In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a Houston startup wins an international COVID-19 innovation competition, The Ion has a new founding partner, and more. Photo courtesy of The Ion

It's been a busy week with virtual SXSW, spring break, and more. For this reason, some of Houston's innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a Houston startup grows its C-suite, a local accelerator application deadline looms, the latest news from The Ion, and more.

Baker Botts doubles down on The Ion

The Ion has a new founding partner. Courtesy of Rice University

Houston's rising innovation hub, The Ion, has named Houston-based Baker Botts as the latest founding partner, alongside previously announced partners Microsoft and Chevron Technology Ventures.

"Today's announcement not only solidifies Baker Botts' investment in The Ion and the programs we are activating, but is a commitment to growing Houston's innovation ecosystem," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "Baker Botts' work with The Ion has already helped countless entrepreneurs get their work off the ground, and we are excited for their support as we continue to accelerate innovation and connect communities to build sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Houston."

Baker Botts has agreed to the following partnership opportunities with the Ion:

  • Provide in-kind services to this year's Houston Startup Showcase Winner
  • Offer on-site presence to support The Ion's various community members and provide substantive programming to startups
  • Host legal programming and workshops for The Ion's Accelerator Hub members
  • Expand gateway events including The Ion's Family Tech Night and Plaza Tec series

"Given our market-leading strengths in Houston, this is an exciting opportunity for the firm," says John Martin, managing partner of Baker Botts, in the release. "Our participation with The Ion brings together lawyers across our corporate venture capital, energy tech, IP and other practices to work closely with a range of cutting-edge companies at the heart of the Texas startup ecosystem."

GoExpedi recruits new CTO from big tech

GoExpedi has a new CTO. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

Houston-based GoExpedi — a B2B e-commerce, supply chain and analytics company — recently hired global engineering executive Yang Tang as CTO. Tang has more than 20 years of experience leading technology and product teams at both startups and corporations, including Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and at Walmart eCommerce's operations.

"After an extensive search to find one of the most accomplished product leaders of our time, we are excited to introduce Tang as the new head of our technical operations and state-of-the-art supply chain model," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi's CEO, in a news release. "His history of excellence in the e-commerce space is beyond reproach. He brings unparalleled expertise having managed global projects with an emphasis on e-commerce development and digital engineering for some of the world's most reputable brands. With his leadership, vision, and technical expertise, we are primed to launch into the next stage of our company's development as we expand our offering of new digital and consumer-friendly solutions."

In his position, Tang will oversee the design and execution of GoExpedi's technology, product, and data roadmaps.

"I am pleased to help the manufacturing and energy industries reimagine industrial supply chain with the brightest minds in technology, MRO procurement and oil and gas," says Tang in the release. "I was fortunate to contribute to the e-commerce renaissance that exploded in the consumer space over the last few years and am eager to apply what I have learned to the industrial sector. I look forward to collaborating with the team at GoExpedi to drive continuous improvements in all aspects of the industrial supply chain."

Last fall, GoExpedi closed a $25 million series C round with plans to hire.

Houston startup named a winner at $6M COVID-testing competition

Houston-based Steradian Technologies, Inc. was named among the winners of XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing competition, an international innovation challenge that called for solutions for high-quality, affordable COVID-19 testing.

"We are extremely excited to create high-tech diagnostic solutions that are rapid, inexpensive, and accurate to create healthcare accessibility and equity for everyone, irrespective of any financial, geopolitical, or socioeconomic barriers. COVID-19 detection is our near-term goal, and we're looking forward to the possibilities of ubiquitous testing for all," says Asma Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Steradian Technologies, in a news release.

Steradian Technologies is "developing a product that created human super-sight via the startup's proprietary optics," according to the release, and pivoted its technology to create the RUMI diagnostic system, which uses Steradian's technology to look at photonics to detect disease biomarkers within a user's breath within 30-seconds.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we need to be more prepared as a nation and as a global community for future viral threats. The rapid development of vaccines has been achieved through incorporating new technologies, and diagnostic tech needs to do the same. Our goal has been just that. We wanted to create a diagnostic tool that could be fast, accurate, and easy to use and could be widely deployed," says John Marino, co-founder and chief of product development, in the release. "We know that COVID-19 won't be the last threat of this kind and are developing a solution that can easily adapt to any new pathogen. We are extremely grateful to have been recognized by XPRIZE for our effort."

