Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photo via Getty Images

It's giving season, and you need not look any further than Houston's startup and innovation community for some gift ideas.

This year's Houston startup gift guide includes experiences, sustainable shopping, and more.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas, and check out the 2021, 2020 and 2019 startup gift guides as well for even more options.

For someone outdoorsy: An easy-to-book fishing trip

Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, expanded in Houston this year. Photo via Getty Images

After seeing success in last year's Rice Business Plan Competition, Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, announced this year that it's moving half of its employees to Houston, InnovationMap reported. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas. You can book a trip for your family or shop gear on the startup's website.

For a wine lover: A quick cooling tool

The Cold Cork delivers 20-second beverage chilling. Photo via Facebook/Cold Cork

Perfect for someone who loves to entertain, The idea Cold Cork came from the brains of two Houstonians who love a chilled wine at the end of a long day. However, it often happens that while you're ready for wine, but the wine's not ready for you. The device, priced at $64.95, chills liquids 20 degrees in 20 seconds.

For the new mom in your life: A game-changing breastmilk service

Milkify secured a deal on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

As seen on Shark Tank, Houston-based Milkify provides a unique service to breastfeeding moms. The company freeze dries breast milk so that families can have the convenience of formula with the nutrition of breast milk. The startup, which won at this year's Houston Innovation Awards, secured an investment on the show and even got the nod of approval from Gwyneth Paltrow. Milkify has plans to scale, as the husband-and-wife team shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

For someone who loves a sweat sesh: Smell-free athletic wear

Houston-based Accel Lifestyle's innovative line of athleisure has made it into Talbots. Photo courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

For years, Houston athletic clothing brand Accel Lifestyle has been providing its customers with sporty outfits that are designed to not hold onto any stink resulting from bacteria from sweat. As of this summer, the brand is in Talbots, so you can shop in store, as well as online.

For the trendsetter: Sustainable fashion

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

Shop for one (or all) of your loved ones sustainably with Trendy Seconds, a website created by Houstonian Maria Burgos. There's likely something for everyone on your Christmas list — and no purchase can possibly considered naughty — at least when considering your carbon footprint.

For a party animal: Brews for every occasion

Bring these to your next holiday party. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Two Houston companies formalized their partnership this year. Bayou City Hemp Company announced that it has purchased 8th Wonder Brewery, Distillery, and Cannabis. The acquisition deepens a relationship that dates back to 2021, when 8th Wonder and Bayou City Hemp partnered to create Wonder Water, a non-alcoholic beverage available with either CBD or Delta-8 that became the top-selling to-go product at 8th Wonder. Now, the combined company creates adult beverages by offering a full lineup of beer, spirits, and cannabis-infused drinks.

For a mother-daughter duo: A tool to enhance their relationship

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kindA Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

Passport Journeys, an app with a membership that helps cultivate mother-daughter relationships, can help you on your new year's resolution to heal your relationship with your mom or daughter. The intake process is $280 with monthly fees after and includes a slew of support for relationship building.

From a new hard tech grant opportunity to apply for to health tech innovation expansion, here's your latest roundup of Houston startup and innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup expands nationally, teams win DOE prize, and more local innovation news

short stories

As Houston ramps up for fall, the city's innovation news has followed suit, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston angel investors dole out prize money, the DOE grants Houston innovators some cash, a digital health company expands, and more.

2 Houston teams win DOE geothermal manufacturing prize

Both of the teams that won this competition hailed from Houston. Image via energy.gov

This week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that two Houston-based companies have won the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize — a $4.65 million competition to incentivize innovators to use 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, to address the challenges associated with operating sensitive equipment in harsh geothermal environments, per a press release. The competition challenged participants with quickly developing, testing, and revising prototypes using additive manufacturing to support the advancement of geothermal tools and technologies.

“This DOE competition harnesses breakthroughs in additive manufacturing to help overcome barriers to widespread deployment of geothermal energy,” says Alejandro Moreno, deputy assistant secretary for renewable power, in the release. “The rapid prototype development supported by this prize is spurring advancements in the geothermal industry to help power the nation from the heat beneath our feet.”

The competition launched in January 2020, and the finalists presented their innovations at the annual Geothermal Rising conference in Reno, Nevada. The winning teams each were awarded $500,000 in cash and up to $200,000 to test their innovations in the field. The two Houston-based winning teams were:

  • Team Downhole Emerging Technologies: "This team developed an alternative to traditional packer systems," the release states. "The all-metal, retrievable packer system is designed specifically for high temperatures, extreme pressures, and corrosion experienced in geothermal wells. The Downhole Emerging Technologies’ partnership resulted in the production of the largest Inconel additively manufactured component by Proto Labs, Inc. and the development of DET’s tool, the Diamond ETIP (Extreme Temperature Isolation Packer).”
  • Team Ultra-High Temperature Logging Tool: "This team developed a technology that uses a labyrinthian heat sink to reduce thermal emissivity and increase the exposure time of temperature sensitive electronic components," according to the release. "Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a powder bed laser fusion technique to manufacture the heat sink design, with the aim that the technology would solve limitations around maximum temperature rating and lifetime of electronics in logging and measurement tools. The team also worked closely with Sandia National Laboratories to test the logging prototype in a high-temperature setting."

