The Texas Medical Center is buzzing with recent innovation news, from Texas A&M University naming its buildings, Houston Methodist is introducing a new technology, and more. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, Deloitte is looking for tech companies to honor, a few Houston innovators have fresh funds, buildings rising in the Texas Medical Center now have names, and more.

Texas A&M names buildings in Innovation Plaza

Texas A&M University has named the buildings that will be a part of its Innovation Plaza. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University System

The Texas A&M University System has revealed the names of the three buildings in the Texas A&M Innovation Plaza rising near the Texas Medical Center: Discovery Tower, Life Tower, and Horizon Tower.

Discovery Tower is the future home of A&M's EnMed program and is currently being renovated from an 18-story office building. Life Tower, which is expected to deliver in June 2022, is a 19-story, 714-bed student housing tower for Texas A&M medical students and Prairie View A&M University nursing students. Lastly, the Horizon Tower will be a 17-story, 485,000 square-foot integrated building that will feature a 13-story parking structure at the bottom.

SecurityGate closes series A

Ted Gutierrez, CEO of SecurityGate, announced the closing of his company's series A. Courtesy of Security Gate

SecurityGate.io, a software-as-a-service cybersecurity startup based in Houston, has closed its series A fundraising round. Houston Ventures led the capital raise. The amount raised has not been disclosed.

"It was very attractive to us how tightly tuned SecurityGate.io is to the needs of their customers," says Chip Davis, managing partner at Houston Ventures, in a news release. "Successful enterprise software companies generally know they are instruments of change for their customers."

Davis says the feedback from SecurityGate's customers was what sealed the deal.

"Digital transformation is no easy task in highly dynamic environments, especially when the risk of cyberattacks keeps rising daily. We're excited to partner with Houston Ventures who sees this market growing, and our clients that see our vision of the future," says Ted Gutierrez, CEO of SecurityGate, in the release.

Well Health launches at Houston Methodist

Thanks to tech from the West Coast, a Houston hospital has optimized virtual visits. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Through a partnership with California-based WELL Health Houston Methodist was able up the ante on virtual visits during the pandemic. According to a news release, WELL enabled Houston Methodist to deliver over 260,000 text messages to patients Houston Methodist. The messages educated them about virtual care, schedule visits, and more.

"The ability to communicate back and forth, assuring patients that we are here for them both virtually and in-person is crucial as we continue to safely provide care in the midst of this pandemic," says Tesha Montgomery, vice president of operations and patient access at Houston Methodist, in the release.

Houston podcast network raises over $1 million

A podcast network with Houston ties has raised a seed round. Pexels

Lemonada Media, a podcast network with Houston roots that launched in September, has raised $1.38 million in a seed funding round led by Blue Collective, an early-stage venture capital firm. The fresh funds will allow for strategic growth for the two co-founders, Jessica Cordova Kramer, CEO, and Houstonian Stephanie Wittels Wachs, chief creative officer. Lemonada also plans to hire several positions including vice presidents across finance, production, and marketing.

"We are slated to be a content and talent incubator, spinning out new audio concepts and hit series that present humanity, unfiltered," says Wittels Wachs in a news release. "Now more than ever, people are hungry for content that addresses their lived experience, those that are mundane, and those that may be painful and isolating. Because our company was built off a mountain of personal grief and loss, Lemonada is well-situated to cut through the noise, create beautiful works of art, and make people laugh and feel less alone along the way."

Deloitte is looking for tech companies for annual competition

For the 26th year, Deloitte is looking for cutting edge tech companies. Photo courtesy of Deloitte

Deloitte has opened applications for its 2020 Technology Fast 500. The application is available online and closes July 17. To be eligible for the award, the startup must be in business for a minimum of four years, have its headquarters in North America, have fiscal year 2016 operating revenues of at least $50,000, a fiscal year 2019 operating revenues of at least $5 million USD with a growth rate of 75 percent or greater, and own proprietary intellectual property or proprietary technology which must be sold to customers in products or services that contribute to a majority of the company's operating revenues, according to the contest's rules.

