2021 in review

Editor's Picks: 7 favorite Houston interviews of 2021

The ultimate who's who of 2021 — favorite Houston Innovators Podcast guests of last year. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In 2021, I recorded 50 episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast — a weekly discussion with a Houston innovator. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each and every conversation I’ve had this year, I picked a few of my favorites based on a few parameters. Maybe I learned something new or got to break a developing story — or maybe I just really loved chatting with someone. Whatever the reason, I’ve rounded up these seven podcast episodes I really liked, and explained why I selected each episode as a favorite on the last episode for the year.




To stream each episode in its entirety, see below or find the Houston Innovators Podcast wherever you stream your podcasts.

Ashley DeWalt of DivInc, Episode 79

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss diversity and inclusion, sports tech, and all things Houston. Photo courtesy of DivInc

Ashley DeWalt is the managing director of DivInc, a diversity-focused startup development nonprofit that expanded to Houston officially this year. He has a huge passion for his hometown of Houston and a long career in supporting innovators — particularly within diversity as well as sports tech. In the episode, he discussed both his passions and why Houston is on the path to being a hub for sports innovation.

Deeanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., episode 69

Deeanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. on the energy crisis that occured in 2020. Photo courtesy of TPH

Deeana Zhang, director of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., joined the show to look back on the effect 2020 had on energy tech in Houston, which took a double whammy of a hit between the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented drop in oil prices. The combo was a shock to the system and the industry, which Houston is home to a significant portion of. Deeanna shared that, while the hit to the economy was devastating, it positively affected the need to focus on the energy transition.

Gaurav Khandelwal of Velostics, episode 99

Velostics is a growing logistics software solution. Photo courtesy of Velostics

Houston has several startups solving complex problems within the logistics industry, and Gaurav Khandelwal is at the helm of one called Velostics. Also the founder of ChaiOne, another Houston software startup, Khandelwal explains a specific part of trucking logistics that is ripe for optimization. This middle mile represents a $700 billion market, and Velostics is ready to make an impact in that space.

Allison Post of the Texas Heart Institute, episode 80

Allison Post joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's focused on in cardiac innovation. Photo courtesy of THI

The Texas Medical Center is home to over a dozen member organizations all treating thousands and thousands of patients who need care now — as well as supporting research and student health care professionals. And when it comes to innovation within these organizations, the past few years have made for remarkable evolution. Allison Post joined the Texas Heart Institute in October of 2020 in a newly created position of manager of innovation partnerships, and it's her one and only goal to keep THI an innovative force.

Aaron Knape of sEATz, episode 109

Houston-based sEATz is expanding. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Growing Houston startup sEATz, a company that works with vendors in entertainment venues to provide food and drinks directly to fans in their seats. Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder, joined the show in November to discuss how the pandemic affected his business and the new exciting vertical they were expanding into, which is health care.

Emily Cisek of The Postage, episode 95

Emily Cisek started her company after losing two family members back to back. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Entrepreneurs possess both their ability to recognize a gap in the market as well as the initiative to develop a solution. On episode 95 of the podcast, Emily Cisek discussed her new company, The Postage. She came up with the idea to help families navigate end of life decision making based off a personal experience she had. Now she’s growing and expanding her brand and capabilities while changing the way we discuss death.

Kevin Coker of Proxima Clinical Research, episode 82

Proxima Clinical Research is a contract research organization. Photo courtesy of Proxima

It’s been a trying time for health care innovation, and no one understands that more than Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research, a Houston-based contract research organization focused on supporting life science startups as they grow and scale. On episode 82 of the show, Coker discussed the effects the pandemic had on life science innovation and shared how in sync with Houston his organization is.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Zeta Energy has fresh funding from the government. Image via Zeta Energy

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this week that it was selected to receive $4 million in federal funding for the development of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program, which aims to increase the number of EVs on the roads by boosting the country’s supply chain of affordable, convenient, reliable and safe batteries.

Zeta Energy is one of 12 groups in the U.S. to receive funding from the program, which awarded $42 million in total.

“Electric vehicle sales in America have tripled since the start of this Administration and by addressing battery efficiency, resiliency and affordability, the projects announced today will make EVs attractive to even more drivers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement released earlier this week. “This is a win-win for our efforts to fight climate change and power America’s clean transportation future with technologies produced by researchers and scientists right here at home.”

Other teams to receive funding include 24M Technologies, national laboratories and universities like The Ohio State University, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, among others. Zeta is the only Texas-based company to receive funds. It received one of the largest grants among the group.

"We are thrilled to have been selected for funding by the ARPA-E EVs4ALL program," Zeta Energy CEO Tom Pilette said in a statement. "We have been working hard to make this technology a reality, and we are really grateful to receive this recognition of the promise of our technology and the progress we have made on it."

Zeta Energy is known for its lithium sulfur batteries that traditionally have not been long lasting. While sulfur is an economical and abundant material, it traditionally would dissolve after a few uses in lithium sulfur batteries.

However, Zeta uses its proprietary sulfur-based cathodes and lithium metal anodes that have shown to have higher capacity and density and better safety profiles, according to the company's website.

According to ARPAE, the company will create a new anode that will "be highly accessible and rechargeable" with the funding.

Zeta Energy

closed a $23 million series A round led by New York VC firm Moore Strategic Ventures about a year ago. In addition to applications for electric vehicles, the company's technology is also expected to have uses in grid energy storage.

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