Cart.com and Topl — two growing Houston startups — have made strategic appointments. Photos courtesy

A pair of Houston tech startups have recently announced new appointments to their leadership staff. An e-commerce company has a new chief people officer and a blockchain company named a new president to lead commercialization.

Meet Cart.com's new C-suite hire

Sara Patterson is a human resources veteran. Photo courtesy of Cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, an end-to-end ecommerce services provider, appointed Sara Patterson as chief people officer. She will lead all aspects of the company's talent acquisition and employee experience of the fast-growing startup.

As the company grows its team and its ecommerce-as-a-service platform, it's Patterson job to forge a strong, unified culture and develop a compelling talent acquisition strategy to support continuing growth, according to a press release from Cart.com.

"Sara is one of the most accomplished and experienced HR leaders in the business. She has a real gift for talent management, and unrivaled expertise driving success for fast-growing companies across a wide range of industries," says Omair Tariq, CEO of Cart.com, in the release. "Her experience and dedication are exactly what we need as we forge a unified workforce to support our end-to-end ecommerce platform. After all, we aren't just growing our workforce at record speed. We're also building a unified culture and delivering incredible employee experiences to ensure that our entire team — from office workers to warehouse pickers — can stay laser-focused on our core goal of helping ecommerce brands to thrive."

She has three decades of experience in human resources, including serving as CPO of Lemonade, which included managing over 500 employees. She also worked as vice president of HR and head of talent management at Walmart eCommerce, which had more than 15,000 employees. She has also held senior leadership positions at Bonobos, Tribune Media, Conde Nast, Coach, and Gilt.

"People are the key to success for any growing company, and I'm thrilled to be joining one of the fastest-growing and most transformative companies in the ecommerce space," Patterson says in the release. "Cart.com's leaders have made it clear that they see a strong culture as the key to lasting success, and I couldn't agree more. I'm delighted to be joining such a talented team, and supporting their continuing mission to unlock scalable growth for ecommerce brands."

Here's who will lead commercialization for Topl

Tim Marx has transitioned from adviser to employee at Topl. Photo courtesy of Topl

Tim Marx has joined Topl as president, the company recently announced. Marx will lead Topl's commercialization efforts and scaling. He previously supported the blockchain company as adviser.

A Fulbright Scholar, Stanford MBA, and former Boston Consulting Group partner and managing director, Marx has consulted on the ground in more than 20 countries, including those of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. He will continue to support Baird Capital as a venture partner, which he has since 2018.

"My overall thesis for getting involved in Topl is that I finally saw a really solid business use case versus a classic solution looking for a problem to solve," Marx says.

To learn more about him, read his recent Topl team member blog.

These two innovators have linked up for a new ESG offering. Photos courtesy

2 Houston blockchain companies connect on ESG initiative

team work

Two Houston-based startups specializing in blockchain technology have announced a collaborative within the Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, space.

Data Gumbo and Topl have partnered up to offer companies a private-public blockchain solution for ESG reporting. The collaborative solution, according to a news release, allows for public-facing, accurate, and immutable ESG progress reports that are accessible to outside audiences and stakeholders, including public analysts, investors, governments, and more.

"As companies today face mounting pressure to report timely and accurate ESG data, including performance and progress, they need the right tools to collect, standardize and automate reporting while preserving security for sensitive data," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo, in the release. "For the first time, this partnership offers companies total control of their accurate ESG data, allowing them to publish and report metrics in whatever manner best suits them satisfying investors', regulator agencies' and other stakeholders' desires."

The tool will gather business operation and transaction data and compare it to defined standards. This enables the complete review and certification of ESG metrics by auditors using GumboNet ESG. Once the environmental impact is determined, the company can easily share data recorded on Topl's public-facing blockchain.

"Companies can now comprehensively collect ESG data and report to private entities and public audiences," says Kim Raath, founder and CEO of Topl. "This partnership combines the power of our two complementary solutions to support a new level of transparency for companies that desire to showcase their fully verifiable progress on crucial ESG metrics."

Both companies have been players within the ESG space. Data Gumbo launched GumboNet ESG, a sustainability measurement solution that can pull together a company's operational data to ESG standards reporting, in March. Topl's blockchain-as-a-service offering rolled out just a few weeks later.