Companies should also fall within one of the following industry categories: biotechnology/pharmaceutical, communications/networking, digital content/media/entertainment, electronic devices/hardware, energy tech, medical devices, semiconductor, or software/SaaS.

Lazarus 3D delivers PPE to Haiti

A few Houston innovators have helped get Haitians critical PPE. Photo courtesy of Orolait

A few Houston innovators have helped connect health care workers in Haiti to some PPE. Ana Rojas Bastidas, founder of Orolait, and Jacques and Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld of Lazarus 3D, teamed up to ship over 1,000 pieces of PPE to United States Foundation for the Children of Haiti which supported orphanages, schools, and a hospital called Hopital Espoir.

In the middle of April, Bastidas saw the organization's need for PPE and saw how Lazarus 3D was creating materials. The group in Haiti received the supplies by the beginning of June.

"I'm really proud of the collaboration between myself and the Lazarus 3D team," Bastidas says. "Smriti and Jacques are absolute gems and while our businesses are completely separate, we found a common problem we both had the resources to tackle."

CryptoEQ begins offering consulting packages

Need custom cryptocurrency support? CryptoEQ is here to help. Courtesy of CryptoEQ

A cryptocurrency startup based in Houston has expanded its service to include custom-consulting packages.

"With our personalized packages, gain the market insights you need to refine your cryptocurrency investing and trading strategies," writes Spencer Randall, co-founder and principal of CryptoEQ.

The packages come at three levels: the enthusiast, the professional, and the expert. The individualized support begins at $499, and more information can be requested from the startup by emailing team@cryptoeq.io.

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4 startups pitch at virtual demo day for Houston accelerator program

resillience

In light of COVID-19, it is more relevant than ever to discuss and support startups with sustainability and resiliency in mind. At the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Cohort 2 Demo Day, a virtual audience was reminded of that.

"So, 2020 has certainly been a year of unprecedented uncertainty and change for Houston, for Texas, for our country, and for our world," says Christine Galib, director of the accelerator. "The past few months in particular have been especially difficult as the global pandemic and civil unrest continue to spotlight systemic and structural scars on the face of humanity."

The virtual event was streamed on July 1 and hosted several thought leaders and presenters before concluding with pitches from four of the cohort companies.

"Through it all, and in a virtual world, Cohort 2 startups, the mentors, and our Ion team have been the change we wish to see in the world," Galib continues. "For these startups, failure is simply not an option — and neither is going at it alone."

Earlier this year, Galib announced the second cohort would be focused on solutions for Houston's air quality, water purification, and other cleantech needs. The program, backed by Intel, Microsoft, and TX/RX, launched on Earth Day and commenced shortly after. Cohort 3 is expected later this year.

Here are the four companies that pitched and the problems they are trying to solve.

Re:3D

re:3D was founded just down the street from NASA's Johnson Space Center to address the need for a mid-market 3D printing solution. The Houston-based startup also wanted to create their 3D printer that operates on recycled plastics in order to prevent excess waste.

"Where some see trash, we see opportunity," Charlotte Craff, community liaison at Re:3D says in her presentation.

Re:3D's clients can get their hands on their own Gigabot for less than $10,000, and the printer uses pellets and flakes from recycled plastics —not filament — to print new designs. Clients are also supported by the company with design software and training.

"We can help the city of Houston help meet its climate action and resilient city goals by transforming the way people think about recycling," Craff says about Re:3D's future partnerships with the city.

Water Lens

While two-thirds of the world is covered in water, only 0.7 percent is drinkable. And of that fresh water, 92 percent of it is used in agricultural and industrial settings. This is how Keith Cole, CEO and founder of Water Lens, set the scene for his presentation.

Water Lens, which is based in Houston with a lab located in Austin, wants to solve the problem of cities and countries running out of fresh, drinkable water by equipping huge water-using companies with a water testing tool.

"We've developed a system to let anyone test any water literally anywhere in the world," Cole says, citing clients like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Halliburton.

