The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards celebrated Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

That's a wrap on the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards — and boy did the event deliver on networking, award wins, and plenty of celebrating Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community.

With a crowd of around 600 attendees, the Houston Innovation Awards, which took place on November 8 at Silver Street Studios in partnership with Houston Exponential, celebrated over 50 finalists and a dozen winners across categories. Click here to see who won an award.

Learn more about this year's honorees in InnovationMap's the editorial series:

See below for photos from the event.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards took place on Nov. 8.

Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Brad Burke has been named the 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient. Photo via

Houston Innovation Awards names longtime Rice leader as 2023 Trailblazer

leading innovation

In less than a month, all of Houston's innovation community's movers and shakers will gather to celebrate the Houston Innovation Awards, and the night's first honoree has officially been named.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was selected to receive the 2023 Trailblazer Award. The award was established to recognize an individual who has already left a profound impact on Houston's business and innovation ecosystem and is dedicated to continuing to support Houston and its entrepreneurs.

The award, which is selected from a group of internal and external nominations, was decided by a vote of the 2023 awards judges, who represent Houston's business, investment, and entrepreneurial community across industries. Last year, Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, accepted the award, and the inaugural recipient in 2021 was Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

Founded in 2000, the Rice Alliance has been led by Burke since its early days, and its impact had far exceeded the Rice University campus. The organization's cornerstone event, the Rice Business Plan Competition, attracts hundreds of student entrepreneurs, venture investors, and more to Houston every spring.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Burke discusses his passion for Houston and the impact he and the Rice Alliance have made on the city.

InnovationMap: ​From the Rice Business Plan Competition to the many venture days and other programing, how would you describe the Rice Alliance's impact — under your leadership for the past more than 20 years — on the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Brad Burke: From the earliest days of the Rice Alliance in 2000, our goal has been to create a community to support the launch of tech startups in Houston and bring together the resources to enable them to be successful, whether they need entrepreneurship education, mentoring, funding, legal support, opportunities for pilots, or connections. It’s been really important for us to bridge a connection between Rice University and the Houston ecosystem—so we’ve been intentional about driving our impact outside of the hedges and I always envision Rice to be a hub for entrepreneurial ecosystem and a pillar in the Houston community.

Through the Rice Business Plan Competition, our venture forums, accelerators, educational workshops, and other programs, we have coalesced hundreds, if not thousands, of investors, mentors, corporates, service providers, who collaborate with a shared goal of making Houston a leading region for entrepreneurship. The RBPC alone now has more than 350 investors and other judges and has resulted in the formation of several new investment groups including, Goose Capital, Owl Investment Group, and nCourage Entrepreneurs. We’ve also aimed to shine a light on Houston outside of the city. That’s why we’ve built global programs to bring entrepreneurs and investors here to see just how great we all know the Houston community to be. The growth of RBPC into the “world’s largest and richest student startup competition” is not just a result of the Rice Alliance, but it’s really a result of the Houston community members who have been dedicated with us for so long. We hope this is a point of pride and feels like a win for everyone in Houston, not just the Rice Alliance.

Based on our research we know that more than 3,165 startups have participated in our programs and raised more than $23 billion in funding.

IM: Rice University is an integral part of the Houston business and innovation community. Why are you and other university leaders committed to supporting entrepreneurship in Houston on and off the Rice campus?

BB: When you look across the country, in every leading region of entrepreneurship and venture capital, strong research universities played a major role as a catalyst for driving success, such as Stanford and Berkeley in Silicon Valley and MIT and Harvard in Boston. For Houston to succeed, it is important to Rice to play a similar leadership role. A key part of our mission is to help commercialize technologies developed by the incredibly talented faculty at Rice as well as other institutions in the region. But it is also to help entrepreneurs who may have no affiliation with Rice, as well as bring some of the most promising startups from other regions to Houston to meet with local investors and to encourage them to build their companies here. At the same time, we bring hundreds of investors to Houston each year from other parts of the U.S. and organize hundreds of one-on-one meetings with regional startups. By fostering and building the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we foster economic development and job creation in Houston, and can help ensure Houston remains the energy capital of the world and a global leader in healthcare and life sciences, building on the work of the Texas Medical Center.

