Helping the blind see. Reinventing mobility with unmanned aerial systems. Bringing cryptocurrency to mainstream financial services firms. These are just a few of the exciting innovations happening in North Texas. In our third annual Innovation Awards program, a collaboration with Dallas Innovates, we honor 78 trailblazers who are shaping the future and improving our world.
Last year, there were 51 finalists. The growth of the program is a reflection of the region’s increasing prominence as an innovation hub. “Because of the wealth of opportunity in this area, we have been able to grow our business how we want and turn our dream into a reality,” says finalist Rob Wilson, CEO of Shavelogic. “As more innovators choose Dallas and surrounding cities for their operations, everyone stands to benefit.”
Winners of the 2022 Innovation Awards will be revealed at a private event on Jan. 12.
Innovation in Marketing
represented by CMO Marissa Jarratt
Convenience store king 7-Eleven celebrated its 94th birthday in 2021 by sending a Slurpee to space, with fans choosing the flavor through a marketing campaign on the company’s delivery app. It also teamed up with Airbnb to let people book an overnight stay at a 7-Eleven store in Dallas to play PlayStation 5, and launched a Laredo Taco Co. drive-thru at its Park Lane & Abrams Evolution store. “We’ve found that Dallas residents are always willing to try new things, making the region a great place for innovation,” says Marissa Jarratt, 7-Eleven’s CMO. As the world continues to change, Jarratt says authenticity is becoming increasingly important. “Consumers are looking for brands to deliver authentic messages—often in the form of promoting user-generated content developed by actual fans of the brands,” she says. “We’re coming up with creative ways to encourage, foster, and reward our brand loyalists.”
Avocados from Mexico
Alvaro Luque, president
In 2021, Avocados From Mexico launched a video platform, athleisure line, and made a big push in consumer data. Says AFM President Alvaro Luque, “There’s a focus on first-party data in the modern marketing world.”
Rachel Ferdinando, CMO
“This past year marked Frito-Lay’s largest Super Bowl presence to date, with three campaigns,” says CMO Rachel Ferdinando. The snack-maker also partnered on initiatives with Snapchat and actor Matthew McConaughey.
Neiman Marcus Group
Daz McColl, CMO
Neiman Marcus outfitted four NBA Draft picks and launched a “re-introduce yourself” campaign in 2021. They were part of a “more progressive, customer-centric, and culturally relevant approach,” says CMO Daz McColl.
Innovation in Transportation
Amid ongoing supply chain struggles, shifts to autonomous vehicles and other innovations are paving the way forward.
Innovation Zone allows innovators to test autonomous trucking and unmanned aerial systems. “It’s a really exciting time for mobility innovation and the future of autonomy,” says Mike Berry, who leads the platform, alongside Russell Laughlin.
Rail company BNSF is among North America’s largest movers of goods and transporters of supplies to power communities. The Fort Worth-based company recently launched a battery-powered, electric locomotive in California to help set a 2022 emissions reduction target.
Leviate Air Group
Founded in 2014 in Dallas, Leviate Air Group combines private charter and aircraft sales and management. “It’s vital our company is based in a city that reflects our rate of innovation,” says CEO Luis Barros. “I am excited about the prospect of how far Leviate can take air travel.”
Innovation in manufacturing + consumer goods
“What trends are propelling innovation in your industry?”