Koda Health expands across the country

Koda Health has gone nationwide. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health has announced via LinkedIn that it has expanded into a handful of new states recently: Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, Virginia, California, and Maryland. These six expansions have all been announced over the past month following the announcement in July that the company is going nationwide.

"Every state has different regulations and requirements for their advancecare planning documents. So, the folks at Nixon Gwilt Law and Koda Health have been hard at work making our platform compliant in every single state," the company announced in a post. "It's hard work, but we're committed to helping patients stay in control of their health care journey, regardless of where they call home."

Koda Health was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship and launched by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry in March of 2020. The platform uses AI to help patients create advanced medical care directives and documents, such as a living will, through its proprietary machine learning approach.

In February, Koda closed over $3 million in seed funding in order to grow its staff and support expansion. Now, including Texas, Koda is in seven states across the country.

Houston angels dole out cash to RBPC winner

Hoth Intelligence — a digital health startup — is cashing in on its RBPC prizes. Photo via Getty Images

The Houston Angel Network announced its investment of over $160,000 in Hoth Intelligence, the winner of HAN’s prize at the 2022 Rice Business Plan Competition.

“Following the HAN award announcement at the RBPC banquet, we learned that the Houston Chapter of The Indus investor Entrepreneurs (TiE) was also interested in Hoth as an investment for its members," says HAN Chairman Richard Hunter in a news release.

The organizations collaborated on due diligence and negotiation of the investment terms. Hunter led HAN's due diligence and Jeff Tomlinson led the effort on behalf of TiE.

The company, which was established at University of Pittsburgh, has developed an artificial intelligence platform for health care providers. The company's RBPC prize initially totaled $386,700 in investment awards from a handful of entities.

Per HAN's news release, Houston investment firms Prosalus Capital Partners joined in with a $300,000 investment and PiFei VC contributed an additional $100,000.”

“Several companies at the 2022 RPBC, including Hoth Intelligence, ranked very high in the TiE judging," says TiE Houston Chapter President Ram Shenoy. "We therefore decided to pursue due diligence and were very pleased to have worked with HAN to expeditiously complete the deal. To date, it has attracted TiE investors from chapters in Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and Southern California who have committed over $154,000 in investment.”

Sustainable biz tapped for prestigious program

This Houston entrepreneur is getting ready to pitch. Image courtesy

Houston-based Trendy Seconds was chosen as part of the SOCAP Global Entrepreneur 2022 Cohort — a prestigious event in the social entrepreneurship world that grants scholarships to entrepreneurs from all over the globe.

Trendy Seconds is an online marketplace where women can find pre-owned clothing or shop for new clothing from sustainable brands. The company shares items from more than 50 brands that can be searched by category, style, size, price, condition, and positive impact. To ensure the clothing is high quality, shoppers will find only gently-used or new items featured on Trendy Seconds.

Through the program, Founder Maria Burgos will pitch live in San Francisco on October 20.

Deadline approaches for Activate Anywhere

Calling all scientists on a mission. Image via Getty Images

A global accelerator billed as "for scientists on a mission" has opened its latest round of registration. Activate Anywhere is a remote-based program for hard tech innovators that takes no equity, requires no fees, and provides significant financial support, including a living stipend of up to $110,000 a year, $100,000 in R&D funding, $100,000 additional flexible capital, health care coverage, travel allowance, and more.

Applications September 15, but registration to apply is free and open now. The deadline to apply is October 31 and finalists will be announced in February.

To be eligible for the program, you must:

  • have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years post-baccalaureate scientific research, engineering, or technology development experience.
  • be the leader of a technical project or company that is relevant to our target industries and is based in the physical or biological sciences, or related engineering disciplines.
  • be leading the commercial development of a hardware-based technology innovation for the first time i.e. not a repeat hard-tech founder. You may apply as a solo applicant or with one co-applicant.
  • not have raised more than $2 million in debt or equity funding from non-governmental sources for the proposed project at the time of the application deadline.
  • be able to work in the U.S. for the duration of the fellowship, and have access to a qualified host laboratory.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes John "JR" Reale of the TMC, Maria Burgos of Trendy Seconds, and Christopher Howard of Softeq. Courtesy photos

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 venture funding to startup acceleration — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


John "JR" Reale, executive in residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation and managing director of Integr8d Capital

John "JR" Reale joined the Houston Innovators Podcast for a special two-part series. Photo courtesy of TMC

John "JR" Reale has seen the evolution of Houston's innovation ecosystem from day one. Recently, he joined InnovationMap for a two-part series on the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the city's evolution as a tech and startup hub as well as what he's up to nowadays — leading venture activity at the Texas Medical Center Innovation and within his own firm.

