Houston's health tech and startup ecosystem has some recent news to catch up on. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from growing their executive boards to raising fresh grant funding.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a startup opens a crowdfunding round, a Houston hospital system taps into new technology, and more.

Coya Therapeutics names new president and chief medical officer

Fred Grossman will assume his new role next week. Photo via LinkedIn

Coya Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: COYA), a revolutionary biotech company based in Houston, named Dr. Fred Grossman as president and chief medical officer. The clinical-stage company, which has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again, announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO in January.

According to the company, Dr. Grossman's position, which was held by Dr. Adrian Hepner, is effective July 17.

“We are grateful for Dr. Hepner’s leadership and excellence in positioning Coya and look forward to having him continue to collaborate with the company in moving our assets forward," Howard H. Berman, CEO of Coya, says in a news release. "We also welcome Dr. Grossman, who brings decades of clinical development experience and successful execution."

Dr. Grossman has held executive positions at Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Sunovion, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, and Mesoblast Inc. (NASDAQ: MESO), developing allogeneic cellular therapies for inflammatory diseases.

CellChorus receives another SBIR grant

CellChorus, a biotech startup operating out of the University of Houston Technology Bridge, has secured additional funding. Photo via Getty Images

Fresh off a $2.3 million grant last month, Houston-based CellChorus, a single-cell analysis company, has another grant to celebrate.

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded CellChorus a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to advance development of its Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids, known as TIMING. The funding will be used to develop novel microscale arrays to support scaling dynamic single-cell analysis.

“This funding will further development of novel arrays to build on the success of our early access laboratory based in Houston,” says Mohsen Fathi, head of technology at CellChorus, in a press release. “This project will support scaling the only platform that can evaluate migration, contact dynamics, killing, survival, subcellular activity, and biomolecule secretion for the same individual cell over time and in high throughput to improve development and delivery of novel therapies.”

According to the release, the company is receiving more than $274,000 as a part of the grant, but CellChorus has the potential of receiving up to $2 million from the second phase.

“This award builds on our recent funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to advance development of a dedicated instrument platform for TIMING,” says Daniel Meyer, CEO of CellChorus, in the release.

Memorial Hermann partners with TMC-backed virtual OB-GYN care

Two Houston-area hospitals now have access to this digital health startup's platform. Photo via Getty Images

The Memorial Hermann Health System has entered into a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based Babyscripts, a virtual care platform for managing obstetrics. The company is backed by the Texas Medical Center's venture fund and has existing ties to the city.

"Memorial Hermann strives to make Greater Houston a place where every woman's pregnancy, delivery and postpartum experience is successful and safe. This innovative partnership is a continuation of that commitment," says Dr. Victoria Regan, vice president of Women's and Children's Services at Memorial Hermann, in a news release.

Now, Memorial Hermann patients will be able to access Babyscripts myJourney, an app that delivers educational content, email campaigns, satisfaction surveys, appointment reminders, and more. The first two hospitals to receive access are Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, with plans to expand the program.

"The ability to access adequate prenatal and postpartum care is one of the largest predictors of maternal and infant health outcomes," says Anish Sebastian, CEO and co-founder of Babyscripts in the release. "With Babyscripts, Memorial Hermann is able to streamline the maternal health experience across their system, adding opportunities for access and providing consistent, high-quality pregnancy care to all patients, regardless of race, income, geography or risk."

Earn Your Freedom launches crowdfunding campaign with Houston nonprofit's support

Earn Your Freedom is looking for financial support from its community. Photo via houston.impacthub.net

Earn Your Freedom, a Houston startup that's gamifying personal finance education, has launched its first crowdfunding campaign in partnership with Impact Hub Houston.

The goal for EYF is to raise $100,000 to support its gaming programs with local schools. Impact Hub Houston is the fiscal sponsor for the raise, which is officially live and open for contributions.

The innovative and interactive web and mobile video game, which officially launched earlier this year to celebrate Financial Literacy Month, was designed to help kids build a strong foundation in money management, economics and investment in a fun and engaging way. It features challenges and real-world scenarios such as renting a first apartment, opening a first bank account, budgeting at the grocery store, buying stocks and index funds and renting or buying real estate.

