Rivalry Tech's co-founders — Marshall Law and Aaron Knape — share news of the company's latest round of investment. Photo courtesy of Rivalry Tech

A Houston-based company that optimizes mobile ordering for large venues has closed its latest round of funding.

Rivalry Tech, originally founded as sEATz and tackling mobile ordering in sports venues, has raised $3.5 million following expanding with a new product, myEATz, that targets the health care, leisure, and business industries. The round was led by Houston-based Sightcast, with participation from Houston-based Softeq Venture Studio, Rice University’s Valhalla Investment Group, and more.

“Sightcast Capital Partners looks to invest in strong, founder-led companies that bring a forward-thinking solution to everyday problems," says Neal Simpson, managing partner of Sightcast Capital Partners, in a news release. "In Rivalry Tech, we saw a team that recognized an opportunity to streamline the way in which food and beverage transactions occur in the healthcare, leisure, sports, and entertainment markets. Their two-sided approach of using technology as a tool to increase vendor profitability and also positively influence consumer experience is what immediately attracted us to this opportunity."

The company also recently announced it joined Softeq Venture Studio's latest accelerator cohort that was unveiled last month.

“As we begin scaling our customer base, Softeq was the perfect choice as both an investment and development partner. With their focus on innovation combined with their extensive experience in enterprise software and hardware, we believe they can strategically elevate us to the next level,” says Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder of Rivalry Tech.

Knape and his co-founders — Marshall Law and Craig Ceccanti — launched the company in 2018. The idea came to Law after he missed catching a home run ball in the 2017 World Series because he was stuck in a long line waiting for concessions.

“We have built an amazing mobile ordering platform over the last four years for some of the best teams in professional and collegiate sports. It is exciting to see our success in sports and entertainment translate into opportunities in other industries. People want the best mobile ordering experience no matter where they are. That is exactly what we provide,” says Law.

Through a partnership with New Hampshire investors, Softeq has expanded its venture studio out of state. Image via hrknsscowork.com

Houston tech company's venture studio secures $5M investment, expands out of state

investing in investors

A Houston tech services company has announced fresh funding and a new location for its venture studio focused on growing startups.

Softeq Development Corp. announced an additional commitment of $5 million to the Softeq Venture Fund. With the investment, Softeq has a new partnership that will work toward creating a satellite venture studio in New Hampshire with local investors. Launch New Hampshire will leverage the Softeq Venture Studio platform to back qualified startups from within and outside New Hampshire, according to a news release from Softeq.

“It’s a great time to invest in startup companies, and we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between the growing innovation community here in Houston and the untapped investment community in New Hampshire,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. “We’re excited about this partnership because it provides the Softeq Venture Studio with a source of high-quality startups while also fostering the innovation ecosystem in New Hampshire and New England.”

The Softeq Venture Studio announced its inaugural cohort last year, launching to act as an investor and accelerator program that provides mentors, resources, and workspaces for promising tech startups. This is the first expansion of the program and the latest investment into the Softeq Venture Fund, which has raised over $25 million of its $40 million goal.

Michael and Jamie Simchik, New Hampshire real estate developers, and Terry Anderton, an experienced technology entrepreneur, are the founders of Launch NH. The satellite cohort will work out of HRKNSScowork in Concord, New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire has been slow to adopt an innovation ecosystem, but with nearby Boston enjoying continued startup successes, we have the unique opportunity to leverage what is happening in Massachusetts, as well as in Vermont and Maine,” says Simchik, founder and CEO of HRKNSScowork. “By working with Softeq, we want to help build the innovation community statewide and drive broad-based startup activity in the region, similar to what Softeq has accomplished in its Houston headquarters.”

Anderton founded Wagz, which was recently acquired, an early participant in the Softeq accelerator program. Through his experience with Softeq, the company says he wanted to help bring the program other startups in the region.

The Softeq Venture Studio has made investments into 27 startups from across the globe since it launched in 2021. Over the next three years, per the release, Softeq intends to invest in 40 companies each year, including at least 12 via Launch NH.

Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of August. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for August

where to be

Houstonians are transitioning into a new summer month, and the city's business community is mixing in networking and conference events with family vacations and time off. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for August when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.


