Several Houston startups claimed the top prizes at a recent competition — plus more Houston innovation news you may have missed. Photo courtesy of TNVC

It's been a busy season for the Houston innovation ecosystem, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a consumer packaged goods startup is now on shelves across Texas, a Texas energy company gets fresh funding from Houston VCs, Texas Medical Center Innovation companies sweep at a recent competition, and more.

Houston health care startups sweep recent competition

Houston-based Starling Medical took home the top prize at a recent competition. Photo courtesy of TNVC

At the 2021 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition, several Houston companies claimed top prizes — essentially sweeping the competition. The top three winners were all member companies of Texas Medical Center Innovation:

  • First Place Finalist: Houston-based Starling Medical – $50,000
  • Second Place Finalist: Houston-based Ictero Medical – $35,000
  • Third Place Finalist: Koda Health – $25,000
Other Houston-area award winners included:
  • Fourth Place Finalist: Microsilicon – $15,000
  • Sixth Place Finalist: CodeWalker – $5,000
  • Elevator Pitch First Place: EmGenysis – $5,000
  • Elevator Pitch Fourth Place: TYBR Health – $1,00
Click here to view more details on the 2021 award results.

Houston CPG company scores Central Market placement

Central Market now carries this Houston startup's baked goods. Photo courtesy of ChipMonk Baking

As of this month, Central Market shoppers in Texas can purchase Houston-based ChipMonk Baking products products. Additionally, the company announced it has added added 1,100 square feet to its existing 2,300 square-foot facility.

Founded by David Downing and Jose Hernandez, ChipMonk Baking, is a local, mail-order bakery that makes cookies, brownie bites, and other snacks using monk fruit and allulose, a low-calorie (0.4 calories per gram) rare sugar that's found naturally in foods such as raisins, dried figs, and kiwi.

The nine open Central Market locations throughout Texas will carry all nine flavors of ChipMonk's Keto Cookie Bites.

"Here in Houston, ChipMonk is the healthy option — there is nothing else like our products being made in a city that's known around the world for food," says Downing in a press release. "When you consider Houston's diversity and international culinary reputation, the lack of local health-food representation and production just doesn't make sense. We love this city and are working to change that."

Houston Methodist doles out $2.5 million in grants

Houston Methodist has contributed a couple million dollars to Houston nonprofits. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston Methodist announced a couple weeks ago that it has awarded nearly $2.5 million in community grant investment to 37 Houston-area nonprofit organizations, according to a news release from the health care organization.

Over 177 Houston nonprofits applied for the Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program, a program created last year to address the social determinants of health that lead to health inequities within racial, ethnic and social minorities.

"We continuously strive to build and maintain a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment both within our hospital walls and within our communities," says Arianne Dowdell, vice-president, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist, in the release. "The grant program and all the deserving organizations awarded funds are critical in shaping our community, which Houston Methodist has proudly supported for decades. We look forward to fostering the growth and development of meaningful programs that will benefit underserved and underrepresented groups in Houston."

The program, which includes both DEI Grants and Social Equity Grants, is funded by a $25 million fund established by Houston Methodist to be doled out over five years to support underserved communities.

Innovative energy company receives funding from Houston venture capital

Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners and Chevron Technology Ventures have again invested in this Austin-area energy company. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Two Houston venture capital groups recently went in on Round Rock, Texas-based Infinitum Electric's $40 million series C funding round. Houston-based Cottonwood Technology Fund and Chevron Technology Ventures — both existing investors for the company — doubled down on their support in the new round led by San Francisco-based Energy Innovation Capital.

The fresh funds will allow the company to scale production of its ultra-high-efficiency, lightweight motors and "expand production of the company's IEs Series motors for commercial and industrial applications and complete development of its IEm Series motors for the rapidly growing electric vehicle market," according to the company's news release.

"We're excited to ramp production of our motors after seeing significant demand in the commercial HVAC and industrial markets, as well as the growing interest from electric vehicle suppliers who see the potential a highly efficient, lightweight motor can deliver," says Ben Schuler, founder and CEO of Infinitum Electric, in the news release. "Partnering with Energy Innovation Capital, Rockwell Automation and our existing investors allows us to scale and power machines more efficiently and sustainably."

Houston nanotechnology startup scores distribution deal

Houston-based NanoTech, currently housed in Halliburton Labs, has a new distribution agreement. Photo via halliburtonlabs.com

NanoTech has announced a new distribution agreement with Warrior Ace Hardware, a supplier of specialty products for the commercial and residential building industries. NanoTech uses material science to create NanoShield, a fire-proofing and insulation product.

