3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Alessio Lorusso of Roboze, Tobi Smith of All I Do Is Cook, and Pradeep Sharma of the University of Houston. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from 3D printing to food and cooking — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze

Alessio Lorusso joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss why he chose Houston to set up U.S. operations for his large-scale 3D printing company, and how the city has the potential to become a hub for the industry. Photo via LinkedIn

The hit the pandemic has had on the global supply chain has been a huge hit to so many companies. However, one Italian company with its United States headquarters in Houston, has an alternative for customers — large scale, in-house production. Roboze, which recently completed a multimillion-dollar fundraise, has seen explosive growth due in large part to how COVID-19 has affected the global supply chain over this past two years.

"This was an incredible accelerator for us," says Alessio Lorusso, CEO and founder, on the Houston Innovators Podcast. He adds that, while Roboze has attracted large corporate customers, the business is seeing growth in the small to mid-sized company sector.

"The moment is now," Lorusso says. "The time to integrate printing capabilities and have the possibility to print parts in house is something that needs to be done now." Click here to read more and listen to the podcast.

Tobi Smith, founder of All I Do Is Cook

All I Do Is Cook is on a mission to grow accessibility to Nigerian dishes. Image via allidoiscook.com

Tobi Smith wanted to take his business to the next level — and he found the perfect opportunity to do so. After completing the gBETA accelerator program and winning the grand prize in the ClearCo ClearPitch competition, Smith and his business partner Bethany Oyefeso are transitioning their small business, All I Do Is Cook, into a startup with the ultimate goal of making Nigerian food accessible to everybody.

Smith and Oyefeso came one step closer to that goal when Phoencia, a Houston grocery story, started stocking the startup's condiments in 2021. In that same year, Smith and Oyefesso joined the gBETA accelerator program. Smith described this program as being instrumental in the advancement of their company from a small business to a start up, now at the beginning of their pre-seed funding phase.

“They taught us everything about what it meant to be a start up and connected us with mentors and other individuals working in the food and beverage space,” says Smith. Click here to read more.

Pradeep Sharma, engineering department chair at the University of Houston

Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair at the University of Houston, was named to the National Academy of Engineering. Photo via uh.edu

The National Academy of Engineering elected its new members, and five local scientists are among the new 133-person cohort — as is Elon Musk, if you were wondering. The appointment is among the highest professional distinctions in an engineer's career.

Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston, was recognized for establishing the field of flexoelectricity, leading to the creation of novel materials and devices and insights in biophysical phenomena.

“Nature has provided us very few piezoelectric materials even though their applications in energy harvesting and in making sensors is very important. What we did was use theory to design materials that perform like piezoelectric ones, so that they can create electricity,” says Sharma in the release. Click here to read more.

All I Do Is Cook is on a mission to grow accessibility to Nigerian dishes. Image via allidoiscook.com

Unique Nigerian cuisine startup propelled by Houston accelerator heads into its next phase

cooking up growth

After completing the gBETA accelerator program and winning the grand prize in the ClearCo ClearPitch competition, Tobi Smith and Bethany Oyefeso are transitioning their small business, All I Do Is Cook, into a startup with the ultimate goal of making Nigerian food accessible to everybody.

Smith and Oyefeso came one step closer to that goal when Phoencia, a Houston grocery story, started stocking the startup's condiments in 2021. In that same year, Smith and Oyefesso joined the gBETA accelerator program. Smith described this program as being instrumental in the advancement of their company from a small business to a start up, now at the beginning of their pre-seed funding phase.

“They taught us everything about what it meant to be a start up and connected us with mentors and other individuals working in the food and beverage space,” says Smith.

It was during their time in the gBETA program that they learned about the ClearCo ClearPitch competition and would ultimately win the $20,000 grand prize.

“The last two years have been bonkers,” exclaims Smith, who started All I Do Is Cook as a blog in 2016, and grew it into a cooking business.

"When I arrived in Denton from Nigeria, I walked into Walmart expecting to find common Nigerian snacks but was surprised when I couldn’t find any so I started cooking my own food and sharing the recipes,” he says.

The pandemic and subsequent closing of restaurants sling-shotted them into overdrive where in just one year their number of total orders increased from 350 to over 2,000 which they then doubled in 2021 to over 4,000.

And if a focus on Nigerian food doesn’t already set them apart, their approach to production does. Smith shared that he and Oyefeso have focused heavily on the operations side of their business.

“We want everything to run as efficiently as possible with as little waste as possible,” says Smith. “We don’t carry an inventory. We only order as much produce as we need, and we only print as much packaging as we need. We know how much food we can produce in a week, and we use the timing and amount of orders as our indicator of when we might need to increase production.”

This focus on efficiency and mindfulness of the environment should keep them attractive to both investors and consumers alike.

“We are getting ready to kick off our pre-seed funding phase,” shares Smith, “and our goal is to get into the big supermarkets like Walmart, HEB, and Kroger.”

Tobi Smith and Bethany Oyefeso are taking their startup to the next level. Photos via allidoiscook.com

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Early-stage accelerator announces 5 startups to its fall 2021 Houston cohort

ready to grow

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.