3 Houston companies rank among best in biz list

better than all the rest

Inc. magazine's 2022 Best in Business list recognizes influential and impactful companies. Photo via Getty Images

In the season’s spirit of giving, Inc. magazine has named three Houston companies to its 2022 Best in Business list, recognizing companies that put purpose before profit.

The Houston honorees are:

  • Enchanted Rock, a producer of energy microgrids powered by natural gas and renewable natural gas. In a news release, Thomas McAndrew, the company’s founder and CEO, says the Inc. recognition reflects “the dedication and hard work of our employees who work tirelessly to help our customers keep their power on.”
  • Proxima Clinical Research, a contract research organization for the biotech and medtech sectors. Earlier this year, Proxima appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing private companies.
  • Smith, a distributor of electronic components and semiconductors. The company has undertaken several humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine, including the donation of at least $750,000 worth of electronics to Ukrainian citizens.

Inc. says its Best in Business list recognizes “the most dynamic companies of all sizes and industries that have had an outstanding influence on their communities, their industries, the environment, or society as a whole.”

Rather than relying on criteria tied to sales or funding, Inc.’s editors reviewed companies’ achievements over the past year and focused on how they made a positive difference in the world. They then selected honorees in 55 overall categories, and in age-based, revenue-based, size-based, and impact-based categories.

In all, Inc. named 14 Texas companies to this year’s Best in Business list. Aside from the three Houston companies, they are:

  • Austin-based AlertMedia, which produces emergency communication software
  • Austin-based Halcyon, a provider of security technology
  • Austin-based Matterlab, a communications agency
  • Austin-based Pushnami, which offers an advertising and engagement platform
  • Austin-based ZenBusiness, a provider of business products and services
  • Dallas-based Upkeep Aesthetics, a franchiser of medical spas
  • Fort Worth-based TimelyMD, which delivers virtual health and well-being services for students
  • Frisco-based Lexipol, a provider of policy, training, and wellness services for the public safety sector
  • Irving-based Tricolor Holdings, which sells used cars and extends auto loans to underserved Hispanic consumers
  • Plano-based Improving, a provider of tech consulting and training
  • San Antonio-based AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, an operator of veterinary practices
Five companies have been selected for a brand new accelerator program in Houston. Image via Getty Images

Houston medtech accelerator announces inaugural cohort

future of health care

A Houston medical technology organization has announced the inaugural cohort of a new early-stage accelerator.

M1 MedTech, launched this year by Houston-based Proxima Clinical Research, announced its Fall 2022 cohort.

“This initial cohort launches M1 MedTech with an interactive 14-week agenda covering the basics every emerging MedTech business needs to progress from a startup to an established solution in their market,” says Sean Bittner, director of programs at M1 MedTech, in a news release.

The accelerator will equip early-stage startups with storytelling, business plan support, investor connections, FDA guidance, research, and more through one-on-one consultations, workships, and in-kind services.

The first cohort includes five startups, per the release from the company:

  1. Linovasc. Providing a long overdue major update to balloon angioplasty devices in over 50 years, the Linovasc solution offers a safer branch occlusion and aortic stent dilatation using a toroidal balloon that expands the aorta uniformly without the ischemia caused by current treatments. The company is founded by Bruce Addis.
  2. Grapheton. Founded by Sam Kassegne and Bao Nguyen, Grapheton's patented carbon materials work with electrically active devices to improve the longevity and outcome of bioelectric implants in the body. Terry Lingren serves as the CEO of the startup.
  3. Rhythio Medical. Founded by Kunal Shah and Savannah Esteve, Rhythio is the first preventative approach to heart arrhythmias.The chief medical officer is Dr. Mehdi Razavi.
  4. PONS Technology. An AI cognitive functioning ultrasound device attempting to change the way ultrasound is done, PONS is founded by CEO: Soner Haci and CTO: Ilker Hacihaliloglu.
  5. Vivifi Medical. Founded by CEO Tushar Sharma, Vivifi is the first suture-less laparoscopic technology that connects vessels to improve male infertility and benign prostatic hyperplasia. The company's senior R&D engineer is Frida Montoya.

