Softeq has named three members to its executive team. Photos courtesy of Softeq

A tech development company has expanded its executive suite with three new additions to its team.

Softeq Development Corp. has hired Craig Ceccanti as COO, Albert Esser as chief delivery officer, and Edwin Lemus as chief people officer. The new hires' roles were effective as of June 1. The Houston company, founded in 1997, creates hardware and software solutions for its clients. Softeq also runs a venture fund and studio for startups from around the world.

“With the significant growth of our engineering services business plus the addition of our Venture Studio and $40 million Venture Fund, we saw an opportunity to welcome new leaders with global experience and fresh thinking to continue evolving our business and scaling for the future,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “This is a huge investment in our team, and with the addition of these three leaders to our C-suite we will centralize our global leadership team in Houston while providing support and expertise to our team across 22 countries and clients worldwide.”

About the new executives:

  • Craig Ceccanti is a serial entrepreneur. He founded Pinot’s Palette and oversaw its franchise growth and exit before joining the founding team of sEATz — now Rivalry Technologies. The sports tech startup provides a mobile ordering software for stadiums, as well as hospital and hospitality destinations. Most recently, he founded and ran T-Minus Solutions, a custom software development company. As COO, Ceccanti will oversee the day-to-day operations of Softeq and work to improve internal and external processes.
  • With three decades of experience in tech and consulting at Daimler AG, GE, Emerson, Hilti, and Dell, Albert Esser will lead the delivery organization, which includes including solutions engineering, project management, and resource management. As chief delivery officer, he's tasked with expanding "the team’s capabilities and agility by adding to the global network of consultants," per the release, as well as leading Softeq's adoption of emerging new technologies like IoT, AI/ML, vision systems, industrial automation, robotics, cloud applications, and cyber security.
  • Edwin Lemus has 22 years of talent-related experience, and, as chief people officer, he will continue to grow the Softeq team and build a company culture for the workforce that stretches across 22 offices around the world.

Softeq Venture Studio launched over a year ago with its inaugural cohort in 2021, and the fund was launched last year. The latest cohort was announced in March.

Softeq Venture Studio's growing portfolio of startups in its accelerator work out of FUSE Workspace in City Centre. Image via fuseworkspace.com

Houston tech company adds 22 startups to its accelerator

now accelerating

A Houston early-stage accelerator has named 22 startups to its latest cohort.

Softeq Development Corp. has announced the companies joining the Softeq Venture Studio, the tech services company's accelerator program. A total of 22 companies have joined the program — hailing from the United Kingdom, Iceland, Mexico, Peru, and across the United States. This addition nearly doubles the program's portfolio, bringing the total number of startups to 49.

“This year has been a significant one for the Softeq Venture Fund and our portfolio companies. Due to the hard work of our team and the success achieved by previous founders, we’ve seen our investors and our entrepreneurs evolve to be more global than ever, and with more ambitious plans to revolutionize their industries," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. "We continue to attract world-class founders to Houston for our program that de-risks startups and investments."

Howard also announced a new limited partner. Houston entrepreneur Craig Ceccanti — co-founder of Pinot’s Palette and Rivalry Technologies — is the latest investor to join the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund, which is anticipated to close by the end of the year.

“Investors constantly search for opportunities that balance opportunity and risk, and ones that help us grow and maximize returns while maintaining a measure of stability and diversification,” says Ceccanti in the release. “Joining the Softeq Venture Fund is an exciting opportunity because it provides a de-risked investment opportunity plus the ability to participate in a hands-on fashion in Houston within these high-growth industries.”

The trend among the new cohort joining the program for the next three months includes health tech, sports tech, fintech, e0-commerce, Web 3.0, and more. Participating starups will have access to FUSE Workspace, as well as support and guidance from Softeq Venture Studio staff, Softeq engineers, local mentors, investors, and earlier cohort members.

“During our startup journey, we participated in leading technology accelerator Y Combinator. Later on, we realized through our users’ feedback we needed to improve our product with additional technology expertise and support to reach our full potential,” says Gerardo Briones, founder and CEO of new cohort startup Pagaloop of Mexico City. “That’s why we chose to participate in the Softeq Venture Studio. Softeq engineers have experience building enterprise-grade applications that scale up. We also get more opportunities to meet investors to bring our product to all of Latin America.”