The new partnership offers a key opportunity for NanoTech, which recently closed a $5 million round of funding.

"Ace Hardware has close to 100 years of distribution and retail experience. We are excited to partner with such a respected brand to get us one step closer to saving a tremendous amount of lives, protecting infrastructure, and reducing energy consumption," says Mike Francis, CEO of NanoTech in a news release.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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 sustainable fashion to tech manufacturing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Hannah Le, founder of RE.STATEMENT

Hannah Le founded RE.STATEMENT to provide a much-needed platform for sustainable fashion finds. Photo courtesy of RE.STATEMENT

It's tough out there for a sustainable fashion designer with upcycled statement pieces on the market. First of all, there historically hasn't been a platform for designers or shoppers either, as Hannah Le explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le says. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

RE.STATEMENT won one of the city of Houston's startup competition, Liftoff Houston's categories last year. Le shares what's next for the early-stage company on the show. Read more and listen to the episode.

Misha Govshteyn, CEO of MacroFab

MacroFab has secured fresh investment to the tune of $42 million. Photo courtesy of MacroFab

MacroFab, a Houston-based electronics manufacturing platform, has announced $42 million in new growth capital. The company was founded by Misha Govshteyn and Chris Church, who built a platform that manage electronics manufacturing and enables real-time supply chain and inventory data. The platform can help customers go from prototype to high-scale production with its network of more than 100 factories across the continent.

“Electronics manufacturing is moving toward resilience and flexibility to reduce supply chain disruptions,” says Govshteyn, MacroFab’s CEO, in a news release. “We are in the earliest stages of repositioning the supply chain to be more localized and focused on what matters to customers most — the ability to deliver products on time, meet changing requirements, and achieve a more sustainable ecological footprint. MacroFab is fundamental to building this new operating model.”

The company has seen significant growth amid the evolution of global supply chain that's taken place over the past few years. According to the company, shipments were up 275 percent year-over-year. To keep up with growth, MacroFab doubled its workforce, per the release, and opened a new facility in Mexico. Read more.

Kelli Newman, president of Newman & Newman Inc.

In her guest column, Kelli Newman explains how to leverage communications at any stage your company is in. Photo courtesy of Newman & Newman

Kelli Newman took actionable recommendations from investors, customers, advisers, and founders within Houston to compose a guest column with key observations and advice on leveraging communications.

"The significance of effective communication and its contribution to a company’s success are points regularly stressed by conference panelists and forum speakers," she writes. "Yet for many founders it’s advice that fuels frustration for how to make communications a priority with a lack of understanding of the practice." Read more.

Growing Houston-based drone software company snags government contract

ready for liftoff

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Report: Houstonians lose days-worth of time each year due to rush hour

not in the fast lane

Traffic is a part of life in Houston. But a new study quantifies just how much time the average Bayou City dweller spends sitting in rush hour gridlock every year—and the results are eye opening.

According to a study released this month by CoPilot, Houstonians lose nearly four days of time each year due to rush hour commuting.

The report found that rush hour extends Houstonians' commute by an extra 22 minutes per day. Annually, that totaled an additional 91.6 hours commuting due to rush hour.

This earned the Houston area (including the Woodlands and Sugar Land) a No. 8 spot on CoPilot's list of cities where commuters lose the most time to rush hour.

Evening commutes saw the highest increase in time in Houston, with the average commuter spending 14 additional minutes on roadways due to rush hour. Morning rush hour in Houston added about eight minutes to commuters' daily drives.

Houston was the only Texas city to make CoPilot's list of the top 15 cities that lost the most time to rush hour traffic. New York drivers lost the most time to rush hour, which adds about 32 minutes to daily commutes and 132 hours a year, according to the report. Los Angeles drivers lost the second-most time, followed by urban Honolulu, Miami, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The report found that drivers in Houston spend about eight more minutes commuting during rush hour than the average driver in the county. That totals to about 30 more hours per year than the average U.S. driver.

Commute times have been dropping nationally, reaching a low of 25.6 minutes in 2021 compared to 27.6 minutes in 2019, as more workers have transitioned to hybrid schedules or working from home, according to CoPilot

In 2020, Houston drivers even witnessed a 33 percent drop in traffic compared to in 2019, according to a study from Rice.

Still, Houston roadways are consistently ranked among the most congested in the country. Last year, a similar study found that the typical Houston driver wasted 46 hours due to traffic congestion.

Portions of the 610 West Loop are notorious for being ranked as the state's most congested roadways, and other stretches of roads are known as some of the worst bottlenecks in Texas.