The program includes support from sponsors and experts from: Proxima Clinical Research, Greenlight Guru, Medrio, Galen Data, Merge Medical Device Studio, Venn Negotiation, Engagement PR & Marketing, Aleberry Creative, and others.

“This is an amazing opportunity for emerging founders to learn the progression of pipelining their ideas through the FDA and absorb the critical strategies for success early in their business development,” says Isabella Schmitt, principal at M1 MedTech and director of regulatory affairs at Proxima CRO, in the release.

From research and venture capital funding to startup growth and accelerator applications opened, here's what you need to know in Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston beauty startup raises $1M, medtech accelerator opens apps, and more local innovation news

short stories

The month of May has started strong with Houston innovation news, and there might be some headlines you might have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, local universities share big moves in cybersecurity and plant research, a Houston entrepreneur raises extra seed funding, and more.

Houston medical technology accelerator opens applications

This medtech startup accelerator has applications open. Graphic via proximacro.com

M1 MedTech, Proxima Clinical Research's medical technology accelerator is accepting applications for its fall cohort. The program is seeking five to seven early-stage medical device companies for the three-month program. The cohort companies will have investment opportunities up to $100,000 as a combination of both cash and in-kind services.

“Our program is unique in that it combines acceleration capital, company building expertise, and the regulatory and clinical services of a top CRO,” says Larry Lawson, a venture partner and investor with M1, in the news release. “Access to the M1 founders’ network, both within and outside of the Texas Medical Center, sets these companies up for success. There’s no better group to build a MedTech company with, period.”

M1 MedTech, which was announced last year, was created to support early-stage medical device companies with a unique coaching process that will include a curated educational program, interactive workshops where participants can continually build out specific company deliverables, and tailored one-on-one mentoring.

“Many MedTech companies are launched by innovative first-time founders with strong scientific and medical expertise, but who have never taken a regulated product to market or built a business. After working with so many companies at various stages of this journey to market, both with Proxima CRO and with accelerators from across the country, we realized there was a gap that needed to be filled for these rising founders. They not only need regulatory and clinical assistance from experts with hundreds of success stories in this field, we found they also need assistance with design, manufacturing, business, IP, and so much more,” says Isabella Schmitt, RAC, Director of Regulatory Affairs for Proxima CRO and Principle at M1. “These rising founders need to know what they don’t know; so, we put a lot of thought into what emerging companies and rising executives really need, and from that, we built the M1 curriculum.”

Applications will remain open until May 31. To apply for the Fall 2022 cohort or to learn more about M1 MedTech, visit m1medtech.com.

Houston entrepreneur adds $1M to seed round

Houston-based Upgrade has raised additional seed funding. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based Upgrade Boutique — which uses technology to connect women with high-quality wigs and hair extensions — extended its seed round by $1 million, Fast Company reported. The round's initial seed leaders included Houston-based venture capital firms Artemis Fund and Mercury Fund, as well as Logitech president and CEO Bracken P. Darrell and ANIM.

“This [investment] will enable us to scale even faster and continue to invest in tools and resources that will improve the consumer experience, and help stylists operate more efficiently,” Winters tells Fast Company. “Based on feedback from the stylists on our platform, we see this as a natural development in the company’s evolution.”

University of Houston joins cybersecurity initiative

UH joins group that's advancing cybersecurity. Image via Getty Images

The University of Houston has joined a consortium that's funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to launch a virtual institute that will recruit and train the next cybersecurity generation that will protect entities from cyber warfare, cyber espionage, and attacks on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The virtual institute is called VICEROY — Virtual Institutes for Cyber and Electromagnetic Spectrum Research and Employ — DECREE and will be led by Northeastern University and offered across five universities, including UH, Northern Arizona University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of South Carolina.

“The VICEROY DECREE virtual institute consortium model is transformational. It brings together the best offerings from multiple institutions to meet the workforce training needs in these domains," says Hanadi Rifai, Moores Professor of civil and environmental engineering and UH team lead on the project, in the news release.