- Kevin Boscamp
- Bravis Brown
- Prasad Reddy
- Geoff Walker
“Innovation in the ammunition space is almost nonexistent. The moment I realized the market had not seen substantial change in more than a century, I knew we had the opportunity to make ourselves known and provide the world with a fresh, paradigm-shifting product.” —Kevin Boscamp, True Velocity
“By far, the No. 1 trend right now in the chemicals industry is volatility. And it’s not just one root cause, but many. Between weather disruptions, export restrictions from China, and supply chain issues, we’re seeing the costs for chemicals rise and shortages in the market.” —Bravis Brown, BPS Technology
“More young consumers think a brand’s environmental efforts are extremely important when considering purchasing a product. They are becoming increasingly selective on where they spend, and now seek an environmental return on investment.” —Prasad Reddy, Twisted X
“Parents are looking to get their children to step away from screens and are seeking traditional toys to drive imagination. They’re also looking at the unused potential of their backyards to create safe areas for their kids to get active and maintain some sense of normalcy with their friends.” —Geoff Walker, KidKraft
Innovation in Hospitality
When commercial real estate developer Farukh Aslam was working on The Sinclair hotel in Fort Worth in 2016, a lighting issue made him rethink traditional systems. “Staring us in the face was a supposedly ‘trusted,’ large-brand solution, and it was using antiquated practices that have never worked properly at our site,” he says. This sparked an infusion of new technologies throughout the hotel, from digital showers and web-enabled bathroom mirrors to energy-conscious power sources. The Sinclair was the first building in the world to replace a diesel generator and back-up power source with a lithium-ion battery pack, increasing energy efficiency and reducing charging time. “The average person is becoming more aware of these issues and demanding to see change happen,” Aslam says.
- Hotel Drover
- Hotel Otto
Plano-based Enseo lets hoteliers and guests control in-room devices, view room charges, make maintenance requests, connect to robotic devices, and more. Led by Founder Vanessa Ogle, it consistently ranks as one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the United States.
Hoteliers Craig Cavileer and Kayla Wilkie worked with local architects and designers to create Hotel Drover, called the crown jewel of Mule Alley in the Fort Worth Stockyards. “Innovation means reinterpreting the expected and creating unexpected surprises,” Cavileer says.
In 2021, celebrity Chef Tim Love launched Hotel Otto, an eight-room resort made from shipping containers behind his Italian concept, Gemelle. With cheaper build-out costs, he hopes to replicate the concept in other markets soon, creating each hotel in just 12 weeks.
NoiseAware monitors sound levels at short-term rental properties to help landlords prevent neighbor complaints by warning guests of potential fines. “Our customers resolve 90 percent of excessive noise events in under 30 minutes,” says NoiseAware Founder Andrew Schulz.
Innovation in logistics + supply chain
Manufacturers got a supply-chain wake-up call in 2021. DFW companies are innovating to solve logistics challenges.
North Texas-based CourMed provides SaaS and delivery services for healthcare providers. Last year, it reached new heights, says Derrick Miles, founder and CEO. “We received Microsoft funding and a partnership to scale CourMed’s platform worldwide,” he says.
OnAsset created the world’s first tracking device approved for use on airplanes. It tracks high-value shipments and monitors environmental details during transit. “OnAsset technologies played an important role in COVID vaccine shipments,” says CEO Adam Crossno.
Led by chairman and CEO Kevin Howe, River Logic is a global leader in optimization technology. It deploys digital twinning, using real-time data to create a virtual model of an object or process, which helps supply-chain leaders with strategic planning and improving their operations.
“People have finally started to recognize the importance of the supply chain,” says Chris Kirchner, founder of Slync.io. The company, which develops software to improve the shipping process, grew to 100 employees in 2021 and launched an ocean carrier booking platform.
Innovation in sports + Gaming
New developments in technology are disrupting the sports world: SaaS, blockchain, AI, machine learning, and more are driving fan engagement in new ways, after the pandemic forced season-long closures in 2020.
Former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson launched CounterFind, an AI-driven system that tracks and reports ads selling forgeries and infringements online to help ecommerce brands. Blue Star Innovation, the company backed by Jerry Jones and family, is an investor, and clients include the Cowboys and Ohio State University.
Envy Gaming merged with OpTic Gaming last year to create an esports giant. Its team led North America’s Overwatch League—a first-person shooter video game competition. “Technology will continue to disrupt and change everything around us,” says CEO Adam Rymer, who joined Envy Gaming in 2020.
Founder Kelly Pracht attended more than 100 Astros games to research, validate, watch fans, and test the tech of NVenue, which uses AI predictive analytics to engage fans with sports in real time. Last September, when the company’s analytics were broadcast on NBC during an A’s-White Sox game, it “changed everything,” Pracht says.
Clients of Shokworks, which develops digital platforms using blockchain technology, include FC Barcelona and the Arians Family Foundation, led by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. “Most people confuse innovation strictly with invention,” says Shokworks Founder Alejandro Laplana. “We treat innovation holistically.”