Houston entrepreneur to pitch with Techstars

Amanda Ducach, founder and CEO of SocialMama

Amanda Ducach, founder of SocialMama, is expecting to pitch at Techstars Austin. Photo courtesy of SocialMama

Houston-based consumer tech company, SocialMama, which connects mothers virtually via an app, was accepted into the Techstars Austin program for 2021. Founder Amanda Ducach will be presenting at the recently announced Techstars Austin virtual Demo Day on March 24.

SocialMama's Techstar Austin cohort colleagues include: BallBox, Inc (Chicago, IL), Enlightapp (Fargo, ND), Fêtefully (Dallas, TX), hampr (Lafayette, LA), Kousso (Charlotte, NC), Livo (Coral Gables, FL), Mowies (Medellin, Colombia), Nutritional Freedom (Austin, TX), and Talk Howdy (Austin, TX).

Registration is free and open online.

MassChallenge Houston's applications open for two more weeks

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas has opened applications for it's next cohort in Houston. The equity-free, no-cost program is seeking startups across industries that have raised less than $1 million in funding and less than $2 million in revenue to apply. The program provides startups mentorship, corporate partnerships, curriculum, and more.

The deadline to apply is March 31 by midnight. If interested, entrepreneurs can apply for free with the code "MC21INNOMAP." Click here to learn more and apply.

From cancer-fighting companies raising millions to Houston area high school students learning how to start a company, here's some short stories on innovation you may have missed. Photo via inveox.com

TMCx company raises millions, Rice Business launches a podcast, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

Even during the dog days of summer, Houston has innovation news from all industries. In case you missed something, here's a news roundup of some short innovation stories — from raised funds to launched apps, podcasts, and programs.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

TMCx company raises 17€ million 

Photo via inveox.com

Munich-based Inveox, a, AI-enabled cancer-diagnosis technology startup, just set up shop in the Texas Medical Center as a part of TMCx's ninth cohort. The company now has another thing to brag about: 17 million euros worth of investment.

"My founding partner Dominik Sievert and I are very grateful that our investors put such great trust in us and our vision," says managing partner Maria Sievert in a release. "Together we are working towards the goal of using our innovation capacities to develop technologies that can be put to serve people. We want to help lab technicians who give their best every day at labs and we want to ensure the safety of patients as well as the speed and reliability of the entire diagnostic process. That's why we will use this further investment for our forthcoming series production and expansion into new markets."

The funds will go toward production of the company's technology.

Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business launches The Index podcast

Pexels

Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, has launched, The Index, a podcast that explores thought-provoking topics and business-related ideas.

According to a news release, The podcast grew out of a 2019 South by Southwest partnership between Texas Monthly and Rice Business — the two entities teamed up for a podcast taping about digital wildcatting.

Saul Elbein hosts The Index. He is a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the NPR radio show "This American Life," and other outlets. Find the latest episode here.

Life science startup organization closes $5.25 million round

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With the close of its $5.25 million round, Fannin Partners LLC — a Houston-based early-stage life science commercialization company — has brought in over $155 million for its portfolio companies.

The funds in part will go toward developing Fannin Innovation Studio. The studio anticipates adding 15 new portfolio companies over the next five years.

"With our portfolio companies Procyrion and Pulmotect advancing in their clinical development and with BreviTest poised for market launch in 2020, our investor group has recognized the tremendous progress we've made," says Fannin founder and chairman Leo Linbeck III in a release. "We are pleased to welcome the additional investment from existing and new investors in this round."

Houston app relaunches following raising $150,000 from local investor

Courtesy of Social Mama

An app that connects moms based on children's ages and common mom problems has relaunched with major upgrades after a year in beta. That's not the only thing Social Mama is celebrating. The startup secured $150,000 funding from local female powerhouse and blogger, Carrie Colbert.

Founder Amanda Ducach says she wanted to create an app that could smartly link moms going through similar struggles — from teething and potty training to single parenting or postpartum depression.

"The social impact of the product is so important," Ducach says in a previous InnovationMap story. "I can't explain to you the isolation and the problem that exists in motherhood. I was completely unaware of it before I started the company."

Austin tech startup lands major Houston-based client

office space

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Houston-based Lionstone Investments has made a deal with Austin-based Bractlet, a smart building software company. The deal translates to Bractlet implementing its technology in Lionstone's 31 office properties across the United States.

"Lionstone is recognized in the industry for its commitment to a data-driven approach to real estate investing," says Lionstone's head of portfolio management and co-head of operations, Tom Paterson, in a news release. "Implementing Bractlet's technology at the portfolio-level allows us to make informed decisions that benefit our investors, conserve energy, and improve tenant comfort and productivity. In this manner, Lionstone is able to provide best-in-class management throughout the entire investment lifecycle."

