who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Aaron Knape of sEATz, Ivery Boston III of Houston Exponential, and Jesse Martinez of the LatinX Startup Alliance. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from sportstech to startup-focused nonprofit work — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder of sEATz

Aaron Knape joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how he's taking the sEATz platform into a new vertical. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Although sEATz was founded in 2018, Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder, says it's only now that the company is really coming into its own as a startup ready to scale in a big way.

"I tell the team that we're kind of coming out of stealth mode — I know we're not in a true stealth mode, but we haven't spent a lot of money on sales and marketing," Knape says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now it's time to start putting that emphasis on who we are, that we're here, and we're ready to take over."

Knape joins the show to discuss sEATz's expansion into health care and what's next for the growing company. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Ivery Boston III, director of inclusive innovation at Houston Exponential

Ivery Boston III joins HX to lead inclusive efforts. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston Exponential made a new hire to reflect on the city's diversity. Ivery Boston III is one week into his role as HX's director of inclusive innovation. He will be tasked with leading prototyping and testing new inclusive ideas and ways of operating, according to a news release from HX. He will also be responsible for creating opportunities for underrepresented founders to succeed in Houston.

Boston joins HX from Miami, where he led research, strategy, recruitment of high-growth startups, and impact reporting for the Miami Downtown Development Authority.

"I am excited to serve the Houston community as the director of inclusive innovation at Houston Exponential," says Boston in the release. "I'm a massive fan of HX's work advocating for, connecting, and raising the profile of the Houston innovation ecosystem while linking local founders to funding. It is a privilege to join this exemplary team and provide additional attention to underrepresented and under-encouraged founders within the city." Click here to read more.

Jesse Martinez, founder of the LatinX Startup Alliance

Jesse Martinez, founder of the LatinX Startup Alliance, joins InnovationMap for a Q&A on why he's relocating his nonprofit to Houston. Photo courtesy of LSA

Wheen Jesse Martinez was looking for startup support as a Latino founder, he couldn't find it. So, he took the initiative to make it himself and launched the LatinX Startup Alliance. The Houston native announced his plans to relocate his Silicon Valley nonprofit to The Ion next year.

He tells InnovationMap why he thinks Houston is the right market for LSA.

"We're on the ground floor. We're helping to build that foundation. It's not an afterthought. It's not something that now we're trying to go back and think of diversity," Martinez tells InnovationMap. "I think that's the beautiful thing about Houston and everyone that I've met is that it's been so diverse and inclusive. That spirit is already there. So, how do we just maximize that?" Click here to read the full Q&A.

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Building Houston

 
 

Dream Harvest picked up funding to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., which specializes in sustainably growing produce, has landed a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. The facility will enable the company to dramatically ramp up its operations.

The new facility, which will be built in Southwest Houston, is scheduled for completion in January 2023. Dream Harvest’s existing 7,500-square-foot facility in Southwest Houston supplies 45 Whole Foods stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as Sweetgreen restaurants in Texas.

The company currently employs 25 people. With the addition of the 100,000-square-foot facility, Dream Harvest’s headcount will rise to 65.

Dream Harvest relies on wind-powered, year-round indoor vertical farming to generate 400 times the yield of an outdoor farm while using 95 percent less water and no pesticides.

“Because the vast majority of America’s produce is grown in California and has to be shipped over long distances, most of the country receives produce that is old, has a poor flavor profile, and a short shelf life — a major contributing factor to the more than 30 percent of fresh vegetables being discarded in the U.S. each year,” Dream Harvest says in a December 7 news release.

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, says his company’s method for growing lettuce, baby greens, kale, mustards, herbs, collards, and cabbage helps cut down on food waste.

“Demand for our produce has far outpaced supply, an encouraging validation of our approach as well as positive news for our planet, which is facing the rising problem of food and resource waste,” Shauk says. “While we have the yields today to support our business, we are pleased to partner with Orion on this financing, which will enable us to greatly expand our production and increase access to our produce for many more consumers.”

Dream Harvest expects to expand distribution to more than 250 retail locations in 2022.

“Orion’s focus on sustainable infrastructure and deep experience in building large industrial facilities will be complementary to Dream Harvest’s impressive track record of being a reliable supplier to high-caliber customers by achieving consistent yields, food safety, and operational efficiencies … ,” says Nazar Massouh, co-managing partner and CEO of Orion Energy Partners, which has offices in Houston and New York City.

Other companies in the Orion Energy Partners portfolio include Houston-based Caliche Development Partners, Tomball-based Python Holdings, The Woodlands-based Evolution Well Services, Houston-based Produced Water Transfer, and Houston-based Tiger Rentals.

Zain Shauk is the co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

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