One major focus for the program is the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, and is a critical enabler for communications, navigation, radar, training and other military operations. The DoD has been seeking to hire more than 8,000 cyber workers to help defend the virtual space.

"We recognize the importance and need for workforce training in cybersecurity, electromagnetism, cryptography and data science. These are areas of specific focus and expertise on our campus,” says Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, in the release.

The two-year program starts in fall 2022 and is funded by a $1.5 million award from the Griffiss Institute, a nonprofit talent and technology accelerator for DoD and its academic, government, and industry partners around the world.

Local composting company moves into new Houston space and expands to Austin

Moonshot has expanded locally and statewide. Photo courtesy of Moonshot

Houston-based Moonshot Composting has announced its relocation to a 8,225-square-foot space in Northside Village at 1410 Bigelow St. The former Yellow Cab outpost is over five times the size of the originally location.

Additionally, this month Moonshot will open its doors in the greater Austin area with a facility in Creedmoor, just south of Austin. Moonshot's first commercial customer was Austin-headquartered Tacodeli.

The company has grown its business to nearly 500 subscribers, including 40 commercials accounts, as well as seven full-time and four part-time employees. Moonshot is diverting 30,000 pounds of food waste a week, with a total of nearly 1,000,000 pounds diverted since July 2020, per a news release.

“We are excited about our growth and all the individuals and companies getting on board to get food waste out of landfills and onto composting sites,” says Chris Wood, Moonshot principal and co-founder, in the release. “Our new space will make for more efficient operations all around.”

Moonshot Composting's commercial subscribers include Rice University, Houston Baptist University, The Awty International School, ConocoPhillips, Snooze Eatery, Ostia, and Amli Residential.

Rice University biologist wins NIH award

This Rice University scientist has received national recognition for her work plant cell analysis. Photo courtesy of Rice

A Rice University postdoctoral fellow and molecular and cell biologist has received a prestigious National Institutes of Health award.

Durre Muhammad of Rice Academy won the MOSAIC (Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers) K99/R00 award, which is intended to help postdoctoral researchers transition into careers while enhancing diversity within the academic biomedical research workforce, according to a news release from Rice. She's only the fourth individual from Rice to receive this recognition.

The first two years of the award will support the biologist's work in Bonnie Bartel's lab. She is working on defining the mechanisms by which cells in plants identify and eliminate damaged or obsolete organelles known as peroxisomes, which also play important roles in human aging.

“Our lab in general works on all things peroxisome, and I mainly focus on the latter stage when it’s ready for degradation,” Muhammad says in the release. “We identify the signals and different mechanisms involved in the process of decay.”

Muhammad joined Rice in 2018. She earned her Ph.D. in plant and microbial biology at North Carolina State University and her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Illinois Chicago. She also has her MBA from Benedictine University. She received an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology in 2019.

“Durre is a fantastic scientist who has brought new perspectives and approaches to my lab,” says Bartel, the Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of BioSciences. “We are delighted that NIH has recognized her accomplishments and potential with this award.”

First Bight Ventures has added two Houstonians to its advisory board. Image via Getty Images

Houston-based synthetic biology investment fund taps 2 prominent advisers for board

on boarding

Earlier this year, a new synthetic biology-focused venture capital fund launched in Houston, and now its added to its esteemed set of advisers.

Veronica Wu, former Apple and Tesla exec, founded First Bight Ventures, a new VC firm focused exclusively on early-stage synthetic biology startups, in January and named her initial board members. This month, she's added to those ranks with two Houstonians joining the advisory board — Gaurab Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of Solugen, and Kevin Coker, co-founder and CEO of Proxima CRO.

"We are excited to announce the addition of Dr. Gaurab Chakrabarti and Kevin Coker," Wu says in a press release. "These two advisors are experts in their respective fields of medicine and biotechnology. They are proven leaders of Houston-based companies, which is key to our overall growth strategy, as we seek to establish Houston as a geographic center for innovation in Synthetic Biology."