The complete list of the new cohort of the Softeq Venture Fund, according to the news release, includes the following companies:

  • Adkaddy gets brands out of your email and into a powerful brand management tool. From discovery to promotions, shipping and receipts, this is digital commerce your way.
  • Allkind is benefiting reproductive healthcare globally by innovating fertility matching, empowering personal goals & improving modern family building.
  • atease is where 133 million government and military employees with strict rental requirements find approved, affordable, and reimbursable lodging options.
  • Boxes provides convenient, space-efficient, highly measurable, sampling and trial vending technology for premium CPG companies looking to reach customers where they shop and live.
  • Hapi is a stock trading platform with no minimums and no commissions focused on consumers in Latin America.
  • HelloDoctor puts qualified, responsive, and affordable doctors on the screens of 89 million cell phones of patients in Mexico. Healthcare just got better in Latin America.
  • Hightag is an automated media capture and delivery system that helps mountain bikers, skiers, and other action sport athletes capture and share their greatest moments.
  • IncentiFind is the nation’s go-to database of green building incentives, transforming U.S. real estate through $70 billion in incentives.
  • JamFeed aggregates artists' social media and music streaming content into an automated no-code website where artists can control their brand, their business, and their relationship with fans in one platform in less than 5 minutes.
  • Lesson Squad helps brands turn their customers into loyal users by creating a branded hub where customers can take lessons, enter competitions, and discover products.
  • LVED is an easy to use expert guided platform that provides everything families need to plan, organize, legally document end of life wishes, and memorialize loved ones.
  • Mesada is a digital remittance company that is utilizes blockchain technology to offer fast, efficient, and easy money transfers throughout the Latin American region.
  • Motusi is a whole-body wearable with AI to generate deeper insights related to movement quality and injury insights to help athletes progress in their performance or recovery.
  • MyShoots is an app for shooting sports organizations to connect with and market to their clients more efficiently, while allowing field-sports brands to connect with their customers.
  • Pagaloop is a fintech company that allows Latin American businesses more control over their cash flow when performing B2B transactions.
  • RESCUNOMICS offers a mobile app that helps save lives by expediting rescuer protocols and providing visibility into building floor plans and more.
  • sEATz connects fans to concessions and merchandise for in-seat delivery or pick-up reducing concession lines, increasing throughput, improving sales, and driving fan satisfaction.
  • SpecsX is transforming eye care into a virtual care model reducing costs, inconvenience for patients and providers, and giving everyone access to perfect vision.
  • Struttur Sports is an NFT platform where athletes share their experiences by connecting and combining digital and In Real Life events to create the deep interactions sports fans crave.
  • Svarmi is a digital platform that defines and prioritizes areas where business and progress influence nature providing meaningful, insightful metrics and proof of regulatory compliance.
  • SynvergySvn digitizes the movements of athletes with integrated wearables like the J-Sleeve so players, coaches, and trainers can diagnose muscle memory and improve repeat performance.
  • WulfTech protects and preserves the health of high-value K9 working dogs through smart wearable technology for government agencies, the military, and first responders.

The Softeq Venture Studio announced its inaugural cohort a year ago, and the fund was launched earlier this year. In August, Softeq expanded to New Hampshire to reach more startups and entrepreneurs.

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.

The Softeq Venture Studio has named 14 startups — two from Houston — to its third cohort. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company's venture studio names new partner and cohort

developing tech

A Houston-based tech company has named a new limited partner and 14 new startups to its venture arm.

Softeq Development Corporation announced its third group of early-stage startups to join theSofteq 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.

“The Softeq Venture Fund presents a unique opportunity to diversify our holdings within the alternative investments space. The concept of risk mitigation in venture investments resonates with investment firms globally, and we are excited to be working with Softeq and the amazing talent of their early-stage companies,” said Mark Valdez — co-founder, managing partner, and chief investment officer at Royal Eagle Capital Partners — in the release. "The emphasis on growth in Latin America by Softeq was a driving factor for our commitment and will open the door to new opportunities in Mexico and beyond.”

The Q2 2022 cohort is from across the United States with even some international representatives. The companies are using tech to solve problems across industries from human resources and wellness to med-tech and sports-tech and more. Applications are open for the next cohort online.

