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.

The five finalists for Mentor of the Year in the Houston Innovation Awards sound off on their best advice. Photos courtesy

Houston's top startup mentors of 2022 share go-to advice for founders

words of wisdom

Houston is home to many great mentors — all hailing for completely different backgrounds.

At the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9, InnovationMap and Houston Exponential are honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have dedicated at least a portion of their lives to supporting others within the startup and tech scene in Houston.

Here are some words of wisdom from our awards honorees from the Mentor of the Year category for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards.

"I always remind people to be open and ask for help. There is a common misconception that if you disclose your idea, someone else will quickly run with it and beat you to market! ... Don’t alienate yourself by overprotecting the idea and keeping it all to yourself. The more you open up about your idea the more feedback you’ll get, good and bad, both of which are vital in the success of the product long term."

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- Alfredo Arvide, Blue People and HOUnited. Arvide, who's been an advisor for over a decade, adds, that "most markets are big enough to allow competition to thrive, so keeping your idea behind close doors until you launch may hurt you as the market may not be ready for it. Having multiple players competing in the market will help you in the long run, as long as you have a great product and a sound marketing strategy."

"Understand the problem you are trying to solve. Build a team that works well together and has the intellect, drive, and willingness to develop and bring to market a solution for that problem. Leadership is not about giving orders and making all the decisions. It is about creating the environment for your team members individually and collectively to do their best work and be most fulfilled."

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- Barbara Burger, adviser and board member for several startups and organizations. With over 20 years of experience supporting startups, Burger says she is mostly focused on startups dedicated to decarbonizing the energy system.

"Don't have 'rocking chair regret.' What I mean is when you are old and in a rocking chair, you aren't going to regret the year (or less) you took away from a guaranteed salary to test if your idea worked. So, take the time and follow your dreams — you never know what could happen!"

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- Craig Ceccanti, T-Minus Solutions. Ceccanti, who also co-founded Pinot's Palette and Rivalry Technologies, has been mentoring for over a decade. "I love helping people and always have so helping others achieve their dreams is a natural progression for me, he says. "I've also had incredible mentors and I like to pay it forward every chance I get. I feel that mentoring is fun, therapeutic, and mutually beneficial as I feel I learn from the smart people I get to talk to daily!

"Bring great people on your journey with you — team members, advisors, investors, mentors, consultants, etc."

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- Emily Reiser, Texas Medical Center and Enventure. Reiser, who's mentored companies for several years, says it's her own mentors that inspired her. "I had excellent mentors who generously gave their time for me, especially Upendra Marathi, and it's just a given that I mentor others. It's a privilege to learn from the people I mentor and see them become successful."

"Be your own cheerleader. Stay true to yourself and don't give up."

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Kara Branch, founder of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "I have always been the only black woman in all my roles. As a mother of three daughters, my oldest daughter inspired Black Girls Do Engineer Corp.," Branch says. "When she daughter was 9, she came to me and said she wanted to be a software engineer. ... If anyone can help her achieve her dreams is her mom and I wanted to create a space for girls who look like my daughter to come together and do the things they love and are passionate about."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Craig Ceccanti of T-Minus Solutions, Katie Eick of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets, and Blair Garrou of Mercury. Photos courtesy

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 venture capital to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Craig Ceccanti, founder and CEO of T-Minus Solutions

Words of wisdom from a founder who's done this all before. And then again. And again. Photo courtesy of T-Minus Solutions

After starting a company or two — or three — Craig Ceccanti has some observations on his own entrepreneurial journey. He also has some hard lessons learned, and he shared four of them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"I’m not immune to making mistakes," he writes. "As a serial entrepreneur and having started, led, and mentored various successful companies, I have made some mistakes and have been lucky enough to learn from them."Read more.

Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets Rollin' Vets joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her company's growth. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

For years, Dr. Katie Eick wanted to provide mobile veterinary care for her patients, but the technology wasn't where it needed to be. She took a gamble and bought her first truck in 2016 as ridesharing and mobile ordering took off. A new business of convenience was booming, before blasting off again amid the pandemic.

Now, the founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets says she's got the equipment, the market demand, and a $5 million round of investment to expand her business model.

