seeing green

Houston has all the ingredients to be a major hub for hydrogen innovation, mayor says

At Greentown Houston's first anniversary event, Mayor Sylvester Turner says he wants Houston to be a hub for hydrogen innovation. Photo via GreentownLabs/Twitter

The government is gearing up to dole out billions of dollars in funding to support innovation within hydrogen — and the city of Houston wants a chunk of that cash.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was announced by the The U.S. Department of Energy to seek out opportunities in hydrogen, includes $8 billion to go toward establishing Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs. At Greentown Houston's first anniversary event, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced he's determined to position the city as one of those hubs.

"Houston and the Gulf Coast are ideally suited to scale up and become a leader in the hydrogen economy," Mayor Turner says. "We have the knowledge, the workforce, and infrastructure to produce clean hydrogen."

"The Gulf Coast has the nation's largest concentration of hydrogen production assets, dedicated hydrogen pipeline infrastructure, and many industrial hydrogen customers," he continues. "I am confident we have the tools in our toolbox at our disposal right here in Texas — and especially right here in Houston — to lead the global energy transition initiative."

The city has made other efforts to advance Houston as an energy transition leader, including the Greater Houston Partnership establishing the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, led by Executive Director Jane Stricker.

"We have the right assets, the right infrastructure — all of that exists. This is where all of the big investment decisions get made in the energy industry," Stricker says on Greentown's panel that followed Mayor Turner's address.

She continues, adding that something that should be top of mind for the energy industry and local universities is the workforce.

"If we're going to create 600,000 jobs in Houston over the next 30 years through this energy transition — and that's what we need to do — we need to be thinking about what those jobs are," she says on the panel.

Greentown's Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator, which kicked off earlier this month, is another ongoing initiative in collaboration with the city to support innovation within hydrogen and low-carbon technologies.

"In Houston, we dream big, and make big things happen," Mayor Turner says on the future of Houston as a leader in this space. "When we play as a team, we do well."

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Building Houston

 
 

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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