SaaS company Stack Sports helps teams manage leagues, process payments, ease recruiting, partner with media outlets, and more. Founded in 2016, the company has acquired more than 25 other businesses and grown its client base to 50,000. It’s backed by the NFL’s venture fund 32 Equity and Jerry Jones, among other investors.
innovation in finance
led by Joe Beard and Joel Radtke
Richardson-based CollateralEdge helps make middle market loans more accessible by providing banks with risk-mitigated lending options. Last October, the company raised a $3.5 million seed round, securing investments from Perot Jain and Southern Glazer’s president Sheldon Stein. It plans to use the capital to expand its team and capabilities. “I am most excited about the impact CollateralEdge will have on the future of business and the economy,” says CEO Joe Beard, who co-founded the company with COO Joel Radtke. “We will change the game for millions of people and for hundreds of thousands of companies. We will reduce capital obstacles for business owners so they can fulfill their dreams, build their companies, and create jobs for millions of Americans.”
led by Craig J. Lewis
Addressing pain points in payments to 1099 contractors, Gig Wage has grown its staff six-fold this year. “We also partnered with Google and closed several major partnerships and large accounts,” says Founder Craig J. Lewis.
led by Ruben Izmailyan
Quiltt Founder Ruben Izmailyan says his fintech company was born out of the pandemic, pivoting from a SaaS design. “Seeing our first client go into production earlier this year was an exciting milestone,” he says.
led by Christopher Brown
Dallas-based Zabo is bringing cryptocurrency into mainstream financial services. Co-founded in 2018 by Christopher Brown and Alex Treece, the company was acquired by cryptocurrency leader Coinbase in August 2021.
Enterprise Innovator of the Year
Innovation can’t stop at the startup phase. These leaders are continuing to adapt and propel their industry forward.
Bravis Brown, BPS Technology
“I’m energized by the work we’re doing. BPS Technology and our family of companies are rooted in sustainability. We’re reducing the chemical load in our society and using what we have more responsibly.” —Bravis Brown, BPS Technology
Chakri Gottemukkala, o9 Solutions
“Dallas is a great place to be an entrepreneur. There is so much happening in this city. Not only is the talent base increasing as people move here to be part of the evolving tech landscape, but the work-life balance is quite appealing.” —Chakri Gottemukkala, O9 Solutions
Jordan Jayson, U.S. Energy Development Corp.
“2021 was an incredible year in terms of expanding our footprint across Texas. Our firm invested upwards of $135 million in the core of the Permian Basin, with plans to invest an additional $400 million in projects over the next two years.” —Jordan Jayson, U.S. Energy Development Corp.
Melbourne O’Banion, Bestow
“As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that most things take longer than you expect and are more difficult than imagined. But the pursuit of building something entirely new that has a positive impact on lives is worth the effort.” —Melbourne O’Banion, Bestow
Kevin Stadler, Evolon Technology
“All creations evolve and are the product of many individual contributions, of which no one is more important than the others. People sometimes get hung up on who thought of what, instead of the pure joy of solving problems together.” —Kevin Stadler, Evolon Technology
Geoff Walker, KidKraft
“To me, innovation can involve a product line, channel, process, or business model. Making changes to any of these things can lead to new revenue models and are a great definition of innovation.” —Geoff Walker, KidKraft
Innovation in food and beverage
“What is the best business advice you have received?”
