Small businesses in Houston can apply for the annual Liftoff Houston competition. Photo via liftoffhouston.smapply.org

The City of Houston opened applications for its annual Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition, which helps local founders bring their months-old companies to new heights.

Now in its 11th year, the competition and educational program awards $10,000 in seed money to three founders after completing a four-month-long workshop series that culminates in a Pitch Day. Winners are named in three categories: Innovation, Product and Service.

Applications must be received by 4 p.m. on Friday, August 4. And Pitch Day will be held on November 18. To be eligible for the competition, applicants must live in Houston and operate their businesses here. Businesses must have only been in operation for less than a year and show verifiable revenue that does not exceed $10,000. Founders who do not meet these criteria are eligible for Liftoff's Educational Pathway track that does not include the competition portion of the program.

“For 11 years, Liftoff Houston has empowered participants to achieve financial mobility through entrepreneurship,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “These participants have become key drivers to the success of Houston’s economy, and they have contributed to our communities by creating jobs and by providing much needed goods and services.”

Liftoff Houston is sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library and the City's Office of Business Opportunity. According to a statement, the program has helped serve historically marginalized populations in Houston. In last year's cohort, 95 of participants identified as people of color, 77 percent were female, 44 percent had no college degree and 54 percent made less than $50,000.

Last year's winners in the Innovation, Product and Service were:

  • Innovation: Aditya Aggarwal, founder of Maritime XR, which aims to supplement conventional maritime training with virtual reality simulations.
  • Product: Hannah Le, founder of RE.STATEMENT, a marketplace for designers to upcycle old fashion into wearable art
  • Service: Natasha Roberts, founder of ActIVate Drip Spa, which provides medical-grade IV drips that help eliminate toxins and aid hydration and recovery

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le told Innovation Map earlier this year. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shared more about the founding of RE.STATEMENT and how Liftoff Houston impacted her business in an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast




This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Hannah Le of RE.STATEMENT, Misha Govshteyn of MacroFab, and Kelli Newman of Newman & Newman Inc. 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 sustainable fashion to tech manufacturing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Hannah Le, founder of RE.STATEMENT

Hannah Le founded RE.STATEMENT to provide a much-needed platform for sustainable fashion finds. Photo courtesy of RE.STATEMENT

It's tough out there for a sustainable fashion designer with upcycled statement pieces on the market. First of all, there historically hasn't been a platform for designers or shoppers either, as Hannah Le explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le says. "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."

RE.STATEMENT won one of the city of Houston's startup competition, Liftoff Houston's categories last year. Le shares what's next for the early-stage company on the show. Read more and listen to the episode.

Misha Govshteyn, CEO of MacroFab

MacroFab has secured fresh investment to the tune of $42 million. Photo courtesy of MacroFab

MacroFab, a Houston-based electronics manufacturing platform, has announced $42 million in new growth capital. The company was founded by Misha Govshteyn and Chris Church, who built a platform that manage electronics manufacturing and enables real-time supply chain and inventory data. The platform can help customers go from prototype to high-scale production with its network of more than 100 factories across the continent.

“Electronics manufacturing is moving toward resilience and flexibility to reduce supply chain disruptions,” says Govshteyn, MacroFab’s CEO, in a news release. “We are in the earliest stages of repositioning the supply chain to be more localized and focused on what matters to customers most — the ability to deliver products on time, meet changing requirements, and achieve a more sustainable ecological footprint. MacroFab is fundamental to building this new operating model.”

The company has seen significant growth amid the evolution of global supply chain that's taken place over the past few years. According to the company, shipments were up 275 percent year-over-year. To keep up with growth, MacroFab doubled its workforce, per the release, and opened a new facility in Mexico. Read more.

Kelli Newman, president of Newman & Newman Inc.

In her guest column, Kelli Newman explains how to leverage communications at any stage your company is in. Photo courtesy of Newman & Newman

Kelli Newman took actionable recommendations from investors, customers, advisers, and founders within Houston to compose a guest column with key observations and advice on leveraging communications.

"The significance of effective communication and its contribution to a company’s success are points regularly stressed by conference panelists and forum speakers," she writes. "Yet for many founders it’s advice that fuels frustration for how to make communications a priority with a lack of understanding of the practice." Read more.

Hannah Le founded RE.STATEMENT to provide a much-needed platform for sustainable fashion finds. Photo courtesy of RE.STATEMENT

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.


