This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Lori-Lee Elliott of Dauntless XR, Sandip Bordoloi of TrueLeap, and Stephanie Nolan of Square Robot. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Every Monday, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Lori-Lee Elliott, CEO and co-founder of Dauntless XR

Lori-Lee Elliott of Dauntless XR joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share about her tech company's evolution. Photo via LinkedIn

As Lori-Lee Elliott was building out her company — an augmented reality software company to enhance industrial workflow — she was approached by a representative in the Air Force interested in her technology. That conversation would end up leading to a major rebrand and pivot, as well as multiple federal contracts and grants for the Houston startup.

Dauntless XR — originally founded as Future Sight AR in 2018 — has two software platforms that bring customers flexible mixed reality solutions. The Air Force uses the Aura platform to create 3D replays of missions, while NASA plans to utilize the technology for analyzing space weather data.

"Something that we realized when we built out this platform is that it doesn't have to be for just one thing," Elliott says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We can make it ingest all kind of data sources. It does require us as the developers and the architects to go in and learn about each application. And that's great because I get bored easily and it's an endless source of fascination." Continue reading.

Sandip Bordoloi, CEO and co-founder of TrueLeap

TrueLeap Inc., global digital education startup addressing the digital divide in education, has raised $610,000. Photo via LinkedIn

An edtech startup has just secured funding to further its mission of increasing accessibility to education.

TrueLeap Inc., global digital education startup addressing the digital divide in education, has raised $610,000, which is over its target of $500,000. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Maya Investments Limited.

"This oversubscribed funding round, led by Maya Investments Limited, is a testament to the urgent need for innovative educational technologies in emerging markets. Our commitment to providing affordable and integrated solutions is stronger than ever," says Sandip Bordoloi, CEO and Co-Founder of TrueLeap, in a news release. Continue reading.

Stephanie Nolan, director of sales at Square Robot

It's a different world for startups on the other side of the pandemic — especially for business development. One Houston innovator shares her lessons learned. Photo courtesy of Square Robot

The post-pandemic world of business development has evolved, as Stephanie Nolan, director of sales at Square Robot, has observed. In a guest column for InnovationMap, she shares her experience and lessons learned.

"When I joined the Houston team at Square Robot, a startup that was trying to disrupt an industry, I had to learn how to navigate a post-pandemic sales world — where hybrid work, reliance on emails, and video based web calls are now the norm — coupled with the challenges of working for a relatively new company," she writes.

She shares how she prioritizes in-person meetings and taps into important networking organizations. Continue reading.

It's a different world for startups on the other side of the pandemic — especially for business development. One Houston innovator shares her lessons learned. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: 3 priorities startup business development teams should focus on in new age of sales

guest column

The post-pandemic world of business development looks a lot different than it did in 2019. I started my first “sales” role in 2014 at a large, international company, and my days were filled with in-person meetings, often visiting four or five different prospects. The pandemic shifted this approach, as we all moved to web-based platforms and face-to-face meetings dwindled.

Fast forward to 2023, when I joined the Houston team at Square Robot, a startup that was trying to disrupt an industry. I had to learn how to navigate a post-pandemic sales world — where hybrid work, reliance on emails, and video based web calls are now the norm — coupled with the challenges of working for a relatively new company.

I think many working for startups will agree that the first barrier encountered in trying to build and grow your business is addressing the “who” in the equation. You are battling your prospect’s already busy schedule to earn a few minutes of their time, which is an uphill battle when the company is relatively unknown. Not to mention, startups often run into internal delays just from encountering a concern or problem that hasn't been sorted out before. A successful startup is made up of people who, when encountering that sort of a situation, instinctively and proactively figure out the way to solve it instead of sitting back and saying, "We don't have a tool I can use, so I can't get this accomplished.”

While there’s no perfect formula for how to drive sales at a startup, I can share my personal experience and success from the past 15 months at Square Robot. The company put their faith in me to develop business in an untapped market segment: the power industry. In one year, I grew this market by over 300 percent, despite the majority of prospects having never heard of Square Robot. There were a few key steps to my success, which included adjusting to the shift in work operations since Covid-19.