August 1 — Beyond Bias: Essentials for an Equitable Community

During this seminar, Tracie Jae, Founder of The Quiet Rebel, will share a paradigm shift designed to disrupt the current DEI model.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is the accepted workforce best practice. As organizations continue to find the mix of techniques for their particular culture, we began to see the addition of other words like Belonging, Justice, and Access. Meanwhile, the impact appears the same - a focus on making space for “others” rather than actively creating a welcoming environment of mutual respect and acknowledgement. We have chosen to modify rather than innovate.

The event is Monday, August 1, 10 am to noon, at The Ion. Click here to register.

August 3 — Bayou Startup Showcase

The showcase features 24 companies from four accelerators: RED Labs, OwlSpark, RED Launch and BlueLaunch. You will be able to engage with these businesses, sign up for pre-orders, and buy products at their booths. Teams have recorded their pitches for you to learn about them in advance, watch during the event, or review afterward.

The event is Wednesday, August 3, 5 to 8 pm, at Saint Arnold Brewing Company. Click here to register.

August 4 — National Cancer Institute | SBIR Funding Opportunities

The TMCi Accelerator is excited to partner with the National Cancer Institute for a discussion about small business funding opportunities.

The event is Thursday, August 4, 1 to 3 pm, online. Click here to register.

August 8 — Intro to Finance Automation

Understand the benefits of finance automation and how to identify meaningful automation opportunities in your business. Learn from firsthand experiences of FinOptimal’s Founder & CEO, Jesse Rubenfeld.

The event is Monday, August 8, 10 am to noon, at The Ion. Click here to register.

August 11 — Illuminate Houston: An Innovation Conversation

Illuminate Houston is an event series highlighting business leaders who challenge the way we think about the future, featuring dynamic formats where speakers and attendees discuss trends, technologies, and issues that define how we do business. The Partnership welcomes Roberta L. Schwartz, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of Houston Methodist on Thursday, August 11.

The event is Thursday, August 11, 1 to 2:30 pm, at Partnership Tower. Click here to register.

August 11 — Summer in the City: UH Students' Showcase Day

Throughout the "Summer in the City" class, students from the University of Houston Honors College have learned about creativity, leadership, entrepreneurship, and smart cities. Taking a mixed-media approach, and benefiting from guest lectures by Robert Cremins, Director of Creative Work: A Pre-Professional Program at UH, as well as panel discussions featuring entrepreneurs, innovators, and founder at the Ion, students have developed their design thinking and innovation skills and tackled problems experienced in Houston.

The event is Thursday, August 11, 5:30 to 7 pm, at the ion. Click here to register.

August 16 — Softeq Venture Studio Public Demo Day 

The Softeq Venture Studio invested $125,000 in cash and services in each of the fourteen early-stage startups to help them refine their business model, build their technology, and prepare them to scale. With 14 startups, the Q2 2022 cohort is the largest yet and brings the total portfolio to 27 companies. In this capstone event, founders have seven minutes each to present their pitch deck, demo their product, outline their ask, and answer questions.

The event is Tuesday, August 16, 5 to 7:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

August 16 — Enventure "Inspire" Seminar Series - Entrepreneurship

The "Inspire" Seminar Series was developed by Enventure to help students learn about the reality of working in the biotech and biomedical fields. The series consists of a number of events starring guest speakers coming from different areas in the biotech and biomedical industries. Dr. Lauren Cornell is an experienced research scientist with a strong history of military collaborations.

The event is Tuesday, August 16, 6 to 7:30 pm, online. Click here to register.

August 18 — Evolve Houston Relaunch Event

This past year, Evolve introduced a new logo and website to continue embarking on its mission to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through transportation electrification.

The event is Thursday, August 18, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, at George R. Brown Convention Center. Click here to register.

August 18 — Transition on Tap

Transition On Tap is Greentown Labs' monthly networking event devoted to fostering conversations and connections among the climate and energy transition ecosystem in Houston and beyond. Entrepreneurs, investors, students, and friends of climatetech are invited to attend, meet colleagues, discuss solutions, and engage with our growing community. I

The event is Thursday, August 18, 5 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

August 22 — Startup-Inside-a-Business 102: How to Find SIB Without Spending Any Money

Founders will learn how to look at their companies differently, to see how the capabilities and systems they’ve already created can be reconfigured to multiply growth, value, and valuation. Learn a step-by-step approach to finding the best potential startup inside and insights for estimating the potential value that’s waiting to be unlocked.