"One of the most important moments for Houston was when we got kicked in the teeth with the Amazon HQ2 bid," he says on the show. "Amazon came back with the shortlist of the 20 cities in North America — and Houston isn't on it. I remember being excited. It was arguably the most innovative company in the world saying 'no thank you.'"

Flash forward, and Houston's a different ecosystem — still with a ways to go. Click here to stream part one and part two of the series.

Maria Burgos, founder of Trendy Seconds

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

After donating her items to a local church, Maria Burgos sought to be more sustainable and decided to try secondhand shopping.

“The good news was that I had so many options, new with tags, great conditions…the bad news was that it was so much that I ended up being frustrated because I didn't find what I liked,” she tells InnovationMap. “I had to spend hours of my time scrolling thousands of items, dozens of filters, multiple platforms."

She asked herself why there wasn’t a website where she could find items in one place. “That was the genesis of Trendy Seconds,” she shares. Click here to read more.

Christopher Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq

Chris Howard, CEO and founder of SofteqA Houston software company has announced its new venture fund. Photo courtesy of Softeq

Houston-based Softeq Development Corp. announced its third group of early-stage startups to join theSofteq Venture Studio, which is geared at helping its resident startups quickly develop their technology and build their businesses. With 14 startups, the summer 2022 cohort is the largest yet and brings the total portfolio to 27 companies. Additionally, the $40 million Softeq Venture Fund welcomed Royal Eagle Capital Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, as a limited partner with its $3 million commitment.

“We are thrilled to see how much the Softeq Venture Studio has grown since 2021,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “We’re also pleased to welcome Royal Eagle Capital Partners as an investment partner in our Venture Fund, which allowed us to achieve more than 50 percent of our funding goal in just five months. We look forward to building on this partnership and growing Softeq in North America, Latin America, and beyond.”

Softeq is also celebrating a recent expansion into Latin America and staffing the new regional office with 30 engineers. The company has plans to grow to 150 employees in the region over the next year. Click here to read more.

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

Houston startup seeks to simplify sustainable fashion

design innovation

When the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, people found themselves at home with a surplus of free time. Puzzles covered dining room tables, remnants of new hobbies were strewn across dens, TikTok dances were rehearsed, and television was binged. Maria Burgos found herself watching Netflix’s “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which inspired her to clean out her closet. In practicing Kondo’s dogma of parting with items that don’t “spark joy,” Burgos uncovered a bigger issue to purge: America’s unsustainable fashion industry.

With piles of clothing ready for a new home, Burgos searched for reliable organizations to donate her possessions. Her research led her to learn more about the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment.

According to Slate, almost 24 billion pounds of clothes and shoes are thrown out each year — more than double what we tossed two decades ago. Americans consume more than 20 billion garments each year, and each garment can be expected to be worn around seven times, according to The Wall Street Journal. We’re buying more clothing than ever when clothing is at its lowest cost.

A $17.99 linen crop top from H&M may seem like a steal, but the low price tag poses a much greater cost for the environment. Low-quality garments have a bleak chance of finding a secondhand home, and 80 percent of donated clothing won’t ever be seen see a charity shop rack. While some used clothing gets recycled as insulation, others end up in containers that overwhelm charities abroad or sit in landfills.

After donating her items to a local church, Burgos sought to be more sustainable and decided to try secondhand shopping.

“The good news was that I had so many options, new with tags, great conditions…the bad news was that it was so much that I ended up being frustrated because I didn't find what I liked,” she says. “I had to spend hours of my time scrolling thousands of items, dozens of filters, multiple platforms."

She asked herself why there wasn’t a website where she could find items in one place. “That was the genesis of Trendy Seconds,” she shares.

Maria Burgos founded Trendy Seconds to streamline second-hand shopping. Photo courtesy

Burgos has always been drawn to entrepreneurial aspirations. The Venezuela native started her first company, a film magazine, while in college. She studied dentistry and graduated with an offer to become a professor at her university, which she turned down to explore her passion for marketing further. After moving to Spain to obtain an MBA, she gained experience working for large corporations like 3M and GlaxoSmithKline.

Living in countries around the world and dipping her toes into different industries, Burgos gained a unique resume. When she came to the United States, she was eager to get her work permit. She obtained a real estate license and even began working at a startup before having her second child.

“I don't ever have the profile that is right to do what I'm doing at the moment, professionally. That has been something that I considered years ago as a disadvantage, [but] that has been my advantage because I come with a fresh pair of eyes,” she explains. “I solve problems differently, and I throw ideas out there that maybe other people don't,” she continues.

