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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

This week's top stories included overheard moments at an energy-focused panel, innovators to know, a new line of masks, and more. Photo via Pexels

Editor's note: It was a busy week for Houston innovation with the Rice Alliance's Energy Tech Venture Forum and the city's Climate Week simultaneously taking place online — which meant big announcements and thought-provoking panels for Houston's tech and startup movers and shakers.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's Houston innovators to know roundup includes Josh Pherigo of the Greater Houston Partnership, Brittany Barreto of FemTech Focus, and Ted Gutierrez of SecurityGate.io. Photos courtesy

Another week, another round of innovators to know in Houston as you start your week. This week's edition features a researcher who has crunched the numbers on Houston's tech specialties, a founder who's shining a spotlight on femtech, and an entrepreneur who's snagged a deal with Chevron. Continue reading.

Overheard: Here’s what these energy VCs think of the pandemic’s effect on the energy transition

The energy industry is finally prioritizing new technology and greener energy — both in light of and in spite of a global pandemic. Photo via Getty Images

In a lot of ways, venture capital firms are tasked with predicting the future. They put money into tech and business services that are going to disrupt the status quo, and energy VCs are tasked with taking bets on the energy transition.

At a virtual event as a part of the 18th annual Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum, which is taking place online this week, a group of panelists moderated by Sandy Guitar, managing partner at the HX Venture Fund, discussed how the pandemic has affected the energy transition. The group of experts talked about the future of work, decarbonization, and more. Continue reading.

Joint venture between two Houston companies creates new mask line with disease-destroying tech

Blended Huemanity's masks use zinc woven into the material to kill microbes of the virus. Photo via blendedhuemanity.com

Two Houston companies have joined forces to create a new line of protective face masks that are able to deactivate the coronavirus.

Accel Lifestyle and Ascend Performance Materials have partnered to create Blended Huemanity, which has released its Acteev Protect™ Nonwoven Mask.

"The partnership between Accel Lifestyle and Ascend Performance Materials brings together two powerhouse companies, with expertise in science, fabric, manufacturing, branding and consumer products," says Megan Eddings, founder and CEO of Accel Lifestyle, in a statement. "If the last few months have shown us anything, the need for face coverings isn't going anywhere. We all want to return to normal life — sporting events, family gatherings, hugs with friends — but we want to do so safely and comfortably." Continue reading.

Houston cybersecurity startup nabs Chevron partnership

Chevron has tapped SecurityGate.io's risk management cybersecurity platform. Photo courtesy of Security Gate

A Houston-based cybersecurity software-as-a-service startup has inked a new partnership with Chevron for its risk management platform.

SecurityGate.io announced this week that Chevron has selected their risk management platform for scaling operational technology cybersecurity.

"We're very excited to be working with Chevron as they replace manual, spreadsheet cybersecurity practices with scalable, digitized processes," says Ted Gutierrez, CEO at SecurityGate.io, in a press release. "Their risk management team has done amazing work and it's exciting to see where they're headed." Continue reading.

Houston expert: How the pandemic has changed SEO

Customers' shopping patterns have changed during the pandemic. They're likely to have changed forever. Here, we explore how you can keep up. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

If you're stranded on an island, it's probably not smart to go into hiding and just hope someone finds you. You're better off dedicating your time to making a fire, spelling HELP with logs, or sharpening your hunting skills. During this pandemic, it would best serve your company's future to dedicate your time honing your SEO skills and tracking SEO changes.

"Nobody is going to come and save your business during the national crisis. You're going to have to do it yourself. And focusing on strengthening something as vital as SEO is one big way to keep your company alive while we await a return to normalcy that may never come," says Omi Sido, SEO manager for Canon Canada. Canon is the famous camera company. Continue reading.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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