Houston innovators podcast episode 61

​Innovation hub exec wants to ensure Houston's diversity is well represented

Deanea LeFlore, director of partnerships at The Ion, joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Station Houston

The Ion is in its home stretch. Expected to open in early 2021, the rising innovation hub is inches away from its exciting entrance into the Houston market. Yet despite the physical location's ongoing construction, Deanea LeFlore and her team have been hard at work for months establishing partners and programming for The Ion's goal of serving Houston.

"The primary objective of The Ion is economic resilience," LeFlore, who is director of partnerships at The Ion says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We want Houstonians to be better off economically as a result of this project and as a result of them participating in the tech and innovation economy."

Meeting this goal is LeFlore's job priority and bringing economic support can mean upskilling, creating more new business, access to capital, resources for growing businesses, and diversifying the workforce — something she's personally committed to.

Recently, The Ion received a grant to create the Minority Business Enterprise Aerospace Innovation Hub focused on supporting minority innovators within the space and adjacent industries with an accelerator program and business programming. The program is providing informative sessions on how to get involved, and the next one is on Dec. 16.

"We're hoping that at the end of this, as startups get coaching and tips from NASA and partners, that they'll learn what it takes to expand in the aerospace industry," LeFlore says. "That's a really exciting development and a new opportunity for minority businesses in Houston."

Personally, LeFlore, who worked for the city's international relations for about 17 years, is excited to have a hub focused on innovation that is representative of the city.

"I think that when people walk into The Ion, what's personally important to me, is that it looks like Houston so that you see yourself reflected in the people in the building as well as the programming," LeFlore says. "That's my biggest hope and aspiration, and I believe we are well on track to be able to deliver on exactly that."

LeFlore shares more on what she's been working on — from online programming to growing partnerships at The Ion. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.”

The company, which relocated its headquarters from New York to Houston in February, was founded by Zimri T. Hinshaw in 2020 and is based out of the East End Makers Hub and Greentown Houston.

BUCHA BIO has created two bio-based materials using bacterial nanocellulose and other plant-based components. The two materials are SHORAI, which can be used as a leather alternative, and HIKARI, a translucent material that is expected to be formally introduced in November.

The fresh funding will help the company to accelerate its move into the marketplace next year by securing co-manufacturers to scale production. Additionally, the company is growing its team and is hiring for a new supply chain lead as well as some technician roles.

Per the release, BUCHA BIO is working on constructing a new headquarters in Houston that will house a materials development laboratory, prototype manufacturing line, and offices.

BUCHA BIO has the potential to impact several industries from fashion and automotive to construction and electronics. According to the Material Innovation Initiative, the alternative materials industry has seen an increased level of interest from investors who have dedicated over $2 billion into the sector since 2015.

“The time for rapid growth for biomaterials is now," says repeat investor Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner at Houston-based New Climate Ventures, in the release. "BUCHA BIO's team and technical development are advancing hand in hand with the demands of brand partnerships, and we are excited to support them as they capitalize on this global opportunity.”

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