The five finalists in the Female-Founded Business category for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards share the challenges they overcame as female founders. Photos courtesy

Houston founders share the challenges they've had to overcome as women in tech

innovationmap awards

Even in 2021, women face discrimination in the workplace — whether it's running their own businesses or climbing the corporate ladder.

The five female finalists of the Female-Founded Business category for the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave were asked to share their challenges overcame as female founders. Here's what they had to say. Click here to register for the livestream.

Raising capital

Carolyn Rodz, founder of Hello Alice, says raising capital was her biggest challenge.

"We overcame it through insane networking and persistence," she continues. "Each round got easier as we proved that we knew how to grow this business and build a fiercely loyal owner community.

Katharine Forth, co-founder of Zibrio, agrees that raising early funding was her biggest challenge.

"To overcome it, I was very creative with the limited funds to generate the progress we created until we reached a threshold that was more comfortable for investors," she explains.

Being the only woman in the room

"This is a hurdle in and of itself, but it brings lots of other little behavioral hurdles too," says Kim Raath, CEO and co-founder of Topl. "Because men and women are socialized so differently, women often have to adapt to or accommodate for male-pattern behaviors."

Raath continues, saying how men tend to up-sell what they are doing, while women undersell. Additionally, she says, men are more likely to make statements while women suggest their ideas.

"It takes a lot of courage to fight for yourself and your ideas in a room full of men," Raath says. "You can't expect others to do it for you. Even further, those of us that are in the room have a duty to speak up, not just for our own sake, but for other voices that are still excluded. Being a woman in the tech space means learning how to accommodate, navigate, and hold your ground."

Being treated equally

For Samantha Snabes, co-founder of re:3D, her biggest challenge was being treated the same as her male co-founder.

"I've learned that I need to be more confident and to be proud of the differences in my leadership or communication style," she explains.

Being mistaken for the secretary

Shoshi Kaganovsky, founder of RingOn, says electronics is a very male dominated arena.

"Every time I approach a man — whether to interview him for a job or to partner up on another level — they think I'm the CEO's secretary," she says.

"When male investors talk to me they often times think I don't understand what I'm doing or that they need to dumb it down for me," continues Kaganovsky, who speaks five languages and has six degrees. "Second conversations are completely different usually."

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

Here's which of the InnovationMap Awards finalists are hiring

growing biz

After scouring Houston for the best of the Houston innovation ecosystem and evaluating dozens of companies, InnovationMap has announced the finalists in its inaugural awards. But which of these companies are growing their teams?

Turns out, almost all of them have open positions — some planning to double their teams over the next year. In fact, the 28 companies that make up our cohort of finalists are looking for over 250 new employees — some have these positions open now and others are seeking these new team members over the next 12 months.

Let's look at how many new hires these top startups are looking for.

Biggest gains

The InnovationMap Awards finalist with the loftiest hiring goal is Liongard, which is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category. Liongard — a platform that helps IT companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems — is looking to fill 70 positions over the next year. The company, founded in 2015, has just over 100 employees now.

The startup finalist with the second highest hiring goals is Nanotech, a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech is looking to hire over 40 new employees in the next 12 months, which would almost triple its current staff of 15. Founded in 2019 by Mike Francis, the company is a finalist in both the Energy Transition and People's Choice categories.

Another People's Choice finalist, GoCo, and its all-in-one employee management platform, is currently looking to grow its team by adding 20 new employees to its staff of 53. The company was founded in 2015 and has since raised over $12 million in VC funding.

Also looking to grow their team by 20 new hires is Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company, co-founded by Carolyn Rodz, is up for an award in the BIPOC-Founded, Female-Founded, and People's Choice categories.

GoExpedi, whose founder and CEO Timothy Neal is a finalist in the Top Founder Under 40 category, currently has 17 positions open at the moment and is looking to add those new hires into its team of over 150 employees. The e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).

While Female-Founded Business finalist RingOn — a wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking — is only currently looking for six new hires, the company is expecting to hiring another 15 new employees next year. Right now, the company's employee count is at three.

