Aaryan Patel, an incoming senior at The Village School, has been running his business since he was a freshman. Photo via tidemedia.tech

By the time 17-year-old Aaryan Patel, who will be a senior this fall at The Village School, won first place at The University of Houston Bauer College of Business' annual Think Tank competition this year, he'd already had his business on solid footing for a couple of years. Patel founded Tide Media in 2016, and he's been growing his company ever since.

The business offers consulting and installation for smart home devices, working with customers one-on-one to determine their needs and interests and doing everything from purchasing equipment for buyers all the way to full installation and integration of the technology within a home's existing devices.

"I started in the ninth grade," says Patel. That's when his dad started buying multiple smart home devices to control their lights and thermostat. "I saw how convenient it was, and how it makes for a more connected experience. It feels really futuristic."

Patel's father works in IT, so he understood how to troubleshoot when devices didn't work as planned. That got Patel to thinking how someone with less tech know-how would cope with the same situation.

"Not everyone has the competency [to troubleshoot]," he explains. "Maybe they don't have the time to learn, or they just don't know enough about technology. A lot of people come from fields where there isn't a focus on computers."

Patel, like his father, has an interest in computer technology — in fact, he's doing an internship this summer at Stanford University looking at the business applications of wearable technology for medical students — and he realized there was an opportunity to be had. But he saw it much more as a community service than a business at first. He asked his uncle in Katy to post his services to the Next Door app, and the business took off. Within two months, he'd worked with 14 clients on upgrading their homes with technology.

"I knew I didn't want to do any ads," says Patel. "So, all of my business has been word of mouth."

By July of 2017, he says he posted between $10,000 and $14,000 in profits. He credits the success of the business to his approach to clients. He wants each experience to be not only personal, but personalized. When he meets with a client, he has a questionnaire that gauges what they want to get from their technology. Some might want to properly install a Nest thermostat. Others may want to network Amazon Echo or iHome products to do everything from turning on lights to playing music.

"Or, maybe they want to open the garage door from their cellphones as they are coming in the driveway after work," he says.

Patel says he has worked with clients to tell them what they need and the clients purchase the equipment and products themselves. But he also provides more concierge service, where he will take a client's list of items, purchase them and then install them.

He says he tends to work more in the summers and on school breaks than he does during the school year, since he's studying the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum at school. He's also trained some of his friends on doing installations, as well as mentoring them about how to talk to clients, how to respond to questions and otherwise provide high level service — things he says he learned over the course of launching his business.

"The biggest thing I've learned is that is you want to do anything, you have to have passion and drive," he says. "And my biggest challenge has been managing my clients along with my school work."

In college, he plans to study the Internet of Things, likely via a computer engineering program. Since his win at Think Tank, he's invested back into his business and plans to expand as much as he can; he's thinking of offering his services citywide, branching out from his Sugar Land and Katy coverage areas.

But even as he's continuing his studies and building a business, he keeps his own priority for Tide Media top of mind: he wants it to be a service for the community to help others be more connected.

"A lot of this is still new technology," he says. "And I want to help people see how technology can help society."

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Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.