HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 158

New HX leader strives to unlock Houston's potential

Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

For the past few weeks, Natara Branch has been on a listening tour of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Recently named the CEO of Houston Exponential, Branch says one word comes to mind when she thinks of the future of HX: Potential.

"I know that's an overused word," Branch says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but I think we really have to get everyone in Houston galvanized around the fact that we do have this potential so that people can see it and invest in Houston — both internally and externally. I really do believe Houston has so much to offer people who live or want to live here."

After spending over 18 years at the National Football League driving that organization forward, Branch says she was looking a role that would bring her back to her adopted hometown of Houston — a city she's been cheering on from afar during her tenure at the NFL based in New York City.

Branch joins HX as the organization changed ownership — it was acquired by Gow Companies, a company founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO) — and transitioned from being a nonprofit into being a for-profit company. Branch says that this transition shouldn't affect Houston entrepreneurs' interaction with HX other than improve on the experience as now HX is an entity for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs too.

"I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a consultant, I invest, and I work with entrepreneurs all the time," she says on the podcast. "I'm an entrepreneur at heart. ... If you're a founder, you know it's a unique experience. If you're an investor, it's a risky experience, and I've been on both sides."

Branch shares more on the show about her passion for the city of Houston, and how she's got open ears to anyone in the ecosystem who wants to contribute to the advancement of the city's tech ecosystem. And, as she explains, she is getting her fair share of feedback — but she has an ask for anyone who she's met.

"I am challenging people. You're not just going to give me feedback and sit back and watch. You're going to participate," Branch says. "I have not met one person who doesn't want Houston to win — they wouldn't be here if they didn't."

Next week, Branch is making her Houston debut to the greater community at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, a collaborative event hosted by HX and InnovationMap, on November 9 at the Ion. She shares what all she's excited about for the event on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Here's what Houston research news dominated this year on InnovationMap. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

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