Who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

From smart pillboxes to innovation incubators, here are three people you need to know this week in innovation. Courtesy photos

One of the cornerstones of InnovationMap is shining a spotlight on the individuals who are leading innovation in Houston, which is why we created a section dedicated to this. Our Featured Innovators section will have a Q&A with a startup owner, entrepreneur, or thought leader every week.

Another weekly article on InnovationMap that's geared toward introducing the city to prominent innovators is a roundup of who's who in the industry — not just the forces to be reckoned with in town, but people whose names you need not forget. Why? Because they've got big plans up their sleeves.

Here are this week's innovators to know, who, it just so happens, are our inaugural Featured Innovators.

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston

Courtesy of Gabriella Rowe

It's been a winding road for Gabriella Rowe, but she's finally made it to a city she adores and in a position she says is her dream job. The New York native has worked in consulting, banking, education, tech, and more, and she has learned a lot of valuable lessons on the way.

Rowe accepted her position as CEO of Station Houston in August — a decision she says took her all of four seconds to make. The acceleration hub has a lot going on ahead of Houston's Innovation District launch, including announcing Station 3.0 in January. Read more about that — and why Rowe says wild horses couldn't drag her out of Houston —in her Featured Innovator piece.

Brian Richards, managing partner at Accenture

Courtesy of Accenture

Brian Richards is in the business of being lightyears ahead of everyone else. His job is to start thinking of solutions for tomorrow's problems, from consulting clients on innovative technologies to serving on the board of Houston Exponential.

In fact, Richards came up with the vision for Accenture's innovation hub before clients even knew they needed it. He also moved to Houston against the advice of many colleagues because he sees the potential this city has as a mecca for innovation. Read more about the hub and his career here.

Regina Vatterott, COO and co-founder of EllieGrid

Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

The idea for Regina Vatterott's smart pillbox, called EllieGrid, hit her in one fell swoop — literally. She fainted on the way to lunch and decided it was time to start taking her health seriously. She created EllieGrid shortly after and realized that medical devices don't have to be clunky or purely functional.

Now, she's got big plans to reinvent the wheel on a few other medical devices by focusing on the user experience, because, as she likes to say, people are always people first, before they are patients. Learn more about EllieGrid here.

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Building Houston

 
 

Mayor Sylvester Turner and other local leaders joined the stage for the Ten Across summit in Houston this week. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston has an integral role to play in the energy transition, and that role was thoroughly discussed at a recent conference taking place in the Bayou City.

This week, Houston hosted the 10X Summit: The Future Is Here, an event by Ten Across — an organization that focuses on social, economic, and climate change issues across the region around Interstate 10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. The three-day conference featured guest speakers who spoke to resiliency, water, the future of energy, and more.

Among these speakers included a handful of Houston researchers, political figures, and innovators — and much of their conversations overlapped related topics and themes, from Hurricane Harvey's legacy and impact on the business community to the role the city will play in the energy transition.

When it comes to the energy transition, here are the key messages Houston leaders shared with 10X attendees.

The energy transition can't happen without Houston

The topic of the energy transition came up right out of the gate for the summit. At the welcome reception on Tuesday, Bobby Tudor, CEO of Artemis Energy Partners and founder and former CEO of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., spoke to the evolution of the industry and how Houston is a major factor in the energy transition's success.

“I don’t think (the energy transition) is going to happen without (Houston)," Tudor says at the fireside chat with Wellington Reiter, executive director of Ten Across. "There's a notion that the transition is inevitable. It’s inevitable — only if our technology continues to advance and improve, only if new assets get deployed, only if capital supports it, and only if the people who know and understand the energy systems are leaning in to make it happen.”

For Tudor, who served as chair of the Greater Houston Partnership in 2020 and made it his mission to communicate the importance of industry evolution during his tenure, Houston businesses motivated by opportunities in business should be looking at the energy transition.

“We’re very good in Houston that, when we see a dollar bill lying on the ground, we bend over and pick it up. Right now, there’s fantastic opportunity in the energy transition space," he says. "We have both a responsibility and an opportunity to be the leaders in the global energy transition.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner in his chat with Reiter on Thursday addressed how some might think that Houston — a headquarters for some of the biggest oil and gas giants — might not be the right city to lead a cleaner energy system, but Turner argued that's exactly why it has to happen here.

“We are the energy capital of the world," he says. "The reality is we have some of the largest greenhouse gas emitters principally located right here in Houston. To the extent of leading an energy transition, the impact is not just locally. The impact is globally.”

Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures and an energy tech startup mentor and investor, explained how integral the relationship between the energy industry and Houston is.

“As the energy system evolves, so does Houston," she says. “I think it’s our opportunity to lose."

The role of corporate incumbents 

Burger's discussion, which took place on Wednesday, spoke to the role of incumbents — corporations that have been operating in the energy industry for decades — in the transition. She explained how the process can't move forward without these parties.

“The incumbents need to be a part of the energy transition. There are parts of our society that don’t want them to be, and I find that unfortunate," she says. "For one, we’re not going to decarbonize the energy system unless they are a part of it. Two, there are a lot of skills and capabilities and assets in the incumbents to do that.

"What I don’t think the incumbents will do is they won’t lead it," she continues. "Many will be leaders in the new energy system, but they won’t be the ones first up the hill.”

Burger compares the energy and the automotive industries. Tesla acted as a disruptor to major auto companies, and then they followed suit. The disruptors and catalysts the energy industry will be a combination of startups, investors, governments, universities, and employee bases.

“We’re not going to throw away the current energy system," she says. "We’re going to evolve it and repurpose it.”

Houston has the ingredients

Tudor addressed the existing infrastructure — from physical pipes to expertise and workforce — that Houston has, which makes for an ideal location for innovation and progress in the transition.

“For a lot of reasons, it’s very clear that unless Houston leans in, we’re not going to find the solutions we need to transition our energy systems to much lower CO2 emissions," he says.

The GHP established the Houston Energy Transition Initiative in 2021 to concentrate Houston efforts within the future of energy. Tudor says this initiative is focused on what can be done now in town — attracting clean energy startups, developing a hydrogen hub, building facilities for green hydrogen production — to lead to a better future.

“We want to look up 20 years from now and find Houston is still — if not more than ever — the energy capital of the world," he says. "We believe that energy systems globally in 20 years will look quite different from how they look today. And that means Houston will look very different from how it looks today."

Burger emphasized some of the challenges — as well as opportunities — the city has considering its long history within the sector.

“Houston has benefitted from a vibrant, strong U.S. energy industry,” she says. “Keeping strong companies and keeping Houston attractive for the energy business is critical.”

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