The other challenge Eick says she faced early on was a misconception that mobile vet care was limited to vaccinations.

"We provide the highest level of veterinary care — right in your driveway," Eick says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how each of her trucks — she now has five — have the capability to provide all sorts of treatment. Read more.

Blair Garrou, founder and managing partner of Mercury

Blair Garrou will be recognized as the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Photo courtesy

The name Blair Garrou is quite familiar to most within Houston's startup and innovation ecosystem. As co-founder of Mercury, which launched in 2005, he's seen the city's tech world expand tenfold.

"Although we are in the midst of a recession, Houston continues to grow in three key industrial sectors of innovation – EnergyTech/ClimateTech, HealthTech, and SpaceTech. Our city has the opportunity to be a national leader in each of these sectors, and drive tremendous job growth in the future," he tells InnovationMap.

Garrou was nominated and selected by a group of judges to be the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient, and will be honored at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Craig Ceccanti of T-Minus Solutions, Ben Jawdat of Revterra, and Sam Sabbahi of Thermocuff. Photos courtesy

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 software development to medical devices — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Craig Ceccanti, founder of T-Minus Solutions

Craig Ceccanti joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what he's learned in his time as an entrepreneur in Houston — and what he's focused on now. Photo courtesy of Craig Ceccanti

When deciding what his passion project would be, Craig Ceccanti looked back at his career. He's always been interested in tech, and grew a small business — Pinot's Palette — to a national franchise. Combining his skills and expertise, he founded T-Minus Solutions to provide entrepreneurs with software consulting and support.

"I love technology and mentoring other entrepreneurs — those were two big factors," Ceccanti says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "So, starting a consulting agency where we could help startups and mid sized-growth companies build custom software was kind of my perfect unicorn."

He shares more about the his career — from franchising to tech startups — as well as why he's bullish on Houston's business economy on the podcast. Click here to read more and listen to the episode.

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra

Revterra Corp. closed a $6 million series A round led by Equinor Ventures. Photo via LinkedIn

Revterra Corp. has raised $6 million in its series A funding round to propel development of its battery for electric vehicle charging stations. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

“There is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions globally,” physicist Ben Jawdat, founder and CEO of Revterra, says in a news release. “Our goal at Revterra is to deploy scalable energy storage solutions that facilitate the shift to renewables and EVs while hardening our electric grid. Our systems enable these ambitions while utilizing materials that are recyclable and based on a secure supply chain.” Click here to read more.

Thermocuff has several patents and expects FDA approval at the end of the year. Image via LinkedIn.com

Necessity is the mother of invention — and Sam Sabbahi needed a better way to heat and cool common joint injuries. Sabbahi, a physical therapist by trade, wanted to optimize the traditional way of using ice or heat packs.

“In the field, we were always getting people coming in trying to get us to purchase different medical devices and we wondered, ‘who knows what we need better than we do?’” he says. “A patient asked me ‘what a cold pack does’ and I was thinking in my head that a cold pack just cools the skin to three millimeters depth.”

Sabbahi then developed and invented a portable convection-based heating and cooling system device that could be used for joint injury rehabilitation – the device, dubbed Thermocuff, works much in the way that an air fryer circulates the air to get an even temperature. Click here to read more.

Craig Ceccanti joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what he's learned in his time as an entrepreneur in Houston — and what he's focused on now. Photo courtesy of Craig Ceccanti

Serial Houston entrepreneur's latest venture combines his passions for startups and software

houston innovators podcast episode 144

In 2020, Craig Ceccanti sat down to consider what his next career move would be. Former CEO and co-founder of national franchise Pinot's Palette and a co-founder of Houston sports tech startup sEATz, Ceccanti wanted a passion project.

His background is in software and computer science and, with years of experience in entrepreneurship, he decided a combination of his passions would be a software-focused consulting firm for startups and growing businesses. He founded T-Minus Solutions in November of 2020.

Ceccanti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that at Pinot's Palette, he built the software himself, using freelancers to help build out and support his work. These developers were inconsistent and never lasted long, and Ceccanti says he experienced this challenge again when developing sEATz's software. He had the idea of providing a more reliable software outsourcing service for companies.

