The 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, has named eight teams to the second cohort of the Lilie Summer Venture Studio.

The teams are focused on a range of innovative concepts, from health care solutions to running shoe design to automating recruiting from the NCAA Transfer Portal.

According to Rice, the 12-week program received a record number of applications, that spanned the campus' degree offerings.

“We are thrilled to see such a high level of interest and excitement from Rice students for a high-growth venture accelerator,” Kyle Judah, executive director of Lilie, said in a statement. “The diversity and creativity in this year's applications were truly inspiring, and we’re excited to support these promising ventures with the resources and mentorship they need to hit escape velocity and create the next generation of pillar companies for Houston, Texas and the world.”

The selected teams will receive $15,000 in non-dilutive funding from the accelerator, along with access to coworking space and personalized mentorship in the Liu Idea Lab.

Here are the teams for the 2024 Lilie Summer Venture Studio:

  • Coflux Purification, a patent-pending in-stream module that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water
  • Docflow, focused on streamlining residency shift scheduling
  • JewelVision, building virtual fitting rooms for jewelry e-commerce retailers using generative AI
  • Levytation, using data science and AI to answer critical questions about sales and customers for coffee shop management
  • OnGuard, a marketplace to book off-duty police officers and security professionals
  • Roster, leverages data on athletes in the NCAA Transfer Portal to automatically send updates on players to coaches
  • Solidec, a technology platform that extracts molecules from water and air, transforms them into pure chemicals and fuels without any carbon emissions
  • Veloci, a running shoe venture that addresses common pains through shoe design

Lilie launched the Summer Venture Studio last year. According to Rice, two out of the six teams selected, Helix Earth Technologies and Tierra Climate, raised venture capital funds after completing the accelerator program.

Helix Earth Technologies also went on to earn the inaugural TEX-E Prize at CERAWeek in 2023.

“The track record of our Summer Venture Studio Accelerator speaks for itself, despite being early in our second year," Taylor Anne Adams, head of venture acceleration programs at the Liu Idea Lab, said in a statement. "This is the power of entrepreneurship programming that is designed by founders, for founders, that happens at the Liu Idea Lab.”


Last year, Lilie also named 11 successful business leaders with ties to Houston to its first Lilie’s Leadership Council. Each agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs. Click here to see who made the list.
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emma Konet of Tierra Climate, Cindy Taff of Sage Geosystems, and Clemmie Martin of The Cannon. Photos courtesy

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Meet the Houston innovator who's creating a new market for decarbonizing energy storage

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 225

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things."

Konet says she was bullish on the energy storage side of things when she was an early hire at Key Capture Energy, a private equity-backed energy storage project developer. The issue with energy storage projects, as Konet describes, is they aren't being monetized properly and, in some cases, aren't sustainable and increasing emissions.

"The product we're building is solving these problems. It's a financial product, but what it's doing is solving a market deficiency," she says. "We're sending the right signal to the battery to operate in a way that reduces emissions, and then we're paying them for it because there's a demand to decarbonize."

For over a year, Konet, as co-founder and CTO, has worked on the platform, which is essentially a marketplace for corporates to buy carbon offsets, incentifying and monetizing storage projects.

Tierra Climate is technology agnostic, so while the company is seeing activity in the battery space, they can also work with other types of storage — like hydrogen, pumped water, and more. Konet says her ideal customers are companies with money and interest in playing a role in the energy transition and looking to offset their scope two and three emissions.

"The ultimate vision for our company is for this to be an accessible product that has a high degree of integrity that small to very large companies can execute on, because it's a pay-per-performance mechanism that doesn't lock companies into a really large contract," she says. "It's really scalable."

This year, she says the company, which won fourth place in the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition, is focused on securing its first big contract and fundraising for its seed round.

Houston-based WellWorth was selected as the winner of this year’s Houston Startup Showcase. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Houston energy startup wins Ion's annual showcase, pitch competition

1st place

The Ion hosted its annual startup pitch competition, and one company walked away with a win.