Houston area high school launches entrepreneurship program

Texas Teacher

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It's never too early to learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. Friendswood High School has announced that it will be launching INCubatoredu, a program to help students learn important lessons in the startup world, this fall.

"The Mustang Business INCubator is that authentic experience we were looking for in our business, marketing, and finance program of study," Susan Kirkpatrick, executive director of career technical education at FHS, says in a release. "Students will research a real-world problem that is of interest to them and work to find a product or service solution."

The program will be housed in a newly renovated creative space on the FHS campus. According to the release, the school will host a launch party for the program in the fall.

Houston-based Social Mama uses its platform to connect mothers based on location, interests, and the things their children have in common. Courtesy of Social Mama

App aims to connect Houston mothers using AI technology

Moms about town

Sometimes, to be a mom, is to feel utterly alone. Not every mom is the same, and it's tough for women to find the right support systems — people who are going through or have gone through the same struggles.

A new Houston-based app, Social Mama, is providing a solution. The technology uses artificial intelligence and data collection to learn about its users and match them to other users based on their location and specifications. It's like online dating, but for mothers, co-founder Amanda Ducach says.

"The social impact of the product is so important," Ducach says. "I can't explain to you the isolation and the problem that exists in motherhood. I was completely unaware of it before I started the company."

The idea came to Ducach when she moved across the country to Houston from Minneapolis. Her best friend was in sudden need of a new network — preferably moms who liked wine, spoke Spanish, and had peanut-free households so her son could play without the risk of his allergies. Wanting to help the friend they had abandoned, Ducach and her husband, who is a data architect, decided to try to find a way to get there friend a new friend she could relate to.

"We realized there was nothing that existed that allowed two mothers to connect based on where they lived and their interests, that also took information about their children in account," Ducach says. "We decided to create it."

The app, which is based out of Station Houston, has been in beta with a couple thousand users, but, based on users' experiences, Ducach says they are making a lot of changes before they launch to the public in spring of this year.

Beta lessons learned
Thinking that mothers are too busy for lengthy setups, Ducach made signing up for Social Mama simple.

"We completely put out the wrong product, which isn't a bad thing," Ducach says. "We assumed they would want us to figure out who to match them with, but it's the complete opposite."

The mothers are happy to spend 10 to 15 minutes during the sign in process after downloading the free app, Ducach says, because they want to give the app as much information as possible. They are looking for niche matches.

Another surprise for Ducach was that, similar to dating apps, starting a conversation with a stranger — ideally matched or otherwise — is tough.

"We thought that because it was two women, and there's no sexual chemistry, that it would be easy for them to reach out and start a conversation," Ducach says. "But they actually still find it incredibly awkward."

The app will have things like ice breakers or games to help get the ball rolling.

She also didn't think the mothers would want something like a newsfeed. However, users who might not be in a highly populated city primed for face-to-face friendship still might want access to asking fellow mothers advice in a post on a forum. So, Social Mama will have a customizable, AI-generated newsfeed — kind of like a forum. Posts will have tags, and users will only see things they have an interest in.

"As you continue to use the app, it will create a persona for you," Ducach says, "and it's not mothers that are like you, but mothers you tell us you're looking for."

The app will know when a mother transitions from newborn mother to toddler mother, so that her matches stay relevant as her child ages.

Making an impact
This year, Social Mama will go live in the spring, and Ducach has several growth plans surrounding launch. The app will be fundraising for pre-seed money in 2019, and expanding the team to include a data scientist, as well as other department hires. The company currently has eight employees — most of which are in the Houston HQ — but some reside in Boston and around the world.

The core components of the app are the matching and AI-generated newsfeed, but hosting event meet ups is another successful avenue for the app, as is the potential to recommend products to the mothers. Ducach says this could be a part of the the app's business plan, as is a subscription model for moms to opt into extra perks.

"We know so much information about these moms that they are telling us, that we have the ability to send them recommended products from other mothers," she says.

While Ducach says the initial launch will only be in Houston, the app is already in big demand worldwide. She says they had to shut down the beta version because they had so many international downloads and they were concerned about cybersecurity.

"Moms want this in Germany, China, and Cypress, Texas," Ducach says. "It's really a need everywhere, and we're really excited to expand and see which markets take off."

Ducach says she is excited for the app to go live and affect these moms' lives.

"We're really excited because it should really change the trajectory of these women's lives and create a support group they've never had before," Ducach says.

social mama Social Mama went through a beta phase, but when it launches in the spring, it will be totally different. Courtesy of Social Mama

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Greentown Labs hires former Houston sustainability exec

new hire

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

Houston edtech nonprofit grows its technology with $440K grant from Kinder Foundation

student-focused

As the learning landscape shifted from in-person to virtual, the ability to provide students with necessary support systems and resources became compromised. However, one Houston edtech company worked hard to close that gap.