When she thought of Trendy Seconds, Burgos was trying to solve the issues she faced while striving to be a conscious consumer.

“I know that there are many other women like myself that are trying to make better choices, but right now, it's too hard,” she says.

She applied and graduated from the Founders Institute and won a Frost Bank grant to join Impact Hub Houston’s accelerator program.

“The accelerator opened up a lot of doors for me, and I went through all of them,” she shares.

Burgos launched Trendy Seconds, as an online marketplace where women can find pre-owned clothing or shop for new clothing from sustainable brands. The company shares items from more than 50 brands that can be searched by category, style, size, price, condition, and positive impact. To ensure the clothing is high quality, shoppers will find only gently-used or new items featured on Trendy Seconds.

Shoppers can have a much more cultivated experience on Trendy Seconds. Image courtesy

“We work with a fashion stylist to curate the product assortment because one thing that happens is analysis paralysis. When you have too many choices, you don't take action,” says Burgos.

Trendy Seconds creates wardrobe capsules that include an assortment of versatile styles that can be mixed and matched together. Visitors can search for various styles like beachwear, spring/summer, maternity, and special occasion attire.

Burgos has aligned with online secondhand marketplaces as well as sustainable clothing websites, where shoppers are redirected once they find items to purchase. She uses the United Nations’ sustainability goals to vet vendors and determine which brands to include on the website. Some featured eco-conscious brands include Christy Dawn, Eileen Fisher, Soul Flower, and Allbirds.

“Our ultimate goal is to make responsible consumption super easy,” Burgos explains.

Trendy Seconds is currently fundraising and Burgos is looking to bring in investors as she expands the company.

In the future, Burgos wants Trendy Seconds to evolve past the online marketplace and become a resource for circular fashion.

“How we envision this is that we will give the opportunity to consumers to come to the site and not just buy clothes, but actually purchase products and services that can help them increase the life of the clothes that they already have,” she shares.

“I believe that the best way to create a really good, like, motivated consumer audience is by letting them know how can they how can they help,” says Burgos.

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Houston is the most stressed out city in Texas, report finds

deep breaths

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but a new report by WalletHub shows Houston residents are far more stressed out than any other city in Texas.

Houston ranked No. 18 out of 182 of the largest U.S. cities based on work, financial, family-related, and health and safety stress, according to WalletHub's "Most & Least Stressed Cities in America (2024)" report. 39 relevant metrics were considered in the report, including each city's job security, the share of households behind on bills within the last 12 months, divorce rates, crime rates, among others.

Houston was ranked the most stressed out city in Texas, but it's still far less stressed than many other U.S. cities. Cleveland, Ohio took first place as the most stressed city in America, followed by Detroit, Michigan (No. 2), Baltimore, Maryland (No. 3), Memphis, Tennessee (No. 4), and Gulfport, Mississippi (No. 5).

Out of the four main categories, Houstonians are struggling the most with work-related stress, ranking No. 13 nationally. The report found Houston has the No. 1 highest traffic congestion rate out of all cities in the report. But at least Houston drivers are solidly average, as maintained by a separate Forbes study comparing the worst drivers in America.

Houston workers can rejoice that they live in a city with a generally high level of guaranteed employment, as the city ranked No. 151 in the job security comparison. The city ranked No. 16 nationwide in the metric for the highest average weekly hours worked.

Houston fared best in the financial stress category, coming in at No. 72 nationally, showing that Houstonians aren't as worried about pinching pennies when it comes to maintaining a good quality of life. The city ranked No. 39 in the comparison of highest poverty rates.

Here's how WalletHub quantified Houston's stress levels:

  • No. 17 – Health and safety stress rank (overall)
  • No. 36 – Family stress rank (overall)
  • No. 63 – Unemployment rates
  • No. 81 – Percentage of adults in fair/poor health
  • No. 95 – Divorce rate
  • No. 96 – Percentage of adults with inadequate sleep

WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe said in the report that living in particularly arduous cities can play a big role in how stressed a person is, especially when considering uncontrollable circumstances like family problems or work-related issues.

"Cities with high crime rates, weak economies, less effective public health and congested transportation systems naturally lead to elevated stress levels for residents," Happe said.

Happe advised that residents considering a move to a place like Houston should consider how the city's quality of life will impact their mental health, not just their financial wellbeing.

Other Texas cities that ranked among the top 100 most stressed cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 20 – San Antonio
  • No. 38 – Laredo
  • No. 41 – Dallas
  • No. 47 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 61 – El Paso
  • No. 68 – Fort Worth
  • No. 71 – Brownsville
  • No. 75 – Arlington
  • No. 78 – Grand Prairie
  • No. 88 – Garland
The full report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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.