Gaurab co-founded Solugen, a Houston unicorn that creates enzymes that can turn sugar into chemicals, in 2016. He studied computational neuroscience at Brown University and received his master's and PhD in cancer biology and enzymology at the University of Texas.

Representing the health care side of synthetic biology, Kevin Coker runs Houston-based Proxima CRO, a regulatory and clinical partner for the emerging biotech and medical device industry. He is also the founder and partner of the M1 MedTech accelerator and the Host of the Inventing Tomorrow podcast.

"I couldn't be more excited to work with Veronica and First Bight Ventures," Coker says in the release. "The time is now for companies developing Synthetic Biology products and platforms. Much of this technology has reached commercial level maturity and we are beginning to see exciting things happen, particularly in Houston."

The two join six other advisers on the board:

  • Dr. Ethel Rubin, an experienced life sciences executive with commercialization and investment experience across multiple therapeutic areas and modalities.
  • Lekan Akinyanmi, founder and CEO of Cambridge Growth Partners, a holding company with interests in mining, finance, oil/gas, and renewable energy.
  • Dr. Guochun Liao, founder of IDbyDNA, which focuses on utilizing next-generation sequencing and AI/ML for infectious disease management.
  • Mario Maia, leader of the corporate investment arm of Novozymes.
  • Peter Oleksiak, former CFO senior vice president for DTE Energy Co., a Fortune 500 diversified energy compan.
  • Davy Wang, senior director at Oracle Cloud.
Considering applying for something in this roundup of grants, accelerators, and more. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston tech and startup opportunities to apply for

short stories

A flurry of deadlines for grants, accelerators, and more are upcoming — do you have these on your radar?

Scroll through four tech and startup opportunities happening in Houston and open for Houston innovators.

MassChallenge and IBM's Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Founders

MassChallenge and IBM are bringing back a second cohort of their mentorship program, which provides AI mentoring support and resources to high-impact startups with historically underrepresented founders. In addition to artificial intelligence, IBM is expanding this program to invite startups innovating with cyber and data security.

The IBM Mentorship program will take place over the course of three months, starting May 11, and the early-stage startups enrolled in the program will be matched with IBM Mentors who will share their expertise helping them advance their businesses.

Select participating startups will be invited to participate in a Prize Competition where IBM will award $50,000 in non-cap-table cash prizes.

Applications for the IBM Mentorship program close at 11 pm April 13, 2022. Accepted startups will be notified by May 3, 2022. Apply now.

Additionally, MassChallenge has applications open for its international cohorts — including their Texas programs. The global network supports entrepreneurs and their startups through the early stages of building a business. Founded in 2009, MassChallenge’s non-profit, zero equity accelerator model supports more than 400 startups, from all industries and anywhere in the world, across seven locations and nine programs.

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Less than $1 million in funding (equity-based)
  • Less than $2 million in revenue
  • From any industry
  • From anywhere in the world
Applications are due April 20 at 11 am. Apply now.

Small Business Growth Fund

Houston-based Hello Alice's Small Business Growth Fund provides the capital entrepreneurs need to make their next big move. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 grant to accelerate their growth and help make 2022 the year of their small business .Eligible businesses must:

  • Be a for-profit business
  • Have less than $1 million in 2021 gross annual revenue
  • Have a commitment to their customers and community
  • Have a clear plan for use of funds

If you applied and were not selected for a previous round of the program, you are welcome to submit a new application. The deadline for this application is May 20, 2022, at 5 p.m. Apply now.

M1 MedTech

Proxima Clinical Research's M1 MedTech, a medical technology accelerator, is accepting applications for its fall cohort. The accelerator is looking for five to seven of the most promising early-stage medical device companies to participate in its three-month program. The program has closed its first fund and will be selecting companies over the summer for investments up to $100,000 as a combination of both cash and in-kind services.

