who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's Houston innovators to know include Nicolaus Radford of Houston Mechatronics Inc. and Sharita M. Humphry and Enrique Castro of BH Ventures. Photos courtesy

Editor'snote: This week's roundup of innovators to know in Houston include three self-starting founders — a robotics expert who's job sounds more futuristic that realistic and a duo looking to bridge the gap between Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs while cultivating their business growth.

Nicolaus Radford, CEO, CTO, and co-founder of Houston Mechatronics Inc.

Nicolaus Radford joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to take his cloud robotics company global. Photo courtesy of HMI

Discussing Nicolaus Radford's career and his current work with his company, Houston Mechatronics Inc., feels like something out of a science fiction movie. But it's real life. HMI is building a fleet of underwater robots, and, before he founded his company in 2014, he worked on humanoid robots for NASA.

Now, there's a growing market need for the type of robots HMI is working on, and he share on the Houston Innovators Podcast that there's a huge international opportunity for him.

"We're absolutely going to be a global company," Radford says, explaining that new clients in these areas are what's calling for the new offices. "The next 12 months of this company are going to be extremely vibrant and dynamic." Read more.

Enrique Castro and Sharita M. Humphry of BH Ventures

Enrique Castro and Sharita M. Humphrey met at an alumni event at UH and decided to work together on an inclusive accelerator program. Courtesy photos

Black and Hispanics tend to fall low on the lists of personal finance and business success, and usually the two communities don't do business together. That's what BH Ventures, a business accelerator program founded by Sharita M. Humphrey and Enrique Castro, is looking to change.

"Enrique and I know that there can sometimes be a barrier between Black and Hispanics doing business together," says Humphrey. "This is why I wanted, as an African American woman, and him, being a Hispanic male, to be able to show that we should be doing business together — especially in the city of Houston."

Humphrey and Castro met at an alumni event for the University of Houston's SURE program, which creates educational programming for entrepreneurs from under-resourced communities. The duo thought that they could create a program that built upon UH's. In February, after building out the curriculum, BH Ventures ran a successful pilot program in collaboration with UH. Read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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