This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Scott Gale of Halliburton Labs, Amanda Ducach of Ema, and Jon Nordby of Anthropy Partners. Photos courtesy

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.

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his call to action for Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week. Photo courtesy of Halliburton Labs

Scott Gale will be the first to admit that hosting a week of curated events targeted to a group of individuals within the tech and energy space isn't a novel idea — Climate Week NYC has been taking over Manhattan for over a decade. But Gale believes Houston deserves to have its own time to shine.

Earlier this month, Halliburton Labs, Rice Alliance, and Greentown Houston announced the inaugural Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 to take place in September, but Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, says he hopes this is just the beginning of Houston organizations coming together to collaborate on the initiative.

"I think we have a really awesome initial coalition. Whether your the fifth company or organization to raise its hand to do something that week or the 50th — it really doesn't matter," Gale says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It really is an open invitation — and I want to make that super clear." Read more.

Amanda Ducach, founder and CEO of ema

Amanda Ducach, founder of ema, has raised funding. Photo courtesy of SocialMama

A Houston-based startup that's improving health and wellness for women with its artificial intelligence-backed platform has raised a bridge round of funding.

Ema closed its latest bridge round, bringing its total funding to nearly $2 million. The company received investment from Kubera's Venture Capital and Victorum Capital, which joined existing investors Hearst Labs, Wormhole Capital, Acumen America, and Techstars.

Ema strives to deliver "personalized, empathetic, and evidence-based support" to its users through its generative AI technology. The platform has more than 100,000 users, and has expanded into the B2B sector with $100,000 in contracts within just 30 days after pivoting to this model, according to the company.

"Ema was born from a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of AI to make women's health care more accessible and effective," Amanda Ducach, CEO of Ema, says in a news release. "Our recent funding and rapid B2B growth validate our approach and enable us to further our mission." Read more.

Jon Nordby, managing partner at Anthropy Partners

Founders with a laser focus on a problem, showed remarkable advantage, says Houston expert Jon Nordby. Photo courtesy

In a new series of guest columna for InnovationMap, Jon Nordby is sharing his observations from years with working with founders.

"My top observation is that the success of founders often hinges on their focus on a specific problem, from the perspective of the problem holder (which is not always their customer) and particularly a problem set they care deeply about," he writes. "This focus is far more impactful than merely having a great idea. Founders with a laser focus on a problem, showed remarkable advantages."

Nordby is the managing partner at Anthropy Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, and professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Houston. Read more.

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his call to action for Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week. Photo courtesy of Halliburton Labs

Houston innovator calls for collaboration from energy tech community

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 226

Scott Gale will be the first to admit that hosting a week of curated events targeted to a group of individuals within the tech and energy space isn't a novel idea — Climate Week NYC has been taking over Manhattan for over a decade. But Gale believes Houston deserves to have its own time to shine.

Earlier this month, Halliburton Labs, Rice Alliance, and Greentown Houston announced the inaugural Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 to take place in September, but Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, says he hopes this is just the beginning of Houston organizations coming together to collaborate on the initiative.

"I think we have a really awesome initial coalition. Whether your the fifth company or organization to raise its hand to do something that week or the 50th — it really doesn't matter," Gale says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It really is an open invitation — and I want to make that super clear."



Gale says that he's looked at some of the successful week-long events — like SXSW and others — and the key factors are calendar coordination and cross promotion. Now that Houston has the week set — September 9 to 13, 2024 — it's time for everyone to fill that week with a density of events anywhere around Houston to showcase the city's innovative energy community.

Those interested can learn more or submit their event information online.

The initiative falls in line with how Gale has led Halliburton Labs from its early days in 2020 to now with a focus on community. While the corporate world always needs eyes on its return on investment, supporting the innovation ecosystem has been a bit of a leap of faith – and it always will be.

"There's always this idea of having a line of sight to the outcomes (of your investment). And when you're interfacing with or investing in the startup community, you don't have the benefit of line of sight. A lot of the things that are being solved for are just too early stage. And that can be really hard for corporates to wrap their heads around," Gale says.

"One of the things that we got to was this idea that you can invest in the startup community, and you don't know where the returns will come from, but you know they will come," he continues.

The future energy system will be made up of countless new technologies that are actively being developed and scaled by climate and energy startups around the world. Photo via Getty Images

Amplifying startup success is key for the energy transition, Houston experts say

guest column

The global energy landscape is undergoing unprecedented challenges, influenced by post-pandemic work trends, geopolitical events like the Ukraine crisis, and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.