- Eddy Badrina
- Espartaco Borga
- Jeff Carcara
- Rom Krupp
“Your biggest competition is who you were yesterday. We move the ball forward on personal and professional goals when we try to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before. It’s important to not measure yourself against anyone other than yourself. I call it ‘self-competition.’” —Eddy Badrina, Eden Green Technology
“To enjoy the journey of construction or remodeling, there are three rules to accept and embrace: It won’t cost what you planned, so have extra resources; it won’t be completed on time, so be patient and tolerant; and it won’t look like the original floor plan, so be flexible.” —Espartaco Borga, La Duni Latin Cafe
“The old adage, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’” I can be very impatient, but by taking a step back or a deep breath and realizing what the overall outcome is, I can see the path and stick to a plan that will typically yield success. Building a plane in the air is never a great idea.” —Jeff Carcara, Sixty Vines
“My grandmother used to tell me that when you die, you can’t take it with you. So, thinking about money as a tool, not a goal, is a view I formed at a young age. It’s not how much money you make or have in the bank, it’s how you use it to invest in people and your communities.” —Rom Krupp, OneDine
startup innovator of the year
led by Rob Wilson
Rob Wilson, founder and CEO of razor company Shavelogic, says he set out to ease frustration among shavers that their blades don’t last long enough—a problem that had not been addressed in nearly 50 years. His company developed a solution that uses magnetic attachments and a flexible pivoting system, but it was sued by Gillette in 2015—before it had made a single sale. Wilson navigated Shavelogic through its formal launch in 2020, after filing a countersuit in the Gillette matter and ultimately settling. Now, armed with 150 approved patents, he says the company is focused on partnerships. It made a deal with manufacturing company Jabil last April, and in December, Shavelogic became the official razor of the Dallas Cowboys. “Now that our innovation set has been successfully capitalized, we find ourselves with multiple opportunities to take our technology across the globe,” Wilson says. “This was always the dream, and to have it now come closer to reality is a real thrill.”
cio/cto of the year
Fearless leadership is essential during change. These outstanding CIOs and CTOs play a fundamental role in shaping tech strategies and infrastructure that are key to their companies’ future.
Arjun Dugal, Capital One
Among other achievements, Capital One Financial Services CTO Arjun Dugal has led the company through a massive transition from data centers to cloud data storage and the launch of the world’s largest AI Bot Camp. “It has reached more than 77,000 students from around the world,” Dugal says.
Nancy Flores, McKesson Corp.
McKesson has played a profound role in the battle against COVID, distributing more than 185 million COVID vaccines in 2021. “Our biggest challenge was rapidly scaling our systems and dynamically adapting inventory to support our customer,” says Nancy Flores, executive vice president, CIO, and CTO.
Tammy Gilbert, Fidelity Investments
“The success my team has most influenced is our company’s technology transformation internally,” says Tammy Gilbert, CIO and head of corporate technologies for Fidelity Investments. Last year, among other projects, her team shifted to agile methodology and launched a data strategy program.
Neelu Sethi, Reddy Ice
Dallas-based Reddy Ice was on the verge of bankruptcy when Neelu Sethi became CIO in 2016. She has since guided the company through a successful private equity transaction and several M&A deals. Her best advice? “Transform obstacles into new beginnings,” she says.
Mani Suri, 7-Eleven
CIO Mani Suri helped 7-Eleven navigate the convenience store chain’s launch of a mobile checkout initiative and the expansion of its delivery platform. “I’m excited to see 7-Eleven continue to adapt to new technologies while also developing our own proprietary technologies,” he says.
led by Michael Gorton
Recuro Health’s digital healthcare platforms aid in the transition from in-office to remote healthcare. The company acquired five companies in 2021, says CEO Michael Gorton, and also closed on a Round A financing of $15 million.
led by Daniel Powell
Delivering mild electrical shocks to nerves around the ear, Spark Biomedical’s tech releases endorphins to address opioid withdrawal without medication. The company received FDA approval last year, says CEO Daniel Powell.
led by Michael Kinder
Veryable, which matches skilled labor with industrial businesses, reached the 100,000 worker milestone last year. “It is great to see the ranks grow and well-earned money going into their pockets,” says Founder Michael Kinder.
led by Dave Copps
Worlds creates a 4D representation of a 2D environment through cameras and sensors. “2021 was a rocket ride,” says Founder Dave Copps. “We launched our product in January, and haven’t caught our breath since.”
Innovation in Education
Innovations in the realm of education have a multiplier effect, as they better prepare future leaders and entrepreneurs.