This workshop is the second in a series of three Startup-Inside-a-Business Workshops.

The event is Monday, August 22, 10 to 11:30 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

August 29 — Startup-Inside-a-Business 103: Build One w/out Disrupting Existing Business

Founders will learn how getting investors involved early can end the need for founder cash investments while simultaneously establishing a higher company valuation. They’ll also learn how to manage the tradeoff between cost, risk, and reward by using proven techniques to gain proof before scaling up.

This workshop is the last in a series of three Startup-Inside-a-Business Workshops.

    The event is Monday, August 29, 10 to 11:30 am, at The Ion. Click here to register.

    This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes John "JR" Reale of the TMC, Maria Burgos of Trendy Seconds, and Christopher Howard of Softeq. Courtesy photos

    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 venture funding to startup acceleration — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


    John "JR" Reale, executive in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation and managing director of Integr8d Capital

    John "JR" Reale joined the Houston Innovators Podcast for a special two-part series. Photo courtesy of TMC

    John "JR" Reale has seen the evolution of Houston's innovation ecosystem from day one. Recently, he joined InnovationMap for a two-part series on the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the city's evolution as a tech and startup hub as well as what he's up to nowadays — leading venture activity at the Texas Medical Center Innovation and within his own firm.

    "One of the most important moments for Houston was when we got kicked in the teeth with the Amazon HQ2 bid," he says on the show. "Amazon came back with the shortlist of the 20 cities in North America — and Houston isn't on it. I remember being excited. It was arguably the most innovative company in the world saying 'no thank you.'"

    Flash forward, and Houston's a different ecosystem — still with a ways to go. Click here to stream part one and part two of the series.

    Maria Burgos, founder of Trendy Seconds

    A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

    After donating her items to a local church, Maria Burgos sought to be more sustainable and decided to try secondhand shopping.

    “The good news was that I had so many options, new with tags, great conditions…the bad news was that it was so much that I ended up being frustrated because I didn't find what I liked,” she tells InnovationMap. “I had to spend hours of my time scrolling thousands of items, dozens of filters, multiple platforms."

    She asked herself why there wasn’t a website where she could find items in one place. “That was the genesis of Trendy Seconds,” she shares. Click here to read more.

    Christopher Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq

    Chris Howard, CEO and founder of Softeq A Houston software company has announced its new venture fund. Photo courtesy of Softeq

    Houston-based Softeq Development Corp. announced its third group of early-stage startups to join the Softeq Venture Studio, which is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses. With 14 startups, the summer 2022 cohort is the largest yet and brings the total portfolio to 27 companies. Additionally, the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund welcomed Royal Eagle Capital Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, as a limited partner with its $3 million commitment.

    “We are thrilled to see how much the Softeq Venture Studio has grown since 2021,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “We’re also pleased to welcome Royal Eagle Capital Partners as an investment partner in our Venture Fund, which allowed us to achieve more than 50 percent of our funding goal in just five months. We look forward to building on this partnership and growing Softeq in North America, Latin America, and beyond.”

    Softeq is also celebrating a recent expansion into Latin America and staffing the new regional office with 30 engineers. The company has plans to grow to 150 employees in the region over the next year. Click here to read more.

    Check out these conferences, pitch events, networking, and more happening in Houston in the month of April. Photo via Getty Images

    10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for April

    where to be

    After a very busy March, Houston innovators might need to prepare for another month of networking opportunities. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for April.

    This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

    April 5-6 — Energy CEO Summit

    Industry leaders and members of the Houston business community will discuss the evolution of the energy sector, Houston's pivotal role, and the critical events driving the change.

    Center for Houston's Future CEO Brett Perlman will moderate a panel on Electrical Grid Trends at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 6.

    The event is Tuesday and Wednesday, April 5-6, online or at Asia Society Texas Center (1370 Southmore Blvd.). Click here to register.

    April 6 — 2022 PVAMU Industry Innovation Collaboration Day

    This event is designed to provide an interactive platform for academicians, researchers, students, industries, and government agencies an opportunity to meet and share recent innovations, developments, and technology trends. Collaboration between the university and various industries needs to be nourished to enhance innovation development for the benefit of society.