WellWorth, a financial modeling and analysis software-as-a-service company for the upstream energy sector, won the Houston Startup Showcase + Expo and secured a $5,000 prize. The startup's technology introduces a more streamlined approach to NAV modeling or corporate financial modeling for its users.

“Having worked in investment banking, I have seen firsthand how the limitations of Excel models and a lack of bespoke tools have led to inefficient workflows in upstream Oil & Gas finance," says Samra Nawaz, CEO and Co-founder of WellWorth, in a statement. "We decided to solve this problem by building a cloud-based platform that helps energy finance leaders improve decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.”

Nawaz explains how impactful the opportunity to pitch has been on WellWorth, which aims to raise funding early next year accelerate customer acquisition and product development.

“By getting involved in the Ion’s innovation ecosystem, we’ve been able to not only network with many entrepreneurs and innovators in the Houston community, but also find opportunities to scale our growth,” continues Nawaz. “We’re thrilled to have brought a few more customers onboard recently, and are working closely with them to optimize our product pipeline."

The company pitched alongside the other five finalists, which included Tierra Climate, MRG Health, BeOne Sports, Trez, and Mallard Bay. Mallard Bay, a booking platform for hunting and fishing trips, secured the people's choice award, which was decided by the crowd.

“Our flagship event, Houston Startup Showcase, not only connects startups and entrepreneurs with top business leaders but also provides them an opportunity to pitch their innovations to the technology ecosystem,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release. “We extend our congratulations to WellWorth and the company’s innovative SaaS platform for energy industry finance teams, as well as Mallard Bay, the People’s Choice winner. These companies are exemplifying the exciting new technologies being developed in Houston today.”

In addition to the pitches, several companies showcased at the event, including Nanotech, manufacturer of thermal management materials for the built environment; last year's winner Unytag, a universal toll tag that provides drivers the ability to pass through tolls anywhere in the nation; and Softeq, provides early-stage innovation, technology business consulting, and full-stack development solutions to enterprise companies and innovative startups.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The six finalists for the sustainability category for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards weigh in on their challenges overcome. Photos courtesy

Top Houston-based sustainability startups share their 4 biggest challenges

houston innovation awards

Six Houston-area sustainability startups have been named finalists in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, but they didn't achieve this recognition — as well as see success for their businesses — without any obstacles.

The finalists were asked what their biggest challenges have been. From funding to market adoption, the sustainability companies have had to overcome major obstacles to continue to develop their businesses.

The awards program — hosted by InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community. Eighteen energy startups were named as finalists across all categories, but the following responses come from the finalists in the sustainability category specifically.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

    1. Securing a commercial pilot

    "As an early-stage clean energy developer, we struggled to convince key suppliers to work on our commercial pilot project. Suppliers were skeptical of our unproven technology and, given limited inventory from COVID, preferred to prioritize larger clients. We overcame this challenge by bringing on our top suppliers as strategic investors. With a long-term equity stake in Fervo, leading oilfield services companies were willing to provide Fervo with needed drilling rigs, frack crews, pumps, and other equipment." — Tim Latimer, founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

    2. Finding funding

    "Securing funding in Houston as a solo cleantech startup founder and an immigrant with no network. Overcome that by adopting a milestone-based fundraising approach and establishing credibility through accelerator/incubator programs." — Anas Al Kassas, CEO and founder of INOVUES

    "The biggest challenge has been finding funding. Most investors are looking towards software development companies as the capital costs are low in case of a risk. Geothermal costs are high, but it is physical technology that needs to be implemented to safety transition the energy grid to reliable, green power." — Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

    3. Market adoption

    "Market adoption by convincing partners and government about WHP as a solution, which is resource-intensive. Making strides by finding the correct contacts to educate." — Janice Tran, CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy

    "We are creating a brand new financial instrument at the intersection of carbon markets and power markets, both of which are complicated and esoteric. Our biggest challenge has been the cold-start problem associated with launching a new product that has effectively no adoption. We tackled this problem by leading the Energy Storage Solutions Consortium (a group of corporates and battery developers looking for sustainability solutions in the power space), which has opened up access to customers on both sides of our marketplace. We have also leveraged our deep networks within corporate power procurement and energy storage development to talk to key decision-makers at innovative companies with aggressive climate goals to become early adopters of our products and services." — Emma Konet, CTO and co-founder of Tierra Climate