"I love technology and mentoring other entrepreneurs — those were two big factors," Ceccanti says on the show. "So, starting a consulting agency where we could help startups and mid sized-growth companies build custom software was kind of my perfect unicorn."

T-Minus Solutions, which is bootstrapped so far, has a team of six employees, and Ceccanti says they are specifically focused on working with impactful businesses. As a passion project, he explains he's less driven by revenue and more focused on the help and guidance he can provide his clients, whether it's building software for them or helping navigate a major business decision.

"Our statement is to empower entrepreneurs," he explains. "We want to make the accessibility to technology easy for them and have a trusted technology partner for them to come to."

Ceccanti, who's a mentor at Rice University, is dedicated to helping fellow Houston entrepreneurs and aspiring founders. He says over the years as he's doled out advice over coffee or beers, he got the idea to write down some of his lessons learned. The book, “A Founder’s Guide to A Software Startup,” is expected to release later this year.

Originally from Louisiana, Ceccanti — who moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina — is enthusiastic about Houston's innovation ecosystem. He says he's seen so much progress for startups and entrepreneurs, and Houston has so many industries represented here — something extremely valuable when it comes to access to consumers.

"Houston is really unique — when you think about Dallas and Austin or even the West Coast or the Northeast — with the demand of our consumerbase. You can test out anything here — you can't say that about Austin or Dallas the way you can here," Ceccanti says. "Industrial, medical, consumer, retail, restaurant — you're in the right place. If you can make it work here, it's going to do good."

He shares more about the his career — from franchising to tech startups — as well as why he's bullish on Houston's business economy on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


These three startups walked away from a pitch competition with thousands of dollars in equity-free prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

3 alumni-founded startups claim cash prizes at Rice University pitch competition

winner, winner

Three startups founded by Rice University graduates have won investment prizes at an annual pitch competition.

The annual H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, or NRLC, welcomed a panel of judges to hear from six alumni-founded startups in the finals last week. The prizes on the line totaled $65,000 in equity-free funding. The event, which is separate from the student version of the competition, is hosted by Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The big winner of the 2022 competition was Rhythio Medical, a preventative heart arrhythmias treatment startup. The company won first place, which included $30,000 in equity-free funding, as well as the Audience Choice Award that came with $1,500.

Taking second place, Synopic, which facilitates faster and more accurate surgical procedures through improved endoscopic vision technology, won $20,000 in equity-free funding. Lastly, Green Room, a platform that streamlines taxes and payments for touring artists, clinched third place and $15,000.

The event, named for Rice professor emeritus and entrepreneurship program founder H. Albert Napier, was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions and Chevron Technology Ventures. This year's finalists were selected by judges made up of Rice alumni. Three judges — Danielle Conkling, director at Silicon Valley Bank, Paul Manwell, senior director at Google, and Joanna Nathan, manager of new ventures at Johnson & Johnson — listened to and evaluated each company's five-minute pitch and followed up with questions.

Rhythio Medical was founded by CEO Kunal Shah, class of 2022, and Savannah Esteve, who also serves as head of product. The technology includes a surgically injected wire that makes an irregular heart work like a healthy one. It works alongside a traditional implantable cardioverter defibrillator, however, the wire but works to prevent arrhythmias, while ICDs treat arrhythmias with a painful shock to the patient’s heart. The company lists the Texas Heart Institute and the University of Texas at Austin as its research partners.

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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.

Houston startup secures $10M to expand into rural communities

ready to grow

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.

The company has pioneered a proprietary “small footprint primary care delivery model,” which is considered suitable for rural markets, employer worksites, office buildings, schools, and university campuses. The cost-effective microclinics are “prefabricated facilities” that are designed for primary care services, and employ a hybrid in-person and telemedicine care approach.

Hamilton began his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, which is a micro-hospital system in the Houston area that later moved to private equity.

The recently acquired funding will help expedite the high-touch care model to 98 million Americans in HPSAs, which was a goal for when the company was established during the Covid-19 pandemic. HHB has made partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to provide primary care services both at existing FQHC centers and through new sites in rural areas.

"Hamilton Health Box that was designed to deliver the lowest possible price of primary and preventative care," Hamilton said in a previous interview with Innovation Map. "We built that to be able to take that care to the jobsite and meet the customer where they are at."