This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Samantha Lewis of Mercury, Lydia Davies of Teamates, and Karen Leal of Insperity. 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 sportstech to venture capital — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Mercury Fund

It's not an easy time to be a startup founder, and Samantha Lewis, principal at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, knows that best. She joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's observed from the market — and how to navigate these uncertain times.

“We all know it’s turbulent market times. We’re unsure where the market is going, and when there’s uncertainty in the public markets, that puts uncertainty in the private markets,” Lewis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “What I’ve been spending the past two quarters doing is working with our portfolio companies to just make sure our balance sheets are bulked up for what’s to come in 2023.” Read more.

Karen Leal, performance specialist at Insperity

Time to think ahead, business owners. Here's what this expert thinks you need to prioritize. Photo courtesy

It's that time of year — the time to plan ahead for the next calendar year. Karen Leal, an expert at HR solutions company Insperity, wrote in a guest column her tips for small businesses and startups navigating the current market and planning ahead.

"While it is uncertain what lies ahead for businesses in 2023, leaders can prepare to face staffing challenges by choosing the best talent and creating a culture that shows employees that they are valued," she writes. Read more.

Lydia Davies, founder of TeeMates Golf and Teamates

Calling all sports fans. Image via LinkedIn

Lydia Davies, who launched TeeMates Golf last year, is back with another way for the athletically inclined to find likeminded individuals. Teamates, a new, Houston-based, multi-sport meetup app, connects like-minded sporty types who want to connect and run, hike, surf, or play golf, pickleball, and more.

“I have noticed more and more over the years that it is hard for adults to find friends, especially to find friends to play sports with,” said Davies in a press release. “Why not get active and use it as an icebreaker? Let us come out of the last few years healthier and happier by linking together to get outside and get active. Teamates makes it so easy to join a meetup with just one click.” Read more.

Teamates, a new, Houston-based, multi-sport meetup app, connects like-minded sporty types who want to connect and run, hike, surf, or play golf, pickleball, and more. Photo courtesy of TeeMates

Smart new Houston-based app helps sporty locals connect and get their game on

play on

Active Houstonians who're looking to meet up with fellow locals and get their sports on now have a new app for that.

Teamates, a new, Houston-based, multi-sport meetup app, connects like-minded sporty types who want to connect and run, hike, surf, or play golf, pickleball, and more. Users can download the app on Apple IOS or Google Play.

Specifically, users follow their favorite sports, while the app then filters meetups and social feed for those sports. Users can join in, favorite friends, post meetups with photos, group message, request to join meetups, and post and share on the feed and stories.

Seriously competitive users can soon earn rewards and get on the leaderboard to win biweekly sports prizes. Friends can award others "Mate Medals" for being top-rated buddies and true MVPs.

Founder Lydia Davies created Teamates after launching TeeMates Golf last year. Her inspiration came out of necessity: Davis simply wanted to help her “golf-addicted husband” who travels frequently and was constantly playing rounds alone.

“I have noticed more and more over the years that it is hard for adults to find friends, especially to find friends to play sports with,” said Davies in a press release. “Why not get active and use it as an icebreaker? Let us come out of the last few years healthier and happier by linking together to get outside and get active. Teamates makes it so easy to join a meetup with just one click.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Softeq Venture Studio has named 14 startups — two from Houston — to its third cohort. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech company's venture studio names new partner and cohort

developing tech

A Houston-based tech company has named a new limited partner and 14 new startups to its venture arm.

Softeq Development Corporation announced its third group of early-stage startups to join theSofteq Venture Studio, which is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses. With 14 startups, the summer 2022 cohort is the largest yet and brings the total portfolio to 27 companies. Additionally, the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund welcomed Royal Eagle Capital Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, as a limited partner with its $3 million commitment.

“We are thrilled to see how much the Softeq Venture Studio has grown since 2021,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “We’re also pleased to welcome Royal Eagle Capital Partners as an investment partner in our Venture Fund, which allowed us to achieve more than 50 percent of our funding goal in just five months. We look forward to building on this partnership and growing Softeq in North America, Latin America, and beyond.”

Softeq is also celebrating a recent expansion into Latin America and staffing the new regional office with 30 engineers. The company has plans to grow to 150 employees in the region over the next year.