- Greenlight Credentials
- Mark Cuban
- Perot Museum
- UT Southwestern Simulation Center
GreenLight Credentials leverages blockchain technology to help users send academic and health records to colleges and employers. More than 100,000 students have used the platform to share records with over 2,500 colleges,” says Manoj Kutty, founder.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban launched his foundation’s AI Bootcamps Initiative in 2019 to help underserved high schoolers learn about AI uses, ethics, and implications, and how to build out new AI products. By 2023, the organization aims reach 1,000 students a year.
After pandemic closures, the Perot Museum sent its TECH Truck to bring STEM programming to the community and launched a virtual STEM education series. “This unforeseen challenge presented the opportunity to embrace innovation,” says Linda Silver, the museum’s CEO.
The UT Southwestern Simulation Center teaches healthcare professionals to address situations they may face in the real world. “Simulation facilitates deeper and more efficient learning in a safe, structured, and realistic environment,” says Daniel J. Scott, assistant dean.
innovation in talent+ workforce
led by Lawrence Schwartz
Lawrence Schwartz set out to solve the problem of forgotten knowledge with his AI-powered remote learning app, Trivie, which uses gamification for worker training and provides analytics to employers. “There was a human biology problem that people forget, and there was a way to leverage technology and proven brain science techniques to quantifiably stop that from happening,” Schwartz says. His app predicts when employees may forget information and, based on previous interactions with the app, which information they will forget, and prompts them to complete an activity to refresh their memory. Clients include McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch, and AARP. “The learning industry has exploded with exciting learning technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality for training, AI for retention of knowledge, and social collaboration for peer-to-peer learning,” Schwartz says.
led by David Cherrie
Dallas-based Arcade uses gamification to motivate salespeople. Last year it “closed its first institutional funding round, launched remote sales teams, and grew in size by 300 percent,” says CEO and Co-founder David Cherrie.
led by Beth Garvey
Founded in 2007, BGSF has grown both organically and through acquisitions, making its 12th buy in 2021. “Technology that connects talent with companies is changing the landscape of hiring today,” says CEO Beth Garvey.
led by Jared Pope
Workplace misconduct reporting tool Work Shield has over 300 clients and grew by 320 percent last year. “I wanted to create a solution that protected people, organizations, and cultures,” says Founder and CEO Jared Pope.
Innovation in biotech
A small—even molecular—change can have a huge impact. That’s what biotech innovators in DFW are demonstrating.
Created by Panna Sharma in 2013, Lantern Pharma uses AI, machine learning, and genomics to target cancer treatments. Its technology can hone in on the demographic most likely to respond to a therapy by identifying mechanisms behind drug-tumor responses.
Samarendra Mohanty, president of Nanoscope Therapeutics, says he had an “aha” moment when blind mice could navigate a water maze in a low light environment after one injection of its gene therapy. “We knew we had to develop this technology for people,” he says.
Taysha Gene Therapies
Formed to treat rare conditions, Taysha Gene Therapies added a new neurological disease program in 2021 and broke ground on a new 187, 000- square-foot manufacturing facility. “We’ve made such dramatic progress in our pipeline,” says company founder RA Session II.
Innovation in healthcare
“What were your organization’s most memorable milestones in 2021?”
- Luke Hejl
- Dr. Nicolas Madsen
- Jennifer Sampson
- Veena Somareddy
“We secured $60 million in funding from JMI Equity to accelerate our vision to help students thrive. In the summer, we reached the milestone of serving 100 schools across the country. We are now serving more than half-a-million students at more than 130 schools.” —Luke Hejl, TimelyMD
“In September 2021, The Heart Center at Children’s Health celebrated our 100th hybrid MRI/catheterization procedure, not only placing us at the very forefront of our field but allowing us to take the best care of our patients. I could not be prouder of this accomplishment.” —Dr. Nicolas Madsen, Children’s Health
“We launched the Health Innovation Technology Challenge to highlight the role of innovation in improving access to healthcare and social emotional wellness. The $1 million in prizes will empower the winning organizations to activate their technology solutions throughout the region.” —Jennifer Sampson, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
“We were one of 10 companies selected from more than 400 applicants to the inaugural Amazon Web Services Healthcare Accelerator. This gave us access to AWS technical and business resources, which have been immensely helpful in helping the company get to the next level.” —Veena Somareddy, Neuro Rehab VR
innovation in REAL ESTATE
Euless-based ModularDesign+ is making construction more efficient and affordable by designing and fabricating projects in its DFW facility. It then ships pre-constructed modules to destinations nationwide, where they are quickly assembled. “Stepping in to lead MD+ allowed me to implement a new and better way of delivering prefabricated solutions that essentially closes all the gaps I experienced with other companies,” says Sean Studzinski, an architect who took the helm in 2019. Installation teams can typically assemble up to 10 modular units per day onsite—roughly 3,800 square feet of finished floor area. A strategic partner of CannonDesign, ModularDesign+ moved its headquarters to Texas at the close of 2020. “DFW is on the cusp of being one of the top innovation hubs in the U.S.,” Studzinski says.