IM: Looking back on your career so far, as well as to the future, what do you hope your legacy is?

Our philosophy has been to be supportive of and collaborative with every organization in Houston. We all share a common goal to make Houston a leading entrepreneurship region. In order to achieve this goal, it takes a collaborative effort. We have strived to serve as a role model in Houston to achieve this success. In everything we’ve built over the past 22 years at Rice Alliance, we’ve prioritized building relationships and collaborations, bringing people in, so that it’s not just the Rice Alliance’s success but Houston’s success and that when I think about legacy, that mindset and that approach is part of that.

As I look back, it feels like the trajectory of Houston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has reached an inflection point over the past several years. As I meet with leaders from around the country, they are all familiar with the success of the Rice Business Plan Competition, and increasingly view Houston as a major player in energy innovation and the energy transition. I would hope that the Rice Alliance is viewed as one of the organizations that contributed substantially to this success and has played a key role as a catalyst in the ecosystem. I hope that the success of the Rice Alliance has spurred additional support for the ecosystem, such as Rice’s investment in the Ion and the Ion Innovation District.

But I hope the legacy will extend beyond Houston, as we were a co-founder of the Texas University Network for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (TUNIE), along with UT Dallas, in order to help every university in the state of Texas enhance its entrepreneurship program. And we are the headquarters for Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) which brings together over 300 universities each year to network and share best practices. Both organizations reflect positively on Rice and the Houston ecosystem.

Most of all, I recognize that whatever we have accomplished has been due to the amazing team members that comprise the Rice Alliance. It is without a doubt the best group of people I have ever worked with in my career.

I’m proud of the relationships and collaborations we have formed at all levels: within our Rice Alliance team, with the RBPC and many judges and the formation of new investor groups, the formation of TUNIE and relationships with universities within Texas, and leadership of the GCEC, a collaboration of other universities across the U.S. and the world.


Join InnovationMap and Houston Exponential in celebrating Brad Burke and the other honorees — who will be announced next week — at the November 8 event.

The InnovationMap Awards will celebrate Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, as this year's Trailblazer Award honoree. Courtesy of CTV

InnovationMap names inaugural Trailblazer Award recipient

honoring innovation

The inaugural InnovationMap Awards event, which is about three weeks away, was created to honor the best of Houston innovation. The Trailblazer Award in particular was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive the 2021 Trailblazer Award at the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. Burger was nominated and approved by this year's judges.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston and a 2021 InnovationMap Awards judge, says Burger is a pioneer of bringing people together and was instrumental in the launch of Station Houston, as well as in the development of Houston Exponential and Houston's Innovation Corridor.

"In the startup world, we often talk about unicorns as simply companies valued at over a billion dollars. But Barbara is a TRUE unicorn," Rodriguez says. "Barbara's breadth of interests, from the arts to the sciences to business and innovation, coupled with her depth of insight gleaned from years of real-world experience in strategic advising in all of those areas, have been invaluable to Houston's innovation ecosystem."

Burger, who is the current board chair at HX, says she's seen Houston's innovation ecosystem evolve in her tenure in Houston, from watching venture capital investment grow and the Innovation District develop to new organizations — such as Greentown Labs and MassChallenge — flock to Houston.

"I am deeply honored to be recognized for my contributions to the Houston Innovation Ecosystem. I moved to Houston in 2013 and in short order was included and saw ways I could contribute. That is a great welcome! While I am proud of my contributions and our progress, we are just getting started," Burger says.

Burger leads Chevron's corporate venture arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, which has invested millions in the future of energy technology. This type of corporate venture activity — especially in a city with so many Fortune 500 companies — plays a key role in an innovation community.

"I have been a part of building a community that is focused on the future," she says. "The community includes all kinds of organizations in Houston – from city to academics to start-ups to investors to corporations – and community creates the connective tissue that shows us that working together we can accomplish great things."

Burger will be honored at the InnovationMap Awards event on September 8. The hybrid event will host finalists and their guests at The Cannon, while also feature a livestream feed for everyone to join virtually. Click here to RSVP.

