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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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female 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.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.