who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ody De La Paz of Sensytec, Sassie Duggleby of Venus Aerospace, and David Eagleman. 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 aerospace to nueroscience — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Ody De La Paz, CEO and co-founder of Sensytec

Ody De La Paz, CEO and founder of Sensytec, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of his company as it gears up for growth. Photo courtesy of Sensytec

The importance of creating longer lasting infrastructure is top of mind for the country, and Ody De La Paz, co-founder and CEO of Sensytec, is prepared to help. Through participation in AFWERX — the innovation arm of the Air Force, construction tech company Sensytec was tapped by the military to use the technology across operations.

"The plan is to integrate our system and analytics from sensors into a multi-platform system that the Air Force is trying to roll out in all of the military bases," De La Paz says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're trying to be that center hub for concrete and soil monitoring for them."

With the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, $65 billion is being deployed to build or improve infrastructure — among other tech and transportation improvements — and a lot of that funding is coming to the Lone Star State. De La Paz discusses more on the podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace

Houston-based Venus Aerospace has raised $20 million — and is one step closer to providing one-hour global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A Houston aerospace startup has raised millions to continue its work on a zero-carbon emission spaceplane that will enable one-hour global travel. Venus Aerospace closed its $20 million series A funding round led by Wyoming-based Prime Movers Lab.

"We are excited to continue our partnership with Prime Movers Lab and our other great investors. In the past year, with our initial funding, we have scaled from 3 people to 40. These are the world's best rocket scientists, engineers, and operators," says Sassie Duggleby in the release. "With this funding, we will continue to push forward toward our next technical milestones, hire great people, and scale our organization. We are excited to continue engineering the future of high-speed aviation." Click here to read more.

David Eagleman, author and neuroscientist 

David Eagleman returns to Houston this month. David Eagleman/Facebook

Not many researchers have ever compared brain function to drug dealers, but then, not many researchers are David Eagleman. Much like charismatic astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eagleman brings hefty and brainy topics to a conversational and digestible level.

The globally renowned neuroscientist, TV host, and best-selling author will visit Houston to discuss his latest book, Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. The event is produced by The Progressive Forum and will take place at Congregation Emanu El (1500 Sunset Blvd.) at 7:30 pm Thursday, April 28. Click here to continue reading.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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