S2G Energy

S2G Energy, based in Mexico, is focused on optimizing energy management in order to digitize, empower, and unlock potential for cost-saving efforts and technology.

In his pitch, Geronimo Martinez, founder of S2G Energy, points out that restaurants, commercial buildings, and other adjacent industries can save money by implementing energy management solutions that come out of S2G Energy's expertise. In Mexico, Martinez says, clients include the top two restaurant chains that — especially during COVID-19 — need optimization and cost saving now more than ever.

Eigen Control

A refinery's distillation columns are expensive — their fuel use accounts for 50 of operating costs, says Dean Guma, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Eigen Control.

Guma explains in his pitch how Eigen Control's technology can plug into existing sensors, model networks based on data, and employ the startup's artificial intelligent technology to reduce carbon emissions and save money on operating costs.

Houston researchers find new eco-friendly way to preserve produce

preventing waste

Hunger impacts over 800 million people worldwide, leaving nearly 10 percent of the population suffering from chronic undernourishment. The distressing reality of food shortages co-exists in a world where 1.3 billion tons of food — nearly a third of what's produced — is wasted each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rice University's scientific research team's latest discovery takes a crack at ending food shortages and improving sustainability with a common kitchen necessity: eggs.

The discovery of egg-based coating is promising to researchers, as it manages to both prolong produce shelf-life by double while impacting the environment.

"We are reducing the cost, and at the same time we are reducing the waste," says Muhammad M. Rahman, a research scientist at Rice University. "One in every eight people are hungry...on the other side, 33 percent of food is wasted."

It's no secret that overflowing landfills contribute to the climate crisis, piling high with food waste each year. While the United States produces more than seven billion eggs a year, manufacturers reject 3 percent of them. The Rice University researchers estimate that more than 200 million eggs end up in U.S. landfills annually.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, half of all landfill gas is methane, a hazardous greenhouse gas that contributes to detrimental climate change. Landfills are the third-largest contributor to methane emissions in the country, riding the coattails of agriculture and the energy industry.

COVID-19 has upended supply chains across the nation, and in recent months food waste has become an even more pressing issue. The disruptions of consumer purchasing habits and the indefinite closures of theme parks and select restaurants put a burden on farmers who planned for larger harvests and restaurants unsure of how to adjust. With more Americans cooking at home, panic-buying from grocery stores is also playing a role in accumulating waste.

To understand the challenges of the food industry, it's important to acknowledge the biggest menace to the supply chain: perishability. Fruits and vegetables only last a few days once arriving in grocery stores due to culprits like dehydration, texture deterioration, respiration and microbial growth. Rice University researchers sought to create a coating that addresses each of these issues in a natural, cost-effective way.

Brown School of Engineering materials scientist, Pulickei Ajayan, and his colleagues, were looking for a protein to fight issues like food waste. Rahman, a researcher in Ajayan's lab, received his Ph.D. from Cornell University studying the structure-property relationship in green nanocomposites. He and his fellow researchers found that egg whites were a suitable protein that wouldn't alter the biological and physiological properties of fruit. The study published in Advanced Materials took one year and three months to complete.

According to Rahman, the egg-based coating is non-toxic, biodegradable and healthier than other alternatives on the market. Wax is one common method of fruit preservation that can result in adverse effects on gut cells and the body over time.

"Long-term consumption of wax is not actually good and is very bad for your health," says Dr. Rahman. After wax is consumed, gut cells fragment the preservatives in wax to ions. This process can have a negative impact on "membrane disruption, essential metabolite inhibition, energy drainage to restore homeostasis, and reductions in body-weight gain," according to the research abstract.

Preservation efforts like wax, modified atmospheric packaging and paraffin-based active coatings are not only more expensive and less healthy, but they also alter the taste and look of fruits.

"Reducing food shortages in ways that don't involve genetic modification, inedible coatings or chemical additives is important for sustainable living," Ajayan states in a press release.