“We envision a society where financial literacy is accessible to all, and where individuals are enabled with the tools to take control of their financial futures," says Keely McEnery, EYF co-founder and COO, in a press release. "We are bridging the gap between education and application, stepping in before the real-world consequences take place.”

Here's your roundup of energy innovation news coming out of Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Incubator announces new program, Houston startup names new partner, and more energy innovation news

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Houston's energy innovation ecosystem has seen a busy spring season, with startup accelerator cohorts announced, expanded corporate partnerships, and recent funding raised.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston energy innovation, a startup enters into a strategic partnership, Greentown Labs announces a new accelerator, and more.

Syzygy taps global company to lead scaling for tech development 

Syzygy has brought on a new partner that's key to its future growth and tech production. Photo via Emerson

Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics, which has developed a light-based catalyst reactor technology that originated out of Rice University, has selected global technology and software company Emerson (NYSE: EMR) to automate electrification of chemical production processes.

The reactor technology uses light instead of thermal energy for chemical manufacturing. The all-electric production method has the opportunity to replace fossil fuel-based combustion, making energy generation more sustainable. Syzygy estimates, according to the news release, that its reactor systems could eliminate 1 gigaton of CO2 emissions by 2040.

“We are excited to advance this opportunity with Emerson not only for its automation technologies and software but also its sustainability leadership and domain expertise in chemical engineering, electrification and hydrogen production,” says Syzygy CEO Trevor Best in the release. “As we expand beyond traditional paradigms of reactor technology and launch a new way to electrify chemical manufacturing, we wanted a technology partner who can help us scale our technology efficiently, safely and reliably.”

Emerson will provide its suite of hardware, software, and services for the Syzygy modular reactors.

"Emerson is excited to collaborate with Syzygy Plasmonics on such promising technology that could have a significant impact on industries that are some of the most challenging to decarbonize," says Peter Zornio, CTO at Emerson. “This aligns with Emerson’s culture of innovation that takes on our customers’ biggest challenges.”

Greentown Labs announces applications opening for Shell accelerator

Shell is seeking energy tech companies. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Greentown Labs, a climatetech incubator co-located in Houston and Boston, has teamed up with Shell for a Greentown Go program, geared at accelerating startup-corporate partnerships, to focus on technologies for carbon utilization, storage, and traceability.

Greentown Go Make 2023 zeroing in on alternative carbon feedstocks for carbon-intensive commodities; biogenic and nature-based solutions; and solutions for carbon storage and traceability, according to a news release.

Applications are open now, and the selected startups will have access to mentorship from Shell and Greentown's networks, desk space and membership within Greentown, $15,000 in non-dilutive grant funding, and educational workshops throughout the duration of the six-month program.

“Greentown Go brings together groundbreaking climatetech startups and the corporations that can help commercialize and scale their technologies,” says Kevin T. Taylor, interim CEO and CFO at Greentown Labs, in a news release. “Every Greentown Go program aims to drive climate impact and accelerate the energy transition. We look forward to working with Shell, a long-time Greentown partner, on this important program and supporting the latest innovations in carbon utilization, storage, and traceability.”

The program will help support Shell’s strategy through the development and scaling of technologies for carbon utilization, storage, and traceability across chemicals, carbon fuels, and more.

“Collaboration to accelerate technology development is critical to developing the energy solutions we need for a low-carbon energy future, and I am excited to see what novel technologies arise from startups participating in the Greentown Go Make 2023 program,” says Ed Holgate, commercial partnerships manager at Shell.

Chevron Technology Ventures adds Canadian startup to its Catalyst Program

Motive.io ia using AI to optimize workforce training. Photo via Motive.io

Chevron Technology Ventures announced the addition of Vancouver-based Motive.io, which provides immersive training solutions that leverage virtual and augmented reality technologies, to its Catalyst program. The program seeks out and helps to grow breakthrough technologies and solutions that have the potential to disrupt the energy industry.