    The event is Wednesday, April 6, from 8:30 am to 5 pm at Prairie View A&M University-MSC Ballroom (155 L.W Minor St.). Click here to register.

    April 6 — Enventure "Inspire" Seminar Series - With Dr. Santosh A. Helekar, MD, PhD

    The "Inspire" Seminar Series was developed by Enventure to help students learn about the reality of working in the biotech and biomedical fields. The series consists of a number of events starring guest speakers coming from different areas in the biotech and biomedical industries.

    This particular event will star Dr. Santosh A. Helekar, M.D., Ph.D. Participants attending this event will learn about the story of Dr. Helekar and his experiences from transitioning from grad school & academia into an inventor & his experiences and current role. In addition, there will be a final Q&A where the audience will be able to ask direct questions to Dr. Helekar.

    The online event is Wednesday, April 6, from 6 to 7:30 pm. Click here to register.

    April 7 — Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator Kickoff

    Together with Greentown Labs and the Urban Future Lab, EPRI and Shell recognize the need to accelerate the development and commercialization of low-carbon technologies required to enable economy-wide decarbonization. As leaders in the utilities and energy industries, respectively, with domain expertise, R&D facilities, and access to global customers, EPRI and Shell are uniquely positioned to lead this transformation in partnership with startups innovating at the cutting edge of low-carbon hydrogen.

    The hybrid event is Thursday, April 7, from 5:30 to 8 pm at Greentown Labs (4200 San Jacinto St.) and streaming online. Click here to register.

    April 7-9 — 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition

    The 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition will be hosted in Houston at the Jones Graduate School of Business. This year, 42 teams have been invited to compete in the 22nd Annual Competition. The finals will be streamed online —watch on Saturday, April 9 on our YouTube. If you're a member, please visit our membership page to register to attend in-person.

    The competition is held Thursday through Saturday, April 7-9, at Rice University (6100 Main St.) and streamed online. Click here to register.

    April 12 — Energy & Energy 2.0 Council

    As the Energy Capital of the World, Houston is the headquarters and the intellectual capital for virtually every segment of the energy industry including exploration, production, transmission, marketing, supply, and technology. This Council explores how Houston's largest industry continues to lead in this critical sector while also advancing innovation that supports the transition to a more efficient and sustainable, low-carbon future that also accommodates global demand growth.

    The event is Tuesday, April 12, from 11:30 am to 1 pm at Partnership Tower (701 Avenida de las Americas, Suite 900). Click here to register.

    April 12 — Softeq Venture Studio Demo Day (Q1 2022 Cohort)

    The Softeq Venture Studio invested $125,000 in cash and services in each of the nine early-stage startups to help them refine their business model, build their technology, and prepare them to scale. In this capstone event, founders have seven minutes each to present their pitch deck, demo their product, outline their ask, and answer questions. And we need you there to evaluate them for investment (or at least support them).

    The event is Tuesday, April 12, from 5 to 7:30 pm at The Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

    April 13 — Serving & Selling: Building your Brand, brought to you by Insperity

    Find out how to solidify your brand, deliver exceptional service, and take your productivity to the next level, with Pete Hinojosa, CBPA.

    The event is Wednesday, April 13, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm at The Cannon (1334 Brittmore Dr.). Click here to register.

    April 14 — DivInc Happy Hour: Meet the Sports Tech Cohort

    Meet DivInc's Sports Tech cohort at a happy hour hosted at The Ion on April 14. The companies accepted into the new cohort are slated to be announced on April 11.

    The event is Thursday, April 14, at 5:30 pm at The Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

    April 19 — State of Technology

    The second annual Greater Houston Partnership event features business leaders discussing Houston's growth as a national leader in tech innovation and the many qualities the region possesses that support a robust tech ecosystem. Through a panel discussion, the event will also explore how Houston is uniquely enabling digital transformation across industries including energy, life sciences and healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, and aerospace.

    The event is Tuesday, April 19, at 10 am to 1:30 pm at Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar St.). Click here to register.

    April 20 — Spring 2022 D2K Showcase

    Explore Rice University's D2K students’ end-of-semester projects covering a wide range of topics including computer vision, natural language processing, deep learning applications, web scraping, time series analysis, signal processing and more. Celebrate the impact they are making through data science and interact with Rice students and learn more about their projects in the poster session. Attendees can vote for their favorite project/team to compete for cash prizes.

