This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Brad Burke of Rice University, Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, and Bart Womack of Eden Grow Systems. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Every Monday, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Brad Burke, associate vice president for industry at Rice University

Brad Burke has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures within Rice University's Office of Innovation. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Brad Burke, who has served as executive director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship for 20 years, has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures, the university announced this week. He will take on this new role within the Office of Innovation, as well as continue leading the Rice Alliance.

Rice's Office of Innovation, which was established in 2022 with the appointment of Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President for Innovation Paul Cherukuri, exists to support new and innovative initiatives and technologies from the Rice community with mentorship, funding, pilots, and more.

“The Rice Alliance has played a key role over the past two decades in building Rice’s reputation as a leading institution for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Cherukuri says in a news release. “We are thrilled to have Brad Burke join the Office of Innovation to support our faculty and students in commercializing their inventions.” Read more.

Denise Hamilton, author of "Indivisible: How to Forge Our Differences into a Stronger Future"

Houstonian Denise Hamilton is coming out with a book she hopes helps leaders reach beyond inclusivity. Photo courtesy of WatchHerWork

Denise Hamilton says she's been used to looking around and realizing she's the only woman or African American in the room, and for the past nine years, she's been providing resources and education to trailblazing women like her. Now, she wants to prepare current and future leaders on how to go beyond inclusivity and work toward indivisibility.

Hamilton's book, "Indivisible: How to Forge Our Differences into a Stronger Future," publishes February 6 from Countryman Press. She explains that the book comes from years of her on personal experiences, as well as inspiration from the women she's met with her company, WatchHerWork, multimedia digital platform providing advice and resources for professional women.

"I've learned a lot of lessons about what skills work, what behaviors are not intuitive, and built WatchHerWork with the intention of creating a space where people can get all of that advice — and juicy goodness — so that they can learn what they needed to do to be authentically successful," Hamilton says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"This led to me being brought in as a speaker, and ultimately has led to me becoming an author," she continues. "It's always shocking when people want to listen to what you want to say. It's unbelievable."Read more.

Bart Womack, CEO and founder of Eden Grow Systems

Houston-based Eden Grow Systems hopes to disrupt the agtech industry and revolutionize — and localize — produce. Photo courtesy

Whether it’s on Mars or at the kitchen table, entrepreneur Bart Womack wants to change what and how you eat. But the CEO and founder of next-generation farming startup Eden Grow Systems is seeking crowdfunders to help feed the venture. The company has launched a $1.24 million regulated crowdfunding campaign to raise the money it needs to scale and expand manufacturing outside the current location in Washington state.

Additionally, the U.S. Air Force recently chose Eden as a food source for the U.S. Space Force base on remote Ascension Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, Womack tells InnovationMap. Another project with Space Center Houston is also in the works.

“We want to be the government and DOD contractor for these kind of next-generation farming systems,” he says.

The Houston-based company includes former NASA scientists, like recent hire Dr. L. Marshall Porterfield, of Purdue University, as an innovation adviser. Read more.

Houstonian Denise Hamilton is coming out with a book she hopes helps leaders reach beyond inclusivity. Photo courtesy of WatchHerWork

Houston innovator's new book to help business leaders be 'authentically successful,' move past just inclusion

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 220

Denise Hamilton says she's been used to looking around and realizing she's the only woman or African American in the room, and for the past nine years, she's been providing resources and education to trailblazing women like her. Now, she wants to prepare current and future leaders on how to go beyond inclusivity and work toward indivisibility.

Hamilton's book, "Indivisible: How to Forge Our Differences into a Stronger Future," publishes February 6 from Countryman Press. She explains that the book comes from years of her on personal experiences, as well as inspiration from the women she's met with her company, WatchHerWork, multimedia digital platform providing advice and resources for professional women.

"I've learned a lot of lessons about what skills work, what behaviors are not intuitive, and built WatchHerWork with the intention of creating a space where people can get all of that advice — and juicy goodness — so that they can learn what they needed to do to be authentically successful," Hamilton says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"This led to me being brought in as a speaker, and ultimately has led to me becoming an author," she continues. "It's always shocking when people want to listen to what you want to say. It's unbelievable."

Hamilton explains that the book is relevant to anyone who leads people — in any way. She says she avoids jargon in her book, and instead focused on timeless, relatable advice and thought leadership.

"It's not a current events book; it's a people book," Hamilton says. "There are a lot of examples that are simple and easy to understand and timeless. I think those are the ways we get a principle and then extrapolate it into a current event — the storm of the day."

While the past few years have been tumultuous, divisive, and full of friction, she explains that the book will call on people to move through the world like owners not renters. She says we need to continue to make the world around us better, rather than leave it to someone else to worry about, and this especially pertains to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

DEI initiatives, as Hamilton explains, are a set of tools and practices, but reaching and tracking progress is a huge challenge and opportunity.

"We have to be careful that we don't use easy metrics to determine if we're being authentically successful," she says. "This is hard work, and it's OK to have challenging, higher-level goals that push us to do better and be better."

A proud Houstonian, Hamilton says doing this type of work makes sense in Houston — one of the most diverse cities in the country.

"I think it's easy to talk about diversity in a vacuum and theoretically, and Houston lives it every single day," she says. "We're doing it while other people are talking about it. There are some great lessons to be learned from this environment, and there are some opportunities here we have to take advantage of in Houston."

Here's what you missed at Houston House at SXSW. Photos courtesy

Podcast: Houston innovators discuss energy transition, diversity, and health tech at SXSW

Houston innovators podcast episode 125

SXSW has descended on Austin, and while the two-week conference and festival is still going strong, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston-focused activation has wrapped for 2022.

Houston House, which first originated last year in digital form in 2021, took place Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. The nine panels and two nights of networking covered topics from energy transition and med tech to diversity in venture capital and innovation in aerospace.

For SXSW badge holders, some of the Houston House discussions are available online. However if you’re not out and about at SX and you missed these incredible panels, I spoke to four Houstonians after their discussions to dig a little deeper into some key points from the panels.

Here are the Houston Innovators I spoke with at SXSW:

  • Denise Hamilton, CEO of WatchHerWork
  • Kevin Coker, president and CEO, Proxima
  • Grace Chan, investment associate at bp Ventures
  • Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs

Listen to these conversations below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes, which will return to interview-style conversations featuring Houston guests next Wednesday.

Three Houston innovators discussed the strides the city is making in terms of equitable funding opportunities. Photos courtesy

SXSW panel: What Houston needs to do to develop as an equitable tech ecosystem

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Houston has consistently been recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the country — but is that translating into equitable funding opportunities for diverse founders? A panel at SXSW this year discussed whether or not Houston's playing field is level for people of color within the innovation ecosystem.

"People do business with who they know — and who they like," says Felix Chevalier, co-founder of Urban Capital Network, when the panel was asked where the disconnect is with funding diverse founders. "I think it boils down to a lack of exposure and a lack of relationships."

Chevalier was joined by Jesse Martinez of Resolved Ventures and VamosVentures and Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, who moderated the discussion, which was hosted in the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House on Sunday, March 13, at SXSW in Austin.

"We have to look at the pipeline — what the existing ecosystem looks like," says Martinez, who leads the LatinX Alliance, an organization that's relocating its operations to Houston. "We have new funds, new diverse GPs, and we have more investors — and we're building talent. ... We are making great strides, but we still need more of us to be funding our diverse founders."

The key to the equation, the panelists agreed, is education and programming — both for potential investors, like UCN does with its hands-on support for its diverse investor base, and for founders of color who might be more hesitant to plunge by starting a company.

"The way you start to dissolve that fear for folks, for example, who may be in a corporate space but may want to spread their entrepreneur wings, is to just get involved with the ecosystem," Chevalier says. "What ends up happening is you bump into someone you know or someone who is from the same talent you are originally — all you have to do is immerse yourself in the environment."

"The opportunities are out there, but it is incumbent upon in those who want it to put themselves in a position to meet people who are in the environments that are going to help facilitate whatever your objectives are," he continues.

Hamilton explained her experience raising money as a Black woman — investors didn't want to bet on her. It's a chicken and an egg situation, she says, and support for diverse founders in terms of programming and investors focused specifically on underserved communities are going to help break the cycle. It's not about charity, but equitable opportunities.

"I don't want any charity – I don't want an overabundance of kindness. Scaffold me like you scaffolded Mark Zuckerberg," Hamilton says, giving Facebook as an example of a company that was supported in a way she never had. "If you are going to be in a nascent ecosystem, you need to have structures that explain why your pitch deck has to be efficient, why you need a team. We've got to not focus just on the money piece, but on this whole psychosocial aspect."

With Hamilton's call to Houston's development as an equitable tech ecosystem, the conversation turned to discuss whether or not Houston is ready to provide this support to startups and rise to being the global innovation hub the city wants to be.

"We've got to find our tribe. We have all the pieces," Martinez says. "It's going to take time, and we have to be very intentional. ... It's really about thinking of Houston as a startup itself. How do we act as a team, and bring in partners and investors to make it a thriving ecosystem over time."

It takes commitment, Hamilton says, and that's happening in the Bayou City.

"Everything is not figured out right now — but there's a commitment to figuring it out," she says. "It's not going to be Silicon Valley overnight — it will never be Silicon Valley. Because this is Houston."

This week's innovators to know include Steve Jennis of Founder's Compass, Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, and Chris DuPont of Galen Data. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Houston's innovation ecosystem continues to grow. Last week, a group of startup mentors formed a new program that's a masterclass for aspiring entrepreneurs. Plus, a Houston innovator is writing the book on inclusion while another has a new partnership with a medical device company.

Steve Jennis, co-founder of Founder's Compass

Steve Jennis, along with three other Houston entrepreneurs, have teamed up to create a program based on each of their expertise that provides a launch pad for aspiring startup founders. Photo courtesy of Steve Jennis

Steve Jennis, a founder and mentor within the Houston innovation ecosystem, was thinking about opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs. While there are several accelerators within the ecosystem, they tend to be months-long programs that might require equity.

"A few months ago it struck me that maybe there was a gap in the market between the aspiring entrepreneur," says Jennis, "and the accelerator or incubator program."

Jennis tapped a few of his fellow founder-mentors to create Founder's Compass, an online masterclass for people who have a business idea but don't know what to do next. Read more about the new program.

Denise Hamilton, founder and CEO of WatchHerWork

Denise Hamilton is publishing a book that helps guide Black Lives Matter allies to make changes that will help them change the world. Photo courtesy of WatchHerWork

After developing a long career as a corporate executive, Denise Hamilton was fielding tons of requests to lunch or coffee to "pick her brain." While she loved helping to mentor young businesswomen, it was starting to become exhausting. "Frankly, there weren't enough hours in the day," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

So, five years ago, she turned the cameras on and started a library of advice from female executives like herself and created WatchHerWork. The company evolved to more, and now she's focused on diversity and inclusion consulting and leadership — and, amid COVID-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, she's particularly busy now. Stream the episode and read more.

Chris DuPont, CEO of Galen Data

Houston-based Galen Data, led by Chris Dupont, is collaborating with an Austin health device company on a cloud-based platform that monitors vital signs. Photo via galendata.com

Houston-based Galen Data Inc., which has developed a cloud platform for medical devices, and Austin-based Advanced TeleSensors Inc., the creator of the Cardi/o touchless monitor. Together, the two health tech companies are collaborating to take ATS's device and adding Galen Data's cloud technology.

Chris DuPont, co-founder and CEO, has led the company to meet compliance standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), cybersecurity organizations, and others.

"We knew that our platform would be a great fit for Cardi/o," Chris DuPont, CEO of Galen Data, says. "Speed was critical, accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. We were well positioned to address ATS' needs, and help those at-risk in the process." Read more about the innovative Texas partnership.

Denise Hamilton, founder and CEO of WatchHerWork, is publishing a book that helps guide Black Lives Matter allies to make changes that will help them change the world. Photo courtesy of WatchHerWork

Houston entrepreneur tackles diversity and inclusion challenges through new book

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 39

If you went to school in America, you might have been taught that George Washington's teeth were made out of wood. While this information might have been effective in promoting oral health as a kid, it's important for you to know that George Washington's dentures were not made of wood. They were made of ivory, metal alloys, and other human teeth — usually pulled from slaves.

History seems to have been rewritten in this case, and it's not the first — nor the last — time that's happened. Denise Hamilton wants individuals to recognize moments, acknowledge them, and move forward toward the truth. That's why she's publishing a thoughtful journal entitled "Do Something: An Ally's Guide to Changing Yourself So You Can Change Your World."

"I feel really strongly that we all have these challenging stories in our minds that we have to identify and release," Hamilton shares on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I give that example so that we all are clear that we don't have the full story for a lot of these topics. To me, if you allow yourself to be humble and be open to the fact that you really cannot believe everything you think, we can make so much progress in this space."

Hamilton founded her company, WatchHerWork, five years ago to act as a platform for women seeking career advice and mentorship.

"I had been an executive for many years — around 25 years at this point — and I had been the only woman or the only African American in so many situations that people wanted to pick my brain or take me to lunch," she says. "Frankly, there weren't enough hours in the day."

The company evolved to more, and now she's focused on diversity and inclusion consulting and leadership.

In the months following the death of George Floyd, Hamilton has seen companies react in various ways to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement with marketing campaigns and initiatives for improving workplace conditions.

"The biggest challenge is the same thing that's the biggest opportunity," she says. "Every company has the opportunity to reinvent their approach to how they handle systemic racism in their organizations, and they are terrified by it."

As Hamilton has seen first hand, companies are navigating a minefield of how to react. In her consulting with companies, Hamilton has advised business leaders to be transparent and recognize if they haven't been an ally in this space — and to not act like it. Disclose the things that are being improved and amplify the work that's already been done — don't reinvent the wheel, she says.

"And if you turn this moment into a marketing event instead of a true seed change, we can spot that a mile away. Lead with authenticity, be sincere, and be honest," she says.

The other ongoing challenge Hamilton is navigating with her work is the effect COVID-19 has had on women in the workplace. The pandemic has amplified existing gender issues in the workplace and created new challenges as well. In the past, female executives have been able to climb the corporate ladder while hiring services to help on the home front, but COVID-19 pulled the rug out from under these women's feet.

"Women are starting to opt out because they are overwhelmed," Hamilton says, adding that this thought terrifies her. "We shouldn't live in a society that penalizes you for having children — that's just the bottom line."

What employers have to realize — and this is a cornerstone of Hamilton's work — is that inclusion in the workplace isn't treating everyone the same. It's factoring everyone's differences.

"I don't want you to treat me the same. I want you to look at my situation and treat me the way I need to be treated based on my situation," she says. "And that can be difficult to navigate, but that's what we help our clients do."

As challenging both the social unrest and pandemic has been, it's an opportunity to move forward and make a difference.

"It's a bittersweet experience when there's lots of change — there's always a lot of opportunity as well," Hamilton says. "Never waste a good crisis."

On the episode, Hamilton shares more details about her forthcoming book, advice for female founders, and more. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

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Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.

Houston physicist scores $15.5M grant for high-energy nuclear physics research

FUTURE OF PHYSICS

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

The Rice team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas. Photo via Rice.edu

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.