To achieve net-zero goals by 2050 and address climate change, a significant investment of $5 trillion by 2030 to USD $4.5 trillion by 2050 is required, necessitating a rapid transformation in traditional energy production, distribution, storage, and consumption methods.

High-tech energy and climate startups are pivotal for a robust economy, driving innovation, economic growth, and enhanced productivity. These startups foster healthy competition, attract crucial investments, and contribute significantly to job creation, outpacing larger companies in terms of employment generation. The U.S., a startup leader, generated over 3.7 million new jobs in 2022, showcasing the adaptability of startups to market trends. Globally, India, with the third-largest startup ecosystem, has contributed to the creation of860,000 jobs since the stand-up of Startup India, emphasizing the importance of nurturing startups for sustained economic dynamism and innovation.

The future energy system will be made up of countless new technologies that are actively being developed and scaled by climate and energy startups around the world. These founding teams require access to scaling resources to accelerate and amplify their impact. Human talent, financial investment, demonstration opportunities and physical facilities are scaling resources that often require significant time and capital to build from scratch. This inefficient resource deployment can be particularly pronounced for hard-tech entrepreneurs. Startup community participants are organized around providing entrepreneurs with the needed access to these resources.

"Our mission is to enable hydrogen adoption by solving the key challenges in hydrogen storage and transportation," says Ayrton CEO, Natasha Kostenuk. "With Halliburton's strategic engineering and manufacturing support, we can scale our technology, execute pilot demonstrations and accelerate towards commercialization."

Halliburton Labs, is highlighted for its diverse team and the support it provides to global entrepreneurs in sustainable ventures. The future energy system is envisioned to be composed of numerous new technologies developed and scaled by climate and energy startups worldwide. These startups require access to scaling resources mentioned above, where Halliburton Labs serves as a conduit between established practitioners and startup entrepreneurs, accelerating the latter's impact by providing access to these critical resources.

Infosys launched the Infosys Innovation Fund to invest in entrepreneurial ventures around the world. Their investment philosophy is geared toward supporting innovation and purposeful solutions that are relevant to the strategic priorities of their clients. This differentiates the Infosys Innovation Fund from most other venture capital institutions, in that they have a strong motivation to create long term value for the end users of the technology and to the companies building these solutions.

Infosys actively collaborates with emerging technology startups through its Infosys Innovation Fund. Employing a Desirability, Feasibility, Viability (DFV) framework, Infosys strategically selects startups and offers advantages such as market, financial and technical scale. The Infosys Innovation Fund stands out for its motivation to create long-term value for end users and the companies building innovative solutions. Infosys also operates an incubation center called ‘Infosys Center for Emerging Technology Solutions’ (iCETS), focusing on NextGen services and offerings through collaboration with clients, startup partnerships, university collaborations, and more.

Startups working with Infosys benefit from accessing the company's know-how, market knowledge, and strategic advisors from the consulting arm of business, Infosys Consulting, who are focused on creating business value through technology innovation. The combined expertise guides entrepreneurs from idea to qualification, proof-of-concept, prototype, minimum viable product (MVP), scale, and continuous discovery and delivery.

Open innovation and trusted partnerships in the energy transition era

In the energy transition era, open innovation and trusted partnerships are becoming essential components of amplifying success for startups. Collaborative cultures and trusted partnerships with companies like Infosys and Halliburton Labs are crucial for supporting and scaling startups in this rapidly evolving energy landscape. This shift towards ‘open innovation’ reflects a broader trend in the industry toward collaboration and shared expertise as key drivers for success to accelerate and achieve global energy transition aspirations.

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Scott Gale is the executive director of Halliburton Labs. Jason Till is partner of Experience Transformation & Innovation at Infosys Consulting. Rima Thakkar is principal - Americas Energy Transition at Infosys Consulting. Laura Sacchi, Mandar Joshi, and Sonali Sakhare of Infosys Consulting contributed to this article.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

At its annual Activation Festival, the Ion hosted a conversation about the relationship between corporates and startups. Photo courtesy of Shannon O'Hara/the Ion

Overheard: What Houston corporates are looking for from startups

eavesdropping at the ion

Hundreds of innovators from Houston and beyond flocked to the Ion's annual Activation Festival, and one of the topics discussed at the series of programming was the relationship between corporates and startups.

One of Houston's points of pride is having the third most Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, but how can the city's innovation ecosystem take advantage of that market? And, on the other side of it, how can corporates make the most of Houston innovators?

