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

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

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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.

Houston-based Nanotech was the first company to be selected for Halliburton Labs, a recently announced startup incubator. Photo via halliburtonlabs.com

Houston startup — buoyed by Halliburton — plans to scale

in the lab

A Houston-based material science startup that uses nanotechnology for thermal insulation and fireproofing has been chosen as the first participant of Halliburton Labs, an innovation incubator, announced late last month by the oil and gas giant.

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

"With Nanotech's shield material we can have fireproofing infrastructure, saving lives and helping save the planet," says Mike Francis, CEO of Nanotech. "But it's tremendously difficult to scale our small lab to take our product globally, so when we heard about this opportunity with Halliburton Labs, we jumped immediately on it."

Nanotech Inc., started with a singular technology and a simple mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption globally. The base nano shield, flex shield, and forged shield products contain nanoparticles ranging from 1 micrometer to 1 nanometer in a water-based solution with other inorganic compounds. The coating is heat resistant, non-flammable, and the nontoxic properties ensure it is sustainable for the environment.

"We see the Nanotech team as part of our team," says Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs. "We see them as an extension of the founding Halliburton Labs team, during our initial conversations, we saw their product development cycle and founding team and found a lot of great overlap."

From Francis' perspective, Halliburton Labs allows his company to live the best of both worlds, with access to the garage-style office of any startup and a lab equipped with the full muscle of the Halliburton resources and knowledge.

"What they are providing us is incredible," says Francis. "We have access to this world-class multimillion-dollar laboratory that would take us years to build up, we also have access to our own startup garage. You don't lose the magic of that startup phase, but we also get that bump."

According to Francis, they have already began using the lab to conduct tests that will accelerate the rate to take their nano shield technology to market faster.

"The product stands in and of itself but having access to Halliburton Lab's has changed our trajectory dramatically," says Francis. "If Nanotech had to use a third-party lab, the turnaround would take longer, and many of these tests we have been able to conduct in-house with a one or two-day turnaround."

Nanotech is aiming to move quickly, with its funding process well underway, they expect to reach full capitalization in one or two months. From there they will be looking for a home of their own after they graduate from the incubator, constructing a plant that accommodates their infrastructure and their goals of a global operation. Since the announcement of their participation in Halliburton Labs, many investors have reached out to them.

"By this time next year we'll have our fully operational plant that's going to be able to do hundreds of thousands of tons of product per year," says Francis. "We'll be able to iron out the kinks while we use the Halliburton Labs facilities and figure out what we need in our own lab."

Houston-based oil field service company, Halliburton, has introduced its new startup incubator. Getty Images

Houston oil and gas giant premieres new startup incubator and names first participant

new to hou

Not intending to be left out of the energy transition, a Houston-based, multinational oil and gas services company has announced its new incubator for startups to advance cleaner, affordable energy.

Halliburton Company has introduced Halliburton Labs this week and named Houston-based Nanotech Inc., which uses nanotechnology for thermal insulation and fireproofing, as its first participant. Nanotech — along with future entrepreneurs and academics — will have access to the Halliburton facilities, the company's experts, and its network.

"Halliburton Labs reflects our commitment to the science and continued evolution of sustainable, reliable energy," says Jeff Miller, chairman, president, and CEO at Halliburton, in a news release. "We firmly believe that oil and gas will remain an affordable and reliable energy resource for decades to come. At the same time, we recognize the importance of developing alternative energy sources. We are excited to help advance solutions that have the potential for a long term, meaningful impact and that align well with our sustainability objectives."

The program will be based out of Halliburton's North Houston headquarters and will be led by executive director, Scott Gale. The primary focus of the incubator is to help advance and scale the participating startups, which includes developing and advancing products, securing financing and customers, and more.

Startups that will be considered for the program must be past the proof-of-concept phase, and a formal application process will roll out in September. According to the release, additional startup participants will be announced in the next few months. Meanwhile, Nanotech has already moved into the new lab at Halliburton.

"We also couldn't be more pleased to have Nanotech, Inc. as the first participant of Halliburton Labs," says Miller in the release. "Nanotech delivers technology that will change the way we think about energy conservation and fire safety across many sectors."

Nanotech's Nano Shield products can protect from fire damage as well as improve energy efficiency. Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder, launched Nanotech in 2019.

"We are incredibly excited to have been selected as an anchor for Halliburton Labs and help drive meaningful change and innovation in the energy sector," says Francis, in the release. "Access to Halliburton Labs' resources and world-class facilities will help accelerate our growth and deliver our transformative line of products. Through this collaboration, we intend to fundamentally shift the fireproofing and thermal insulation markets towards more effective and environmentally friendly solutions."

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

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 esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.