"We are honored and thrilled to be selected as part of Chevron Technology Ventures' Catalyst program," says Ryan Chapman, CEO of Motive.io, in a news release. "Selection for this program represents a tremendous opportunity for Motive.io to collaborate with Chevron Technology Ventures as we continue to advance our cutting-edge immersive training solutions for the energy sector."

Motive.io's technology, called the XR Management System, "aims to revolutionize how companies train their employees by providing realistic and interactive simulations that allow learners to practice their skills in a safe and controlled environment," according to a news release.

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup scores on TV, medical entrepreneurs land new gigs, and more innovation news

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It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, new hires, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a startup snags investment from two sharks, two medical professionals take on new roles, and more.

Milkify lures in two sharks on TV debut

Berkley Luck and Pedro Silva, the wife and husband team behind Milkify, appeared on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

Milkify, a Houston startup that's created a breastmilk freeze-drying business, appeared on ABC's Shark Tank on April 7 and got two investors to bite. Gwyneth Paltrow and Lori Greiner agreed to a $400,000 convertible note for 20 percent equity in the company.

“It’s a dream team — Lori and Gwyneth — to help us grow this company and help us take it and make it more available to moms," says Berkley Luck, COO and co-founder, on the show.

Luck founded the company with her husband, Pedro Silva, and told InnovationMap the company has freeze-dried and powdered more than half a million ounces of breast milk since founding in 2019.

On the show, the duo explained that some of the customers' employers paid for the process.

“It gives such agency to working moms, it empowers them,” Paltrow says on the show. “I work at a company with so many women and nursing mothers. Breastfeeding really factors in for women. This makes working less of a guilty experience for mothers.”

Coya Therapeutics onboards new C-suite exec

Arun Swaminathan was named chief business officer at Coya Therapeutics. Photo courtesy of Coya

Coya Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company with multiple therapeutic platforms, announced Arun Swaminathan will be taking on the role of chief business officer. He will be responsible for new business development partnerships, including licensing opportunities, across the company. Swaminathan has over 20 years of hands-on health care business executive experience.

“Our team is excited to welcome Arun to Coya at such an exciting time in our evolution. We look forward to working with him as we leverage his extensive experience and successful track record in corporate strategy and business development,” says Howard H. Berman, CEO of Coya, in a news release. “This is an opportune time for Arun to join our team on the heels of recent positive data and as we accelerate the clinical development of our biologic and cell therapy Treg immunomodulatory assets. We are confident that Arun’s contributions will prove to be impactful for Coya and our shareholders.”

Prior to Coya, Swaminathan served in the same role for Actinium Pharmaceuticals.

“Coya has an innovative pipeline, and its multiple therapeutic platforms provide a strong base for potential value-creating partnerships,” says Swaminathan in the release. “I look forward to working with Howard and the Coya team to realize the promise of Coya’s portfolio and deliver new therapies for patients.”

INOVUES named to accelerator

Window-retrofitting climatetech company has joined a new startup accelerator. Photo via inovues.com

A Houston company that is retrofitting commercial buildings for energy efficiency has joined a brand new Maryland-based accelerator. INOVUES has been named to the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.'s inaugural cohort for its Hospitality Tech Accelerator.

The six selected companies are focusing on some of the hospitality industry’s top sustainability challenges, according to a news release, including energy, water, and waste reduction and management. The cohort will be supported by experts in the sustainability, travel, foodservice, and hospitality industries from Growth Advisors International Network and Bethesda Green’s Innovation Lab mentor network, per the release.

“We were particularly impressed by the caliber of applicants for this inaugural program,” says Bill Tompkins, president and CEO of MCEDC, in a statement. “The selected companies have developed innovative solutions that can be implemented today to reduce food and material waste, detect water loss, and provide fast and convenient energy savings through high-performance insulation, AI and machine learning, and smart glass retrofits."

In a recent interview with InnovationMap, founder Anas Al Kassas says commercial building energy efficiency is a major contributor to energy consumption.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas said in December. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

3 female founders named to prestigious list

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, Ghazal Qureshi, and Robin Scott were named to Inc. magazine's list of female founders. Photos courtesy

Earlier this month, Inc. magazine revealed its list of the top 200 female founders, and three Houston-area women made the cut.

