space tech

5 startups keeping Houston known as the Space City

Houston celebrated 50 years since the Apollo moon landing on July 20. Here are some startups that are going to be a part of the next 50 years of space tech in Houston. Photo via NASA.gov

This month, for the most part, has been looking back on the history Houston has as the Space City in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. While it's great to recognize the men and women who made this city the major player in space exploration that it is, there are still entrepreneurs today with space applications and experience that represent the future of the Space City.

From space tech to former NASA expert-founded companies, here are five companies keeping Houston's rep as the Space City.

Cemvita Factory

Cemvita Factory

Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Carbon dioxide poses a problem for two major Houston-related industries: Oil and gas and Space. Cemvita Factory, which has a technology that can convert CO2 into other chemicals, has the potential to revolutionize both industries. The Houston startup is growing and Moji Karimi, who founded the company with his sister, Tara Karimi, says 2019 is all about execution.

"We're in Houston, and we have a technology that is from biotech and have applications in the space industry and the energy industry," Karimi says. "There would not have been any better place for us in the country than Houston."

Click here to read more about Cemvita Factory.

Re:3D

Courtesy of re:3D

Two NASA colleagues hung up their metaphorical space space suits to start a 3D-printing company. Six years later, re:3D had grown large enough to warrant a new, swankier space — just down the street from the Johnson Space Center.

The company makes an affordable and customizable 3D printer, called the Gigabot, and has clients across industries in over 50 countries. Recently, re:3D introduced sustainable options, including printing using plastic waste. The 7,000-square-foot space allows for anyone in the community to learn about the 3D printing process, tour the facility, attend social events or workshops, or even buy a printer or some of the company's merchandise.

Click here to read more about re:3D.

Cognitive Space

Pexels

Satellites are getting smaller and easier to launch, which has causing a significant growth in these devices entering earth's atmosphere. Former NASA specialist Guy de Carufel — through his company Cognitive Space — created a much-needed solution to managing satellites using cloud-based AI technology.

"By next year we will have major contracts, and growing our team to 15 to 20 people. We'll have a commercial product by then and servicing some commercial players," de Carufel says on his company's growth plan. "Five years from now, we'll probably be in many different verticals, spawning from what we have now to really expand and apply our systems to as many applications as possible."

Click here to learn more about Cognitive Space.

Zibrio

Pexels

Balance is extremely important for humans. Being off balanced can be an indicator of a bigger health issue or a warning sign not to attempt something dangerous. During her postdoctoral work, Katharine Forth and her colleagues at NASA developed a technology to help track balance for astronauts. They designed a compact tool that was a game changer.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

Forth evolved her technology to create a commercial product that allows for users to track their own balance for her Houston-based company, Zibrio. The startup has grown since its founding in 2015 and just this month worked with the 13,700 athletes at the National Senior Games. Zibrio measured the balance of the seniors aged 50 to 103 in order to make sure they were ready and healthy enough to compete without risking injury.

Click here to read more about Zibrio.

Blue Bear Capital

Courtesy of Tim Kopra

Tim Kopra spent over 244 days in space, and now he's using his tech background to invest in emerging energy companies with his Houston-based investment firm, Blue Bear Capital.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Blue Bear Capital focuses on cutting-edge technology that has the potential to make waves in the oil and gas industry.

Click here to read more about Blue Bear Capital.

The panel of experts discussed the Space City's history — but also its future as a leader in space exploration. Photo courtesy of SpaceCom

Houston's been known as the Space City for about 50 years since "Houston" was the first word spoken from the surface of the moon. But whether or not that nickname will continue to stick was up for debate at a 2019 SpaceCom panel on November 21.

The panel, entitled "Regional Benefits of a Commercial Space Economy: Case Study Houston," the panelists set out to discuss the city's rich history of space exploration, as well as to answer the question of where Houston's space industry is headed.

"We could ask that question in a passive way, but my preference is that here in Houston we ask the question now, answer it, and be very proactive and deliberate about making sure we get the outcome that we want," says Vernon McDonald, senior vice president at KBR and moderator of the discussion.

If you missed the enlightening discussion, here are a few takeaways from the panelists.

"Houston is in this great position to be this beacon to lead entrepreneurs and inspire other regions to explore further."

Rick Jenet, director of the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy. Jenet, who is based in Brownsville, Texas, is working to develop a vibrant commercial space hub in South Texas. In a lot of ways, the area looks to Houston's history for its development, he says.

"We built a community of engineers and scientists and a workforce that's all vested in the outcome of the human space flight program."

Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines. The creation of the Johnson Space Center developed generations within the community of scientists and engineers, but, moving forward, Houston has to be intentional about building its talent base. "I'm very passionate about doing that here in Houston," Altemus adds.

"There's a beacon of hope for our community if we can organize around it and attract commercial business here to keep this city the Space City, but redefine ourselves as a commercial space hub."

Altemus says, adding that it's going to take further development, talent, and funds — like what's happening at the Houston Spaceport — to make this transition.

"Over the years, Houston took space for granted. Houston started to focus on the bigger industries that brought in funding and jobs."

Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA's Johnson Space Center. At the risk of being unpopular, Gonzalez mentions that the city's attention has been diverted from space exploration. However, he adds, there are new initiatives from the Greater Houston Partnership and Houston First that are picking up the slack.

"The answers to Houston delivering on its potential is going to be collaborations — how well we collaborate."

Harvin Moore, president at Houston Exponential. Houston is collaborative, and the city needs to make sure its resources are inclusive as commercial space develops in town.

"I'd like to say that Houston is the birthplace of human space flight, and in 50 years, I'd like to see the city be the leader and the point of the spirit for human exploration internationally and commercially out in mars and beyond.

Altemus responds when asked about the Space City's next 50 years.

"I think what Houston will be most proud of in 50 years is that we played an extremely important role in shaping how Texas leads the world in commercial space exploration."

Jenet, who mentions that there's space exploration innovation happening statewide.

"When you think about what [leading space exploration] company will be here fifty years from now, I don't think it's been created yet. But I would like that company to be here in Houston."

Gonzalez says, adding that the first trillionaire is likely to make his or her fortune in the space industry, and he wants that money here in Houston.

"A lot of our future is not going to be based on what huge companies or government are doing but much more about entrepreneurs."

Moore says, emphasizing the need for developing startup resources in Houston.