Steady growth

A few of the awards finalists are sporting hiring goals in the seven to 12 new staffers range. Space Tech finalist NANCO Aero, which is developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles, is hiring a dozen new employees — a big goal considering the company currently has just four employees.

Enercross LLC, automation software for the energy industry, is a finalist in the Energy Transition category and is looking to add 11 new people to its team of 42. Meanwhile Sports Tech finalist sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events — is looking to about double its team of 10 over the few months.

Health Tech finalist Medical Informatics Corp. is the creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions. The company has seven open positions to grow its team of 36.

Seeking selectively

The following InnovationMap Awards finalists are looking to grow their teams with between two and six new hires:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Find out which of these employers take home the win at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

And the finalists for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards are... Graphic via Gow Media

InnovationMap names 28 Houston startup finalists for inaugural awards

who will take home the win?

Who are Houston's rising stars across energy transition, sports tech, health, and more? InnovationMap set out on a quest to discover that for its inaugural awards. Ahead of the September 8 event, we're revealing the finalists across all categories.

Eight judges evaluated over 100 applications across eight categories for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. This year's judges included: Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs; Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon; Rajasekhar Gummadapu, co-founder and CEO of Techwave; Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap; Serafina Lalany, interim president at Houston Exponential; Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge; Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center; and Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

The winners will be announced and celebrated — along with this year's previously announced Trailblazer Award recipient, Barbara Burger of Chevron Technology Ventures — at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business Award category, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.

Female-Founded Business Finalists

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business Award category presented by Veritex Community Bank, honoring innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by women, include:

  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • RingOn — wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Health Care Business Finalists

The finalists for the Health Care Business Award category presented by Gray Reed, which honors health care businesses with an innovative solution within life sciences, include:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.

Energy Transition Business Finalists

The finalists for the Energy Transition Business category, which honors energy business with innovative solutions within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, and beyond, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • Enercross LLC — automation software for the energy industry.
  • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Renewell Energy — converting idle oil and gas wells into flexible energy storage.

Sports Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Sports Tech Business category, which is honoring a sports tech business with an innovative solution within sports are:

  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • Mainline — an esports tournament management system, tournament organizer, and event production company.
  • sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events.

Space Tech Business Finalists

The finalists for the Space Tech Business category, which is honoring an aerospace business with an innovative solution within space exploration. are:

  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • NANCO Aero — developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles.

Top Founder Under 40 Finalists

The finalists for the Top Founder Under 40 category, which honors an innovative founder younger than 40 by Sept. 8, 2021, are:

  • Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Timothy Neal of GoExpedi — an e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company that is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).
  • Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds.
  • Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. — creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions.
  • Emily Cisek of The Postage — a legacy planning platform using tech to make afterlife decision making easier.

People’s Choice: Startup of the Year Finalists

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, which will each present a 60-second live elevator pitch at the event on September 8, are:

    • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
    • GoCo — all-in-one employee management platform.
    • Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools.
    • Liongard — a platform that helps Information Technology companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems.
    • Nanotech — a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption.
    • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
    • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.

    In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, student startups selected for a summer program, Texas might be among the best states for nurses, and more. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Houston innovator joins ESG roundtable, Rice names cohort of student startups, and more innovation news

    short stories

    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 software startup is focusing on diversity and inclusion, an angel network has a new partner organization, a Houston innovator is playing a major role in ESG, and more.

    GoCo hosts its first-ever DEI Hackathon

    GoCo is hosting its first hackathon. Photo via Getty Images

    GoCo.io, a Houston-based human resources software-as-a-service company, is hosting its first hackathon for diversity, equity, and inclusion begining today, May 6, and continuing through tomorrow, May 7.

    GoCo's entire staff is going to work for over 36 hours to build solutions aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for small businesses.

    "Building technology to help HR make a difference in the workplace is what we're all about at GoCo," says Allie Collins, head of GoCo's DEI Task Force, in a news release. "HR professionals are being called upon to make profound and meaningful changes to combat racism and inequities. We're hosting this event because our whole team is passionate about creating apps and resources to facilitate that change."

    The competitors will be on teams and will present their projects on Monday, May 10, for a panel of judges.