Multifamily and mixed-use developer Kalterra addresses each step of the process, from origination to disposition, in-house. “Our people are by far the most exciting aspect of our business and are a pure reflection of the innovation here in DFW,” says Clint Nolen, managing partner.
Nada Holdings Co-founder and CEO John Green is focused on the fractionalization of assets and breaking down barriers between private and public markets. “We are making real estate equity more accessible to everyone and enabling financial empowerment,” he says.
In 2021, commercial real estate data, analytics, and benchmarking software firm RefineRE landed two of the world’s five largest companies as clients, accounting for $1 billion in annual real estate spend. “It validated what we are building on a global scale,” says Ryan Turner, CEO.
VariSpace, the real estate arm of standing desk pioneer VARI, owns more than 1 million square feet of flex office space across DFW. “VariSpace is a living, breathing ideation lab and showroom that helps us learn about the workspace of the future,” says CEO Jason McCann.
Innovation Advocate of The Year
Changing the world can sometimes be a lonely battle. These advocates provide innovators with tools, funding, and other support. “If you don’t know who the entrepreneurs are in your local community, then you don’t know how to help them. Sometimes you have to put in the work to find the people who are bringing new things to market in your area.”
UNT Health Science Center
“If you don’t know who the entrepreneurs are in your local community, then you don’t know how to help them. Sometimes you have to put in the work to find the people who are bringing new things to market in your area.”
The University of Texas at Dallas
“We rightly celebrate innovators and entrepreneurs in our society, but what we don’t talk about enough is the emotional toll that failure can take on a founder. Most startups and small businesses don’t succeed.”
“I’m excited about the redevelopment of the old heart of the Telecom Corridor into the Richardson Innovation Quarter, and the ascendance of UT Dallas into an elite national research university.”
“In my family, you typically go through two routes, either clergy or entrepreneurship. I had a passion for finance and investing and helping people. Wanting to merge those together was how Impact Ventures was born.”
Innovation in technology
As home to Texas Instruments, North Texas has a rich history in technological innovations. From AI to blockchain, no other sector influences the evolution of industry more.
2021 was pivotal for Evolon Technology, says CEO Kevin Stadler. “We blended several analytic and AI methodologies that achieved all three measurable gains of better, faster, and cheaper,” he says. “We saw the market adopt usage of this new way of intelligence, which has led to more funding and investor confidence in us as a company.”
Named for a volcanic peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro, ecommerce management software company Kibo encourages its leaders to strive for the top. “The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled innovation for everything related to ecommerce, personalization and omnichannel order management systems,” says Chief Administrative Officer John Mills.
Lone Star Analysis
NASA was among Lone Star Analysis’ first clients. Since then, the Addison-based company has filed 70 patents and worked with Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and more. “We will be breaking stealth on some new offerings this year, coming out of proof of concept in 2021,” says CEO Steve Roemerman.
Led by founder and CEO Amrit Kirpalani, automated consumer engagement platform provider NectarOM works with brands such as AT&T, Cinemark, and TGI Fridays to help identify and target their ideal consumers. It also developed a patient engagement platform for healthcare companies.
Siemens Digital Industries Software
Software company Siemens Digital’s groundbreaking suite of products helps facilitate management, design, and development across several industries. The branch of Germany-based Siemens generated $5 billion in revenue in 2020, and its Plano headquarters serves as a hub for more than 20,000 employees across the globe.