“The Softeq Venture Fund presents a unique opportunity to diversify our holdings within the alternative investments space. The concept of risk mitigation in venture investments resonates with investment firms globally, and we are excited to be working with Softeq and the amazing talent of their early-stage companies,” said Mark Valdez — co-founder, managing partner, and chief investment officer at Royal Eagle Capital Partners — in the release. "The emphasis on growth in Latin America by Softeq was a driving factor for our commitment and will open the door to new opportunities in Mexico and beyond.”

The Q2 2022 cohort is from across the United States with even some international representatives. The companies are using tech to solve problems across industries from human resources and wellness to med-tech and sports-tech and more. Applications are open for the next cohort online.

Here are the 14 companies making up the cohort:

  • Concerto Commerce, based in Southlake, Texas, is an eCommerce platform that combines automated catalog management and payment processing to streamline reseller operations.
  • New York City-based Dailyhuman is a software platform designed to help companies retain employees by fostering safety, trust, and connection in the workplace.
  • Headquartered in Houston, FrakBlock is a blockchain-based predictive tool providing financial products for the adulting process of young teens in Latin America.
  • High Tech Ranch Solutions, from The Woodlands, is a digital ranch management system designed by ranchers to bring monitoring to the palm of your hand.
  • Santa Barbara, California-based Homesavi is a platform that helps first-time homebuyers understand the home-buying process and guides them to their dream home.
  • Louder.ai is an advertising platform that revolutionizes how people can support causes they care about and see the impact of their donations.
  • Mallard Bay, founded out of Louisiana State University, is a marketplace for guided hunting and fishing trips that streamlines booking and administrative processes for consumers and outfitters. The company won Softeq's prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition.
  • RYN is a social platform to help families in the Middle East find and employ household migrant workers providing better working and living conditions.
  • Delaware-based SAmAS Gamify is building a gamified psychometric assessment platform that helps employers evaluate and select the most qualified candidates.
  • Founded in North Carolina, ShopAgain is an AI-powered customer retention platform redefining personalized customer experiences for eCommerce businesses.
  • Houston-based TeeMates Golf is a mobile app that connects golfers worldwide using social media, tee time linking, and offers a merchandise marketplace.
  • ViiT Health, based in Mexico, is a non-invasive technology to help people measure and monitor blood sugar levels more accurately without a finger prick lancet.
  • WellnessWins is a CRM to streamline intake processes for private therapy clinics to reduce waitlists and increase access to mental health care.
  • WorkHint helps retail companies manage on-demand hourly talent to increase flexibility, reduce cost, and generate actionable data-driven insights.
Swing into golf games with new friends with this new app. Photo courtesy of TeeMates Golf

New Houston-based golf app links up players, sets tee times, and more

there's an app for that

A new, Houston-based golf app is teeing up a chance for enthusiasts to link up over their love of the sport.

TeeMates Golf is a custom-made app that globally connects players and even sparks new networks and even friendships. The clever app has launched on the Apple Store and Google Play, with a full web version next month, the company notes in a press release.

How does it work? Users create a profile page with a (hopefully honest!) handicap, play preferences, description, and photos for sharing. Users can then post and share videos and photos on others' profile pages or on the newsfeed.

Players can review their favorite courses, show off swing skills, share best golf tips and drills, and more. Like most social media apps, users can like, comment, learn and interact from other people's lessons or posts, and also add friends, a release notes.

Game on
Those who already have scheduled a tee time and want to invite other players can utilize the "Create a Teetime" option. The feature searches for available players in the area, displays their profiles and skill level, and offers a chance to connect and invite to games. Like a dating app, users can even accept or decline — ouch — requests.

Another key feature allows players to post days and/or times they are available to play, which opens them up to an "add TeeMates" section. Available tee times also pop up in users' geographic areas.

Personal pro shop
TeeMates also boasts a pro shop feature, where users can create a store and sell their own new and used products (always a help for beginners who don't want to invest in expensive new clubs). Users can also promote their own clothing and apparel lines or gear.

The app was created by Houston realtor and self-professed sports enthusiast and tech lover Lydia Davies, who notes in press materials that her inspiration came from trying to assist her "golf-addicted husband" who travels frequently and was constantly playing rounds alone.

She added that her goal is to create an app that helps "grow and promote the game of golf by linking golfers globally in a social media setting. Whether it be for fun, competition, exercise, or just to meet new people with similar skill sets, TeeMates will serve as a network link for those that enjoy the sport."

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This article originally on on CultureMap.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.