A new report on best markets for startup compensation — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston's summer has been heating up in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a Houston unicorn is reportedly opening a new facility, a data science organization names new CEO, and more.

Mercury Data Science names new CEO

Angela Holmes, former COO of Mercury Data Science, has been named the CEO. Photo courtesy of MDS

A Houston-based AI solutions consultancy has made changes to its C-suite. Dan Watkins is passing on the CEO baton to Angela Holmes, who has served on MDS's board and as COO. As Holmes moves into the top leadership position, Watkins will transition to chief strategy officer and maintain his role on the board of directors.

"Over the last three years, as COO and a member of the board of directors, Angela has been instrumental in MDS’s growth, especially in building MDS’s Strategy Consulting practice and UI/UX and Machine Learning Engineering capabilities," saus Watkins in a news release. "The magic at Mercury Data Science is all about the diverse team who have created a culture of excellence, trust and purpose with the goal of using AI/ML to solve some of the most important health and social problems facing the world today.

"Angela was instrumental in building our culture and customer base over the last three years and will do a great job taking the company to the next level," he continues.

Mercury Data Science was incubated and launched out of Houston-based VC firm Mercury Fund. MDS works with the Mercury portfolio companies as well other startups in the life sciences and health care space.

"It is an exciting time to lead Mercury Data Science as we advance the development of innovative data science platforms at the intersection of biology, behavior, and AI," says Holmes in the release. "I am particularly excited about the demand for our Ergo insights platform for life sciences, allowing scientists to aggregate a vast set of biomedical data to better inform decisions around drug development priorities.

"The increasing understanding of biology, accessibility of large data sets, and accelerating computational capabilities is creating a golden age of life science innovation," she adds. "We are committed to using our expertise to accelerate our clients’ advances in human health, nutrition, therapeutics, diagnostics, and behavior, to create profound advances for humanity."

Here's how Houston ranks in terms of startup compensation

This chart from Carta shows the four tiers of the US markets. Houston, in 15th place, leads the third tier. Image courtesy of Carta

A new report looked into compensation at startups across the country, and the Texas market fared pretty well overall. The report from Carta, a San Francisco, California-based technology company that specializes in capitalization table management and valuation software, factored in data using more than 127,000 employee records from startups that use Carta Total Comp, the premier compensation management platform for private companies.

"At Carta, we see it as our responsibility to share the insights that come from an unmatched amount of data about the private market," per the report. "That includes data on startup headcount, payroll and equity metrics, salary medians, and remote work."

The greater Houston area ranked No. 15 in the list, which lands it at the top of the third tier just ahead of Dallas. As the chart depicts, Houston has 88 percent of the compensation of the top market — which this year is a four-way tie between the San Francisco, New York, San Jose, and Seattle areas. Austin landed in the middle of the top tier, and San Antonio snuck into the bottom of the third tier. The full report with national trends is online.

Axiom to open in former electronics store space

Axiom Space will reportedly move engineering into a former retail space. Photo via Facebook

According to a Facebook post from Deer Park Economic Development, Houston unicorn startup Axiom Space has leased a 146,000-square-foot space in what used to be a Fry's Electronics store in Webster. Reportedly, the new facility will house its engineering operations.

"Axiom's initial plans for the building are to support 400 employees, all assigned to engineering work on the Axiom Station, including development across all of its subsystems," reads the post from July 6. "The buildout will be able to accommodate up to 540 people. Axiom plans a move in late July or early August."

Axiom hasn't put out an official news release on this particular facility, but in May the company broke ground on its headquarters at Ellington Airport, the site of the Houston Spaceport. That campus just down the street will house employee offices, astronaut training, and mission control facilities, engineering development and testing labs, and a high bay production facility to house Axiom’s space station modules under construction, according to Axiom.

TRISH awards three postdoctoral fellowships to further space health research

Three scientists were tapped for funding from this Houston organization. Photo via Pexels

Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health — along with its partners California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — announced the new fellowship cohort of postdoctoral researchers supported by the TRISH Academy of Bioastronautics who will receive funding and resources for further career growth for two years.

“Cultivating the next generation of space health researchers is one of our strategic goals,” says Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director and associate professor in Baylor’s Center for Space Medicine, in a news release. “We aim to prepare a diverse workforce from a variety of scientific backgrounds to help us solve the challenges facing space explorers on future missions to the Moon and beyond. We are thrilled to welcome this next batch of postdocs as they help bring us closer to that goal.”

These fellows join a cohort of more than 20 previously supported TRISH postdoctoral researchers.

"My career was launched with a fellowship from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), the predecessor to TRISH, so I greatly appreciate the value of mentorship and community to those starting out in the field of space biomedical research,” says Dr. Jeffrey Willey, associate professor of radiation oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in the release.

This 2022 postdoctoral fellows and their research projects are:

  • Xu Cao —Identifying Genetic Factors in Radiation Injury with Pooled Single Cell Sequencing
  • Ashley Nemec-Bakk — The Use of Two New Ground-based Models of Deep Space Travel to Study the Role of Mitochondria and Oxidative Stress in Cardiovascular Effects
  • David Temple — Systematically Assessment of Noisy Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation as a Sensorimotor Countermeasure

Greentown Labs announces second carbon innovation cohort

Greentown Labs announced its latest carbon-focused cohort. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

The The Carbon to Value Initiative is a multi-year collaboration between the Urban Future Lab at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Greentown Labs, and Fraunhofer USA, which is supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. In its second year, the carbontech accelerator program has selected eight startups in partnership with Fluor Corporation, the initiative’s Year Two Cohort Champion.

With almost 100 applicants from about 20 countries, the C2V Initiative named the following startups to the program, per a release from Greentown:

  • Aluminum Technologies (New Orleans, U.S.) has developed Carbo-Chloride Reduction (CCR) aluminum manufacturing technology, which captures process CO2 and also reduces power consumption relative to conventional methods.
  • Carbon Upcycling Technologies (Calgary, Canada) utilizes point-source CO2 and mineralizes it with waste materials to create supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) that can be used in building materials.
  • Carbonova Corp (Calgary, Canada) utilizes CO2 and methane as a feedstock to produce carbon nanofibers (CNF) that may be used in various fields such as transportation and buildings.
  • ecoLocked (Berlin, Germany) converts waste biomass into biochar to create admixes that can replace a share of the cement used in concrete manufacturing, and thus sequester carbon within buildings.
  • Full Cycle Bioplastics (San Jose, U.S.) has a patented bacteria-based technology that converts organic waste into Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a biopolymer that can be used to replace a wide range of oil-based plastic applications.
  • Lydian (Somerville, U.S.) develops an electro-thermal reactor technology that converts captured CO2 into fuels and chemicals.
  • Molecule Works (Richland, U.S.) develops a solid sorbent Direct Air Capture (DAC) system using a novel reactor and contactor configuration.
  • Osmoses (Boston, U.S.) develops polymers for gas separation, enabling membrane-based carbon capture applications.

“If we are to succeed in reaching carbon neutrality, then carbontech must play a critical role,” says Ryan Dings, COO and general counsel of Greentown Labs. “For carbontech to do so, we must convene entrepreneurs, market leaders, investors, and policymakers deeply committed to rapidly creating a carbontech ecosystem, which is what our efforts with the C2V Initiative represent and why we’re so proud to be working with this incredible group of partners.”

While the program and its cohort companies aren't based in Houston, Greentown's local presence and member companies will play a role in the initiative.

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Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.