This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Philip Dutton of Solidatus, Benjamin Foster of Nurseify, and Tasos Katsaounis of Bread Man Baking Co. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from baking to software development — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Philip Dutton, CEO of Solidatus

Philip Dutton is the new Houston-based CEO of Solidatus, a London-founded data management startup. Photo via LinkedIn

As part of a company reorganization, data management startup Solidatus has established Houston as its North American headquarters and has named co-founder Philip Dutton as its Houston-based CEO.

Founded in London in 2017, Solidatus initially focused on supplying data management software to businesses in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but has since extended its reach to North America. Overall, Solidatus employs more than 110 people. It plans to triple its U.S. headcount over the next year.

“Solidatus serves visionary organizations that desire streamlined access and clarity of their data to build smarter and more profitable businesses. That’s everyone from Fortune 500 companies that have an unmanageably complex data landscape to startups and scale-ups that want to optimize their data practices from the get-go. There is no greater concentration of these organizations than in the U.S.,” Dutton, who had been the co-CEO, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

Benjamin Foster, founder and CEO of Nurseify

Benjamin Foster was leading human resources at Gulf Coast Division during Hurricane Harvey when he saw a huge need for an alternative to hiring short-term nurses quickly. That's when he had the idea for Nurseify, a platform that allows for nurses to find jobs — and for facilities to find nurses with the specialties they need. The platform is now live in five pilot states — Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Nevada.

Nurses are facing a significant amount of burnout — in part due to what they went through during the pandemic, but also because of the stressful work environments due to hiring misalignment. Foster says he's intentionally designed the platform to be supportive of nurses.

"We want Nurseify to be known as the most nurse-friendly company in the world. We believe we can bridge the gap between administration and operations and nurses," Foster says. "We want 'Nurseify' to become a verb at some point." Click here to read more.

Tasos Katsaounis, CEO and founder of Bread Man Baking Co.

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls. He took that hobby and turned it into Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42. Click here to read more.

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Houston entrepreneur on how he cooked up a new career

kneading a change

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls.

And while for many during the pandemic it became somewhat of a cliché to bake sourdough at home, Katsaounis was getting a head start on developing the ingredients for Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42.

While in growth mode, Bread Man Baking Co. had to change its entire production process, investing in state-of-the-art industrial bakery equipment to allow them to produce at scale. The company now also uses cutting-edge breadmaking machinery to emulate Katsaounis’ Yiaya recipes from Greece to get the “hand shaping,” homemade effect in the dough.

They have also developed the capability of flash freezing their product to preserve the product’s integrity for distribution purposes without filling it with chemically based preservatives or conditioners that are traditionally used in the food industry.

“We are all about innovation and evolution, but it’s bread at the end of the day,” he says. “You have to look at it from the standpoint that there’s no way for us to triple our production and maintain quality and the integrity of an artisan bread product without innovating, without evolving, without adapting. We believe in the artisan process.”

Bread Man Baking Co. naturally ferments a majority of its products and bakes the bread in a stone deck, a traditional hearth oven with steam to obtain the coveted crusty bread that patrons desire.

The bread is sold in 65 restaurants around Houston – including Postino Wine Cafe's four locations, Georgia James, and the Tiny Boxwood concepts. The company is now also distributing to Whole Foods and H-E-B retailers, pushing out bread to five states total.

“We’ve done all this in the last six months since moving into our new facility,” he says. “It's been fun to watch. Every month is a new high sales month and we're just like, let’s keep this going.”

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Houston engineers develop breakthrough device to advance spinal cord treatment

future of health

A team of Rice University engineers has developed an implantable probe over a hundred times smaller than the width of a hair that aims to help develop better treatments for spinal cord disease and injury.

Detailed in a recent study published in Cell Reports, the probe or sensor, known as spinalNET, is used to explore how neurons in the spinal cord process sensation and control movement, according to a statement from Rice. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Rice, the California-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the philanthropic Mary K. Chapman Foundation based in Oklahoma.

The soft and flexible sensor was used to record neuronal activity in freely moving mice with high resolution for multiple days. Historically, tracking this level of activity has been difficult for researchers because the spinal cord and its neurons move so much during normal activity, according to the team.

