who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Barbar Burger of Chevron, David Aaronson of REVs, and Andrea Young of DonateStock. 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 energy to fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

The InnovationMap Awards will celebrate Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, as this year's Trailblazer Award honoree. Photo courtesy of CTV

The inaugural Trailblazer Award at the 2021 InnovationMap Awards event was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community. Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive award.

"I am deeply honored to be recognized for my contributions to the Houston Innovation Ecosystem. I moved to Houston in 2013 and in short order was included and saw ways I could contribute. That is a great welcome! While I am proud of my contributions and our progress, we are just getting started," Burger says.

Burger leads Chevron's corporate venture arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, which has invested millions in the future of energy technology. This type of corporate venture activity — especially in a city with so many Fortune 500 companies — plays a key role in an innovation community. Click here to read more.

David Aaronson, founder of REVS

David Aaronson of REVS shares his EV entrepreneurial journey on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of REVS

It might not be today, and it might not be tomorrow, but electric vehicles are coming into Texas at an increasing rate. EVolve Houston, founded in part by the city, predicts that EV sales locally will make up 30 percent of annual new car sales by 2030. Aaronson says they reported that Houston has around 15,000 EVs on the road today, but by 2030, that's going to be 600,000.

"If it's not 2030 it's going to be 2032, because it's all the manufacturers are making," David Aaronson, founder of REVS, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's just a matter of time."

Aaronson, a Houston real estate veteran, founded Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions, or REVS, last year to become the go-between for multifamily property owners and managers and the charging technology providers. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Andrea Young, co-founder and CEO of DonateStock

DonateStock, a Houston fintech company that simplifies the stock donation process, has officially launched. Image courtesy of DonateStock

A few years back, Andrea Young donated some of her stock, and the process, while having its perks, wasn't worth the trouble.

"I valued the immense benefits stock donations provided me as an investor while simultaneously helping a nonprofit," Young says of her early experience with donating stock. "I enjoyed the significant tax advantages that allowed me to avoid capital gains taxes while deducting the full market value of my gifted stock. However, I found the entire process time consuming and cumbersome, which led to the end of my stock donation journey."

When the pandemic hit and nonprofits were greatly impacted, Young and her co-founder saw an opportunity to found DonateStock to help drive donations and guide nonprofits and donors alike through the process. During its beta testing phase, the company partnered with almost 100 nonprofits. Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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