about the work he will do for Rice in this new role.”

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Climatetech incubator announces C-suite promotion, Houston jobs, and nonprofit transition

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The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

open for biz

Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

houston innovators podcast episode 170

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.