“We developed a tiny sensor, spinalNET, that records the electrical activity of spinal neurons as the subject performs normal activity without any restraint,” Yu Wu, a research scientist at Rice and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Being able to extract such knowledge is a first but important step to develop cures for millions of people suffering from spinal cord diseases.”

The team says that before now the spinal cord has been considered a "black box." But the device has already helped the team uncover new findings about the body's rhythmic motor patterns, which drive walking, breathing and chewing.

Lan Luan (from left), Yu Wu, and Chong Xie are working on the breakthrough device. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

"Some (spinal neurons) are strongly correlated with leg movement, but surprisingly, a lot of neurons have no obvious correlation with movement,” Wu said in the statement. “This indicates that the spinal circuit controlling rhythmic movement is more complicated than we thought.”

The team said they hope to explore these findings further and aim to use the technology for additional medical purposes.

“In addition to scientific insight, we believe that as the technology evolves, it has great potential as a medical device for people with spinal cord neurological disorders and injury,” Lan Luan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice and a corresponding author on the study, added in the statement.

Rice researchers have developed several implantable, minimally invasive devices to address health and mental health issues.

In the spring, the university announced that the United States Department of Defense had awarded a four-year, $7.8 million grant to the Texas Heart Institute and a Rice team led by co-investigator Yaxin Wang to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation.

That same month, the university shared news that Professor Jacob Robinson had published findings on minimally invasive bioelectronics for treating psychiatric conditions. The 9-millimeter device can deliver precise and programmable stimulation to the brain to help treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Houston clean hydrogen startup to pilot tech with O&G co.

stay gold

Gold H2, a Houston-based producer of clean hydrogen, is teaming up with a major U.S.-based oil and gas company as the first step in launching a 12-month series of pilot projects.

The tentative agreement with the unnamed oil and gas company kicks off the availability of the startup’s Black 2 Gold microbial technology. The technology underpins the startup’s biotech process for converting crude oil into proprietary Gold Hydrogen.

The cleantech startup plans to sign up several oil and gas companies for the pilot program. Gold H2 says it’s been in discussions with companies in North America, Latin America, India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The pilot program is aimed at demonstrating how Gold H2’s technology can transform old oil wells into hydrogen-generating assets. Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based biotech company Cemvita, says the technology is capable of producing hydrogen that’s cheaper and cleaner than ever before.

“This business model will reshape the traditional oil and gas industry landscape by further accelerating the clean energy transition and creating new economic opportunities in areas that were previously dismissed as unviable,” Gold H2 says in a news release.

The start of the Black 2 Gold demonstrations follows the recent hiring of oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as CEO.

“With the proliferation of AI, growth of data centers, and a national boom in industrial manufacturing underway, affordable … carbon-free energy is more paramount than ever,” says Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner at venture capital firm 8090 Industries, an investor in Gold H2. “We’re investing in Gold H2, as we know they’ll play a pivotal role in unleashing a new dawn for energy abundance in partnership with the oil industry.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes an e-commerce startup founder, an industrial biologist, and a cellular scientist.

Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, which operates a multichannel commerce platform, has secured $105 million in debt refinancing from investment manager BlackRock.

The debt refinancing follows a recent $25 million series C extension round, bringing Cart.com’s series C total to $85 million. The scaleup’s valuation now stands at $1.2 billion, making it one of the few $1 billion-plus “unicorns” in the Houston area.

Cart.com was co-founded by CEO Omair Tariq in October 2020. Read more.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin, vice president of industrial biotechnology at Cemvita

Nádia Skorupa Parachin joined Cemvita as vice president of industrial biotechnology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos. Read more.

Han Xiao, associate professor of chemistry at Rice University

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, a chemist at Rice University.

A Rice University chemist has landed a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health for his work that aims to reprogram the genetic code and explore the role certain cells play in causing diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator, associate professor of chemistry, from the NIH's Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which supports medically focused laboratories. Xiao will use the five-year grant to advance his work on noncanonical amino acids.

“This innovative approach could revolutionize how we understand and control cellular functions,” Xiao said in the statement. Read more.