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace, and Robin Scott, co-founder of CEO of Segment HR, were recognized as trailblazers in male-dominated industries. Ghazal Qureshi, CEO and founder of UpBrainery, was honored on the list of innovators using tech to impact the world.

"These 200 female founders have identified solutions to difficult problems and created valuable, industry-changing companies out of them. We congratulate this year's list on their achievements and look forward to their continued success," says Scott Omelianuk, Inc. editor in chief, in a news release.

The full list is available online and in the April edition of the magazine.

TMC Innovation names cancer program's entrepreneur in residence

TMC has welcomed Dr. Tinashe Chandauka to its innovation team. Photo via TMC.edu

The Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory has again expanded its team with the addition of another entrepreneur in residence — this time to support the Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, or ACT.

Dr. Tinashe Chandauka, according to TMC, is a "life science company builder. He has both a MD and PhD, and has a background in venture capital and business development. Prior to this role, he was director of early pipeline development at Tarsus Pharmaceuticals, an Irvine-based ophthalmology company.

Chandauka joins Zaffer Syed, entrepreneur in residence for medtech, who was announced earlier this year.

CodeLaunch named its winner — and more Houston innovation news. Photo courtesy of Honeycomb

Houston startup secures bank partnership, energy tech co. wins competition, and more

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Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from being recognized for their out-of-this-world innovation to big wins.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a Houston company snags a major partnership, an energy tech startup wins big on stage, and more.

The Postage gets a new partner

The Postage platform will be available to AmBank Company's employees, customers, and their families. Photo courtesy of The Postage

A Houston tech platform that streamlines estate and legacy planning has entered into a partnership with AmBank Company — American State Bank, American Investment & Trust, and Perspective Insurance — in Sioux Center, Iowa. The bank will deliver The Postage's services to its employees, customers, and their families.

The Postage unique platform allows users important information organizational tools, as well as state-specific will document creation. The technology also allows users to share meaningful family memories, write future messages, and collaborate with loved ones of their choosing.

"Community is at the core of everything American State Bank does. They exemplify that by supporting their customers through the myriad of choices that arise while navigating their financial lives. The Postage fits right into that, and we are thrilled to share our platform with their employees and customers in their planning and organization efforts," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage, in a news release. "We hope to grow awareness of the family-driven digital solution and provide AmBank's customers the opportunity to gain control and safeguard their critical information. We look forward to providing AmBank's customers with the guidance they need to protect their wealth and wisdom now and for generations to come."

The partnership, which rolled out last month, was announced as American State Bank and the family of brands celebrated 50 years of business.

"Our commitment to delivering outstanding service and top-notch products to our customers, colleagues, and community has been unwavering for over half a century," says Joel Westra, AmBank first vice president. "This partnership allows us to extend our digital services while staying true to our core values of connection and community.

"Our team has witnessed the struggles of families coping with losing a loved one, we recognized the need for a service like The Postage," he continues. "Far too often, people are uncertain about the next steps, the whereabouts of important documents, and even their loved one's final wishes. We recognize that to prevent these challenges, families need help navigating difficult conversations and guidance on how to get started with their planning, which The Postage provides."

E360 wins Houston startup competition

E360 and Honeycomb Software share the win at the 2023 Houston CodeLaunch event. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, hosted its second Houston startup pitch competition last week, and a Houston energy efficiency startup emerged victorious.

E360 won the top prize at the event on March 2. The program paired six finalists with consultant development teams to pitch and compete for up to $150,000. The startup's technology is a holistic building solution that monitors both the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of commercial buildings.

“The goal I pursued at CodeLaunch was to meet industry leaders and investors who can help take the product to the next level," says Mat Bonassera, chief enterprise architect at E360, in a news release. “The vast majority of buildings are both incredibly inefficient as well as dangerous to their occupants, due to the dangerous levels of compounds in the air.

"We solve both these complex problems at the same time," he continues. "This is unheard of in our industry. We do this by monitoring vast sums of IOT data and then using Machine Learning and real-time monitoring we adjust the building to optimize its performance. This is a revolutionary way to look at commercial buildings."