"I'm grateful to call her an ally, mentor, and friend," Rodriguez continues. "She is truly deserving of this and every honor bestowed upon her. And I can't wait to see what new and exciting ideas she helps bring to life in the decades ahead."

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Texas lands in top 10 states expected to be most financially affected by weather events


Texas — home to everything from tornadoes to hurricanes — cracks the top 10 of a new report ranking states based on impact from weather-related events.

SmartAsset's new report factored in a myriad of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify which states face the most financial risk due to various weather events. In the report, the states were ranked by the total expected annual financial losses per person. Texas ranked at No. 10.

"With a variety of environmental events affecting the wide stretch of the United States, each state is subject to its own risks," reads the report. "Particularly, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, lightning and drought, among other events, can cause damage to buildings, agriculture and individuals alike. When considering insurance, residents and business owners in each state should account for historic and projected losses due to environmental events in their financial plans."

In Texas, the total expected annual loss per person is estimated as $283.15. The report broke down each weather event as follows:

  • Coastal flooding: $1.49
  • Drought: $3.48
  • Earthquake: $1.71
  • Heat wave: $8.16
  • Hurricane: $89.22
  • Riverine flooding: $66.05
  • Strong wind: $5.37
  • Tornado: $71.04
  • Wildfire: $8.26
  • Winter weather: $1.96
Louisiana ranked as No. 1 on the list with $555.55 per person. The state with the lowest expected loss per person from weather events was Ohio with only $63.89 estimated per person.


This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Exclusive: Houston hydrogen spinout names energy industry veteran as CEO

good as gold

Cleantech startup Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based energy biotech company Cemvita, has named oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as its CEO.

Sekhon previously held roles at companies such as NextEra Energy Resources and Hess. Most recently, he was a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team.

Gold H2 uses microbes to convert oil and gas in old, uneconomical wells into clean hydrogen. The approach to generating clean hydrogen is part of a multibillion-dollar market.

Gold H2 spun out of Cemvita last year with Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, leading the transition. Gold H2 spun out after successfully piloting its microbial hydrogen technology, producing hydrogen below 80 cents per kilogram.

The Gold H2 venture had been a business unit within Cemvita.

“I was drawn to Gold H2 because of its innovative mission to support the U.S. economy in this historical energy transition,” Sekhon says in a news release. “Over the last few years, my team [at NextEra] was heavily focused on the commercialization of clean hydrogen. When I came across Gold H2, it was clear that it was superior to each of its counterparts in both cost and [carbon intensity].”

Gold H2 explains that oil and gas companies have wrestled for decades with what to do with exhausted oil fields. With Gold H2’s first-of-its-kind biotechnology, these companies can find productive uses for oil wells by producing clean hydrogen at a low cost, the startup says.

“There is so much opportunity ahead of Gold H2 as the first company to use microbes in the subsurface to create a clean energy source,” Sekhon says. “Driving this dynamic industry change to empower clean hydrogen fuel production will be extremely rewarding.”

In 2022, Gold H2 celebrated its successful Permian Basin pilot and raised early-stage funding. In addition to Gold H2, Cemvita also spun out a resource mining operation called Endolith. In a podcast episode, Karimi discussed Cemvita's growth and spinout opportunities.

Rice University's student startup competition names 2024 winners, awards $100,000 in prizes

taking home the W

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

The rest of the winners included:

  • Second place and $25,000: CoFlux Purification
  • Third place and $15,000: Bonfire
  • Outstanding Achievement in Social Impact Award and $1,500: EmpowerU
  • Outstanding Achievement in Artificial Intelligence and $1,000: Sups and Levytation
  • Outstanding Achievement in Consumer Goods Prize and $1,000: The Blind Bag
  • Frank Liu Jr. Prize for Creative Innovations in Music, Fashion and the Arts and $1,500: Melody
  • Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes and $1,000: Solidec and HEXASpec
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Startup Award and $2,500: Women’s Wave
  • Audience Choice Award and $2,000: CoFlux Purification

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice