This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Omair Tariq of Cart.com, Amanda Marciel of Rice University, and Youngro Lee of Brassica. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — 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.


Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

Last November, Houston-founded logistics tech company Cart.com announced that it would be returning its headquarters to Houston after spending the last two years growing in Austin. But Co-Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says that while the corporate address may have changed, he actually never left.

"I've been in Houston now forever — and I don't think I'm planning on leaving anytime soon. I love Houston — this city has given me everything I have," Tariq says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I even love the traffic and everything people hate about Houston."

Tariq, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Dubai before relocating as a teen to Houston, shared his entrepreneurial journey on the show, which included starting a jewelry business and being an early employee at Blinds.com before it was acquired in 2014 by Home Depot. Continue reading.

Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University

In addition to supporting Amanda Marciel's research, the funds will also go toward creating opportunities in soft matter research for undergraduates and underrepresented scientists at Rice University. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

An assistant professor at Rice University has won one of the highly competitive National Science Foundation's CAREER Awards.

The award grants $670,406 over five years to Amanda Marciel, the William Marsh Rice Trustee Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched, according to a statement from Rice. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

“My goal is to create a new paradigm for designing elastomers,” Marciel said in a statement. “The research has four aims: to determine the role of comb polymer topology in forming elastomers, understanding the effects of that topology on elastomer mechanics, characterizing its effects on elastomer structure and increasing the intellectual diversity in soft matter research.” Continue reading.

Youngro Lee, founder of Brassica

Youngro Lee is celebrating the acquisition of his company, Brassica. Photo courtesy

A Houston fintech innovator is celebrating his latest startup's exit.

Brassica Technologies Inc., a fintech infrastructure company that's provides a platform for alternative assets, has been acquired by BitGo, a Palo Alto, California-based tech company with digital asset services. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Joining forces with BitGo is a significant step towards Brassica's ultimate vision of building the financial infrastructure of the future," Youngro Lee, founder and CEO of Brassica, says in a news release. "Our strength lies in our 'one stop shop' approach of providing API-enabled infrastructure for the alternative assets industry. Continue reading.

Four-year-old Brassica has been acquired. Photo via brassicafin.com

Houston fintech startup acquired by California unicorn

M&A moves

A Houston fintech innovator is celebrating his latest startup's exit.

Brassica Technologies Inc., a fintech infrastructure company that's provides a platform for alternative assets, has been acquired by BitGo, a Palo Alto, California-based tech company with digital asset services. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Joining forces with BitGo is a significant step towards Brassica's ultimate vision of building the financial infrastructure of the future," Youngro Lee, founder and CEO of Brassica, says in a news release. "Our strength lies in our 'one stop shop' approach of providing API-enabled infrastructure for the alternative assets industry.

"This sector is rapidly growing and bringing in new investors around the world," Lee continues. "Our technology-focused development, combined with our deep domain expertise in securities and banking laws, uniquely position us in the market, especially for sophisticated clients dealing with the complexities of private securities and digital assets."

Lee founded Brassica in 2020 after his first fintech company, NextSeed, was acquired by Republic. Brassica raised its $8 million seed round led by Houston-based Mercury last year.

The acquisition is a strategic move by BitGo, which was valued at $1.75 billion last year, according to the company after its $100 million raise. Adding Brassica's suite of technology expands on BitGo's ability to grow its customer base.

"We currently have a dichotomy in financial services — one side deals with traditional securities and the other deals with up-and-coming blockchain-based assets and cryptocurrencies," Mike Belshe, CEO of BitGo, says in the release. "With this acquisition, BitGo becomes the first major financial services firm to be able to provide comprehensive infrastructure support for both traditional private securities and blockchain-based assets, while significantly expanding our global presence."

Last year, Lee joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Brassica and his overarching mission of democratizing fintech and investment tools. He explains there hasn't been a seamless solution created for the backend of alternative asset transactions, things like custody of those assets or transferring and keeping track of them.

"The reason why I thought this was what I wanted to focus on next was exactly because it was an issue I struggled with as a founder of NextSeed," Lee says on the show. "The backend was always an issue. There's not one single vendor that we felt really understood our business, was doing it efficiently, or enabled us to deliver those services to our end clients."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Youngro Lee of Brassica, Anu Puvvada of KPMG Studio, and Brock Murphy of Parent ProTech. Photos courtesy

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 corporate innovation to fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Youngro Lee, founder of Brassica

Youngro Lee joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his latest endeavor on his mission to democratize investing. Photo courtesy

Brassica Technologies, a fintech infrastructure company that's providing a platform for alternative assets, is just the next step in his career in using tech to democratize finance. The idea came from Lee's experience as a startup founder and fintech exec — first at NextSeed and then at Republic, which acquired NextSeed two years ago.

"The reason why I thought this was what I wanted to focus on next was exactly because it was an issue I struggled with as a founder of NextSeed," Lee says on the show. "The backend was always an issue. There's not one single vendor that we felt really understood our business, was doing it efficiently, or enabled us to deliver those services to our end clients."

Lee shares more about the future of Brassica, including the challenges he's facing within regulation and the state of fintech as a whole, on the podcast. He also weighs in on how he's seen the Houston innovation ecosystem grow and develop alongside his own entrepreneurial journey. Read more.

Anu Puvvada, KPMG Studio leader

Anu Puvvada, KPMG Studio leader, shares how her team is advancing software solutions while navigating hype cycles and solving billion-dollar-problems. Photo courtesy of KPMG

In 2021, KPMG, a New York-based global audit, accounting, and advisory service provider, formed a new entity to play in the innovation space. The Houston-based team finds innovative software that benefit KPMG's clients across industries.

In an interview with InnovationMap, Anu Puvvada, leader of KPMG Studio, shares more about the program, its first spin out, and why she's passionate about leading this initiative from Houston.

"When you think about innovation as a whole, it's mired with risk and uncertainty," she says. "You never know if something's going to work or not. And part of what we have to do with any idea that we're building in the studio or anything that our clients are doing around innovation, we have to do as much as we can to mitigate that risk and uncertainty. And that's kind of what KPMG's wheelhouse is." Read more.

Brock Murphy, Parent ProTech co-founder

Brock Murphy launched Parent ProTech last fall. Photo via parentprotech.com

Houston-based Parent ProTech is a one-stop shop for parental education on technology and applications that their kids use.

“Our goal is to make everyone the best digital parent possible,” Brock Murphy, Parent ProTech co-founder, tells InnovationMap. “We understand technology and the role it plays in influencing the next generation. So we help parents when it comes to understanding the platforms, how to use them and how to unlock the parental controls that can be hidden, deeper into these platforms.”

Murphy — with co-founder Drew Wooten and creative director Joshua Adams — launched the platform in September 2022. Since then, Parent ProTech has made its mark through partnerships with schools in Texas. Read more.

Youngro Lee joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his latest endeavor on his mission to democratize investing. Photo courtesy

Houston entrepreneur furthers mission of democratizing finance with latest venture

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 186

After seeing through an exit of his first startup NextSeed, lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Youngro Lee took on a leadership role at the acquiring company, Republic. But his fintech innovation wheels kept turning.

"Brassica is, I personally consider, an extension and a national evolution of my original starting point," Lee says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, "which is basically to democratize finance so that everyone can have access to alternative assets as part of their wealth management investments or even for pleasure to just be able to invest in things they believe in."

Brassica Technologies Inc. is a fintech infrastructure company that's providing a platform for alternative assets, Lee explains. While investments in the public markets have platforms already, there are other investment opportunities that are managed in a less optimized way for investors.

Lee says there hasn't been a seamless solution created for the backend of these transactions, things like custody of those assets or transferring and keeping track of them.

"The reason why I thought this was what I wanted to focus on next was exactly because it was an issue I struggled with as a founder of NextSeed," Lee says on the show. "The backend was always an issue. There's not one single vendor that we felt really understood our business, was doing it efficiently, or enabled us to deliver those services to our end clients."

Lee says he has been working on addressing this gap in the market for the past two years under his role at Republic. After holding an executive position at the company as a whole, he currently oversees the Asian market as general partner of Republic Asia.

"We didn't know where this process was going to go. It was a corporate initiative to try to understand what the market needs — because we needed it," Lee says. "We quickly realized that this idea can be really big. Once we had that conclusion, that the problem we're trying to solve and the opportunity that the market presents is significant enough, we knew Brassica deserves to be its own company."

Shortly after that, Lee started reaching out to potential investors and raised an $8 million seed round to take the company out of stealth last month. Houston-based Mercury Fund led the round, with participation from Valor Equity Partners, Long Journey Ventures, NGC Fund, Neowiz, Broadhaven Ventures, Armyn Capital, VC3DAO, Alpha Asset Management (Korea), and other global FinTech investors participated in the round.

Lee shares more about the future of Brassica, including the challenges he's facing within regulation and the state of fintech as a whole, on the podcast. He also weighs in on how he's seen the Houston innovation ecosystem grow and develop alongside his own entrepreneurial journey. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace, Youngro Lee of Brassica, and Le Dam of myAvos. Photos courtesy

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 rocket science to fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, CEO and co-founder of Venus Aerospace

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Venus

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby and her husband were living in Japan and considering a trip back to Texas and wishing there was a faster option than a full day of international travel — with their kids, no less. That's when Andrew Duggleby told Sassie that there actually might be an engine that could do that.

Flash forward a few years, and the husband-wife team has built a company around that idea. Venus Aerospace, originally founded in California, relocated to Houston in 2021 to establish their company in an ecosystem with the tools to advance their tech — and give their employees a good work-life balance, Sassie Duggleby explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We knew we had to find a location where we could test our engine and still be home for dinner," she says on the show. "Our company vision is 'home for dinner.' We want to fly you across the globe and have you home for dinner. And, if you work for us, we want you home for dinner." Read more.

Youngro Lee has announced funding for his latest fintech endeavor. Photo courtesy

Youngro Lee is no stranger to shaking up the finance world with a new tech-based way of doing business. One of the founders of NextSeed, Lee's newest mission is providing "investment infrastructure as a service" with his company, Brassica, which just raised $8 million in seed funding.

“The future of finance will depend on the ability of trustworthy institutions to provide secure and seamless transitions between traditional financial services and web3 innovations while complying with strict regulations and still providing great customer experience,” says Lee in the news release.

Houston-based Mercury Fund led the round with several other investors participating. Read more.

Le Dam, CEO and founder of OptiChroniX

Le Dam moved from California to Houston to build her company. Photo via LinkedIn

After years on the West Coast, Le Dam has returned to her adopted hometown of Houston — just in time to launch a new app dedicated to providing health resources and information to its users.

“I always knew that I wanted to build my business in Houston,” Dam says, mentioning the assets of the world’s largest medical center, a thriving startup community, and diverse population for whom she wants to build her technology.

myAvos pairs with a user’s smart watch and harnesses their health information such as physical activity and hours slept. The user can also input additional information such as blood test results and meals eaten. The app analyzes the information provided and assesses the user’s risk for chronic illness later in life. Read more.

A Houston fintech startup is aiming to modernize banking and investing — and has received fresh funding to do it. Photo via Getty Images

Houston fintech startup raises $8M seed round led by local VC

fresh funds

A Houston startup has raised millions for its fintech platform — and the company didn't have to go very far to find its lead investor.

Brassica Technologies Inc. closed its seed round at $8 million with Houston-based Mercury Fund leading the round. Valor Equity Partners, Long Journey Ventures, NGC Fund, Neowiz, Broadhaven Ventures, Armyn Capital, VC3DAO, Alpha Asset Management (Korea), and other global FinTech investors participated in the round as well.

The startup's platform has "institutional-grade solutions for the new era of private investing and alternative assets," per the release. Serving the alternative assets industry, Brassica's tools can easily integrate with any operating system to provide proprietary technology and unique regulatory licenses. The technology aims to modernize key banking and investing infrastructure to help enterprises safely grow their business and protect their customer assets.

With its "investment infrastructure as a service" model, Brassica was co-founded in 2021 by two familiar faces in Houston's fintech scene. CEO Youngro Lee and CTO Bob Dunton were behind NextSeed, a crowdfunding platform that allowed businesses to raise investment funding online. The startup was acquired in 2020 by Republic, where Lee currently serves as executive vice president and head of Asia.

“The future of finance will depend on the ability of trustworthy institutions to provide secure and seamless transitions between traditional financial services and web3 innovations while complying with strict regulations and still providing great customer experience,” says Lee in the news release.

“Today’s infrastructure solutions for alternative assets are often cobbled together through multiple incompatible vendors in a complex regulatory environment, which often creates unreasonable risk, errors, and single points of failure for market participants," he continues. "We started Brassica to address this fundamental problem and provide solutions to enable innovators in both traditional and web3 industries to build properly within a constantly evolving global regulatory framework.”

Along with the seed round news, the company has announced that Brassica Trust Company, its wholly-owned subsidiary, has received a Trust Charter by the Wyoming State Banking Board.

“The revolution of the private markets is here, and it is clear that the traditional, legacy infrastructure currently in place is not designed for the present and future investment world,” says Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund, in the release. “Brassica’s API-forward, institutional grade solutions make investing in private and digital assets more trustworthy, compliant, and secure than ever before, further bridging the gap between the worlds of traditional and decentralized finance. Their highly qualified and experienced senior business, legal, and technology executive team makes Brassica well-positioned to usher in this new era of alternative investments. We are proud to support Brassica on their ongoing mission to democratize finance globally.”

The company plans to use the funding to grow its product, engineering, business development, and customer success teams, per the news release, as well as develop a trust operations team in Wyoming. Current leadership includes former execs from Republic, Cleary Gottlieb, Kirkland Ellis, Morgan Stanley, Custodia Bank, LedgerX, Prime Trust, JP Morgan Chase, and M1 Finance.

Youngro Lee has announced funding for his latest fintech endeavor. Photo courtesy

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Houston space tech company reaches major milestone for engine technology

fired up

A Houston company that's creating the next generation of space exploration technology is celebrating a new milestone of one of its technologies.

Intuitive Machines reports that its VR900 completed a full-duration hot-fire test, qualifying it for its IM-2 lunar mission. With the qualification, the company says its VR3500, an engine designed for larger cargo class landers, also advances in development.

The engine technology is designed, 3D-printed, and tested all at Intuitive Machines' Houston facility, which opened in the Houston Spaceport last year.

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus says in a news release that the company's goal was to lead the way in scalable deep space engines as the industry heads toward lunar missions.

“This validated engine design meets current mission demand and paves the way for our VR3500 engine for cargo delivery such as lunar terrain vehicles, human spaceflight cargo resupply, and other infrastructure delivery," Altemus continues. "We believe we’re in a prime position to build on our successful development and apply that technology toward current contracts and future lunar requirements for infrastructure delivery.”

Earlier this year, Intuitive Machines was one of one of three companies selected for a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Another Houston company has seen success with its engine testing. In March, Venus Aerospace announced that it's successfully ran the first long-duration engine test of their Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine in partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

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.