E360 shares the win with its partner development team Honeycomb Software, an international custom software development company. The provided hands-on support to E360 scale during a two-day hackathon held February 25 and 26.

“The desire to promote energy efficiency of the buildings and the sustainability in business influenced our decision of whom to work with during the Hackathon," says Oleksandr Semeniuk, CEO of Honeycomb Software, in the release. "Our team worked tirelessly to expand the functionality of E360, and this victory is a testament to their hard work and dedication."

Axiom named among most innovative companies

KBR is one of Axiom Space's partners on its new NASA-sanctioned ISS project. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

Fast Company named it's 50 most innovative companies — and Axiom Space, a Houston-based commercial, full-service orbital mission provider, was named No. 49 on the list. It was also recognized as one of the most innovative space tech companies "for going to space without a chaperone," per the magazine.

The article recognized several of Axiom's accomplishments, including:

  • Managing the first all-private mission to the International Space Station in April of 2022. The mission sent a four-person crew into space for 17 days.
  • Developing plans to expand the international community of space explorers, including Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and others.
  • Building a module to attach to the ISS, which is progress toward the world’s first commercial free-floating space station.

“In the space business, there’s a big focus on the transportation, the rockets,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom, tells Fast Company. “But if you think about the railroads that were built across the U.S., they were built to serve a destination. Without a reason to go somewhere, they wouldn’t exist. We’re building the destination in space—the real estate to allow multiple businesses to operate in low-Earth orbit and take advantage of the microgravity environment.”

NASA also makes the ranking for "showing that a public space program can still do big things," according to the list.

Calling all student-founded startups and businesses

Rice and UH have programs for startup and small business entrepreneurs. Photo via uh.edu

Rice University and the University of Houston have upcoming deadlines for their summer accelerators. The summer programs all operate in coordination with each other and offer support for student, faculty, or staff founders and their startups and small businesses.

The four programs, and their focus and application deadlines, are as follows:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one Rice student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's RedLabs is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one UH student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 31.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at Rice. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's Red Launch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at UH. Apply by March 31.

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

3 Houston startups join accelerators, PE-backed biz names new execs, and more innovation news

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It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, major ecosystem events, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three startups join three different accelerator programs, a Houston innovator publishes a book, and a PE-backed tech company makes changes to its C-suite.

Rivalry Tech snags spot in Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator

Rivalry Tech, the parent company for stadium mobile ordering platform sEATz, was selected for a prestigious program. Photo via rivalrytech.com

A Houston-based startup has been selected for the third cohort for the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator. Rivalry Tech, a software company that provides mobile ordering technology platform sEATz to stadiums, is one of 10 startups in the program.

The new cohort was selected from over 920 applicants across 40 countries. The six-month program — expanded from its previous 12-week format — allows access to access to leaders and decision makers from across the partner consortium, including NBC Sports, Sky Sports, Comcast Spectacor, Golf, NASCAR, WWE, PGA TOUR, U.S. Ski & Snowboard, USA Swimming, and USA Cycling.

Since the first class in 2021, SportsTech startup alumni have participated in 90 pilots, partnerships, and commercial deals with consortium partners.

"Our alumni from the first two classes of the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech accelerator continue to display a prowess for delivering impactful technology while unlocking new revenue opportunities, and I look forward to seeing what powerful innovations and unique partnerships emerge from this year’s program,” says Jenna Kurath, vice president of Startup Partnerships and Head of Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech, in a news release. "As we evaluated how to bring even more value to our startups and SportsTech partners, a clear need emerged - more time collaborating to tackle complex business challenges. The new six-month format creates additional space for focused testing and experimentation with a curriculum designed for business refinement while allowing the enterprise-ready startups we've selected to continue serving their existing customers.”

PE-backed HungerRush names new execs

HungerRush has a handful of new execs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based HungerRush, a cloud software provider for the restaurant industry, announced new leaders within its C-suite. The company, recently backed by New York City-based private equity firm Corsair Capital New York City-based private equity firm Corsair Capital, announced three new executives.