    4. Long scale timelines

    "Scaling and commercializing industrial technologies takes time. We realized this early on and designed the eXERO technology to be scalable from the onset. We developed the technology at the nexus of traditional electrolysis and conventional gas processing, taking the best of both worlds while avoiding their main pitfalls." — Claus Nussgruber, CEO of Utility Global

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

    Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? Some of the best in Houston are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

    Looking for a job? These 2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists are hiring

    calling all applicants

    More than half of this year's startup finalists in the Houston Innovation Awards are hiring — who's looking for a job at one of the best startups in Houston?

    When submitting their applications for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, which is taking place November 8 at Silver Street Studios, every startup was asked if it's hiring. Twenty-seven of the 35 startup honorees said yes, ranging from over 20 to just one positions open at each company.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see which of these growing startups win.

    Here's a look at which of the top startups in Houston are seeking new team members.

    Double-digit growth

    When it comes to the awards finalists looking to scale their team by 10 or more new hires, five finalists are growing rapidly.

    Medical practice software platform RepeatMD, fresh off a $40 million raise — which included participation from Houston-based Mercury — is reportedly growing its team. The company, which has 115 employees already, is looking for over 20 new hires.

    Female-owned business Feelit Technologies, which is using nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, has 50 employees, and only three of which are in Houston – for now. The company hopes to grow its team by 12 to 15 employees in Houston alone.

    Square Robot, an energy industry-focused robotics company that recently grew its presence in Houston, is hiring 10 to 30 new team members. It has 24 employees already in Houston.

    Solugen, an alternative chemicals business, has around 140 of its 200 employees in Houston. The company, which has raised over $600 million to date, is hiring an additional 10 to 15 new hires.

    Additionally, Blue People, also a finalist in last year's awards, is hiring 25 new employees. The company was founded in 2015 in Mexico and relocated its primary operations to Houston in 2020. Blue People, which develops software innovation for its clients, has over 150 employees — 10 of whom, including C-level executives, are based in Houston. Some of the company's new hires will be based in town.

    Steady growth

    Four Houston startups are hiring within the six to 10 team member range — all with fairly significant employee counts already.

    A finalist in last year's awards too, Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is again growing its team. With 48 on-site employees and 23 working remotely, Venus's team will add another five to 10 employees.

    Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, has 112 employees in Houston and plans to hire another eight to its team.

    Lastly, Fervo Energy, which recently raised $10 million, has 63 full-time employees (34 in Houston, 29 outside of Houston) and looking to hire seven more.

    Seeking selectively

    The following awards finalists are looking to grow their teams by just a handful or so — between one and five — of new hires:

    • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
    • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
    • CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.
    • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment.
    • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry.
    • Hope Biosciences, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the development and delivery of adult stem cell based therapeutics.
    • Innovapptive, empowering the deskless workers in operations, maintenance and warehouses by unlocking the power of SAP through mobility.
    • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future.
    • Koda Health, , a tech-enabled care coordination service to improve serious illness care planning and drive savings for value-based care at scale.
    • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk.
    • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.
    • Starling Medical, bringing the future of a proactive and predictive home-based healthcare system to patients today through passive AI powered at home urine screening.
    • Taurus Vascular, pioneering a new era of aortic aneurysm treatment by developing minimally invasive catheter solutions to drive better long-term patient outcomes.
    • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon.
    • UpBrainery Technologies, an innovative educational technology company that provides personalized and adaptive learning experiences to learners
    • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas.
    • Voyager Portal, helping commodity shippers identify root causes of demurrage, reduce risk and streamline the entire fixture process.

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    Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

    money moves

    A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

    Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

    Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

    "This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

    Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

    According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

    It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

    "We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

    Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

    Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

    joining the team

    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.

    Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

    “It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

    Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

    “Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

    Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

    Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

    Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

    In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

    Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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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 a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

    Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

    Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

    For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

    Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

    "The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

    Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

    Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

    Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

    "The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

    Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

    Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

    Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

    Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

    Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.