ProUnitas, a Houston-based nonprofit, partnered with Thoughtworks, a global technology consultancy, to expand its PurpleSENSE platform to mobile. This partnership was ensured through significant private investment, including a one-time gift of $440,000 from the Kinder Foundation.

ProUnitas promises that this expansion will allow student support teams to take the power of PurpleSENSE with them on the go for easier, real-time response using the new PurpleSENSE mobile app.

"A mobile version of PurpleSENSE will empower student support teams to work more rapidly, efficiently and effectively towards their mission and goals," Chris Murphy, CEO of Thoughtworks North America, says in a news release.

Committed to ensuring that no students fall through the cracks, ProUnitas' purpose is focused on providing all students, including those most impoverished, with support services such as food assistance programs, mental health counseling, and after-school clubs.

"Every day many of our students carry the burden of poverty on their shoulders to school, and despite the availability of services, schools do not have the technology infrastructure necessary to connect students to resources in a coordinated way. We want to change this reality," says Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, says in the release.

Engaged in similar work, the Kinder Foundation was a natural partner.

"The Kinder Foundation believes that children cannot succeed if they are juggling significant personal challenges," says Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation, in the release. "As a result of the pandemic, we are seeing mental health and the impact of stress with fresh eyes. Now is the time to support our children and help them thrive and learn. We are proud to help elevate the work of ProUnitas to reach more schools and more students in this critical time of need."

In a press release, ProUnitas states that through these new mobile capabilities, up to 60 percent of administrative work in providing social service options is eliminated. It also shortens the response time for a student to be identified and receive services by 90 percent.

The expansion of PurpleSENSE to mobile is a critical step for ProUnitas to effectively support more schools and students.

Renewables are Houston's next chapter, says this expert

guest column

Houston has long been known as an innovative city — from medicine to technology to creative cuisines (see Viet-Cajun). I am always proud to see how cultures, education, and change come together to build the fabric of our city. As we look forward to a new future, we need to look no further than one of our strongest industries: energy. As many before me, I've sat down to ask: What does that next chapter look like for Houston?

Renewable energy has rapidly grown in Texas and across the country. Emerging technology has furthered this innovation, bringing wind and solar projects that are more powerful and reliable online from the Panhandle to deep in the Rio Grande Valley. As these new projects come online, aging wind facilities built in the early 2000s are beginning to be revitalized, gleaming bright white with newer, longer blades. And, similar to cleaning out your closet of old clothes, the current blades have to go somewhere. Where others see a problem, we saw an opportunity: We've made a business out of recycling them.

At Everpoint, we are demolishing and removing blades all across the US, with projects in North Dakota, Colorado, and even here in another Texas city, Sweetwater. In this rural Texas town, wind investment took Nolan County market value from $607 million in 1998 to $3.2 billion as development peaked in 2009. This growth enabled the school districts, county, and hospital district to expand and upgrade their facilities. As a trailblazer in the industry, we worked closely with the Sweetwater team to handle a smooth transition, allowing their community to look forward to a breezier future.

The industry is quickly innovating to meet the demands of Texas' future, and new opportunities are forming every day, something we're proud to be a part of, especially as a veteran-owned company. We are driven to make the future of energy more transparent and traceable, that's why we partner with firms like Media Sorcery which uses sensors and an ESG based blockchain built by another Houston firm, Topl, to maintain full accountability throughout the decommissioning process.

Beyond our company, the renewable energy industry employs veterans at a higher rate than the national average, with more than 11,000 in the wind industry alone. As a veteran myself it only made since to team with another veteran founded company to pursue this opportunity. I appreciate meeting fellow veterans every day that are applying the skills they learned in the military: a technical knowledge base, teamwork, and discipline.

Across Texas, renewable energy is powering 40,200 well-paying careers that I know are building toward a better, brighter Houston. It's in our blood to continue the Texas legacy of welcoming energy industries, like wind and solar, into our state. I believe in an all-energy approach to the energy transition. Renewable energy is about more than hearts and minds, it's about dollars and cents.

In honor of that, we are celebrating American Clean Power Week this week, October 25-29, and we hope you will join us. Not to celebrate one industry, but to embrace an all of the above, made in Texas energy future — a future that I know we can all be proud of, and where Houston will be the Energy Capital of the Future.

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Kevin Doffing is the chief commercial officer of Everpoint Services.