  • David Tabachnick has been named CFO. He joins the company from Acoustic where he most recently served as CAO. He brings more than 20 years’ experience to his new role as CFO, including extensive private equity experience through Vista Equity Partners.
  • Patrick Hughes joins as vice president of finance. He will focus on emphasizing longstanding partnerships, reporting, automation, and environment of controls and advise on growth paths for HungerRush. With more than 15 years’ experience in both accounting and FP&A, he excels in high growth environments focused on technology advancements.
  • Jim DaBroi has been appointed COO. He has more than 25 years of experience in developing and growing customer support operations for various SaaS and payments companies. In his role at HungerRush he will be focused on leading the deployment and installations of customer success and technical support efforts.
  • Ashishh Desai has been named vice president of independent operators sales following the company's acquisition of Menufy acquisition. He was previously a co-founder of Kansas City-based Menufy, an industry-leading online food ordering platform acquired in October 2021 and will continue to build and grow HungerRush’s I/O sector.

“We are excited to attract this caliber of world-class Fintech and PE-based talent with the addition of David and Patrick, who together will be key to our rapid growth strategy. In addition, the appointments of Jim and Ashishh bring deep experience in SaaS, payments and sales to our team that is unmatched," says HungerRush CEO Perry Turbes in a news release. "With our now robust leadership team, we will continue to accelerate our commitment to elevate the restaurant technology space and meet the evolving needs of our customers to help them achieve their own goals in the restaurant industry.”

Heroshe named to nonprofit accelerator's spring cohort

The Heroshe team will participate in a hybrid accelerator program. Photo via heroshe.com

A Houston-based tech startup called Heroshe has joined Virgina-based hybrid accelerator Lighthouse Labs for their spring 2023 cohort. Heroshe, according to its website, is a purpose-driven technology company solving the problem of access to global commerce for African businesses.

"We are on a mission to bridge the commerce gap, simplify imports and empower Africans to access global markets," reads the website.

Its eleventh year, Lighthouse Labs, a nonprofit organization, named eight companies to its Batch 14, which begins March 13 in Richmond, Virginia, and ends with Demo Day on May 23.

“This cohort’s companies offer bold solutions to address current-day problems in industries ranging from logistics to cybersecurity, health/wellness to retail, and real estate to software,” says Paul Nolde, managing executive director at Lighthouse Labs, in a news release. “This group of startups represents the best of innovation and entrepreneurship across the Commonwealth and beyond.”

Around 200 companies applied and were evaluated. Of the applications, 49 moved forward to the first round of reviews, and 17 participated in interviews. All companies will receive $20,000 in equity-free funding, participate in weekly educational programming, get mentorship from Lighthouse’s extensive mentor network, and connect directly with local partners and investors.

Houston innovator publishes first book

Kara Branch's book is available on Amazon. Image via Amazon

A Houston innovator — an award-winning one at that — has published a book Kara Branch is the CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer, an organization on a mission to inspire future women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.She released her first book, “What is S.T.E.M.?”

"Many are familiar with the acronym S.T.E.M. but don’t necessarily understand what the term means," reads the book's description. "This book will help you understand what is S.T.E.M. and introduce you to S.T.E.M. careers that falls under each letter."

IncentiFind finds spot in growth-focused program

IncentiFind was selected for a new program. Photo courtesy of IncentiFind

IncentiFind, a Houston-based startup that helps the real estate industry find grant opportunities, has joined Chicago-based Moderne Ventures' inaugural "Passport Class," which is a six-month program providing its participants education, exposure, insight, and relationships to drive customer growth.

"Unlike a traditional accelerator, Moderne Passport is a comprehensive industry immersion program that helps companies of all stages – seed through pre-IPO – hone their go-to-market strategies in the real estate sector, build relationships with industry leaders and execute pilot programs and customer relationships with some of the largest companies in the world," says Carolyn Kwon, Moderne Passport director, in a news release.

IncentiFind, founded by Natalie Goodman, is one of six companies selected for the first batch of startups. Moderne Ventures is a venture capital firm focused on the industries of real estate, finance, insurance, ESG, and home services.

