Innovative shoewear, luxury EV charging, and more — all this innovation and more is coming out of Houston startups. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. This past year, InnovationMap featured profiles on dozens of these Houston startups — from sportstech apps and health tech companies to startups with solutions in EV tech and more. Here are five Houston startup features that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

Sieve Health is an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials. Photo via Getty Images

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.” Read more.

Houston startup snags prestigious grant from global health leader

Houston-based medical device and biotech startup Steradian Technologies has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

A female-founded biotech startup has announced that it has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Steradian Technologies has developed a breath-based collection device that can be used with diagnostic testing systems. Called RUMI, the device is non-invasive and fully portable and, according to a news release, costs the price of a latte.

“We are extremely honored to receive this award and be recognized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a leader in global health. This funding will propel our work in creating deep-tech diagnostics and products to close the equity gap in global public health," says Asma Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Steradian Technologies, in the release. “The RUMI will demonstrate that advanced technology can be delivered to all areas of the world, ensuring the Global South and economically exploited regions receive access to high-fidelity diagnostics instead of solutions that are ill-suited to the environment.” Read more.

Houston sports tech startup is enhancing performance metrics for runners and athletes

Houston-based AiKYNETIX is equipping runners with high-tech tracking tools. Image courtesy of AiKYNETIX

With the Houston Marathon only five months away, a new application using human motion insights could help a runner refine their form to reach peak performance – all from the convenience of their smart phone.

While traditional treadmills are limited in training feedback and wearables are not designed to track elevation, Houston-based AiKYNETIX uses real-time technology to provide a new option for runners on treadmills.

“Runners spend a lot of time, energy and money to run better,” says Denis Akhiyarov, CEO and co-founder. “In my personal life with training for nine marathons, I’ve seen limitations with wearables, they don’t actually track running form while running. Overall, our technology tracks not only your basic parameters but it can also analyze the human running form while in motion.” Read more.

Local startup to upgrade EV charging in Houston and beyond

Houston-based Spark Spaces is looking to build out luxury spots for electric vehicle charging. Rendering courtesy of Spark Spaces

At 3 a.m. one night, just as he had many nights before, Tarun Girish found himself leaving his Houston apartment in search of an EV charger.

Once he located one, he would sit in his car for an hour and a half while his vehicle charged — with not much to do but wait.

But it was on this night he wondered if there was a way to use his previous hospitality experience to build a new kind of experience for EV drivers. He then developed his first iteration of a business plan — all while sitting in his driver’s seat.

His idea became Sparks Spaces, a startup formed in 2021 looking to shake up the EV charging game — the company aims to elevate the experience of charging electric vehicles by focusing on the space between car and charger by creating an airport lounge-type space for drivers. These EV lounges would include luxury waiting areas, clean restrooms, high-end food options, and availability to utilize them 24/7. Read more.

Houston neuroscientist turned startup founder takes steps toward comfier shoes

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Two and half years ago, native Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside.

Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

“I thought, ‘why can’t we start with a sneaker material and then build a heel around it?’” she tells InnovationMap. “I started just slicing everyone else’s shoes and now I’m more convinced than ever that our shoe is different.” Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Steffie Tomson of Getaway Sticks ad Ed Pettitt and Paresh Patel of InnoGrid. 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 innovative merchandise to microgrid technology — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Steffie Tomson, founder of Getaway Sticks

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Houstonian Steffie Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

“I thought, ‘why can’t we start with a sneaker material and then build a heel around it?’” she tells InnovationMap. “I started just slicing everyone else’s shoes and now I’m more convinced than ever that our shoe is different.”

Tomson was inspired to design the inaugural shoe for Getaway Sticks after her own struggle with heels, walking in the bustling Texas Medical Center from building to building for meetings. As a mom of two and a problem solver, she knew there had to be a better mousetrap. Click here to read more.

Ed Pettitt and Paresh Patel join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss InnoGrid's potential impact on equitable power. Photos courtesy of InnoGrid

With an unstable energy grid, two Houstonians know at least one solution in the evolving energy industry: Microgrids.

Ed Pettitt and Paresh Patel co-founded InnoGrid, a social enterprise working to establish community microgrids in lower income areas — neighborhoods that are most at risk of devastating power outages.

"We want to convert the commercial microgrid model for low and moderate income and undresourced residential communities," Patel explains on the latest episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.


Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Houston neuroscientist turned startup founder takes steps toward comfier shoes

well heeled in comfort

Two and half years ago, native Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside.

Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

“I thought, ‘why can’t we start with a sneaker material and then build a heel around it?’” she tells InnovationMap. “I started just slicing everyone else’s shoes and now I’m more convinced than ever that our shoe is different.”

Tomson was inspired to design the inaugural shoe for Getaway Sticks after her own struggle with heels, walking in the bustling Texas Medical Center from building to building for meetings. As a mom of two and a problem solver, she knew there had to be a better mousetrap.

“No other shoe offers this type of foam with the height that we offer it,” she says of the wedge-style shoe, which offers a wide toe box, soft suede material and limited height for stability and joint health.

The comfortable wedge is available in several colors. Photo via getawaysticks.com

With her scientist background, she would think about the “cognitive cycles” that get spent in dealing with schedules and matching corresponding footwear.

“’This shoe goes with this outfit, but does this shoe get me from this meeting back from the parking lot? Does it fit with the pant?’ It’s just an infinite decision tree of how to get your wardrobe aligned with the shoes — when all I ever wanted was a capsule collection of shoes that would just work for me all the time,” she says.

Typically, the fashion industry constructs shoes in a very traditional way, she says, and because of this, Tomson was met with much resistance from manufacturers to get the right materials for her prototype.

“I think there’s a lot of money that gets thrown around trying to get women to buy shoes,” says Tomson. “Those may or may not be comfortable. There’s just not enough being poured into getting women to buy shoes that’s really been designed for us with us in mind.”

Getaway Sticks went through the gBETA accelerator last spring, which helped springboard the company and connect Tomson with the local innovation ecosystem.

“There aren’t many people who are making shoes in Houston, but there’s a lot of support for cool ideas and novel thinking here,” she says. I’m glad that I’ve been made aware of them and invited into these groups.”

Now past its first pre-seed phase and prepping for its initial round of seed funding in 2023, Getaway Sticks is looking ahead at its next shoe launch in the coming months — the ballet flat.

“I think that we as women can identify with the fact that we all have a really beautiful pair of heels and they are almost certainly not going to be comfortable,” she says. “And we may have a really comfortable pair of heels, but they are not always the cutest thing in our wardrobe. We always have to kind of flip and decide. I just felt strongly that we needed something to make our lives simpler.”

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selected for program to explore future foods in space health

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.