    The event is Wednesday, April 20, from 5 to 7 pm at Duncan Hall at Rice University (6100 Main St.). Click here to register.

    April 20 — The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Championships

    Join Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and support Rice University student startups at the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Championships on Wednesday, April 20. Six student finalists will pitch their ventures for the chance to win a share of $75,000+ in equity-free funding. Attendance is open to Rice students, Rice alumni, friends of Rice, and the whole Houston entrepreneurial community. Seats are limited, so get your tickets while you still can.

    The event is Wednesday, April 20, from 5:30 to 9 pm at The Anderson-Clarke Center’s Hudspeth Auditorium (6100 Main St.). Click here to register.

    April 21 — Greentown Houston's First Anniversary

    A year after opening the Houston's first-ever climatetech startup incubator, Greentown Houston is home to over 60 startup members and 20 corporate partners. Join the green tech hub for a celebration of entrepreneurship, collaboration, and innovation, which together with the engineering strength and talent of the region’s energy industry will power Houston’s climate leadership. The day of festivities will include celebratory remarks, lightning pitches from some of our outstanding startups, a member showcase, networking, and more.

    The event is Thursday, April 21, from 1 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston (4200 San Jacinto St.) or livestreaming online. Click here to register.

    April 27 — Engage VC: Revolution

    Revolution is a D.C.-based investment firm focused on investing in entrepreneurs building transformative companies outside of Silicon Valley. With $1.7 billion of capital commitments across portfolio companies including Houston-based Goodfair and relationships in 60+ startup communities, Revolution is dedicated to creating meaningful results for companies outside of the Bay Area. And they are coming to Houston. Join HX Venture Fund to hear Tige Savage, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Revolution Ventures, David Hall, Managing Partner at Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and Martin Simoncic, President B2B at PROS discuss Revolution's perspective on venture investing, current and future trends, and how Houston fits in among other topics.

    The event is Wednesday, April 27, at 8:30 to 10 am at The Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.


    This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sujatha Kumar of Dsider, Andrew Bruce of Data Gumbo, and Payal Patel of Softeq. Courtesy photos

    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 software to blockchain — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

    Sujatha Kumar, founder and CEO of Dsider

    Sujatha Kumar discusses her decarbonization data company on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

    For years, Sujatha Kumar has been consulting with companies to help them make decisions, including ones that affect decarbonization. For Kumar's clients, data is power when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. That's why she started Dsider, a decision intelligence platform with a suite of software tools to equip energy businesses with the data they need to make informed decisions.

    "We are creating transparency so that companies can have a digital footprint of how decarbonization can happen, and allowing them to make decisions along the way that are always going to be towards decarbonation and not forgetting that everything has an economic trade off," she shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

    Kumar shares more on Dsider's potential impact on decarbonization and how she has observed changes in Houston's innovation ecosystem on the podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

    Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo

    Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo Andrew bruce's growing Houston blockchain startup has raised $4 million to go toward supporting sales. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

    Data Gumbo, an industrial smart contract blockchain company, has expanded overseas with a new office in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that will give the company new regional business opportunities to continue international adoption of its blockchain network.

    “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and broader Middle East present outstanding opportunities for our company. We are committed to putting down roots, and to the long-term growth of a Data Gumbo workforce in the Kingdom and beyond,” says Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo in a news release.

    “Establishing a regional office provides companies in the Greater Middle East with increased access to our smart contract network, GumboNet," Bruce continues. "The more the network grows, the more value it delivers to local and global members, as well as investors. We look forward to expanding our presence to best support demand and set the standard for how industrial organizations do business by guaranteeing transactional certainty in commercial relationships.” Click here to read more.

    Payal Patel, director of the Softeq Venture Studio

    Payal Patel has a new gig. Photo courtesy

    Softeq Development Corp. has named Payal Patel as director of the Softeq Venture Studio, a startup accelerator that provides business mentoring and engineering development resources. Patel will oversee programming and operation for the studio, and she will help in in selecting startups for investment as principal of the fund.

    “I’m excited to join the talented team at Softeq," she says. "Having been a part of the Houston tech and startup community for a few years, I see a niche our team can fill. We aim to do our part supporting founders by providing capital, advice, and helping level up the community." Click here to read more.

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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.