"Moderne most often looks outside its industries to find technologies that can be applicable within them," says Constance Freedman, founder and managing partner at Moderne Ventures. "This latest Passport cohort was curated to include innovative solutions that are highly applicable to some of our industry's most pressing challenges. We look forward to helping these companies optimize their products and services and connect with partners in the Moderne Network who can benefit most from them."

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

Houston space co. adds new adviser, startup named SXSW alternate, and more innovation news

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Houston startup news is in full swing this year, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Venus Aerospace makes an impressive appointment, a sportstech startup is headed to SXSW, and more.

Houston space startup names former NASA administrator to board

Jim Bridenstine, formerly NASA's administrator, has joined Venus Aerospace. Photo courtesy of Venus

A Houston-based company that's creating reusable hypersonic drones and spaceplanes has named its latest adviser. Jim Bridenstine, who served as the 13th administrator for NASA, is Venus Aerospace's latest addition to the team.

"I'm excited to be on the board of advisors for Venus Aerospace," Bridenstine says in a statement. "We have been plowing through the atmosphere at Mach 0.7 for over 70 years. This not only wastes time, but it also costs too much money and places greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. It's time to disrupt the transportation business and Venus Aerospace has the talent to do it."

"Now we're going above the atmosphere, at hypersonic speeds, to get from one side of the planet to the other in a much cleaner way," he continues.

Founded in California in 2020 and then relocated to the Houston Spaceport, Venus is scaling after raising a $20M series A last spring.

"Jim brings a very unique perspective and capabilities from aviator to congressman to administrator," says Andrew Duggleby, CTO and co-founder, in the release. "The thing that gets me most excited is his ability to jump in, understand the context, and know exactly where he can make an immediate difference."

Houston startup snags spot as SXSW Pitch alternate

This Houston tech company has been named an alternate for the 2023 SXSW pitch. Photo via SXSW

SXSW announced 40 finalists for the 15th annual SXSW Pitch competition taking place March 11 to 12.

"Since its inception, SXSW Pitch has been front row to some of the most ambitious startups from around the world, using creative ideas to change their industry’s future," says SXSW Pitch Event Producer Chris Valentine in a news release. "We are thrilled to play a role in helping shape these early-stage ventures and connect them with the resources they need to thrive. This year’s competition will be a representation of the incredible and innovative work being done around the world."

In addition to the finalists for each category, SXSW names a handful of alternates. This year, Houston-based AiKYNETIX was included in the Artificial Intelligence, Robotics & Voice category.

AiKYNETIX, which was founded in January 2021, uses real-time video analytics technology to provide a new option for runners on treadmills. App users — runners and their coaches — then can measure running form and running performance metrics to improve training.

Houston IT and software services company claims spot on 2023 cloud tech awards

Rajasekhar Gummadapu is the CEO of Techwave. Photo via Techwave

Houston-based Techwave has won a prestigious award. The company claimed the “Best Cloud Migration or Systems Integration Solution” award at the 2022-2023 International Cloud Awards.

The award, which recognizes and honors industry leaders, innovators, and organizational transformation in cloud computing, was announced earlier this month.

"It is an honor to receive the Best Cloud Migration award at the International Cloud Awards," says Raj Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "This accolade is a reflection of our relentless pursuit of innovation and delivering exceptional solutions."

Techwave is a global IT and engineering services and solutions company revolutionizing digital transformations.

Houston startup secures latest level of compliance

Koda Health has cleared a new level of compliance. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Growing Houston company Koda Health has announced that it achieved SOC 2 Type II compliance, a distinction that indicates a certain standard of securing customer data.

"This compliance demonstrates our commitment to protecting our partners and their data through enterprise-level security protocol and standards," the company announced on LinkedIn.

Koda Health was audited by Prescient Assurance, a leader in security and compliance attestation for B2B, SAAS companies worldwide, according to the company.

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

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Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

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Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

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One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

Network

A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

Employee Referrals

When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

Alternative Candidates

In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

Contingent Workforce

Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

Internal Talent

Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.