Here are the 14 companies making up the cohort:

  • Concerto Commerce, based in Southlake, Texas, is an eCommerce platform that combines automated catalog management and payment processing to streamline reseller operations.
  • New York City-based Dailyhuman is a software platform designed to help companies retain employees by fostering safety, trust, and connection in the workplace.
  • Headquartered in Houston, FrakBlock is a blockchain-based predictive tool providing financial products for the adulting process of young teens in Latin America.
  • High Tech Ranch Solutions, from The Woodlands, is a digital ranch management system designed by ranchers to bring monitoring to the palm of your hand.
  • Santa Barbara, California-based Homesavi is a platform that helps first-time homebuyers understand the home-buying process and guides them to their dream home.
  • Louder.ai is an advertising platform that revolutionizes how people can support causes they care about and see the impact of their donations.
  • Mallard Bay, founded out of Louisiana State University, is a marketplace for guided hunting and fishing trips that streamlines booking and administrative processes for consumers and outfitters. The company won Softeq's prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • RYN is a social platform to help families in the Middle East find and employ household migrant workers providing better working and living conditions.
  • Delaware-based SAmAS Gamify is building a gamified psychometric assessment platform that helps employers evaluate and select the most qualified candidates.
  • Founded in North Carolina, ShopAgain is an AI-powered customer retention platform redefining personalized customer experiences for eCommerce businesses.
  • Houston-based TeeMates Golf is a mobile app that connects golfers worldwide using social media, tee time linking, and offers a merchandise marketplace.
  • ViiT Health, based in Mexico, is a non-invasive technology to help people measure and monitor blood sugar levels more accurately without a finger prick lancet.
  • WellnessWins is a CRM to streamline intake processes for private therapy clinics to reduce waitlists and increase access to mental health care.
  • WorkHint helps retail companies manage on-demand hourly talent to increase flexibility, reduce cost, and generate actionable data-driven insights.
Payal Patel has a new gig. Photo courtesy

Houston tech company hires innovator to lead startup accelerator

new gig

A Houston software company has announced a new leader of its venture studio that supports tech startups.

Softeq Development Corp. has named Payal Patel as director of the Softeq Venture Studio. The studio, which announced its inaugural cohort last fall, a startup accelerator that provides business mentoring and engineering development resources. Recently, Softeq announced the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund that will support the operations and invest in member companies.

“We’re thrilled to have Payal join the team at Softeq. Her in-depth knowledge of the Houston startup community combined with her management consulting background makes her uniquely qualified for her new role,” says Christopher A. Howard, Softeq founder and CEO.

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."

Patel joins Softeq most recently from Plug and Play's Houston office, which focuses on energy and sustainability startups, where she served as director of the program. She began her career as a management consultant for restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal before she transitioned to running the corporate business development function for Station Houston.

Softeq Venture Studio is currently accepting applications for its spring cohort, which will run April to June, and applications are available online. The deadline for applications is Saturday, March 19. Candidates who apply for the program receive $125,000 in cash and services in exchange for 6 percent equity in their eligible company.

A Houston software company has announced its new venture fund. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company launches $40M fund to invest in early-stage startups

money moves

A Houston company that recently launched an innovation studio to support startups has now announced that they are launching a new fund to take startup support to the next level.

Houston-based Softeq Development Corporation, a global full-stack development company, launched The Softeq Venture Fund, a $40 million venture fund to invest in seed and series A startup rounds. According to a news release, more than half the fund will be deployed to power the Softeq Venture Studio, Softeq's recently launched accelerator program.

“For generations, the state of Texas has been home to world-renowned tech companies who have greatly contributed to our regional success. As a local entrepreneur, advisor, and angel investor, it’s been my dream for many years to create a venture fund benefiting startups," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. "I am proud to increase our support of the state’s early-stage tech community. Our investment fund is designed to attract tech visionaries from both inside and outside the state and grow innovative concepts in Houston."

Jumana Capital, a single-family office also based in Houston and founded in 2018, has made a "sizable investment" in the fund, per the release.

“The Softeq team has successfully engineered, developed, and launched technology solutions for enterprise and early-stage companies for 25 years. In partnership with Softeq, we are thrilled to play a role in the creation of their new fund and to support the entrepreneurs that come to Houston to develop cutting-edge technologies and build businesses,” says Chris Martin, managing director at Jumana Capital, in the release.

While the fund will mostly go into investing in and supporting studio companies, Softeq will also tap into the fund to "invest opportunistically."

In October, the company announced the six startups that make up the studio's inaugural cohort. The purpose of the studio was to identify startups with scalable solutions but that need guidance and support from Softeq and its network.

"Historically, most tech startups had a founder with development skills. However, we're now seeing more and more business people, doctors, and other professionals start companies, and they need a strong engineering partner to develop their products," Howard says in an October news release. "We take it several steps further with the Venture Studio providing technology business consulting, development services, and much-needed cash. We're a vested partner, so we also help secure follow-on funding for continued growth."

Applications are open for the spring 2022 cohort. More information and applications are available online.

Christopher A. Howard is the founder and CEO of Softeq. Photo courtesy of Softeq

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

coming to Hou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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