The magic of preservation is all in the ingredients. Rice University's edible coating is mostly made from household items. Seventy percent of the egg coating is made from egg whites and yolk. Cellulose nanocrystals, a biopolymer from wood, are mixed with the egg to create a gas barrier and keep the produce from shriveling. To add elasticity to the brittle poly-albumen (egg), glycerol helps make the coating flexible. Finally, curcumin—an extract found in turmeric—works as an antibacterial to reduce the microbial growth and preserve the fruit's freshness.

The experiment was done by dipping strawberries, avocados, papayas and bananas in the multifunctional coating and comparing them with uncoated fruits. Observation during the decaying process showed that the coated fruits had about double the shelf-life of their non-coated counterparts.

For people with egg allergies, the coating can be removed simply by rinsing the produce in water. Rice University researchers are also beginning to test plant-based proteins for vegan consumers.

For its first iteration, Rahman finds that the coating shows "optimistic results" and "potential" for the future of food preservation.

"These are already very green materials. In the next phase, we are trying to optimize this coating and extend the samples from fruits to vegetables and eggs," says Rahman.

Researchers will also work to test a spray protein, making it easier for both commercial providers as well as consumers looking for an at-home coating option. From a lab in Rice University to a potential shelf life in stores, the innovation of food coating is just beginning.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

It's a new month and Houston's innovation ecosystem is continuing to grow amid the coronavirus pandemic. This week's Houston innovators to know roundup reflects that growth with a new-to-town incubator's newly names leader — plus an entrepreneur creating an virtual reality app to escape and a communications expert's advice on navigating COVID-19.

Juliana Garaizar, launch director of Greentown Houston

Juliana Garaizar is working to help set up Houston's Greentown Labs incubator with diversity and inclusion in mind. Courtesy photo

Juliana Garaizar has had to keep a huge secret for a while. The launch director of new-to-Houston Greentown Labs has known about the cleantech incubator's plan to expand to the Bayou City for a while, and now the news is out. Of course, launching amid a pandemic isn't ideal, but Garaizar says its allowed a strong relationship with the original group based in Boston to form.

"I think the silver lining of this COVID-19 experience is that we are much more integrated with the Boston team, and we're learning at a much faster rate," she says. "That's why we decided to also open Houston for virtual memberships before we open our building in Q1 of 2021."

Garaizar joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to share her experience with the organization and how she'll be setting up Houston operations with diversity and inclusion in mind. Read more and stream the episode.

Derek Armstrong, CEO and founder of Armstrong Innovations

Derek Armstrong, a Houston native, founded his design company, Armstrong Innovations. Photo courtesy of Oculus Go

Derek Armstrong had been working on a new virtual reality app for relaxation and meditation that users can enter into for an opportunity to escape reality for a bit — little did he know that was something more people than ever would want to do.

His company, a Houston-area industrial design startup, Armstrong Innovations, just launched two Oculus Go app games, aptly named 'Escape'. The VR app was designed with relaxation and meditation in mind but has doubled as a new way to relax and sightsee without leaving your home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The sights and sounds of our new app assist with mindfulness and meditation," says CEO and founder Derek Armstrong. "It's about focusing on the sights and sounds, especially with the virus growing. It's a quick getaway without having to physically go anywhere." Read more.

Megan Silianoff, founder and creative director of Mad Meg Creative Services

Megan Silianoff has been helping clients navigate communications during a pandemic. Courtesy photo

The worst part of contracting COVID-19 — aside from suffering from the disease itself — is diligently communicating the risk of exposure to people you've been around especially to coworkers, employees, clients, etc. In a guest article for InnovationMap, Megan Silianoff of Mad Meg Creative Services, sets the scene for you to be prepared should you find yourself in this situation,

"We understand as communication experts, informing a client, boss, or anyone that you've potentially exposed them is scary messaging to share," she writes. "Guilt is the number one emotion people report experiencing when they realize they've potentially exposed someone or a group of people, even though the respective exposure was inadvertent. Nevertheless it's crucial to communicate the exposure quickly and effectively as that's how Houston can hinder the spread of this disease through our city." Read more.