    Rice Alliance backs diversity-focused angel investment network

    Maria Maso, CEO of baMa, has announced Rice Alliance as a partner organization. Photo courtesy of Nijalon Dunn

    The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has become a baMa champion of diversity for angel network baMa, or the Business Angel Minority Association.

    "Rice Alliance aims to foster an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that not only values differences, but also elevates them as sources of strength and innovation," says Rice Alliance's managing director, Brad Burke, in a news release.

    According to the release, baMa will help to introduce Rice to more diverse businesses. The angel network has already tapped into Rice's ecosystem with the $50,000 investment prize baMa awarded during the Rice Business Plan Competition in March.

    "Diversity and education go hand by hand so counting with the support of Rice Alliance is a huge step in order to accomplish baMa's goal: close the investment gap in minority-led startups," says baMa CEO, Maria Maso.

    Topl named to ESG council

    Kim Raath will serve on CNBC's ESG Council. Photo courtesy of Topl

    Kim Raath, CEO of Houston-based blockchain company, Topl, has announced that she has been invited to join the CNBC's ESG Council. She was selected among execs from large corporations like companies such as The HEINEKEN Company, Nestlé, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Nissan Motor Corporation, Bain & Company, Credit Suisse, and more.

    "As a young startup, this is one of our most exciting milestones. Sitting at the table with industry leaders is great momentum for both Topl's success and our larger ESG mission," Raath writes in Topl's newsletter. "Traceable transparency in supply chains is a game changer for global commerce, and now Topl can learn from and collaborate with multinational corporations. This opportunity will help position our purpose-built blockchain as a solution to solve some of the biggest and most critical problems our world faces, and as we strive to build a more sustainable future for all."

    The council is a roundtable of 30 business leaders across industries focused on the challenges posed by sustainability — and the strategies needed to overcome them, according to Raath.

    Is Texas a good state for nurses?

    A new report ranks states based on their opportunities and friendly environment for nurses. Photo via Getty Images

    The Lone Star State's nursing industry was put to the test for a new report from WalletHub, a personal financial website. The study compared all 50 states based on opportunity and competition and work environment. Texas ranked No. 12 overall.

    Ranked solely on opportunity and competition — which included evaluating salary, schools, nurses per 1,000 residents, and more — Texas came in at No. 11.

    The top states on the list were Arizona, Washington, and Nevada, respectively.

    Rice University announces OwlSpark's ninth cohort

    Meet the 10 student startups that are joining the OwlSpark family this summer. Photo courtesy of OwlSpark

    Rice University's student startup accelerator has named 10 startup teams to its ninth cohort, which kicks off later this month. OwlSpark's 2021 cohort includes teams from across industries — hospitality, sports, oil and gas, consumer, staffing, automotive and more. According to a release from Rice, these are the companies selected:

    • Capybara - a networked platform that facilitates the company-to-company transfer of IT employees with similar skill sets (for example, software developers)
    • ChckMate – a data-driven platform designed to improve customer dining experiences, drive loyalty and increase revenue
    • GatherX Analytics – an AI software platform that predicts location and quantity of hydrocarbon liquid dropout for use by the upstream oil and gas industry
    • HARK – an easy-to-use app designed to significantly enhance the way in which neurodivergent or cognitively impaired individuals communicate real-time with caregivers and loved ones
    • Home Maintainer - a comprehensive solution for homeowners to manage and simplify home maintenance and efficiency
    • OneLab - a robust cloud-based repository designed for effective organization and easy access to a body of data on a specific area of research
    • Oversox– waterproof, durable, sock-like coverings designed to easily slip over the outside of a shoe for use by the serious hiker
    • rutd – an enterprise software and mobile application that provides immediate, actionable, suicide prevention resources to military veterans and family members
    • Tailer – a training platform and sales tool for electric vehicle dealerships and sales personnel
    • Yellow Saffron Labs – a risk analysis platform that gathers datasets from peer-reviewed scientific publications for use by organizations to observe industry trends or upcoming scientific disruptions or discoveries

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    CultureMap Emails are Awesome

    Houston synthetic biology VC grows team ahead of foundry launch

    future of tech

    Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

    First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

    “We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

    At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

    “First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

    First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

    Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

    “I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

    NASA taps Houston companies for revolutionary spacesuit project

    gear up

    Two startups — including Houston-based Axiom Space — have been tasked with helping NASA gear up for human space exploration at the International Space Station and on the moon as part of a spacesuit deal potentially worth billions of dollars.