“Our program is unique in that it combines acceleration capital, company building expertise, and the regulatory and clinical services of a top CRO,” says Larry Lawson, a venture partner and investor with M1, in a news release. “Access to the M1 founders’ network, both within and outside of the Texas Medical Center, sets these companies up for success. There’s no better group to build a MedTech company with, period.”

Experts from Greenlight Guru, Medrio, Galen Data, and Merge Medical Device Studio join Proxima CRO as sponsors of the program and will assist with content delivery and mentoring. Applications will remain open until May 31. Apply now.

Deloitte's Technology Fast 500

Applications for Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 are now open. Now in its 28th year, the ranking recognizes the most innovative, fastest-growing technology companies in North America across industries — media, life sciences, fintech, energy tech, and more.

“Each year, Houston’s Fast 500 applicants illustrate the important role innovation and technology play in our daily lives and in the advancement of our city,” says Amy Chronis, vice chair, oil, gas and chemicals leader, and Houston managing partner, Deloitte LLP. “We look forward to seeing the diverse portfolio of innovations Houston applicants bring to the table this year.”

To be eligible, companies must:

  • Be in business for at least four years
  • Be headquartered in North America
  • Have fiscal year 2018 operating revenues of at least US$50,000
  • Have fiscal year 2021 operating revenues of at least US$5 million
  • Have a growth rate of at least 75 percent (growth rate is computed as [(FY2021 rev. – FY2018 rev.)FY2018 rev.] x 100)
  • Own proprietary intellectual property or proprietary technology, which must be sold to customers in products or services that contribute to a majority of the company’s operating revenues

Past Houston-based winnersast Houston-based winners include Enercross LLC, Onit, and Graylog Inc.

The application period is open from April 4 to June 24. And winners will be announced on Nov. 16. Apply now.

Proxima Clinical Research has its New Year's resolution and is ready to start working hands on with health tech startups. Graphic via proximacro.com

Houston organization plans to launch health tech accelerator in 2022

ready to grow

A contract research organization based in Houston has announced its new accelerator program aimed at helping startups quickly grow their health tech businesses.

Proxima Clinical Research released details of M1 MedTech, which expects to launch early next year. The CRO has raised funds to launch and invest in members of the inaugural cohort.

“Our goal is to move these companies substantially forward in a short amount of time,” says Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima, in a news release. “Proxima is in a unique position to leverage our experienced team of regulatory, quality, and clinical experts. We won’t be working at arm’s length from these companies. We will be a big part of what they do every day.”

The program will focus on a small group of companies and the Proxima team will provide hands-on support, including instruction, workshops, and one-on-one mentoring.

“This will be a unique experience for all parties involved, as Proxima is also a young, yet established, company that is now creating a program to assist companies at an earlier stage,” says Larry Lawson, co-founder of Proxima, in the release. “Our experience in the CRO realm and ability to provide coaching in clinical, regulatory, quality, and go-to-market strategies will only strengthen M1 MedTech’s ability to support the success of emerging companies and provide more life-saving technology to the public.”

Kevin Coker and Larry Lawson co-founded Proxima in 2017. Photos courtesy

The accelerator will target Class II and III medical devices for its initial cohort. In the future, Proxima plans to expand to include an even more extensive incubator focused solely on Class III devices, according to the release.

“M1 will be a place where startups can go to receive concrete resources to further their development. The participant success is our sole focus, and the ultimate goal is to have a substantial impact on the ideation-to-market process for Class II and Class III medical devices,” says Isabella Schmitt, director of regulatory affairs at Proxima and a principal at M1, in the release. “Proxima’s specific expertise alongside our M1 partners will provide resources for all key areas of a medical device entrepreneur’s journey to market and beyond.”

The M1 MedTech applications will open online in the spring.

“We don’t view M1 as competitive to other accelerators, rather we believe it will offer a different experience. Our team will strive to create a personalized program where companies have a dedicated touch point throughout the process,” says Sean Bittner, director of programs at M1 MedTech, in the release. “We will also provide specific, tailored connections and resources vetted by our team through professional partnerships, not just a general list of industry contacts.”

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.