At a panel on May 17 entitled "Corporate-Startup Partnerships: How to Build Them, Sustain Them, and How They’re Key to Fast-Tracking Innovation and Growth," three corporate leaders explained how they navigate relationships with startups and how cultivating these opportunities is key to the future of business.

Here are a few of the discussion's highlights.

“Investing in the startup community generally, you’re never going to have a line of sight of where that value is going to come back. You can expect it — I’m not saying it’s altruism, it just comes back in forms that you might not appreciate.”

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs says, explaining that corporate contribution doesn't just have to be financial.

“Ask for advice, don’t ask for money. Show up. Be curious. If you think a corporate is the right potential customer for you, spend the time to try to understand what the people are, who the champions are, what motivates them, and what they need to do to be successful.” 

Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation says, noting that it's tried-and-true advice, but still important to remember.

“The person who takes the most risk is the lead adopter — the lead user. That person puts their assets and their name on the line.”

Nazeer Bhore, global manager, tech scouting, innovation and ventures at ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering, says. “What we bring to the table for startups is all the resources we have — technical resources, assets, use cases, testing facilities, and, of course, funding. Irrespective of what stage you’re in, or how many adjacencies you are, we’re always happy to engage with you," he explains. "The key is for us is to be a lead user.”

“The opportunity for us is to be generalists across a lot of different spaces and then work with our specialists to take a deeper dive. We listen to the market and try to find things our corporate partners or entrepreneurs are interested in and then surround them with the type of things they need to be successful. In many case, talent and expertise are top of that list.”

Luby says, explaining the nature of the TMC's various programs, from creating startup tech directly and supporting them through their accelerators and even seeding them through the TMC Venture Fund.

“What startups bring is a lot of different ideas — but startups are temporary organizations that’s looking for a scalable and repeatable business model. And we’re not just interested in just the technology, but the business model.”

Bhore says about what ExxonMobil looks for.

“The flywheel is spinning here in the city of Houston. The next five years are going to be incredibly exciting.”

Gale says, explaining how much has changed in the past few years in Houston's innovation ecosystem.

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

Judges named for 2022 Houston Innovation Awards

in the hot seat

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

Photo courtesy

​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

Photo courtesy

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

Photo courtesy

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

Photo courtesy

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

Photo courtesy

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.

Houston-based NanoTech Inc. has announced it's closed its seed round of funding. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

Houston startup closes $5M seed round led by Austin VC

Fresh funds

It's payday for a Houston startup that is housed out of the new Halliburton Labs. Nanotech Inc., which material science for fire-proofing and insulation, has announced the close of its $5 million seed round.

According to NanoTech's news release, Austin-based Ecliptic Capital led the investment round. Additionally, the deal also resulted in the conversion of a simple agreement for future equity, or SAFE, that was previously issued to Halliburton Labs.

"The investment from Ecliptic Capital will allow us to scale our business to achieve our mission of fireproofing the world and reducing global energy consumption. Additionally, our participation with Halliburton Labs provides us with the support of a Fortune 500 company." says NanoTech's CEO Mike Francis in the release.

Based in Austin, Ecliptic Capital is a fund focused on early-stage startups and supports a wide range of technologies across neglected geographies and industries.

"Ecliptic is proud to partner with NanoTech as the company's founding institutional investor," says Mike W. Erwin, founder of Ecliptic Capital, in the release. "We're excited to work with the company and leverage our operational expertise to rapidly scale this impactful, world-changing technology. We look forward to a new world where NanoTech accelerates the thermal management market from science-fiction to science-fact."

Halliburton Company chose NanoTech among a round of contenders to be the first participant of their 12-month program located at their Houston headquarters. Halliburton provides Nanotech with its own office space, access to Halliburton facilities, technical expertise, and an extensive network to accelerate their product to market.

'We are thrilled to see a Halliburton Labs participant secure their first round of financing, and congratulate the Ecliptic and NanoTech teams,' says Scott Gale, Halliburton Labs executive director, in the release. 'We are confident in the path forward as they work towards achieving a clean energy future.'

NanoTech's proprietary technology has the ability to be utilized for various industries — including commercial construction, chemical plants, oil and gas, aviation, utilities and much more — for eco-friendly spray-on insulation and fireproofing.

"As a company, we are just scratching the surface on where our technology will be used and can't wait to see the business scale." adds Mike Francis.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.