Three Houston entrepreneurs walked away from this year's Liftoff Houston with $10,000 in prize money. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

City of Houston names 3 companies ready for liftoff

ready to grow

Three local entrepreneurs have received a big lift from the City of Houston’s 2022 edition of the Liftoff Houston startup business plan competition. Each entrepreneur received a $10,000 cash prize.

Natasha Roberts won in the service category. She is the founder of ActIVate Drip Spa, which provides medical-grade IV drips that help eliminate toxins and aid hydration and recovery.

Hannah Le prevailed in the product category. Her startup, RE.STATEMENT, runs a marketplace for designers to upcycle old fashion into wearable art.

Aditya Aggarwal claimed victory in the innovation category. Her business, Maritime XR, aims to supplement conventional maritime training with virtual reality simulations.

“Liftoff Houston goes beyond the $10,000 grand prize that is awarded in each category. This program is also about business education, mentorship and networking — all of which are foundations of creating a successful business,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release.

All of the entrepreneurs who competed in Liftoff Houston attended nearly four months of workshops and met with business and financial mentors. Representatives of Capital One Bank and SCORE Houston their business plans. To devise their business plans, the entrepreneurs relied on free resources from the Houston Public Library and the city’s Office of Business Opportunity.

The winners were announced November 5. This year’s nine finalists were chosen from more than 160 applicants.

The other finalists in the service category were:

  • Charmeyce Buck and Frerika Varlack of Ignite Diagnostic Solutions, a professional analytical laboratory.
  • Kimberly Evans of the Coterie Wine Bar & Social Club, whose customers come from underserved communities.

The other finalists in the product category were:

  • Suzanne Knobel of Bennie’s Old-Fashioned Ketchup, which produces small-batch ketchup made with fresh tomatoes.
  • Stefanie Jones of Yvonne Beauty, a beauty retailer whose clients are Black women.

The other finalists in the innovation category were:

  • Sean Carroll of Buffalo Seaweed, the first algae farm in Texas.
  • Terri Nguyen of SHI Educational Properties, which builds affordable modular homes.
MassChallenge has selected 10 Houston startups to participate in its 2022 United States cohort. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge names 10 Houston companies to national cohort

class of 2022

Ten Houston companies have been chosen for MassChallenge’s 2022 United States cohort of early-stage startups.

The 10 Houston startups are:

  • BEMY Cosmetics, a maker of skin rejuvenation products based on RNA technology
  • Eisana Corp., whose products are designed to ease the side effects of breast cancer treatment
  • Enrichly, a self-esteem-based e-learning platform and gaming app
  • RE.STATEMENT, an online marketplace for upcycled clothing
  • Roxie Health, a virtual medical assigned geared toward preventing falls by seniors
  • Vivifi Medical, whose laparoscopic technology treats male infertility and prostate gland enlargement
  • Vouchpad, a provider of affordable student loans
  • Equiliberty, an equitable fintech platform focused on creating generational wealth
  • National Police Data, an organization creating an index of Police data in America
  • Cryodesalination, a new low cost desalination process focused on providing access to fresh water

In all, the MassChallenge innovation network selected 250 early-stage startups for this fall’s U.S. accelerator program in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Boston, and Providence, Rhode Island. Participants are eligible for equity-free cash prizes of as much as $1 million. MassChallenge is open to early-stage startups that have raised less than $1 million in equity funding and have generated less than $2 million in revenue over the past 12 months.

“We’re in the business of solving massive challenges, and to do that, we must continue to support diverse founders with bold ideas across geographies, industry verticals, and demographics in creative ways that allow them to wholly own their ideas and solve some of our world’s most pressing problems,” Hope Hopkins, head of acceleration at MassChallenge, says in a news release.

This year’s cohort will have access to MassChallenge’s new residency program, which allows founder teams to travel to MassChallenge’s U.S.-based hubs. The residency program already is underway in Houston and Boston.

In addition, founders will be able to take advantage of a newly created program that enables them to connect with MassChallenge stakeholders.

Last year, MassChallenge named 71 startups to its Houston cohort, and several walked away from the program with cash prizes. Per the nonprofit's website, there isn't a Houston-specific program planned for 2022. MassChallenge has had a presence in Houston since January of 2019 when it announced the Bayou City as a new market.

Note: This article originally identified seven Houston startups. The article has been updated to include the three Houston startups initially omitted.

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Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.