    NASA recently picked Axiom and Collins Aerospace to help advance spacewalking capabilities in low-earth orbit and on the moon by outfitting astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. While headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Collins has a significant presence in the Houston Spaceport.

    This deal will help support landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon as part of NASA’s return to our lunar neighbor. The equipment also will help NASA prepare for human missions to Mars.

    Under this agreement, NASA, Axiom and Collins “will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

    Axiom and Collins were chosen under an umbrella contract known as Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS). The contract carries a potential value of $3.5 billion.

    Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom, says his company’s “innovative approach to xEVAS spacesuits provides NASA with an evolvable design that enables cost-efficient development, testing, training, deployment, and real-time operations to address a variety of EVA needs and operational scenarios for a range of customers, including NASA.”

    Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, David Clark Co., Paragon Space Development, and A-P-T Research.

    NASA says Axiom and Collins will own the spacesuits, and are being encouraged to explore non-NASA commercial applications for data and technology they co-develop with the space agency.

    The EVA & Human Surface Mobility Program at the Johnson Space Center is managing the xEVAS contract.

    NASA astronauts have needed updated spacesuits for years.

    “The decades-old spacesuit designs currently in use on the International Space Station are well past their prime. NASA had been working on new suits and showed off a patriotic prototype of a moonwalking outfit — called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU — back in 2019,” according to CNET.

    A 2021 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General called out delays in developing the spacesuits that would make a proposed 2024 human moon landing unfeasible, CNET says. Now, Axiom and Collins, instead of NASA, will create the spacesuits. Demonstration-ready spacesuits are supposed to be ready in 2025.

    The spacesuit deal is the latest in a string of milestones for Axiom.

    Axiom recently broke ground on its new headquarters at Houston Spaceport. There, the company will build Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station.

    Axiom also recently welcomed home the crew of Axiom Mission 1 after their successful completion of the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The crew came back to earth in a SpaceX capsule. The company has signed agreements with several countries, including Italy, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates, for future space missions.

    Axiom recently tapped Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei as its first international professional astronaut. He currently is being trained in Houston and will serve as a backup on Axiom Mission 2.

    Founded in 2016, Axiom employs more than 500 people, most of whom work in Houston. The company expects its workforce to exceed 1,000 employees by 2023.

    To date, Axiom has raised $150 million in venture capital.

    Houston sportstech-focused lab wraps up inaugural cohort, opens apps for fall

    houston innovators podcast episode 141

    Houston is having a moment when it comes to sports. Fresh off the announcement of Houston being selected as a FIFA World Cup host in 2026 and just a year away from hosting another NCAA Final Four, the city is also home to a growing sportstech hub.

    And one new Houston company, Pokatok, is hoping it can help support the local sports innovation community. Pokatok, which is part of the same business family as InnovationMap and Gow Media, was founded to create momentum in local sportstech activity, Kate Evinger says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

    "Our mission is to help be a partner with all the exciting things happening in Houston — from the startup entrepreneurship side to the things we're seeing in the sports community — to continue to elevate and uplift the voices here in addition to bringing folks in from all over the world to celebrate the human experience in sports and to continue driving innovation in this space," she says on the show.

    One of the ways the company is spurring sports innovation is through Pokatok Labs, a scale-up program for seed and series A startups in the sportstech space. Evinger, who leads the program as director, says the inaugural cohort has wrapped up — and the team is already accepting applications for the fall program, which will run September 20 through November 18.

    "We are looking for anything and everything under the sun within sportstech — even if you're the founder of a company that may have ties to sports but you're not sure, we're happy to have that conversation," Evinger says. "It could be nutrition, health and wellness, athlete performance, fan engagement, or smart venue."

    Evinger shares more about Pokatok Labs and the potential she sees for Houston to continue evolving as a hub for sports innovation on the podcast.

    Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.