The power of developing a brand

My first focus was on developing my personal brand as an ambassador for Square Robot. Not only did I dive into learning all aspects of our robotic services, but I then did the same in the power industry. I heavily relied on LinkedIn to build my brand as a knowledge center, often creating short videos, posts and even articles about the benefits of Square Robot’s service for the power industry.

I found that in a business world that’s inundated with endless emails and cold calls, social media was an easy way to get in front of prospects without the pressure of calling as they’re stepping into a meeting or too busy to speak. The recognition of name and company from LinkedIn translated across the traditional platforms. I connected and messaged on LinkedIn, followed by email and phone outreach. Overall, about 75 percent of my closed opportunities in 2023 began with outreach on Linkedin.

Tapping into relevant organizations

As I continued to learn more about the power generation industry, I looked for associated research and non-profit groups. From there, I found the Electric Power Research Institute, and subsequently, Square Robot was accepted into a program to showcase new technology directly to the end user.

I also researched industry specific conferences and publications for either speaking submissions or written pieces, which are great avenues to grow the brand of a startup company while paying close attention to budgeting.

Making time for in-person meetings

While finding ways to raise the profile of Square Robot was important, I also wanted to make sure I still had the face-to-face connection that makes a lasting impact. True success in this role takes business development into relationship development, and I made it a priority to visit new clients when Square Robot was onsite providing service.

Taking the time to meet in person with the people and teams I’ve spoken with countless times — sometimes across months — helped to build trust and uncover additional opportunities. People are much more likely to answer emails or calls when they can put a face to a name. Many times I used this visit to extend my reach into a company, asking for introductions to other locations or areas.

Even though 2023 was an achievement for myself and Square Robot, it comes with the expectation of continued growth. In the startup world of business development, this means constantly engaging with potential audiences in new and different ways, not being deterred when things take time or you fail, and having creativity and tenacity to drive sales.

------

Stephanie Nolan is director of sales at Square Robot, which is headquartered in Massachusetts but has a growing presence in Houston.

Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? Some of the best in Houston are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Looking for a job? These 2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists are hiring

calling all applicants

More than half of this year's startup finalists in the Houston Innovation Awards are hiring — who's looking for a job at one of the best startups in Houston?

When submitting their applications for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, which is taking place November 8 at Silver Street Studios, every startup was asked if it's hiring. Twenty-seven of the 35 startup honorees said yes, ranging from over 20 to just one positions open at each company.

Click here to secure your tickets to see which of these growing startups win.

Here's a look at which of the top startups in Houston are seeking new team members.

Double-digit growth

When it comes to the awards finalists looking to scale their team by 10 or more new hires, five finalists are growing rapidly.

Medical practice software platform RepeatMD, fresh off a $40 million raise — which included participation from Houston-based Mercury — is reportedly growing its team. The company, which has 115 employees already, is looking for over 20 new hires.

Female-owned business Feelit Technologies, which is using nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, has 50 employees, and only three of which are in Houston – for now. The company hopes to grow its team by 12 to 15 employees in Houston alone.

Square Robot, an energy industry-focused robotics company that recently grew its presence in Houston, is hiring 10 to 30 new team members. It has 24 employees already in Houston.

Solugen, an alternative chemicals business, has around 140 of its 200 employees in Houston. The company, which has raised over $600 million to date, is hiring an additional 10 to 15 new hires.

Additionally, Blue People, also a finalist in last year's awards, is hiring 25 new employees. The company was founded in 2015 in Mexico and relocated its primary operations to Houston in 2020. Blue People, which develops software innovation for its clients, has over 150 employees — 10 of whom, including C-level executives, are based in Houston. Some of the company's new hires will be based in town.

Steady growth

Four Houston startups are hiring within the six to 10 team member range — all with fairly significant employee counts already.

A finalist in last year's awards too, Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is again growing its team. With 48 on-site employees and 23 working remotely, Venus's team will add another five to 10 employees.

Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, has 112 employees in Houston and plans to hire another eight to its team.

Lastly, Fervo Energy, which recently raised $10 million, has 63 full-time employees (34 in Houston, 29 outside of Houston) and looking to hire seven more.

Seeking selectively

The following awards finalists are looking to grow their teams by just a handful or so — between one and five — of new hires:

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
  • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
  • CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.
  • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment.
  • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry.
  • Hope Biosciences, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the development and delivery of adult stem cell based therapeutics.
  • Innovapptive, empowering the deskless workers in operations, maintenance and warehouses by unlocking the power of SAP through mobility.
  • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future.
  • Koda Health, , a tech-enabled care coordination service to improve serious illness care planning and drive savings for value-based care at scale.
  • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk.
  • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.
  • Starling Medical, bringing the future of a proactive and predictive home-based healthcare system to patients today through passive AI powered at home urine screening.
  • Taurus Vascular, pioneering a new era of aortic aneurysm treatment by developing minimally invasive catheter solutions to drive better long-term patient outcomes.
  • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon.
  • UpBrainery Technologies, an innovative educational technology company that provides personalized and adaptive learning experiences to learners
  • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas.
  • Voyager Portal, helping commodity shippers identify root causes of demurrage, reduce risk and streamline the entire fixture process.

Square Robot's Houston office has the ability to showcase the technology to its potential customers. Photo courtesy of Square Robot

Boston-based tech company grows Houston team to deliver robotics to energy industry

do the robot

The robots are coming. Although the rise of Chat GPT has frightened plenty of professionals, we’re not on the precipice of the singularity just yet. And some of Houston’s coolest robots are contained in above-ground tanks, simply doing jobs that are too expensive and difficult for humans. The mechanical helpers in question come courtesy of Square Robot.

Square Robot co-founder and chief technology officer Jerome Vaganay started the company in 2016 in Boston. The company opened its Houston office in August of 2019.

“A lot of our partners and client base is out of here,” says director of operations, Matt Crist.

Karishma Prasad, director of technical operations, who joined the team in Houston earlier this year, adds “It’s a great centralized place for us. Houston is a great hub both nationally and internationally. There is so much energy transition innovation happening here.”

Square Robot is indeed a robotics company, but it trades in a very specific type of robot. The SR-1 is an innovative tank inspector.

“Since the ‘60s there’s been a traditional way of going into a tank. People would go inside and clean it with a variety of products," Crist explains. "Once it was clean, they would come in and inspect it repair it and that could take months.”

In fact, it could often cause a 15 or 16-week outage, he says.

Square Robot’s brainstorm was to take the human element out of the process. In other words, robots can do the job more safely, efficiently and quickly than a human ever could by collecting 18,000 data points per square foot, while allowing the product — most often diesel — to stay in the tank.

Square Robot saves those vast weeks of time, but perhaps even more importantly, says Prasad, “We’re avoiding emissions being released into the atmosphere.”

With its key location in Houston, Square Robot has worked with most of the major names in the energy world, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Crist’s former employer, Phillips 66.

The latest robot is the SR-3, which is currently being tested in Houston. Curious webwatchers can see its progress on Square Robot’s website. Unlike the flagship SR-1, the new robot boasts a side launcher that allows it to be completely immersed in a tank before being launched.

But perhaps the most exciting thing about Square Robot’s 15-human Houston office is its test tank. There, potential partners can see exactly what the company’s ingenious creation can do. Square Robot will participate in ILTA, the International Operating Conference & Trade Show, which takes place from May 21-24. On the 24th, the company will host an open house from noon to 3 p.m. to allow potential users to see the SR-3 in action in the 42-foot-long test tank.

Square Robot will complete its hundredth tank inspection in May. It is also growing beyond the oil and gas world to include work with the power industry and was recently selected as a finalist in the Incubatenergy Lab Start Up program. This is one robot that we will happily allow to take over formerly all-too-human responsibilities.

Square Robot has a team of 15 in Houston. Photo courtesy of Square Robot

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.

Texas organization grants $68.5M to Houston institutions for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.